Isaiah 1:21-31 – Our #1 Problem & the Only Solution

We pick up today in Isaiah 1:21 with a lament. Here Isaiah is stepping back, taking stock of the situation and saying, “This is terrible!” Just to warn you: there is some harsh language to begin with, but it can be explained.

The Unfaithfulness of God’s People

How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice. Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

– vv. 21-23

The Jewish people were created by God to be His faithful people. But, they had become unfaithful to Him. Jerusalem (“the faithful city”) should have been the epicenter of faithfulness, yet it was not.

Isaiah’s word choice to describe this unfaithfulness is that God’s people had “become a whore.” This is such a harsh word. The Bible does use some harsh language to carry across a harsh concept. God’s relationship to His people is like a marriage. But God’s people had turned away from Him to idols, and so were like a wife forsaking her husband to become a prostitute.

Our #1 Problem

Jerusalem was representative of all of God’s people back then. More than that, it is representative of all people. Everyone was designed for a faithful relationship with God.

The fundamental human condition is that we have turned away from God. Instead of being faithful, we have become unfaithful. This has been our problem ever since Adam and Eve. And it’s our deepest problem. The symptoms of this problem are all around us: injustice, unrighteousness, etc.

We often get distracted by the symptoms of our core problem. We try to treat the symptoms, but they never go away. The best we can do is swap symptoms. Until we treat the underlying infection of our unfaithfulness to God, it never gets any better. Acts of rebellion, pride, pornography, meanness, gossip – these are all symptoms of our unfaithfulness to God.

The Good News

The good news of Christianity is not a better way to treat the symptoms. It’s that God has made a way to restore unfaithful people. That’s what we begin to see next:

Therefore the Lord declares, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes. …”

– v. 24

In their unfaithfulness, God’s people had positioned themselves against Him as enemies. Many people live like God is distant and irrelevant. But the truth is that God cares about unfaithfulness and will avenge Himself. How was He going to avenge Himself on Israel?

“I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”

– vv. 25-26

Much of this did happen. Ultimately, though, this promise points to the restoration brought about through Jesus Christ. Jesus restores unfaithful people to God. That’s why He died on the cross. He swapped places with us to receive God’s vengeance “while we were enemies” (Romans 5:10). And when He returns, He will complete work on this “new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2-3).

How Do We Live as Restored People?

Unfaithful people restored to God by what Jesus Christ did – this is the good news of Christianity. It’s important for us to return to this good news over and over. If we don’t, we’ll start trying to restore ourselves through good intentions and good advice.

We don’t want to be hall monitors in the world, calling people out for their specific acts of rebellion. Remember: those are just symptoms. We want to be people who’ve been cured of the infection and are running around telling everyone else about it.

So, does that mean we never address sin? No. Sin is still wrong, and people still need to repent. Those who repent will be redeemed (v. 27). Not everyone will be restored from unfaithfulness – only those who repent. What happens to the rest?

But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen. For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them.

– vv. 28-31

What’s described here is just the logical outcome of idolatry. Oaks and gardens were where a lot of pagan idolatry would take place. The point is, our idols always let us down.

The Only Solution to Our Problem

God’s people in the Old Testament needed to turn away from their idolatry, and we need to too. What are some of our idols? What are some things we turn to feel significant?

  • busyness
  • romance
  • parenting
  • technology
  • leisure
  • food
  • politics
  • church

When we try to find fulfilment in other things besides Christ, we will wither and die. When we try to restore ourselves, we’ll just end up frustrated and destroyed. We cannot restore ourselves through hard work, grit and determination. Jesus has done what needs to be done.

When you turn from your idolatry, stop trying so hard and turn to Jesus, a real transformation takes place. You become a new creation. You no longer crave unrighteousness, injustice or rebellion. You may still fall into sin, but you won’t love it.

Let’s stop trying to restore ourselves and repent. Jesus has already done the work to restore us – let Him forgive and change you.

Discussion Starters

  • What is the fundamental problem with humanity? What are it’s symptoms?
  • Why is it important to see the world’s problems as symptoms of a deeper issue?
  • How can the gospel be applied to this?
  • What might we turn to instead of God in order to find fulfilment?
  • Have you found restoration and fulfilment in Jesus Christ?

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