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Isaiah 1:11-31

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 

Purifying Judgment

1:21 How tragic that the once-faithful city

has become a prostitute! 22 

She was once a center of 23  justice,

fairness resided in her,

but now only murderers. 24 

1:22 Your 25  silver has become scum, 26 

your beer is diluted with water. 27 

1:23 Your officials are rebels, 28 

they associate with 29  thieves.

All of them love bribery,

and look for 30  payoffs. 31 

They do not take up the cause of the orphan, 32 

or defend the rights of the widow. 33 

1:24 Therefore, the sovereign Lord who commands armies, 34 

the powerful ruler of Israel, 35  says this:

“Ah, I will seek vengeance 36  against my adversaries,

I will take revenge against my enemies. 37 

1:25 I will attack you; 38 

I will purify your metal with flux. 39 

I will remove all your slag. 40 

1:26 I will reestablish honest judges as in former times,

wise advisers as in earlier days. 41 

Then you will be called, ‘The Just City,

Faithful Town.’”

1:27 42 Zion will be freed by justice, 43 

and her returnees by righteousness. 44 

1:28 All rebellious sinners will be shattered, 45 

those who abandon the Lord will perish.

1:29 Indeed, they 46  will be ashamed of the sacred trees

you 47  find so desirable;

you will be embarrassed because of the sacred orchards 48 

where you choose to worship.

1:30 For you will be like a tree whose leaves wither,

like an orchard 49  that is unwatered.

1:31 The powerful will be like 50  a thread of yarn,

their deeds like a spark;

both will burn together,

and no one will put out the fire.

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).

22 tn Heb “How she has become a prostitute, the faithful city!” The exclamatory אֵיכָה (’ekhah, “how!”) is used several times as the beginning of a lament (see Lam 1:1; 2;1; 4:1-2). Unlike a number of other OT passages that link references to Israel’s harlotry to idolatry, Isaiah here makes the connection with social and moral violations.

23 tn Heb “filled with.”

24 tn Or “assassins.” This refers to the oppressive rich and/or their henchmen. R. Ortlund (Whoredom, 78) posits that it serves as a synecdoche for all varieties of criminals, the worst being mentioned to imply all lesser ones. Since Isaiah often addressed his strongest rebuke to the rulers and leaders of Israel, he may have in mind the officials who bore the responsibility to uphold justice and righteousness.

25 tn The pronoun is feminine singular; personified Jerusalem (see v. 21) is addressed.

26 tn Or “dross.” The word refers to the scum or impurites floating on the top of melted metal.

27 sn The metaphors of silver becoming impure and beer being watered down picture the moral and ethical degeneration that had occurred in Jerusalem.

28 tn Or “stubborn”; CEV “have rejected me.”

29 tn Heb “and companions of” (so KJV, NASB); CEV “friends of crooks.”

30 tn Heb “pursue”; NIV “chase after gifts.”

31 sn Isaiah may have chosen the word for gifts (שַׁלְמוֹנִים, shalmonim; a hapax legomena here), as a sarcastic pun on what these rulers should have been doing. Instead of attending to peace and wholeness (שָׁלוֹם, shalom), they sought after payoffs (שַׁלְמוֹנִים).

32 sn See the note at v. 17.

33 sn The rich oppressors referred to in Isaiah and the other eighth century prophets were not rich capitalists in the modern sense of the word. They were members of the royal military and judicial bureaucracies in Israel and Judah. As these bureaucracies grew, they acquired more and more land and gradually commandeered the economy and legal system. At various administrative levels bribery and graft become commonplace. The common people outside the urban administrative centers were vulnerable to exploitation in such a system, especially those, like widows and orphans, who had lost their family provider through death. Through confiscatory taxation, conscription, excessive interest rates, and other oppressive governmental measures and policies, they were gradually disenfranchised and lost their landed property, and with it, their rights as citizens. The socio-economic equilibrium envisioned in the law of Moses was radically disturbed.

34 tn Heb “the master, the Lord who commands armies [traditionally, the Lord of hosts].” On the title “the Lord who commands armies,” see the note at v. 9.

35 tn Heb “the powerful [one] of Israel.”

36 tn Heb “console myself” (i.e., by getting revenge); NRSV “pour out my wrath on.”

37 sn The Lord here identifies with the oppressed and comes as their defender and vindicator.

38 tn Heb “turn my hand against you.” The second person pronouns in vv. 25-26 are feminine singular. Personified Jerusalem is addressed. The idiom “turn the hand against” has the nuance of “strike with the hand, attack,” in Ps 81:15 HT (81:14 ET); Ezek 38:12; Am 1:8; Zech 13:7. In Jer 6:9 it is used of gleaning grapes.

