Although I do not remember much about my childhood, I still remember my mother’s disappointment when she entered her room to find me taking her mechanical clock to pieces. At first I could not understand why she was so upset. “There is no problem! Don’t worry – I will put it together again”. But soon afterwards I found out that it was much, much more difficult to re-assemble the pieces than it was to dismantle it.
Israel was inclined to take apart what God meant to belong together. Again and again God’s prophets explained to his people that worship and justice belong together – and again and again Israel separated worship and justice as if worship could be truthful without being righteous or practicing justice. Therefore they could continue with sacrifices and burnt offerings (v 11), celebrate “New Moon Feasts, Sabbath days and special services” (v 13 – NKJV), lifting their hands in prayer (v 15a) while their hands were “covered with the blood of the people you have murdered” (v 15b – NKJV) and while the orphans and widows were helpless (v 17). And it seems as if they thought everything was fine.
True worship of God cannot take place without practicing justice. And justice and righteousness is to be measured by whether the weakest and most vulnerable members of a society are being attended to and provided for (cf v 17). Note the concern for the fatherless and the widow in verse 17 – the vulnerable people in the society of the time.
There is a second “pair” in this passage that belongs together. The first chapter of the book of Isaiah has the setting of a court where the prophet accuses Israel for abandoning God’s commandments. However, although there is this obvious theme of judgment and punishment the prophet is at the same time the messenger of grace and hope (v 18-19).
It is so easy to accuse in a loveless manner. To judge in a way that extinguishes grace and hope.
Isaiah’s message is grounded in God’s willingness to forgive, culminating in his invitation in verse 18-19: “”Come. Let us talk some more about this matter,” says the Lord. “Even though your sins are bright red, they will be as white as snow. Even though they are deep red, they will be white like wool. But you have to be willing to change and obey me. If you are, you will eat the best food that grows on the land” (NIRV).
To think about or discuss: Is the way we worship in this time of HIV and AIDS acceptable to God?