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Isaiah 1

Israel’s ancient apostasy typifies an end-time apostasy, with salvation reserved for some who repent.

1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz which he beheld concerning Judea and Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah:

Isaiah mentions four successive kings during whose reigns he prophesies, of whom Ahaz and Hezekiah feature most prominently in the Book of Isaiah, one for evil, the other for good. A fifth goes unmentioned—Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, who slays Isaiah by sawing him in half (Ascension of Isaiah, 11:41). On account of the sins of Manasseh, the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah are ultimately exiled and taken captive by the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:3-4). Manasseh’s reign becomes a point of no return for the Jewish nation because of the king’s corrupting influence on the people.

As the preface of the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 1 dates from about 701 B.C., the fourteenth year of the reign of King Hezekiah. At that time, Assyria invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Israel’s God Jehovah, however, thwarted Assyria’s designs because of the righteousness of the king and his people. Earlier, in 722 B.C., Assyria had conquered the ten-tribed Northern Kingdom of Israel and taken its people captive into Mesopotamia. The first chapter of the Book of Isaiah chronologically is chapter 6, which describes Isaiah’s calling as a prophet in the year of King Uzziah’s death in 742 B.C.

The vision. Although Isaiah’s prophetic ministry may have spanned fifty years, the singular term “vision” (hazon) defines Isaiah’s writings as one conceptually from beginning to end. That is evident in the Book of Isaiah’s multi-layered structuring, through which Isaiah integrates his early oracles and later written discourses into a single prophecy that spells out an end-time scenario. Without taking away from the historical origins of Isaiah’s writings, historical events now serve as an allegory of the end-time, in which “Judea” and “Jerusalem” are codenames that designate Jehovah’s end-time people.

2 Hear, O heavens! Give heed, O earth!Jehovah has spoken:I have reared sons, brought them up,but they have revolted against me.

Isaiah begins his prophecy by calling on the heavens and the earth, which were witnesses of the Sinai Covenant (Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19). That is the covenant Jehovah made with Israel as a nation, through which the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob became a people of God (Exodus 6:7). The “heavens” and the “earth,” however, don’t refer simply to the physical heavens and earth but to those who reside in them. Heavenly witnesses to Jehovah’s covenant no doubt include Israel’s ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others who would retain the utmost interest in their descendants’ welfare.

Additionally, when Jehovah made the covenant with his people Israel, it included both those present and those not present (Deuteronomy 29:14-15). That alludes to the idea that there existed others yet unborn who were parties to the covenant as much as the people who stood with Moses at Mount Sinai. In fact, even though Jehovah’s people Israel may at different times have broken the Sinai Covenant, that never caused the covenant itself to be annulled. According to Isaiah, even the new covenant Jehovah makes at the dawning of the millennial age is a compound of all former covenants he made.

Jehovah has spoken. When Israel’s God speaks formally, as he does here, it signifies an official decree or promulgation. This suggests that at that point in time there has arisen a need for a reassessment or stocktaking. Let’s say his people’s affairs continue for a time but then noticeably deteriorate. At that juncture, Jehovah issues a pronouncement condemning his people or warning them of the inevitable consequences that must follow. Those consequences take the form of curses or misfortunes that pertain to Jehovah’s covenant with his people, which, after repeated admonitions, become irreversible.

I have reared sons, brought them up, but they have revolted against me. The word “sons” (Hebrew banim) is a legal term common to covenants of the ancient Near East that denotes vassalship to an emperor. As the prophets from Moses to Malachi adopt the ancient Near Eastern emperor-vassal model to define Jehovah’s covenant relationship with Israel collectively and with persons individually, the word “sons,” as used in the present context, implies the breaking of covenant relationships by those with whom Jehovah has covenanted. The term “sons” may secondarily denote God’s “children.”

Brought them up. The Hebrew verb romamti additionally alludes to being “elevated” to an exalted position—to possessing special duties or privileges compared to others of God’s children. Jehovah’s covenants with Israel as a nation as well as with individuals among them lend them special status. When they keep the law or terms of the covenant that the prophets have taught them, Jehovah blesses them more than other nations. Now, however, not only are they taking their blessings and privileges for granted, they are “revolting” or “transgressing” (pas‘u) against their source—Israel’s God.

