Isaiah 1-2, James 5
Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. – Isaiah 2:7-8 ESV
Isaiah was a prophet of God living in the city of Jerusalem whose ministry spanned the reigns of four different kings of Judah. He had unenviable task of warning the people of Judah about God's coming judgment if they did not repent of their sin and rebellion against Him. The opening chapters of this book are not an easy read, and do not paint a very flattering picture of the people of Judah. Isaiah pulled no punches in his stinging assessment of God's rebellious people. Speaking on behalf of God, he called them a “sinful nation” and the “offspring of evildoers.” He accused them of having “despised the Holy One of Israel.” He compared them to a sick body with “no soundness in it.” If God had not mercifully left a few survivors, their fate would have been as devastating as that of Sodom and Gomorrah. God was fed up with their religious rituals that had become nothing but rote exercises lacking in heartfelt conviction or true repentance. According to Isaiah, God had “had enough of burnt offerings or rams and the fat of well-fed beasts” (Isaiah 1:11 ESV). God was sick of their hypocrisy as they stormed into His holy presence all high and mighty, but filled with iniquity. He was done listening to their heartless prayers and gagging on their incense. His recommendation was a simple one: “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows” (Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT). In other words, change your behavior. Let your actions reflect the true condition of your heart.
What does this passage reveal about God?
It grieved God to look at the Israelites and His holy city, Jerusalem, and witness the blatant unfaithfulness of the city and people that both bore His name. But God was not done with either. Through Isaiah, He foretells the coming day when He would restore His people and the city of Zion. “Zion will be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27 ESV). There is a day coming when God will accomplish for the people of Israel what they could not have done for themselves. He will send His Son to rule and reign. He will defeat the enemies of Israel and reestablish the Kingdom of God on earth, with His Son, Jesus Christ, sitting on the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. God will bring peace to the earth. “The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4 NLT). But those days are in the distant future. In the meantime, God had more immediate plans for the people of Judah. He had legitimate charges against them that deserved His righteous judgment. These people, whom God had chosen and promised to bless in incredible ways if they would only remain faithful, had proven to be unfaithful time and time again. Their greatest problem was a staggering self-sufficiency that sprang from their pride. Rather than being satisfied with God, they had filled up on anything and everything. They were “full of things from the east, and of furtune-tellers like the Philistines” (Isaiah 2:6 ESV). The land of Judah was “filled” with silver and gold, treasure, horses and chariots, and all kinds of idols they had made with their own hands. During the reign of King Uzziah, the nation of Judah had experienced unprecedented peace and prosperity, and it had gone to the peoples' heads. They had replaced the worship of God with the worship of trinkets and treasures, idols and idle pleasures. And as a result, they were about to experience what it was like to try and hide from “the terror of the Lord” and “the splendor of His majesty” (Isaiah 2:10 ESV). A holy God would not put up with their sin any longer.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Mankind has always suffered from pride. It is the root of all sin. It was the cause of the original sin of Adam and Eve. They desired to be like God. Their desire for self-worship caused them to take God off the throne of their lives and attempt to take His place. But God warned the people of Judah, “the haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled” (Isaiah 2:11 ESV). In fact, God makes it painfully clear that there is a day coming when “the Lord alone will be exalted” (Isaiah 2:17 ESV). The problem of pride spans the centuries and has plagued the generations of mankind. Even in the day of James, the specter of pride hung over the body of Christ. He had harsh warnings for those who placed their hope in the things of this world. “Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (James 5:1-4 NLT). There were those in the local church who had made a god out of money. They worshiped wealth to such a degree that they were guilty of taking advantage of those around them. Like the people if Isaiah's day, they were guilty of injustice and oppression. It all reminds me of the words spoken against the church of Laodicea: “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17 NLT). Pride blinds us to the reality of our sin. Jesus Himself goes on to tell the church of Laodicea, “So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference” (Revelation 3:18-19 NLT).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
We must turn to God for help. We are incapable of defeating the pride in our own lives. God reminded the people of Judah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NLT). We must bring our pride to the cross. We must humble ourselves before the Savior and ask Him to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Peter provides us with this encouraging words: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV). We can never afford to allow the love of money to replace our love for God. We can never be willing to let our dependence on God to be replaced by a reliance upon wealth. Anything we allow to take the place of God in our lives will become an idol. Whatever we turn to for contentment, fulfillment, rescue, self-worth, our value, or confidence, will always fail to deliver what we desire. All idols prove themselves incapable of fulfilling our expectations in them. But if we place our hope and trust in God, we will never be disappointed. We should never place our trust in anything other than God – especially man. “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22 ESV).
Father, never let me get fat and happy in this world. I don't want to become content and complacent, falling in love with the plastic hopes and dreams of this fleeting world. I want to constantly remember that my treasure lies elsewhere. My hope is not found in the things of this earth, but in You. Forgive me for making idols out of so many things. Open my eyes. Help me to see them for what they are. Give me the strength to turn from anything and everything that tries to capture my affection for You. Amen