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Isaiah 1:2-20

Context
Obedience, not Sacrifice

1:2 Listen, O heavens,

pay attention, O earth! 1 

For the Lord speaks:

“I raised children, 2  I brought them up, 3 

but 4  they have rebelled 5  against me!

1:3 An ox recognizes its owner,

a donkey recognizes where its owner puts its food; 6 

but Israel does not recognize me, 7 

my people do not understand.”

1:4 8 The sinful nation is as good as dead, 9 

the people weighed down by evil deeds.

They are offspring who do wrong,

children 10  who do wicked things.

They have abandoned the Lord,

and rejected the Holy One of Israel. 11 

They are alienated from him. 12 

1:5 13 Why do you insist on being battered?

Why do you continue to rebel? 14 

Your head has a massive wound, 15 

your whole body is weak. 16 

1:6 From the soles of your feet to your head,

there is no spot that is unharmed. 17 

There are only bruises, cuts,

and open wounds.

They have not been cleansed 18  or bandaged,

nor have they been treated 19  with olive oil. 20 

1:7 Your land is devastated,

your cities burned with fire.

Right before your eyes your crops

are being destroyed by foreign invaders. 21 

They leave behind devastation and destruction. 22 

1:8 Daughter Zion 23  is left isolated,

like a hut in a vineyard,

or a shelter in a cucumber field;

she is a besieged city. 24 

1:9 If the Lord who commands armies 25  had not left us a few survivors,

we would have quickly become like Sodom, 26 

we would have become like Gomorrah.

1:10 Listen to the Lord’s word,

you leaders of Sodom! 27 

Pay attention to our God’s rebuke, 28 

people of Gomorrah!

1:11 “Of what importance to me are your many sacrifices?” 29 

says the Lord.

“I am stuffed with 30  burnt sacrifices

of rams and the fat from steers.

The blood of bulls, lambs, and goats

I do not want. 31 

1:12 When you enter my presence,

do you actually think I want this –

animals trampling on my courtyards? 32 

1:13 Do not bring any more meaningless 33  offerings;

I consider your incense detestable! 34 

You observe new moon festivals, Sabbaths, and convocations,

but I cannot tolerate sin-stained celebrations! 35 

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; 36 

when you offer your many prayers,

I do not listen,

because your hands are covered with blood. 37 

1:16 38 Wash! Cleanse yourselves!

Remove your sinful deeds 39 

from my sight.

Stop sinning!

1:17 Learn to do what is right!

Promote justice!

Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! 40 

Take up the cause of the orphan!

Defend the rights of the widow! 41 

1:18 42 Come, let’s consider your options,” 43  says the Lord.

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

you can become 44  white like snow;

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

you can become 45  white like wool. 46 

1:19 If you have a willing attitude and obey, 47 

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

1:20 But if you refuse and rebel,

you will be devoured 48  by the sword.”

Know for certain that the Lord has spoken. 49 

1 sn The personified heavens and earth are summoned to God’s courtroom as witnesses against God’s covenant people. Long before this Moses warned the people that the heavens and earth would be watching their actions (see Deut 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1).

2 tn Or “sons” (NAB, NASB).

sn “Father” and “son” occur as common terms in ancient Near Eastern treaties and covenants, delineating the suzerain and vassal as participants in the covenant relationship. The prophet uses these terms, the reference to heavens and earth as witnesses, and allusions to deuteronomic covenant curses (1:7-9, 19-20) to set his prophecy firmly against the backdrop of Israel’s covenantal relationship with Yahweh.

3 sn The normal word pair for giving birth to and raising children is יָלַד (yalad, “to give birth to”) and גָּדַל (gadal, “to grow, raise”). The pair גָּדַל and רוּם (rum, “to raise up”) probably occur here to highlight the fact that Yahweh made something important of Israel (cf. R. Mosis, TDOT 2:403).

4 sn Against the backdrop of Yahweh’s care for his chosen people, Israel’s rebellion represents abhorrent treachery. The conjunction prefixed to a nonverbal element highlights the sad contrast between Yahweh’s compassionate care for His people and Israel’s thankless rebellion.

5 sn To rebel carries the idea of “covenant treachery.” Although an act of פֶּשַׁע (pesha’, “rebellion”) often signifies a breach of the law, the legal offense also represents a violation of an existing covenantal relationship (E. Carpenter and M. Grisanti, NIDOTTE 3:707).

6 tn Heb “and the donkey the feeding trough of its owner.” The verb in the first line does double duty in the parallelism.

7 tn Although both verbs have no object, the parallelism suggests that Israel fails to recognize the Lord as the one who provides for their needs. In both clauses, the placement of “Israel” and “my people” at the head of the clause focuses the reader’s attention on the rebellious nation (C. van der Merwe, J. Naudé, J. Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar, 346-47).

8 sn Having summoned the witnesses and announced the Lord’s accusation against Israel, Isaiah mourns the nation’s impending doom. The third person references to the Lord in the second half of the verse suggest that the quotation from the Lord (cf. vv. 2-3) has concluded.