3 The ox knows its owner,the ass its master’s stall,but Israel does not know;my people are insensible.

Israel . . . my people. We learn from Isaiah’s multi-layered literary structures that Isaiah speaks on two distinct levels simultaneously, and that the “Israel” he addresses, therefore, is primarily two: (1) those who were Jehovah’s covenant people anciently; and (2) those who are Jehovah’s covenant people in the end-time. Accordingly, Isaiah’s linear structures enable us to read his prophecy as relating to Israel’s past, while his synchronous structures enable us to read it as relating to the end-time. In that end-time context, names such as “Israel” designate those who have covenanted with Israel’s God.

The ox . . . the ass. Whereas the ox is a ritually clean animal—because it divides the hoof and chews the cud (Leviticus 11:3)—the ass is not. Such dual imagery of beasts at times appears in Isaiah’s writings to represent (1) Israel’s natural or ethnic lineages; and (2) the nations of the Gentiles, or those lineages of Israel that assimilated into the Gentiles after its exile from the Promised Land. In an allegorical but not a contextual sense, therefore, this implies that Jehovah acknowledges a covenant relationship with both Israel’s ethnic lineages and those lineages that assimilated into the Gentiles.

The ox knows . . . Israel does not know. The verb “to know” (yada‘) is a theological term that expresses an intact covenant relationship—as when Adam “knew” his wife Eve and she conceived and bore a son (Genesis 4:1). Israel’s “not knowing,” on the other hand, implies that Jehovah’s people have broken the covenant with their God or voided their relationship with him (cf. Matthew 7:23). Although righteous individuals among them may come to know Jehovah personally—as he manifests himself to those who love him—in this case most appear unwilling to do what it takes (cf. Matthew 25:12).

My people are insensible. As the negative reflexive verb “insensible” (lo’ hitbonan) (also “undiscerning” or “uncomprehending”) parallels “not knowing” Jehovah—his people’s owner and master—and “not knowing” the stall or institution he provides to feed his people, it connotes a disintegration of their covenant relationship with him and ignorance of spiritual truths. Says Paul, “The things of God no man knows but the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). Unless one obtains the Spirit of God that comes with keeping the law of his covenant, it is impossible to know God or to comprehend his truth.

4 Alas, a nation astray,a people weighed down by sin,the offspring of wrongdoers,perverse children:they have forsaken Jehovah,they have spurned the Holy One of Israel,they have lapsed into apostasy.

From addressing his people personally as “Israel . . . my people” (v 3), Jehovah now addresses them impersonally as “a nation,” signifying their alienated state. Additionally, a regression occurs from his people’s simply going “astray” to their burdening themselves with “sin,” which, over time, ends in outright “wrongdoing.” That occurs collectively and generationally. The “offspring of wrongdoers” turn into “perverse children,” meaning that the rising generation has by now become thoroughly corrupt. “Forsaking” Jehovah and “spurning” him finally become conscious and deliberate acts.

The Holy One of Israel. The title of “Holy One,” together with “Valiant One” (v 24) designates Israel’s God more than thirty times in the Book of Isaiah. In this case, it contrasts Jehovah’s holiness with his people’s unholiness. Still, it points to what Jehovah’s people should become—“holy” or “sanctified,” like their God. Both titles—“Holy One” and “Valiant One”—characterize Israel’s God as his people’s exemplar. We observe this in an instance in which Jehovah exempts a righteous remnant of his people called his “holy ones” and “valiant ones” from a worldwide destruction (Isaiah 13:3).

They have lapsed into apostasy. Hebrew nazoru ahor signifies that Jehovah’s people have become entirely “estranged” from him. They have “gone backwards” to what they used to be before they became Jehovah’s covenant people, when they didn’t know their God. In effect, they have become godless again like the world’s heathen nations, but now more so because they have rejected the light they once had. The apostasy into which they began to backslide a generation ago is now complete. As a consequence, instead of enjoying the blessings of the covenant, they must suffer its curses.

5 Why be smitten furtherby adding to your waywardness?The whole head is sick,the whole heart diseased.

To be “smitten” of God—through plagues, misfortunes, natural disasters, and enemies—constitutes Jehovah’s final attempt to bring his people back to a state of blessedness by influencing or inducing them to repent of evil. Instead, their persistent waywardness compounds their plight (Isaiah 42:18-25; 59:8-10). Illness and disease become rampant, reflecting a society sick in mind and body. Allegorically, the people’s “head” or leadership, and their “heart” or core institutions—in short, their entire establishment, political and religious (Isaiah 7:8-9; 9:14-16)—has degenerated to a pathological state.

6 From the soles of the feet even to the headthere is nothing sound,only wounds and bruises and festering sores;they have not been pressed out or bound up,nor soothed with ointment.

