True prophets are like trustworthy mechanics – hard to find, right? But a good one will diagnose the problem and tell you exactly what is wrong, tell you exactly what has to be done to fix it (usually at great cost), and what will happen if you choose to ignore the problem.
When prophets describe a vision from the future, they do it to encourage people to obey God today, just like a mechanic will tell us about the need to change our oil and filters today so our cars do not break down in the next few hundred miles.
The Prophet’s Prognosis
The prophet Isaiah gave Judah the prognosis on what was broken:
How the faithful cityIsaiah 1:21 (RSV)
has become a whore!
She that was full of justice,
righteousness lodged in her—
but now murderers!
The city once faithful to God now welcomed and entertained all the gods of the surrounding cultures. Once the hallmark of Jerusalem was its righteousness, the wisdom of Solomon. Now it was known for murder.
Your silver has become dross,Isaiah 1:22 (RSV)
your wine is mixed with water.
Merchants now tainted their products with additives to increase their profit margins. But more so, this was an image of Judah, once pure, now tainted.
Your princes are rebelsIsaiah 1:22 (RSV)
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not defend the orphan,
and the widow’s cause does not come before them.
Leaders were decadent and corrupt, they loved bribes and gifts, and instead of judging criminals they associated with them. Ordinary folk could not count on their leaders for justice or for help.
The Lord of Hosts, Almighty God, had some good news and some bad news,
I will turn my hand against you;
I will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.Isaiah 1:25-26 (NRSV)
The words I will turn from verse 25 and I will restore from verse 26 actually come from the same Hebrew verb שׁוּב shûwb. Isaiah was showing that God’s one action would generate two experiences—the smelting and purification would also be restoration. When God acts, it may feel like disaster, but in truth God’s action brings about purification and restoration at the same time.
But how is God going to do it?
In a courtroom scene there must be justice. How can God be just without punishing sin? The perpetrators have to pay!
Zion shall be redeemed by justice,Isaiah 1:27 (NRSV)
and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
The answer is that the Lord is not going to redeem God’s people by casually sweeping aside God’s standards. That would actually be the same kind of leniency and corruption that God was judging against in God’s people.
And also not by some sort of fancy ledger work in the cosmic accountant’s books.
But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together,Isaiah 1:28 (NRSV)
and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
God intends that justice really will be served.
Sinners and rebels together.
Take pause in that phrase.
Purification and Restoration
For those who are sinners seeking God’s redemption, that purification is all part of the restoration. It will be painful. Pure lye is the same thing as drain cleaner, or oven cleaner. But trust God. God’s discipline is achieving what God intends to do in our lives, maturing us, refining us, bringing out the beauty and purity that God has put within us by divine power through the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
But rebels who forsake the Lord shall also be consumed.
The same process that is purifying the repentant sinners is also sweeping up the unrepentant rebels.
- For the sinner, when there is silver and dross, and the dross is burned away, the silver will be left, beautiful and shining.
- But for those who rebel against God, who refuse to receive God’s forgiveness and new life, there will not be any silver to find. All there will be is dross, and it will be burnt away.
When the Lord turns God’s hand against God’s people, it is not disaster for the repentant, it is redemption.
Parable of the Prodigal
It is no wonder that one of Jesus’s most famous parables is the one about the prodigal son. It is the story of God as father, longing for the return of his son. Every day the father goes down the road, looking for his wayward child. The father never stops hoping that the son who turned his back on his father, who had taken his inheritance and squandered it all, would someday come back. When the son returns, humbled and repentant, the father cannot hold back his tears of joy, and lavishes his child with every possible blessing.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.Apostle Paul, Ephesians 1:3 (NRSV)
Fear of Shame
In a world full of shame and contempt, you and I can have a real fear of exposure—to our own humiliation and others’ derision. It is a horrifying experience, having our hidden problems, failings, faults, failures, and sins uncovered.
It promises to be painful. We will surely feel awful. You and I will not want to see ourselves in that light.
Fear of Rejection
But what if we were assured that we are completely accepted and deeply loved by the One Who is revealing these things to us? What if we were to know that God has always known these things about us? What if God has always seen this part of us, and God loves you and me more intensely than we could ever have imagined?
Fear of Loss
Shame, contempt, rejection all lead to loss. Loss of relationship, loss of place. But what God is longing to remove is the guilt, to make you and me clean, as white as snow.
You and I are not the sum total of our words and deeds. There is so much more to us than that. We do not have to claim as our identity the wrong things we have done, or that have been done to us. Our identity is instead as the beloved child of God. That is who we will always be to God. Would it not be so good to simply come home?
What dross do you think God is preparing to purge from your life? What would your life look like without it? In what way might God redeem you by God’s righteous justice? What do you think that might be like to experience?