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Isaiah 1:11-20

Context

1:11 “Of what importance to me are your many sacrifices?” 1 

says the Lord.

“I am stuffed with 2  burnt sacrifices

of rams and the fat from steers.

The blood of bulls, lambs, and goats

I do not want. 3 

1:12 When you enter my presence,

do you actually think I want this –

animals trampling on my courtyards? 4 

1:13 Do not bring any more meaningless 5  offerings;

I consider your incense detestable! 6 

You observe new moon festivals, Sabbaths, and convocations,

but I cannot tolerate sin-stained celebrations! 7 

1:14 I hate your new moon festivals and assemblies;

they are a burden

that I am tired of carrying.

1:15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,

I look the other way; 8 

when you offer your many prayers,

I do not listen,

because your hands are covered with blood. 9 

1:16 10 Wash! Cleanse yourselves!

Remove your sinful deeds 11 

from my sight.

Stop sinning!

1:17 Learn to do what is right!

Promote justice!

Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! 12 

Take up the cause of the orphan!

Defend the rights of the widow! 13 

1:18 14 Come, let’s consider your options,” 15  says the Lord.

“Though your sins have stained you like the color red,

you can become 16  white like snow;

though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet,

you can become 17  white like wool. 18 

1:19 If you have a willing attitude and obey, 19 

then you will again eat the good crops of the land.

1:20 But if you refuse and rebel,

you will be devoured 20  by the sword.”

Know for certain that the Lord has spoken. 21 

1 tn Heb “Why to me the multitude of your sacrifices?” The sarcastic rhetorical question suggests that their many sacrifices are of no importance to the Lord. This phrase answers the possible objection that an Israelite could raise in response to God’s indictment: “But we are offering the sacrifices you commanded!”

sn In this section the Lord refutes a potential objection that his sinful people might offer in their defense. He has charged them with rebellion (vv. 2-3), but they might respond that they have brought him many sacrifices. So he points out that he requires social justice first and foremost, not empty ritual.

2 tn The verb שָׂבַע (sava’, “be satisfied, full”) is often used of eating and/or drinking one’s fill. See BDB 959 s.v. שָׂבַע. Here sacrifices are viewed, in typical ancient Near Eastern fashion, as food for the deity. God here declares that he has eaten and drunk, as it were, his fill.

3 sn In the chiastic structure of the verse, the verbs at the beginning and end highlight God’s displeasure, while the heaping up of references to animals, fat, and blood in the middle lines hints at why God wants no more of their sacrifices. They have, as it were, piled the food on his table and he needs no more.

4 tn Heb “When you come to appear before me, who requires this from your hand, trampling of my courtyards?” The rhetorical question sarcastically makes the point that God does not require this parade of livestock. The verb “trample” probably refers to the eager worshipers and their sacrificial animals walking around in the temple area.

5 tn Or “worthless” (NASB, NCV, CEV); KJV, ASV “vain.”

6 sn Notice some of the other practices that Yahweh regards as “detestable”: homosexuality (Lev 18:22-30; 20:13), idolatry (Deut 7:25; 13:15), human sacrifice (Deut 12:31), eating ritually unclean animals (Deut 14:3-8), sacrificing defective animals (Deut 17:1), engaging in occult activities (Deut 18:9-14), and practicing ritual prostitution (1 Kgs 14:23).

7 tn Heb “sin and assembly” (these two nouns probably represent a hendiadys). The point is that their attempts at worship are unacceptable to God because the people’s everyday actions in the socio-economic realm prove they have no genuine devotion to God (see vv. 16-17).

8 tn Heb “I close my eyes from you.”

9 sn This does not just refer to the blood of sacrificial animals, but also the blood, as it were, of their innocent victims. By depriving the poor and destitute of proper legal recourse and adequate access to the economic system, the oppressors have, for all intents and purposes, “killed” their victims.

10 sn Having demonstrated the people’s guilt, the Lord calls them to repentance, which will involve concrete action in the socio-economic realm, not mere emotion.

11 sn This phrase refers to Israel’s covenant treachery (cf. Deut 28:10; Jer 4:4; 21:12; 23:2, 22; 25:5; 26:3; 44:22; Hos 9:15; Ps 28:4). In general, the noun ַמעַלְלֵיכֶם (maalleykhem) can simply be a reference to deeds, whether good or bad. However, Isaiah always uses it with a negative connotation (cf. 3:8, 10).

12 tn The precise meaning of this line is uncertain. The translation assumes an emendation of חָמוֹץ (khamots, “oppressor [?]”) to חָמוּץ (khamuts, “oppressed”), a passive participle from II חָמַץ (khamats, “oppress”; HALOT 329 s.v. II חמץ) and takes the verb II אָשַׁר (’ashar) in the sense of “make happy” (the delocutive Piel, meaning “call/pronounce happy,” is metonymic here, referring to actually effecting happiness). The parallelism favors this interpretation, for the next two lines speak of positive actions on behalf of the destitute. The other option is to retain the MT pointing and translate, “set right the oppressor,” but the nuance “set right” is not clearly attested elsewhere for the verb I אשׁר. This verb does appear as a participle in Isa 3:12 and 9:16 with the meaning “to lead or guide.” If it can mean to “lead” or “rebuke/redirect” in this verse, the prophet could be contrasting this appeal for societal reformation (v. 17c) with a command to reorder their personal lives (v. 17a-b). J. A. Motyer (The Prophecy of Isaiah, 47) suggests that these three statements (v. 17a-c) provide “the contrast between the two ends of imperfect society, the oppressor and the needy, the one inflicting and the other suffering the hurt. Isaiah looks for a transformed society wherever it needs transforming.”

13 tn This word refers to a woman who has lost her husband, by death or divorce. The orphan and widow are often mentioned in the OT as epitomizing the helpless and impoverished who have been left without the necessities of life due to the loss of a family provider.

14 sn The Lord concludes his case against Israel by offering them the opportunity to be forgiven and by setting before them the alternatives of renewed blessing (as a reward for repentance) and final judgment (as punishment for persistence in sin).

15 tn Traditionally, “let us reason together,” but the context suggests a judicial nuance. The Lord is giving the nation its options for the future.

16 tn The imperfects must be translated as modal (indicating capability or possibility) to bring out the conditional nature of the offer. This purification will only occur if the people repent and change their ways.

17 tn The imperfects must be translated as modal (indicating capability or possibility) to bring out the conditional nature of the offer. This purification will only occur if the people repent and change their ways.

18 tn Heb “though your sins are like red, they will become white like snow; though they are red like scarlet, they will be like wool.” The point is not that the sins will be covered up, though still retained. The metaphorical language must be allowed some flexibility and should not be pressed into a rigid literalistic mold. The people’s sins will be removed and replaced by ethical purity. The sins that are now as obvious as the color red will be washed away and the ones who are sinful will be transformed.

19 tn Heb “listen”; KJV “obedient”; NASB “If you consent and obey.”

20 sn The wordplay in the Hebrew draws attention to the options. The people can obey, in which case they will “eat” v. 19 (תֹּאכֵלוּ [tokhelu], Qal active participle of אָכַל) God’s blessing, or they can disobey, in which case they will be devoured (Heb “eaten,” תְּאֻכְּלוּ, [tÿukkÿlu], Qal passive/Pual of אָכַל) by God’s judgment.

21 tn Heb “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The introductory כִּי (ki) may be asseverative (as reflected in the translation) or causal/explanatory, explaining why the option chosen by the people will become reality (it is guaranteed by the divine word).



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