Like the wounds, bruises, and sores of an enemy slave—one who receives no chance of being ministered to—Jehovah’s alienated people find themselves in pitiful circumstances. When someone in a gulag becomes ill, that is his problem; he is dispensable. That is the condition to which Jehovah’s people are reduced in his Day of Judgment. Like the Prodigal Son, they have rebelled against Jehovah and squandered their inheritance. Then, when their entire society breaks down, their curse becomes irrevocable. Nevertheless, although a majority suffers misery, there remains hope for some who repent.

Nor soothed with ointment. The idea of being “soothed with ointment,” which is denied the wicked, Jehovah doesn’t deny the righteous. We observe his healing and anointing his repentant people later in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 30:26; 57:18-19; 58:8; 61:3). It is for the reader to discover such antitheses by searching Isaiah’s terms and concepts. In other words, although Isaiah has us wade through the judgmental parts of his prophecy before he presents Jehovah’s glorious promises, all doesn’t end in gloom and doom. If Jehovah’s people repent in time, they may yet qualify for his divine blessings.

7 Your land is ruined,your cities burned with fire;your native soil is devoured by aliens in your presence,laid waste at its takeover by foreigners.

While the “land” refers to the Promised Land—which Jehovah grants as a covenant blessing to his people who keep his law and word—the land’s invasion and destruction by enemies signifies covenant curses directed at a generation of Jehovah’s people that has turned to wickedness. In a historical context, the “land” is the Land of Canaan, which ancient Israel conquered under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. In an end-time context, the “land” is the one occupied by those who profess to be Jehovah’s covenant people in that day, which their forebears obtained from Jehovah as a covenant blessing.

As determined by Isaiah’s network of synonymous parallels, the terms “fire” (v 7) and “sword” (v 20) possess dual meanings. Besides their literal meaning, these terms designate persons who personify Jehovah’s fire and sword, who serve as his instruments in punishing the wicked. In a historical context, one such person is the “king of Assyria”—who also appears under his idolatrous title “king of Babylon”—whom Isaiah represents as conquering the world (Isaiah 10:5-14; 13:4-5; 14:4, 6; 37:18). In an end-time context, a similar archtyrant—a modern-day Antichrist—likewise conquers the world.

Aliens . . . foreigners. Conceptually, in the Book of Isaiah, invasive aliens and foreigners identify the Assyrian alliance that conquers the world (Isaiah 5:26-29; 10:5-7, 28-32; 13:4-5; 28:11, 22; 33:19; 62:8). From the way the Hebrew prophets portray world affairs, we learn that the rise of Assyria as a superpower occurs in direct proportion to the apostasy of Jehovah’s covenant people, in the end-time as anciently. Without that precondition foreign nations could not dominate the world stage nor invade the lands of Jehovah’s people. Still, one place Assyria is unable to conquer is Zion, as we see next.

8 The Daughter of Zion is leftlike a shelter in a vineyard,a hut in a melon field,a city under siege.

The Daughter of Zion. When defining Israel’s relationship to its God, the Hebrew prophets commonly characterize Israel as a woman and Jehovah as her husband within the marriage covenant. Because Jehovah’s people as a whole have apostatized, however, persons among them who survive Assyria’s destruction comprise but a small remnant of Jehovah’s people. Called “Zion” or the “Daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 37:22; 52:2; 62:11), these survivors represent a higher spiritual category of Jehovah’s people than the “Israel” category because of their faithfulness to his covenant through many trials.

The Daughter of Zion is left. The idea of being “left” signifies the survival of a remnant of Jehovah’s people at the time the rest perish. It underscores the dire conditions under which some survive. Word links in the Book of Isaiah identify those who are “left” as persons who return from exile in a new exodus to Zion (Isaiah 11:11, 16), who survive Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:4), who remain “as a flagstaff on a mountaintop, an ensign on a hill” (Isaiah 30:17), whose names are “inscribed among the living at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 4:3), and who are called “the holy offspring” (Isaiah 6:13).

A shelter in a vineyard. While Jehovah’s “vineyard” denotes the Promised Land (Isaiah 5:1-7), in the millennial age it extends to the entire earth (Isaiah 27:2-6). The “shelter” refers to Jehovah’s cloud of glory that protects a remnant of his people as it did ancient Israel (Exodus 14:19-20, Exodus 14:19-20, 24): “Over the whole site of Mount Zion, and over its solemn assembly, Jehovah will form a cloud by day and a mist glowing with fire by night: above all that is glorious shall be a canopy. It shall be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, a secret refuge from the downpour and from rain” (Isaiah 4:5-6; cf. 25:4-5).