9 tn Heb “Woe [to the] sinful nation.” The Hebrew term הוֹי, (hoy, “woe, ah”) was used in funeral laments (see 1 Kgs 13:30; Jer 22:18; 34:5) and carries the connotation of death. In highly dramatic fashion the prophet acts out Israel’s funeral in advance, emphasizing that their demise is inevitable if they do not repent soon.

10 tn Or “sons” (NASB). The prophet contrasts four terms of privilege – nation, people, offspring, children – with four terms that depict Israel’s sinful condition in Isaiah’s day – sinful, evil, wrong, wicked (see J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 43).

11 sn Holy One of Israel is one of Isaiah’s favorite divine titles for God. It pictures the Lord as the sovereign king who rules over his covenant people and exercises moral authority over them.

12 tn Heb “they are estranged backward.” The LXX omits this statement, which presents syntactical problems and seems to be outside the synonymous parallelistic structure of the verse.

13 sn In vv. 5-9 Isaiah addresses the battered nation (5-8) and speaks as their representative (9).

14 tn Heb “Why are you still beaten? [Why] do you continue rebellion?” The rhetorical questions express the prophet’s disbelief over Israel’s apparent masochism and obsession with sin. The interrogative construction in the first line does double duty in the parallelism. H. Wildberger (Isaiah, 1:18) offers another alternative by translating the two statements with one question: “Why do you still wish to be struck that you persist in revolt?”

15 tn Heb “all the head is ill”; NRSV “the whole head is sick”; CEV “Your head is badly bruised.”

16 tn Heb “and all the heart is faint.” The “heart” here stands for bodily strength and energy, as suggested by the context and usage elsewhere (see Jer 8:18; Lam 1:22).

17 tn Heb “there is not in it health”; NAB “there is no sound spot.”

18 tn Heb “pressed out.”

19 tn Heb “softened” (so NASB, NRSV); NIV “soothed.”

20 sn This verse describes wounds like those one would receive in battle. These wounds are comprehensive and without remedy.

21 tn Heb “As for your land, before you foreigners are devouring it.”

22 tn Heb “and [there is] devastation like an overthrow by foreigners.” The comparative preposition כְּ (kÿ, “like, as”) has here the rhetorical nuance, “in every way like.” The point is that the land has all the earmarks of a destructive foreign invasion because that is what has indeed happened. One could paraphrase, “it is desolate as it can only be when foreigners destroy.” On this use of the preposition in general, see GKC 376 §118.x. Many also prefer to emend “foreigners” here to “Sodom,” though there is no external attestation for such a reading in the mss or ancient versions. Such an emendation finds support from the following context (vv. 9-10) and usage of the preceding noun מַהְפֵּכָה (mahpekhah, “overthrow”). In its five other uses, this noun is associated with the destruction of Sodom. If one accepts the emendation, then one might translate, “the devastation resembles the destruction of Sodom.”

23 tn Heb “daughter of Zion” (so KJV, NASB, NIV). The genitive is appositional, identifying precisely which daughter is in view. By picturing Zion as a daughter, the prophet emphasizes her helplessness and vulnerability before the enemy.

24 tn Heb “like a city besieged.” Unlike the preceding two comparisons, which are purely metaphorical, this third one identifies the reality of Israel’s condition. In this case the comparative preposition, as in v. 7b, has the force, “in every way like,” indicating that all the earmarks of a siege are visible because that is indeed what is taking place. The verb form in MT is Qal passive participle of נָצַר (natsar, “guard”), but since this verb is not often used of a siege (see BDB 666 s.v. I נָצַר), some prefer to repoint the form as a Niphal participle from II צוּר (tsur, “besiege”). However, the latter is not attested elsewhere in the Niphal (see BDB 848 s.v. II צוּר).

25 tn Traditionally, “the Lord of hosts.” The title pictures God as the sovereign king who has at his disposal a multitude of attendants, messengers, and warriors to do his bidding. In some contexts, like this one, the military dimension of his rulership is highlighted. In this case, the title pictures him as one who leads armies into battle against his enemies.

26 tc The translation assumes that כִּמְעָט (kimat, “quickly,” literally, “like a little”) goes with what follows, contrary to the MT accents, which take it with what precedes. In this case, one could translate the preceding line, “If the Lord who commands armies had not left us a few survivors.” If כִּמְעָט goes with the preceding line (following the MT accents), this expression highlights the idea that there would only be a few survivors (H. Wildberger, Isaiah, 1:20; H. Zobel, TDOT 8:456). Israel would not be almost like Sodom but exactly like Sodom.

27 sn Building on the simile of v. 9, the prophet sarcastically addresses the leaders and people of Jerusalem as if they were leaders and residents of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah. The sarcasm is appropriate, for if the judgment is comparable to Sodom’s, that must mean that the sin which prompted the judgment is comparable as well.

28 tn Heb “to the instruction of our God.” In this context, which is highly accusatory and threatening, תּוֹרָה (torah, “law, instruction”) does not refer to mere teaching, but to corrective teaching and rebuke.

29 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.

30 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.

31 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.

32 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.

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

34 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).

35 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).

36 tn Heb “I close my eyes from you.”

37 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.

38 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.

39 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).

40 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.”

41 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.

42 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).

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

44 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.

45 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.

46 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.

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

48 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.

49 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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