Why Are You Not Responding, God?
In the previous chapter, Isaiah quoted the people imploring God,
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?Isaiah 58:3 (NRSVUE, italics added)
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Isaiah had much to say about their supplication in light of their lack of heeding God’s word.
It is sometimes said today that when we do not take heed of what the Lord has already given us, then God will not give us more.
- God will patiently wait for us to take up and put to use the wisdom before us that we have so far been dismissing.
- Or, perhaps God is waiting for us to finally accept the answer God has already given to us but which we do not like.
- Or, perhaps God is waiting for us to take heed of an instruction from God we have so far chosen not to follow.
Now, in Chapter 59, it is the Lord’s turn to answer the people’s cry.
“See, the Lord’s arm is not too short to save,Isaiah 59:1-2 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
nor his ear too dull to hear.
Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.”
Then God proceeded to describe a people that hardly matches the way they saw themselves. A chapter ago, God said to Isaiah,
“day after day they seek meIsaiah 58:2 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they want God on their side.”
“As if” is a very important part of that description.
God saw their inner reality as well as their outward unrighteousness.
“For your hands are defiled with bloodIsaiah 59:3 (NRSVUE)
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
your tongue mutters wickedness.”
Are these even the same people?!
This is the portrait of Dorian Gray. Except, these people used their religion as their “beauty,” thinking God only looked at them when they were performing their prayers and religious rites, their holy festivals and sacred sacrifices for God.
Their real lives told a far different story.
If you happen to have the Book of Isaiah opened up next to you, then you can read along with me. This whole chapter delineates in stark detail all the ways the people of God rejected the ways of God in favor of working evil.
Corruption in the Legal System
Verse 4 talks about corruption in their courts, out of control lawsuits, not just passively, but actively thinking up ways to get around the system.
Countenance of Personal Offense
Verses 5-6 poetically refer to transgression that poisons a person from the inside. This lurking contamination of willful immorality hatches even more violation and wrongdoing. By refusing to deal with it, these offenses weave webs of guilt and error that can never be hidden behind. The people relied on empty arguments to rationalize their sin to themselves, to their own detriment.
Captivated With Crime
Verse 7 describes a people who could not wait to do wrong, they ran towards it. Their thoughts were full of sin all day, going out and looking for it.
Verse 8 shows the contrast the people unwittingly presented to God. They seemed like a people who sought God’s judgments, but in fact there was no justice in their courts, commerce, or command. Economic inequality, oppression of the disadvantaged, violence towards the vulnerable, graft and political intrigue were the norm of Isaiah’s day.
The people seemed to delight in God’s ways, but, in reality, they did not even know the way of peace.
Isaiah led the people in a prayer of confession, the real kind. First, the prophet spoke of the emotional toll from their own wrongdoing, and of their heartache because of the distance their sins had wrought between them and God.
Therefore justice is far from us,Isaiah 59:9-11 (NRSVUE, italics added)
and deliverance does not reach us;
we wait for light, but there is only darkness;
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope like the blind along a wall,
groping like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
among the vigorous as though we were dead.
We all growl like bears;
like doves we moan mournfully.
We wait for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
Then, Isaiah laid the people low, prostrate in their spirits and in their admission.
For our transgressions before you are many,Isaiah 58:12-13 (NRSVUE)
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:transgressing and denying the Lord
and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart.
Their transgressions really were many, too many to list. And their wrongs were of the darkest kind. They had
- Denied God.
- Turned from following God.
- Fomented oppression and even revolt.
- Made lying so routine, they had come to believe their own deceits.
All their religious performances of sackcloth, ashes, and fasting had not been real repentance at all. It had been a show.
So, Isaiah prayed out loud to model what a broken heart actually sounds like.
Sin is Real
Sin must be dealt with. It cannot be covered over, it cannot be rationalized away, or minimized so that it seems less wrong.
Seven hundred years later, the early church leader and writer James said that sin starts out as a desire. You give in to that desire and that little sin grows and grows until, full blown, it leads to death. The only way to stop the cycle is to turn to God for forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration.
Isaiah’s confession prepared his audience for God’s summation.
Justice is turned back,
and deliverance stands at a distance,
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased himIsaiah 59:14-15 (NRSVUE)
that there was no justice.
Without a true love of God, religious activity will not affect society. Religious people will not be much different in their daily lives than anyone else.
- Justice is driven back. Just laws will be overturned, and the courts will go right along with it.
- Deliverance stands at a distance. Public ethics and morality will corrode, people will tolerate more and more wrong because it will mean that individually, people can indulge their appetites more freely.
- Truth is lacking. The truth will not be nearly as valued as the spin everyone likes to hear.
- Uprightness cannot enter. Those who hold to God’s values and ethos will not be welcome anywhere in the public sphere.
The longer unconfessed sin stays hidden away, the more it will affect our thinking, our viewpoints, and our lifestyle.
What hidden darkness in our lives might be harming our relationship with God, and others?
Religious activity makes no difference here. Only confession and cleansing deals effectively with what the Bible calls sin.