The Prophecies Of Isaiah
We studied many of these false gods in 1st and 2nd Kings and we learned what unspeakable activities went on in their religious rituals. Some were fertility cults that involved all sorts of sexual practices between men and women who were not married to each other. Serving the goddess Asherah gave the people an excuse to indulge every carnal urge they felt. One idolatrous king even turned the temple into a brothel with male and female shrine prostitutes conducting business there. The people of Israel had adopted the Canaanite god Molech to whom children were sacrificed. Two of Judah's kings even sacrificed a son to this abominable false diety. They were running to any god they heard about, any god but the one true God, and that is why He calls them His enemies.
God has said He will turn His hand against the people, which is something we might expect a righteous Judge to say, but then things go in an unexpected direction. The turning of His hand against the people is not for the purpose of destroying them but for the purpose of regenerating them. "I will turn My hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your leaders as in days of old, your rulers as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City." (Isaiah 1:25-26) The Lord will wound them so He can heal them. Job, a man who knew sorrows we can't even begin to imagine, said, "For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal." (Job 5:18) The Lord will wound them so they will come to their senses and say, "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds." (Hosea 6:1)
If the Lord had never wounded me, I wouldn't be here studying His word with you this morning. I was walking in the ways of the world, an enemy of God, until He turned His hand against me. Even since coming to Christ, the Lord has had to purge the dross and will continue to do so. Precious metals like silver and gold have to be heated to high temperatures so the impurities can rise to the surface and be skimmed off. This is why we sometimes find ourselves walking through the fire of adversity when we have gone astray. "Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey Your word." (Psalm 119:67) Every now and then we find ourselves in the heat of the fire even when we've been living in the will of the Lord. This is because He is in the business of continual improvement. As long as we live in the flesh, we are under construction. God wants the best for His children and there are some lessons we can learn in the good times but there are some we can only learn in the hard times.
There is a pattern we will find repeated throughout the book of Isaiah. It's a pattern of delivering bad news, then good news. God is telling the people they are guilty and that He is going to bring trouble on them. But the good news is that the trouble is for their redemption. It's going to lead them back to Him so He can restore them as they were in the beginning.
"Zion will be delivered with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish." (Isaiah 1:27-28) The sins the people have committed will bring hardship on them but there will be those who will learn from their troubles. They will see the connection between their sins and their afflictions. They will return to the Lord their Maker and be healed. These are the ones who do what King Solomon advised, "Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise." (Proverbs 19:20) But during the trials that are about to come upon Israel, there will be those who refuse to admit the Lord is righteous when He judges. They will refuse to listen to His advice and accept His discipline. They will have this attitude, "A person's own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord." (Proverbs 19:3) The Lord is promising restoration for the penitent but disaster for the stubborn.
Those who continue to cling to idolatry will be disgraced because of it. They have built groves on all the high hills and have placed altars to false gods there. They have cried out to graven images that lack the power to hear them or to help them. "You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen. You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water. The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, and no one will quench the fire." (Isaiah 1:29-31) It's far better to repent and look back on our past with shame than to refuse the word of the Lord and stand before Him someday in shame. This is the choice He is setting before Israel in today's passage and it's the choice He sets before all mankind. We can come to Him and leave our disgrace behind or we can continue in our sins and stand before our Judge without excuse, without defense. The choice is up to us. Our destiny is in our hands. If we make the correct choice we will stand before our holy Judge and the Lord Jesus Christ will stand beside us as our defense attorney, pleading our case, and God the Father will declare us "not guilty".