A hut in a melon field. The idea of a “hut” suggests the presence of a watchman who guards the field against thieves and wild animals. A synonym of the term “shelter”—which appears in parallel with it—the “hut” further connotes protection from the elements, such as a rainstorm or the heat of the sun, whose imagery alludes to Jehovah’s Day of Judgment (Isaiah 17:13; 18:4-6; 25:4-5; 28:2, 14-19; 32:19; 40:24; 49:10). As a watchman’s role includes sounding the alarm when danger approaches (Isaiah 21:6-10), so those who heed the watchman’s warning are persons most likely to survive.

A city under siege. The “city” motif—which here appears in parallel with the “shelter” and “hut”—provides another metaphor of Jehovah’s people. Ultimately there emerge two cities in the Book of Isaiah that represent Jehovah’s covenant people: one wicked, the other righteous; one destroyed, the other delivered (v 21; Isaiah 24:10-12; 26:1-6; 33:20; 52:1-2; 66:6). The expression “under siege” (nesurah), moreover, possesses a double meaning in Hebrew: (1) “under siege”; and (2) “preserved.” In other words, although the righteous city may come under siege by enemies, Jehovah preserves it.

9 Had not Jehovah of Hosts left us a few survivors,we should have been as Sodom,or become like Gomorrah.

A type or precedent of the “few survivors” of Jehovah’s people who are “left” after the destruction are Lot and his two daughters who escaped God’s ancient destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-30). Representing a pattern of what happens in the end-time, when Jehovah sends his angels to escort Lot and his family out of Sodom, his sons-in-law consider it foolish while Lot’s wife looks back and perishes (Genesis 19:12-23; cf. Matthew 24:31). The full authoritative title “Jehovah of Hosts” underscores the gravity of these events and the fact that Israel’s God is in charge of world affairs.

Sodom . . . Gomorrah. The names Sodom and Gomorrah remind us of those ancient cities and their inhabitants and what they came to symbolize. In their perverse lifestyle their residents grew so aggressive that they attempted to violate the angels of God who were Lot’s guests (Genesis 19:1-11). Isaiah’s drawing on this type when predicting the end-time lets us know that once they lose God’s light his people start to resemble those ancient inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. When his people’s devotion to Jehovah becomes but a shallow version of his law and word, it lacks the power to withstand evil.

The names Sodom and Gomorrah additionally function as word links to Babylon: “And Babylon, the most splendid of kingdoms, the glory and pride of Chaldeans, shall be [thrown down] as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19). Isaiah’s structurally developed concept of a Greater Babylon—resembling John’s “Babylon the Great”—identifies it as an evil world conglomerate on the eve of its destruction (Isaiah 13-23, 47; Revelation 17-18). That a wicked majority of Jehovah’s people suffers the same fate Babylon does implies that it too has become identified with Babylon.

The idea of “cities burned with fire” that describes the destruction of Jehovah’s people (v 7) alludes to the desolation of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and their residents by a hail of fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:24-25; cf. Isaiah 32:19). While the end-time version of that event may involve a similar cosmic cataclysm, Isaiah attributes the destruction of the world’s cities to the king of Assyria/Babylon (Isaiah 37:26). In view of modern weaponry’s ability to destroy entire cities in seconds, such technology in the hands of an archtyrant may thus account for Isaiah’s end-time scenario (Isaiah 9:18-19).

10 Hear the word of Jehovah,O leaders of Sodom;give heed to the law of our God,you people of Gomorrah!

To call Jehovah’s people and their leaders by the names Sodom and Gomorrah is to compare their moral degeneracy to that of those cities’ ancient inhabitants. As the leaders of a people generally reflect the people themselves, and as the political and ecclesiastical leaders of Jehovah’s people parallel each other in the Book of Isaiah, their spiritual condition holds little hope for the rising generation. When things reach that point, Jehovah’s people are fortunate indeed if Jehovah offers them a last warning. For those who accept it, there may yet be a chance of deliverance; otherwise, their destruction is assured.

Hear the word of Jehovah . . . give heed to the law of our God. Knowing that Jehovah does nothing unless he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7), he sends a warning voice before destroying his people. In the Book of Isaiah, that warning voice is Jehovah’s servant, of whom Isaiah is a type. Pointing them to Jehovah’s “law” and “word—to the terms of his covenant—the servant directs them to the one thing that has the power to reverse their circumstances. Replacing current aberrant religious practices with keeping Jehovah’s law and word remains his people’s only hope.

