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1. A Rebellious Nation

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. 3The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. 4Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

5Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. 7Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. 8And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. 11To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 18Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

21How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. 22Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water: 23Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them. 24Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:

25And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: 26And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city. 27Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

28And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed. 29For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen. 30For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. 31And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

11. To what purpose is he multitude of your sacrifices to me? Isaiah now introduces God as speaking, for the purpose of making known his own meaning; for it belongs to a lawgiver not only to issue commands, but likewise to give a sound interpretation to the laws, that they may not be abused. Beyond all doubt, the former reproof was exceedingly unpalatable and oppressive to them; for what language expressive of stronger disapprobation or abhorrence could have been employed? They gloried in the name of Abraham, boasted that they were his children, and on this ground maintained a haughty demeanor. This is the reason why the Prophet arms himself with the authority of God against them; as if he had said, “Know that it is not with me but with God that you have to do.”

Next he explains the intention and design of God in demanding sacrifices; that he does so, not because he sets a high value on them, but in order that they may be aids to piety; and, consequently, that the Jews were greatly mistaken who made all their holiness to consist of those services. For they thought that they had performed their duty admirably well when they offered sacrifices of slain beasts; and when the prophets demanded something beyond this, they complained that they were treated harshly. Now the Lord says that he rejects and abhors them, which may appear to be excessive severity, for it was by him that they were appointed. But it ought to be observed that some of the commandments of God ought to be obeyed on their own account, while others of them have a remoter object. For instance, the law enjoins us to serve and worship God, and next enjoins us to do good to our neighbors. (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18.) These things are in themselves acceptable to God, and are demanded on their own account. The case is different with ceremonies; for they are performances which are not demanded on their own account, but for a different reason. The same thing may be said of fasting;

For the kingdom of God does not consist in meat and drink; (Romans 14:17;)

and therefore fasting is directed to another object.

It follows, therefore, that ceremonies were not appointed in such a manner as if they were a satisfaction by which he should be appeased, but in order that by means of them the nation might be trained to godliness, and might make greater and greater progress in faith and in the pure worship of God. But hypocrites observe them with the most scrupulous care, as if the whole of religion turned on this point, and think that they are the most devout of all men, when they have long and anxiously wearied themselves in observing them. And that they may be thought more devout, they likewise add something of their own, and daily contrive new inventions, and most wickedly abuse the holy ordinances of God, by not keeping in view their true object. All their ceremonies, therefore, are nothing else than corruptions of the worship of God. For when their whole attention is given to the outward and naked performance, in what respect do their sacrifices differ from the sacrifices of the Gentiles, which, we know, were full of sacrilege, because they had no regard to a lawful end?

This is the reason why the Lord rejects those ceremonies, though they had been appointed by his authority, because the nation did not consider the object and purpose for which they were enjoined. The unceasing contest between the prophets and the nation was to tear off these masks, and to show that the Lord is not satisfied with merely outward worship, and cannot be appeased by ceremonies. In all places godly ministers have experience of the same kind of conflicts; for men always form their estimate of God from themselves, and think that he is satisfied with outward display, but cannot without the greatest difficulty be brought to offer to him the integrity of their heart.

All the perplexity of this passage will be easily removed by Jeremiah, who says,

When I redeemed your fathers out of Egypt, I did not order them to offer sacrifices to me; I only enjoined them to hear me and to keep my commandments. (Jeremiah 7:22.)

For he shows that the observance of ceremonies depends wholly on the word, and that it is as idle and unprofitable to separate there from the word as it would be for the soul to be parted from the body. To this also belongs the argument in Psalm 50:13, 14, —

Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows to the Most High.

And in another passage the same Jeremiah says,

“Trust not in words of falsehood, saying, The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are we.
But rather excel in doing good, etc.” (Jeremiah 7:4.)

The Prophet Micah likewise says, “Doth the LORD take pleasure in thousands of rams, or in ten thousand rivers of oil?” Immediately afterwards he adds,

“I will show thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requireth from thee, namely, to do justly, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God.” (Micah 6:7, 8.)

From these passages it is evident that the reason why ceremonies are condemned is, that they are separated from the word as from their soul. Hence we see how great is the blindness of men, who cannot be convinced that all the pains they take to worship God are of no advantage unless they flow from integrity of heart. Nor is this vice confined to the common people, but is found in almost all men; and in those who in their opinion excel all others. Hence springs the notion of the efficacy which belongs to the mere performance of the outward act — or, as they call it, the opus operatum — which Popish doctors have contrived, and which at the present day keeps a firm hold of the minds of many. Now here it is not man but God himself who speaks, and who pronounces, by an unchangeable decree, that all that men do is in vain offered for his acceptance, is empty and unprofitable, unless they call upon him with true faith.


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