The message —

9 [God] said, “Go, and tell this people : ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive ; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ 10 “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “Lord, how long ?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, Houses are without people And the land is utterly desolate, 12 “The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 “Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, And it will again be subject to burning, Like a terebinth or an oak Whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”

What a disturbing message! What does it mean?

Is God using irony and mockery, bordering on insulting sarcasm, to get the point across – that even with a clear message, the people won’t try to understand and respond to this warning?

Or is God fed up? The people have been given repeated chances to change their ways and now it is just too late.

Either way, a quick read of the prophecies in the book of Isaiah show their evil conduct:

"The Prophet Isaiah" in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo Buonarrati, 1509
“The Prophet Isaiah” in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo Buonarrati, 1509

In Isaiah 1-6, God says that the Jewish nation had rebelled against Him, become corrupt, murderers, thieves, lovers of bribes, drunkards, arrogant and prideful, and failed to defend the widows and fatherless. Rejecting God, the people were full of superstitions, practicing divination, and bowing to idols; so God rejected their hypocritical worship.

They brought disaster upon themselves through their own attitudes and conduct. Isaiah is called to preach the coming judgment of God against them – Jerusalem will be destroyed and the people carried into captivity to foreign lands, in slavery.

Although they believe themselves to be wise and clever, God declared that they had no understanding. The Apostle Paul echoes these words seven hundred years later:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.   Romans 1:18-25

For personal reflection:
Do you see any parallels between the beliefs and conduct of Isaiah’s audience, the people of Paul’s time, and those of today? What are they? Examine your own attitudes and behaviors. Do you recognize any problem areas?

Previously, we looked at Isaiah’s response. His personal response — the right response — was to recognize God’s surpassing majestic holiness, his own sinfulness and impurity, to confess this problem, and then be gratefully willing to do what God asked of him.

But what did the ancient Israelites do? Their group response – the wrong response – was to ignore God’s warning and carry on as usual. God sent many prophets to the people but we know from history that they did not listen. They continued in their ungodly ways until God sent punishment and exile.

For further reflection: What choice do you see our nation making? What can you do to help people see the danger?

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