11 For what purpose are your abundantsacrifices to me? says Jehovah.I have had my fill of offerings of ramsand fat of fatted beasts;the blood of bulls and sheep and he-goatsI do not want.

While the worship of Jehovah goes on as if nothing has changed, its rituals have become a substitute for spirituality. As when Samuel rebukes Saul: “Does Jehovah delight in burnt sacrifices and offerings as much as in heeding the voice of Jehovah? Listen up! To obey is better than sacrifice and to comply than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). The purpose of temple worship—and the measure of one’s devotion to God—isn’t to multiply ordinances. It is to keep the terms of his covenant that assures Jehovah’s people the same privileges enjoyed by ancestors who walked and talked with him.

Offerings of rams and fat of fatted beasts; the blood of bulls and sheep and he-goats. The literalness of the animals—reflecting their ancient use as temple sacrifices—may seem to preclude their relevance to the end-time. Isaiah, however, uses ritually clean beasts as a metaphor of Jehovah’s people (Isaiah 34:1-7; 40:11; 53:7; 60:3-9). In other words, just as sacrificial animals anciently served as proxies for Jehovah’s people who transgressed—thereby forestalling God’s justice—so their end-time relevance applies to the temple-goers themselves: their proxy rituals are no longer acceptable.

12 When you come to see me,who requires you to trample my courts so?

The question asked at the beginning of verse 11 is answered at the beginning of verse 12: Jehovah’s people attend the temple to see Jehovah. If they aren’t there for that purpose, then all else doesn’t count for much. That reveals an appalling paradox: instead of going to see Jehovah, his people resemble the dumb animals that were anciently brought for sacrifice, which were unaware of their reason for being there. Instead of making an offering of their whole souls to God—as symbolized by the burnt offerings and shedding of the animals’ blood—his people trudge about the temple’s courts defiling it.

13 Bring no more worthless offerings;they are as a loathsome incense to me.As for convening meetings at the New Monthand on the Sabbath,wickedness with the solemn gatheringI cannot approve.

Although Jehovah had commanded the offering of incense (Exodus 30:1-8; 40:26-27)—symbolic of the prayers of the righteous ascending to his presence (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:3-4)—the idea of a “loathsome incense” likens it to a nauseating odor. Their sacrifices have become “worthless” because they aren’t backed up by personal righteousness (Isaiah 61:8). Even their religious meetings and assemblies Jehovah can’t approve because those who attend them are encumbered with offenses. Their wickedness—their unrepented sins and iniquities—turns their services into solemn mockery.

14 Your monthly and regular meetingsmy soul detests.They have become a burden on me;I am weary of putting up with them.

As Jehovah attaches importance to Sabbath and monthly meetings elsewhere (Isaiah 56:2, 6; 58:13; 66:23), it isn’t that they of themselves are unacceptable. It is that his people measure their righteousness before God in terms of their attendance at them, not by their personal integrity. Word links show what kinds of things burden and weary Jehovah, but also that by repenting of evil his people may become clean: “You have burdened me with your sins, wearied me with your iniquities. But it is I myself, and for my own sake, who blot out your offenses, remembering your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:24-25).

15 When you spread forth your hands,I will conceal my eyes from you;though you pray at length, I will not hear—your hands are filled with blood.

While spreading forth the hands and praying at length are two legitimate forms of prayer, they can’t benefit an unrepentant people guilty of gross crimes. The word “blood” not only implies extreme injustice (Isaiah 26:21; 59:3, 7), it encapsulates injustices in general. Although “hands filled with blood” alludes to murder and abortion, it further epitomizes societal failings and abuses whose ripple effects include suicides to which an unrighteous people contribute. In short, the worship of Jehovah by those whose hearts aren’t broken, whose spirits aren’t contrite (Psalm 51:16-17), Jehovah can’t countenance.

16 Wash yourselves clean:remove your wicked deedsfrom before my eyes;cease to do evil.

Instead of simply telling his people to repent, Israel’s God explains how to repent. His definition involves ridding their lives of their evil actions, neither excusing nor repeating them. Of course, that includes his people’s admitting their guilt, taking ownership of aberrant behavior. While becoming “clean” signifies Jehovah’s remission of their sins, it follows only upon their living righteously. The words “before my eyes” signify that Jehovah sees all things, precluding the idea that his people can escape the curses of his covenant that will inevitably follow unless they speedily “cease to do evil.”

17 Learn to do good: demand justice,stand up for the oppressed;plead the cause of the fatherless,appeal on behalf of the widow.

