I’ve reached the prophets – with Isaiah coming at a good time in Advent!
And what a way to begin. Isaiah is straight in at full speed, warning Israel of the coming destruction as Assyria looms on the horizon. He’s clear that this is part of God’s judgement on Israel for her apostasy. It’s not necessarily the idols he mentions in chapter 3 – it may just as well be a religion which keeps all the right appearances and rituals, but which is focussed on appeasing or manipulating God rather than on obedience and care for others. In his first chapter this is already what Isaiah is denouncing – all the sacrifices that are offered will mean nothing until those praying cleanse their hands from blood, and
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes.
Cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow (1:16,17)
Time and again the prophets will call Israel (and so us) back to a faith which responds to God’s loving care by living in ways that honour him and build justice and care – not just by being more religious.
And with the warning, Isaiah alternates promise – out of the ashes of exile will arise something better than ever. The Temple and God’s leading Israel through the wilderness are both in view, as key moments of faith which will be redone when Israel returns from exile.
For God’s judgement is not arbitrary – nor is his judgement as, experienced here, final. There is always hope.