In Isaiah 1:2-9, we find a particular message broken into two parts. The first part is the Lord presenting His case against His children. The second part is a plea for them to turn back.
God’s Children Rebel
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
– vv. 2-3
Already we see that, even though the Lord is an attentive Father, His children have rebelled against Him. “Children I have reared and brought up” is very hands-on language. God carefully nurtured a people, but they rebelled against Him. We’ll get more details about this rebellion later in Isaiah.
Even animals are more loyal to their masters than God’s children were to Him. That’s what He means by “the ox knows its owner, and donkey it’s master’s crib.” Animals have a certain level of respect and loyalty, but not God’s people.
God’s Children Become Strangers
As we get into the next verse, the perspective shifts from the Lord speaking to Isaiah speaking:
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.
– v. 4
God’s people were “laden with iniquity.” Iniquity has to do with the character of a person, not so much the deeds. These people were soaked with evil motivations and evil desires.
The bottom line is that these people were “utterly estranged” from their Lord. In all their rebellion, they had damaged their relationship so deeply that they made themselves like strangers. This can happen in relationships between parents and kids, and happened between God and His children.
So God has presented His case against His children. It’s plain and clear: they rebelled against Him. In the next few verses, the prophet Isaiah pleads with them to turn back.
Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.
– vv. 5-6
Basically, Isaiah is saying to God’s people, “Look at the condition you’re in! You’re all beat up, sick, injured and untreated. Yet you have a Father who loves you. Why do you keep rebelling? Can’t you see it’s killing you?” He takes a different angle in verse seven:
Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
This is either another image he’s using to get the point across, or he’s being literal. As you may remember from last week, God’s people were in the process of being conquered. Either way, Isaiah’s point is the same: “Why do keep rebelling? You’re like a sick and injured body, like a land that’s conquered and inhabited with foreign enemies.”
God’s Children: A Booth in a Vineyard
Verse eight may be an unfamiliar image to us, but it’s effective once we understand.
And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.
“Zion” is what they would call Jerusalem, where the temple was. But came to mean symbolically the homeland of God’s people. The “booth in a vineyard” refers to a temporary shelter farmers would build in their vineyards to sleep in overnight to get the harvest work done. And you can imagine how rundown these shelters would become after a few days. Isaiah’s saying, “You were God’s mighty nation – now you’re in tatters.”
God’s Children Receive Grace, Not Destruction
You can just hear the hurt, love and frustration in God’s voice, but also His wrath. He raised His children up, but they rebelled. They’re weighed down with iniquity, sick, injured, untreated and desolate.
If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.
– v. 9
By this time in Scripture, “Sodom and Gomorrah” was a catchphrase meaning the most wicked of cities that have been completely eradicated. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He did it completely.
Isaiah is saying, “We’re so wicked that we should be annihilated like Sodom and Gomorrah. But by God’s grace He has left us a few survivors.” Even after continual rebellion, God didn’t allow His children to be fully wiped out. He always left a remnant.
God’s Children Today
We can tend to think that Christianity is disconnected from the history of Israel. But it’s not at all. That remnant that God made was pointing ahead to what He was going to do through Jesus Christ. Jesus did not rebel against God like everyone else did, and can absorb us all into His perfect record.
In light of this, are two applications for this:
If you’re not a Christian – Believe in Jesus and become a child of God. He’s made a way for you to be adopted. Your sin separates you, but Jesus bridges that gap.
If you are a Christian – Remember who you are as a child of God and not repeat Israel’s mistakes. Don’t rebel. Commit yourself to obedience because of your salvation.
How and why were God’s people estranged?
What is this “remnant” that God left of His children?
How should someone live as a child of God?
Is your day-to-day living different from the people you know who are not Christians?