Doing “good” implies keeping the terms of Jehovah’s covenant. Jehovah’s definition of doing good includes seeking justice for the oppressed—persons unable to aid themselves. While the widows and fatherless represent those most in need, others aren’t excluded. By citing extreme examples of persons and behaviors, Isaiah doesn’t mean to limit things to them. The fact that Jehovah’s people must “learn” to do good suggests that they no longer know. The words “demand,” “stand up for,” “plead,” and “appeal” go beyond passively noticing others’ needs to actively intervening on their behalf.

18 Come now, let us put it to the test,says Jehovah:though your sins are as scarlet,they can be made white as snow;though they have reddened as crimson,they may become white as wool.

Two possibilities exist for interpreting this verse. First—as Hebrew has no question marks—Jehovah is asking, “With blood on your hands, do you still imagine you can become clean? Do you assume I will readily pardon you though you are guilty of the unpardonable sin?” Do Jehovah’s people pretend that the God who said, “Whoever sheds a man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6), will simply overlook their crimes so long as they go to church and put on a good appearance? That kind of hypocrisy is indeed characteristic of a Sodom-and-Gomorrah type of society (vv 9-10).

Second, in this verse’s larger context of Jehovah’s people’s repenting of transgression and purifying their lives, they may even now become clean of gross crimes. They shouldn’t assume, though burdened with guilt, that they are too far gone, that there exists no further hope of recovery. The “test” Jehovah presents is whether or not they will repent of doing evil. While “scarlet” and “crimson”—the color of “blood”—allude to murder, abortion, etc. (v 15), they also signify the stain of wickedness in general. Jehovah is willing to forgive those who “cease to do evil” and “learn to do good” (vv 16-17).

19 If you are willing and obey,you shall eat the good of the land.

As noted, the essence of Jehovah’s “test” (v 18) is whether his people will repent. How? By their willingness to obey the law or terms of his covenant. The doubling of the Hebrew verbs “willing” and “obey” causes the first to modify the second. An alternative translation, therefore, is “If you willingly obey, you shall eat the good of the land.” Both the “good” or increase of the land and the land itself constitute covenant blessings (Deuteronomy 19:8; 28:3-5, 11-12). The context of this verse is Jehovah’s Day of Judgment, when he preserves alive those who repent of transgression (vv 7-9).

20 But if you are unwilling and disobey,you shall be eaten by the sword.By his mouth Jehovah has spoken it.

A negative response to Jehovah’s warning leads to his people’s destruction in his Day of Judgment. Their refusal to repent results in Jehovah’s empowering their enemies against them. Like the term fire (v 7), the term sword has a dual meaning. In its present context, it identifies the king of Assyria/Babylon, who personifies Jehovah’s fire and sword. As Jehovah’s instrument for destroying the wicked, he cleanses the earth before Jehovah comes to reign: “With fire and with his sword will Jehovah execute judgment on all flesh, and those slain by Jehovah shall be many” (Isaiah 66:16; emphasis added).

By his mouth Jehovah has spoken it. Israel’s God makes his warning an official declaration—what their divine Judge decrees will indeed come to pass. As chapter 1 shows, however, Jehovah’s people as a whole don’t heed his warning. Many are beyond responding positively to a call to repent. Because Jehovah’s servant who prepares the way before Jehovah’s coming to reign on the earth serves as his mouth or mouthpiece, it is he who delivers Jehovah’s final warning. Still, most ignore their peril and few survive the archtyrant’s destruction of the world (Isaiah 10:5-7; 42:24-25; 48:18-19; 65:12).

21 How the faithful cityhas become a harlot!She was filled with justice;righteousness made its abode in her,but now murderers.

Foreseeing his people’s imminent calamity because they choose not to repent, the prophet grieves for them, the word “How” characterizing a lament (Lamentations 1:1; 2:1; 4:1). In other words, the prophet is asking, “How could this tragedy have happened? How is it that this people didn’t repent in time? How could those who were once righteous become so wicked?” The term “harlot” attests to their broken covenant relationship with Jehovah their husband (Isaiah 57:3-13). Besides identifying a specific place, the term “city” represents Jehovah’s covenant people in general (Isaiah 45:13; 60:14).

She was filled with justice. Righteousness made her abode in her, but now murderers. “Justice” (mispat) and “righteousness” (sedeq)—the basis of all covenant blessings and the underpinnings of a law-abiding society—have given way to injustice and unrighteousness. The term “murderers” reiterates the level of wickedness to which Jehovah’s people have sunk. The term righteousness additionally identifies Jehovah’s end-time servant who acts as an exemplar of righteousness to Jehovah’s people (Isaiah 41:2, 25; 46:11-13) and whom Jehovah appoints to restore justice in the earth (Isaiah 42:1-4).

