The combined nations of Israel and Judah are sailing smoothly. Taken together, their territory is reaching Solomonic proportions. Their respective kings, Jeroboam II and Uzziah, have enjoyed long, stable and prosperous reigns. Surely, this material success is indicative of the Lord’s presence and pleasure?
However, a lesser royal, a nephew of the king, is rocking the boat, making waves. He is scathing in his indictment. “Oxen and donkeys have better sense, and better appreciation of their masters, than you people have of your God! God says that you are both sick and sickening from the sole of your foot to the top of your head. He will no longer tolerate your outward religious piety while you flagrantly treat the less fortunate with injustice. He is calling you to account – repent, so that your blood-red sins may be snow-white!”
The people are awash in prosperity, purportedly self-sufficient. They build cities and fortify them. They make trade deals and become worldly wise. Their prowess in business and diplomacy makes Jerusalem the jewel of Palestine. But there is a cost to this aggrandizement. Not all are enjoying this pursuit of wealth and prosperity. The poor are oppressed, justice is for sale and good is called evil, and evil good.
God is watching. Calling himself the Lord of hosts (armies), His patience has worn thin. The storm is coming. His desire is glory for Jerusalem, but not at the expense of righteousness. Not on the back of oppression and wickedness. He is going to move out and vindicate those who are suffering and humble the proud. He is going to level the nation and restart with the faithful few so that He alone is exalted in that Day. It will be done in righteousness and it will be beautiful and glorious.
Blind in their pride, the people reject God, even though the outward form of their religion carries on. They have forgotten His care for them. Even their king’s leprosy, subsequent to his ill-advised attempt to offer incense in the temple, does not awaken them to the reality of God’s holiness. They are entangled by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (cp. Matthew 13:22). Men are lusting after power and position, women after glamour and self-glory. God says, “when the storm is over, none of this will be left”.
What about my heart? What is God’s message to me? Are barnyard animals more devoted to their master than I am to my Lord? Has material prosperity distanced me from God? Is my heart hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13)? Am I less concerned about sin in my life than I used to be? Does the end justify the means? Would God call me out? Would He declare - “you are sick, or even sickening!?”
What is God doing in Israel? He is getting to the heart of the issue. He is purifying, cleansing, smelting. He is ridding the land of defilement. He is glorifying Himself. He is killing pride. He is chopping trees (prideful men) down.
Is God reasoning with me (1:18)? If I am a Christian, His child, He is committed to sanctifying me - to making me holy (Hebrews 12:6). But what can be done with my sick head and my faint heart (1:5)?
One day in the year the leprous king died, Isaiah saw the Lord on His throne. The Lord was high and lifted up and those in His presence called out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (6:3).
The Lord on His throne is the answer to my problem, my self-exaltation, my arrogance, my misplaced affections. I need to see the Lord - high and lifted up. This humbles, kills conceit, purifies the soul. I need to be awed by His holiness, His otherness, His uniqueness. This exposes my heart. “Woe is me!” (6:5). This shattering of self and its false gods opens the door to His grace, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (6:7 ESV).
God will be exalted in His time and in His way. Mount Zion will be established in righteousness. The still waters and the calm breezes are on the horizon. Until then, I must guard my heart. I must judge my pride. I must continually return to see the Lord, high and lifted up. To hear the seraphim cry “Holy, Holy, Holy!” To know the grace of God’s acceptance. To go for Him, with the message of hope, to a proud world.