Thursday

“the faithful city” (vv. 21, 28)

Isaiah 1:21-28 Thursday 1 December 2016

Psalm: Psalm 64


Background

Reading through Isaiah can be a bit of a roller coaster. oneminute we are down in the depths of sin, experiencing the judgementand displeasure of God, then we are up again, with promises ofrestoration and healing. Maybe that pattern is inevitable, maybe itis the pattern humanity has followed since the dawn of time, maybeit is the pattern of our lives? If we are moving on with God theremay be times when we are deeply aware of our own sin and weakness,but in grace God will then remind us that forgiveness andrestoration are always possible.

So, in this passage, which picks up from where we were onTuesday, 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 rootproblem, leading to false trading (of silver and of wine), theft,bribery and lack of charity to those in need. The theme of thecorruption of justice is characteristic of all prophetic materialin the Old Testament, but especially so of Isaiah. The openingverses follow the style of a lament, "How the faithful city hasbecome a whore!" (v. 21). Whereas justice and righteousness shouldcharacterise the city of Jerusalem, now they are nowhere to befound; as the famous lament in 2Samuel 1:19 expresses it, "How the mighty have fallen"indeed!

The wrongs that have been outlined (verses 21-23) haveinevitable consequences ("therefore" verse 24) which are laid outin verses 24-25. The failure to extend justice will lead to God'sown justice being unleashed, with dire results for those againstwhom God's hand will be turned. Three powerful titles for God areused consecutively; "Sovereign", with its sense of kingly rule,"the Lord of hosts" which has military undertones and "the MightyOne of Israel" evoking the relationship between God and the nation(verse 24). These names serve to underline the greatness of God andGod's right to avenge justice on the people.

But almost at once, the wheel begins to rise again and there isa promise of restoration. The "faithful city" which had become awhore will again be called "the city of righteousness, the faithfulcity". Jerusalem first became the capital city under King David andalways held - and still holds - a special place in Jewish thoughtand devotion. This promise of restoration for Jerusalem evokes forits original readers/hearers the 'Golden Age' when David was kingand Jerusalem was the centre of justice, righteousness andfaith.

The final two verses explain how this restoration will bepossible. Redemption will come through the practice of justice andthrough repentance, which leads to being put right with God(righteousness). Again the passage ends with a warning that thisrestoration is not automatic or inevitable, those who continue torebel, to sin, to forsake the Lord, will be destroyed.


To Ponder

  • Reflect on the pattern of rebellion and restoration; is itfamiliar to you as an individual? Do you think it fairly describesthe history of the Christian Church - over the centuries, or inyour lifetime - or not?
  • This passage suggests that Israel had once been somethingbetter, something for which the writer now longs or laments. Adventis one of the penitential seasons of the Church year so it may bean appropriate time to lament for what the Church could or shouldbe. How might we do this?
  • Today is World AIDS Day. Read the hymn appointed for today ('Tell out my soul', Singing the Faith 186,) aspart of your prayer for justice for those who suffer or arestigmatised because HIV/AIDS.
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