22 Your silver has become dross,your wine diluted with water.

As the Hebrew term “silver” (kesep) additionally means “money,” its meaning here points to a worthless or devalued currency. Products such as wine, too, lack the quality they once had. Isaiah, however, intends more than a literal meaning of these terms. His imagery of common, semi-precious, and precious metals and stones, for example, denotes three ascending spiritual categories of people (Isaiah 60:17). In other words, some people who were in an elect category (“silver”) have become “dross,” which isn’t a metal at all. Having fallen from grace, they have joined Isaiah’s Perdition category.

Your wine diluted with water. Besides its literal meaning, the idea of “wine” metaphorically signifies spiritual nourishment: “You who have no money, come, buy wine and milk with no money and at no cost” (Isaiah 55:1). Those who teach God’s word, in effect, have watered it down until it no longer nourishes his people: “Their heart ponders impiety—how to practice hypocrisy and preach perverse things concerning Jehovah, leaving the hungry soul empty, depriving the thirsty [soul] of drink” (Isaiah 32:6). What passes for God’s word has become but a diminished version of his gospel in its fullness.

23 Your rulers are renegades,accomplices of robbers:with one accord they love bribesand run after rewards;they do not dispense justice to the fatherless,nor does the widow’s case come before them.

On a par with the ecclesiastical leaders of Jehovah’s people (v 10; Isaiah 9:14-16), political leaders similarly come under condemnation. Persons in government, whose task is to protect society from predators, have turned into predators themselves. The would-be administrators of justice perpetrate injustice. The most needy elements of society—the fatherless and widows, whose cause Jehovah advocates (v 17)—are neglected. People in leadership positions have degenerated into “renegades” and “robbers,” officials who violate others’ rights in order to gain their own ends (Isaiah 3:14-15; 5:23; 29:21).

24 Therefore the Lord, Jehovah of Hosts,the Valiant One of Israel, declares,Woe to them! I will relieve meof my adversaries,avenge me of my enemies.

Jehovah’s bringing to bear his titles again renders his statement an official declaration (cf. v 20). The name “Jehovah of Hosts” or “Jehovah of Armies” (yhwh seba’ot) alludes to the legions, heavenly and earthly, he has at his disposal to implement his decrees. The title “Valiant One of Israel” expresses his divine attribute of valor. His pronunciation of a “woe” or covenant curse makes this a formal condemnation of his people. The “adversaries” and “enemies” of whom Jehovah avenges himself are their apostate ecclesiastical leaders (v 10) and corrupt politicians (v 23; cf. Isaiah 5:7, 24-25; 10:1-6).

25 I will restore my hand over youand smelt away your dross as in a crucible,aand remove all your alloy.

To counter the wickedness of his people’s leaders, Jehovah “restores” (’asiba) all things pertaining to his people. This he does through the agency of his servant who prepares the way before his coming to reign on the earth (cf. Matthew 17:11; Acts 3:21). As Jehovah’s hand or right hand (Isaiah 11:10-12, 14-15; 41:2, 10, 13; 49:1-3), the servant restores Jehovah’s people and their lands (Isaiah 49:5-6, Isaiah 49:5-6, 8) and deals with his people’s enemies (Isaiah 50:10-11). The “dross” and “alloy”—the lowest spiritual categories of his people—Jehovah purges away in his Day of Judgment (cf. Malachi 3:1-5).

26 I will restore your judges as at the first,and your counsellors as in the beginning.After this you shall be calledthe City of Righteousness, a faithful city.

The two parallel statements—“I will restore” (’asibah) (vv 25-26)—signify not only that both restorations form a part of the same event but that one flows out of the other. In other words, the refinement “as in a crucible” (v 25) that results in pure silver or gold leads to the appointment of righteous leaders “as at the first” and “as in the beginning” (v 26). That leadership of Jehovah’s people follows the pattern of Moses and Israel’s judges (Exodus 18:13-26), who established a theocratic government: “A king shall reign in righteousness and rulers rule with justice” (Isaiah 32:1; cf. Jeremiah 23:1-5).

After this you shall be called the City of Righteousness, a faithful city. While the once-faithful “city” becomes a “harlot”—a place in which “righteousness” no longer abides (v 21)—Jehovah’s cleansing results in a city of righteousness grounded in principles of righteousness and founded by righteousness—Jehovah’s servant (Isaiah 41:2; 46:11-13). That city, called “Zion” (v 27), Jehovah preserves from a Sodom-and-Gomorrah type of destruction (vv 8-9). Two “cities” thus emerge in the Book of Isaiah: one wicked, the other righteous; one destroyed, the other delivered (Isaiah 25:2; 26:1-6; 33:20).

