MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.2
Isa 1:9 Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.
Isaiah challenges us over this matter of God being a God of love, because he records God’s dealings with Judah and Jerusalem during a time when all was not well in the nation and they were far from being the people that God had called them to be. Now we have to recognise and remember certain basics here.
First, God had called Israel at Sinai to be His special people: “if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:5,6). That had been God’s invitation to them, and they had responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” (Ex 19:8). That had committed the nation to this ongoing relationship with the Lord. Essentially Israel were to be God’s prototype nation, a nation that would receive His guidance (laws) on how to live in accordance with the way He had designed mankind and to be able to relate to Him despite being part of sinful mankind (ceremonial/sacrificial laws).
Second, they were still human beings with free will which meant that if they were to live out this relationship with God, they needed to choose to do that. Of course they were also free to choose to do the opposite, i.e. to go their own way, which is what they often did. Now when they lived contrary to God’s design-laws for them, when they were out of relationship with Him, then they failed to receive God’s blessing (decree of goodness and protection) and because they were spiritually weak, they so often also became morally, economically and militarily weak which made them vulnerable to attacks from surrounding predatory nations. Now sometimes this is attributed simply to their sin, and sometimes it is specifically attributed to the Lord’s hand of discipline on them, and we need to understand this feature of their life.
Because they were supposed to represent God to the rest of the world, and represent His goodness, as perhaps was seen at the height of Solomon’s reign, when they went away from Him they were revealing a very different picture of God’s people and were thus misrepresenting the Lord. Because of this the Lord would do all in His power (beyond taking away their free will) to bring them back into a good place, a place of relationship and a place of blessing. Now we shouldn’t see this as anything strange, this absence of His blessing when they turned away from Him. Imagine a child brought up in a wealthy home. They have everything they could want. They are truly blessed, but then they decide to ignore their parents and leave home and they fall into bad ways. Obviously they are now no longer in the place of receiving all the good provision of their parents at home, but we would not blame their parents for this; it is simply that they have chosen to move out of the place of blessing, and that it how it so often was with Israel.
So in Isaiah chapter 1, we find Isaiah identifying this time as such a time: “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him” (1:4). He describes Israel as sinful (wrong-doing), loaded with guilt (it IS their fault), children (of God), given to corruption (corrupt – tainted or infected [by sin], think of a corrupted hard drive on a computer) and why? Because they have forsaken or spurned God and turned their back on Him, just like the child I cited as an example just now.
And what had happened to them? “Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.” (1:7). They had become weak and malnourished and thus a prey to enemy invaders. Look how he pictures them now: “The Daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a field of melons.” (1:8). They stand out like a sore thumb, we might say, in their desolated state, like a hut left after harvest, standing all alone (implied). Then comes our verse today: “Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” (1:9) Sodom and Gomorrah, of course had been totally destroyed, but the Lord, Isaiah says, has saved them from that. And there we find a feature of the Lord’s activity with this sinful people: He constantly saved a remnant. The Lord was not going to allow this people, who he had saved from Egypt to be a light to the rest of the world, to be totally destroyed.
Again and again He preserved some of them, the righteous remnant, we will see. Yes, even though the majority of the nation turned away from God, there would always be a few that would remain faithful and these ones the Lord always preserved. They were not going to get swept away in the folly of the majority. In His love for the nation, He would preserve the righteous ones, even when an enemy came in and plundered the land. These ones would be saved even from that invader. We will see this activity of the Lord again and again in these chapters of Isaiah, and indeed in the writings of the other prophets as well. The others may perish in their folly as they refused the word of the Lord coming to them, refused the Lord’s attempts to bring them back from that folly and save them, but the righteous ones of the Lord would be preserved and maintain the name of Israel. Watch for this as you read the prophets.