1 December 2016Isaiah 1:21-28
“the faithful city” (vv. 21, 28)
Psalm: Psalm 64
Reading through Isaiah can be a bit of a roller coaster. one minute we are down in the depths of sin, experiencing the judgement and displeasure of God, then we are up again, with promises of restoration and healing. Maybe that pattern is inevitable, maybe it is the pattern humanity has followed since the dawn of time, maybe it is the pattern of our lives? If we are moving on with God there may be times when we are deeply aware of our own sin and weakness, but in grace God will then remind us that forgiveness and restoration are always possible.
So, in this passage, which picks up from where we were on Tuesday, Israel is again indicted for wickedness and Godlessness. Jerusalem is not mentioned by name, but is implicit in the term "the faithful city" (v.21). This time greed seems to be the root problem, leading to false trading (of silver and of wine), theft, bribery and lack of charity to those in need. The theme of the corruption of justice is characteristic of all prophetic material in the Old Testament, but especially so of Isaiah. The opening verses follow the style of a lament, "How the faithful city has become a whore!" (v. 21). Whereas justice and righteousness should characterise the city of Jerusalem, now they are nowhere to be found; as the famous lament in 2 Samuel 1:19 expresses it, "How the mighty have fallen" indeed!
The wrongs that have been outlined (verses 21-23) have inevitable consequences ("therefore" verse 24) which are laid out in verses 24-25. The failure to extend justice will lead to God's own justice being unleashed, with dire results for those against whom God's hand will be turned. Three powerful titles for God are used consecutively; "Sovereign", with its sense of kingly rule, "the Lord of hosts" which has military undertones and "the Mighty One of Israel" evoking the relationship between God and the nation (verse 24). These names serve to underline the greatness of God and God's right to avenge justice on the people.
But almost at once, the wheel begins to rise again and there is a promise of restoration. The "faithful city" which had become a whore will again be called "the city of righteousness, the faithful city". Jerusalem first became the capital city under King David and always held - and still holds - a special place in Jewish thought and devotion. This promise of restoration for Jerusalem evokes for its original readers/hearers the 'Golden Age' when David was king and Jerusalem was the centre of justice, righteousness and faith.
The final two verses explain how this restoration will be possible. Redemption will come through the practice of justice and through repentance, which leads to being put right with God (righteousness). Again the passage ends with a warning that this restoration is not automatic or inevitable, those who continue to rebel, to sin, to forsake the Lord, will be destroyed.
- Reflect on the pattern of rebellion and restoration; is it familiar to you as an individual? Do you think it fairly describes the history of the Christian Church - over the centuries, or in your lifetime - or not?
- This passage suggests that Israel had once been something better, something for which the writer now longs or laments. Advent is one of the penitential seasons of the Church year so it may be an appropriate time to lament for what the Church could or should be. How might we do this?
- Today is World AIDS Day. Read the hymn appointed for today ('Tell out my soul', Singing the Faith 186,) as part of your prayer for justice for those who suffer or are stigmatised because HIV/AIDS.