27 For Zion shall be ransomed by justice,those of her who repent by righteousness.

Parallel phrases define Zion as “those of her who repent.” That is, those of Jehovah’s people—his wife within the marriage covenant—who repent. As we observe in a repeat definition, Zion represents that category of his people to whom Jehovah comes to reign: “He will come as Redeemer to Zion, to those of Jacob who repent of transgression” (Isaiah 59:20). While those whom Isaiah identifies as Jacob or Israel represent a category of believers in God, those whom he identifies as Zion or Jerusalem represent a higher spiritual category, namely persons who repent of transgression—not all Israel.

Justice . . . righteousness. The reestablishment of justice and righteousness qualifies Jehovah’s people for deliverance from destruction in Jehovah’s Day of Judgment. To that end, Jehovah sends his servant, who personifies righteousness, to restore justice in the earth and to serve as an exemplar of righteousness (Isaiah 41:2; 42:1-4; 46:11-13). While the verb “ransomed” (pdh) applies largely to the physical deliverance of Jehovah’s people, its synonym “redeemed” (g’l) applies to their spiritual salvation (Isaiah 44:22). In effect, he who “redeems” is Jehovah, while he who “ransoms” is his servant.

28 But criminals and sinnersshall be altogether shatteredwhen those who forsake Jehovah are annihilated.

Paralleling (1) “criminals and sinners” who are “shattered” with (2) “those who forsake Jehovah” who are “annihilated” identifies both as Jehovah’s people. These, in turn, parallel “adversaries” and enemies” (v 24)—also his people—in an a1-b1-c-b2-a2 mini-chiasm: adversaries and enemies are avenged (v 24)—a1; Jehovah’s hand is restored (v 25)—b1; a righteous city is born (v 26)—c; Zion is ransomed by righteousness (v 27)—b2; and criminals and sinners are annihilated (v 28)—a2. In short, when Jehovah’s hand of righteousness intervenes, some are delivered while others perish.

29 And youb will be ashamed of the oaks you cherishedand blush for the parks you were fond of;

Isaiah portrays a kind of nature worship centered around “oaks” and “parks.” The parallel verbs “cherish” or “lust after” (hamadtem) and “fond of” or “prefer” (behartem) allude to the idolatrous nature of the practice (cf. Isaiah 57:5; 65:3). Because the word “oaks” (’elim) is a metaphor for elite persons in society, moreover (Isaiah 61:3), additional meanings of these terms suggest that those whom Jehovah’s people fancy include persons of wealth, power, or position who are popular with the masses, persons whom they idolize as “gods” (’elim) or toward whom they “express fawning adulation” (hamadtem).

30 you shall become like an oak whose leaves wither,and as a garden that has no water.

In his Day of Judgment, Jehovah humbles the elite of the earth (Isaiah 23:9; 26:5), while those who were humbled he exalts (Isaiah 49:7; 52:1-2). The covenant curses of drought, searing winds, and dying vegetation overtake the wicked (Isaiah 17:13; 27:8; 33:9), causing lakes and rivers to evaporate and dry up (Isaiah 19:5-7; 42:15). While the pronoun “you” addresses Jehovah’s people, desolate conditions also overspread the earth (Isaiah 24:4-12). Indeed, it is his people’s apostasy that precipitates Jehovah’s Day of Judgment. Although the whole earth suffers, they are the catalyst (Isaiah 10:5-7).

31 The mighty shall be as refuse,and their works a spark;both shall burn up alike,and there shall be none to extinguish.

The “mighty”—the icons of society—become but burnt refuse as Jehovah cleanses the earth of wickedness. Their “works” or institutions are the spark that sets off the conflagration. “Refuse,” a chaos motif, signifies the disintegration of the old society before the new—the community of Zion or Jerusalem—takes its place (Isaiah 2:2-4). Jehovah appoints the king of Assyria/Babylon as his instrument for burning up the wicked of his people and the nations (v 7; Isaiah 9:18-19; 10:5-7; 33:1, 12-14; 47:14). Jehovah ordained this archtyrant’s cleansing of the earth “long ago . . . in days of old” (Isaiah 37:26).

  • a25 Hebrew kabbōr, as with potash/lye, emended to kakūr; compare 48:10.
  • b29 Hebrew they.


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Isaiah Explained