39 tn Heb “I will purify your dross as [with] flux.” “Flux” refers here to minerals added to the metals in a furnace to prevent oxides from forming. For this interpretation of II בֹּר (bor), see HALOT 153 s.v. II בֹּר and 750 s.v. סִיג.

40 sn The metaphor comes from metallurgy; slag is the substance left over after the metallic ore has been refined.

41 tn Heb “I will restore your judges as in the beginning; and your counselors as in the beginning.” In this context, where social injustice and legal corruption are denounced (see v. 23), the “judges” are probably government officials responsible for making legal decisions, while the “advisers” are probably officials who helped the king establish policies. Both offices are also mentioned in 3:2.

42 sn The third person reference to the Lord in v. 28 indicates that the prophet is again (see vv. 21-24a) speaking. Since v. 27 is connected to v. 28 by a conjunction, it is likely that the prophet’s words begin with v. 27.

43 tn Heb “Zion will be ransomed with justice.” Both cola in this verse end with similar terms: justice and righteousness (and both are preceded by a בְּ [bet] preposition). At issue is whether these virtues describe the means or result of the deliverance and whether they delineate God’s justice/righteousness or that of the covenant people. If the righteousness of Israelite returnees is in view, the point seems to be that the reestablishment of Zion as a center of justice (God’s people living in conformity with God’s demand for equity and justice) will deliver the city from its past humiliation and restore it to a place of prominence (see 2:2-4; cf. E. Kissane, Isaiah, 1:19). Most scholars conclude that “righteousness and “justice” refers to God alone (J. Ridderbos, Isaiah [BSC], 50; J. Watts, Isaiah [WBC], 1:25; E. J. Young, Isaiah [NICOT], 1:89; cf. NLT, TEV) or serves as a double reference to both divine and human justice and righteousness (J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 51; J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah [NICOT], 1:10; H. Wildberger, Isaiah, 1:72). If it refers to both sides of the coin, these terms highlight the objective divine work of redemption and the subjective human response of penitence (Motyer, 51).

44 tc The Hebrew text has, “her repentant ones/returnees with righteousness.” The form שָׁבֶיהָ (shaveha, “her repentant ones”), as pointed in MT, is a masculine plural Qal participle from שׁוּב (shuv, “return”). Used substantivally, it refers to the “returning (i.e., repentant) ones.” It is possible that the parallel line (with its allusion to being freed by a ransom payment) suggests that the form be repointed to שִׁבְיָהּ (shivyah, “her captivity”), a reading that has support from the LXX. Some slightly emend the form to read וְשָׁבָה (vÿshavah, “and will return”). According to this view, the verb from the first line applies to the second line as well with the following translation as a result: “she will be released when fairness is restored.” Regardless, it makes best sense in the context to regard this as a reference to repentant Israelites returning to the land of promise. This understanding provides a better contrast with the rebels and sinners in 1:28.

45 tn Heb “and [there will be] a shattering of rebels and sinners together.”

46 tc The Hebrew text (and the Qumran scroll 1QIsaa) has the third person here, though a few Hebrew mss (and Targums) read the second person, which is certainly more consistent with the following context. The third person form is the more difficult reading and probably original. This disagreement in person has caused some to emend the first verb (3rd plural) to a 2nd plural form (followed by most English translations). The BHS textual apparatus suggests that the 2nd plural form be read even though there is only sparse textual evidence. LXX, Syriac, and the Vulgate change all the 2nd person verbs in 1:29-31 to 3rd person verbs. It is likely that the change to a 2nd person form represents an attempt at syntactical harmonization (J. de Waard, Isaiah, 10). The abrupt change from 3rd person to 2nd person may have been intentional for rhetorical impact (GKC 462 §144.p). The rapid change from exclamation (they did!) to reproach (you desired!) might be regarded as a rhetorical figure focusing attention on the addressees and their conditions (de Waard, 10; E. König, Stilistik, Rhetorik, Poetik, 239). This use of the 3rd person could also be understood as an impersonal third person: “one will be ashamed” (de Waard, 10). In v. 29 the prophet continues his description of the sinners (v. 28), but then suddenly makes a transition to direct address (switching from 3rd to 2nd person) in the middle of his sentence.

47 tn The second person pronouns in vv. 29-30 are masculine plural, indicating that the rebellious sinners (v. 28) are addressed.

48 tn Or “gardens” (so KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV); NAB “groves.”

49 tn Or “a garden” (so KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV).

50 tn Heb “will become” (so NASB, NIV).



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