MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.4
Isa 1:18 Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool
I have lived long enough to have heard a variety of sermons interpreting this verse in a variety of ways. However, I am going to argue as logically as possible to obtain the simplest possible understanding of its meaning. It starts with the Lord’s invitation to talk out their situation. Very often when we are not in a good place we hide away from the Lord and from other people, just like Adam and Eve did (Gen 3:8), but the Lord takes the initiative, as He so often does, and invites us to talk. It is when we talk that we can come to a place of fresh understanding. The communications slogan, “It’s good to talk,” really does apply when you are hiding away, cowed by the enemy into believing lies about yourself and about God. We also hide away when we feel we will be condemned for our sin, but the Lord’s intent is very different.
He brings two contrasting pictures. The first is of their sin which He describes as scarlet or crimson. The second is the Lord’s intended outcome, what He intends to do with their sin, and their end outcome is simply described as white as snow or as wool, which is also white. Now whatever clever applications we try and see in this, I would simply suggest that this is a picture of total transformation. One minute their sins are like a bright red colour, the next they are pure white. This is a complete transformation. Let’s just see it like that!
Now of course we do tend to use the expression, “Pure as the driven snow” and the whiteness described does suggest purity. What is there to suggest our understanding is correct? Well the first part of the chapter is clearly a negative assessment of Israel’s state and so the next verse comes as a complete surprise in the light of those earlier negatives: “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” (1:19). The Lord never blesses sin and so this offer of goodness must accompany the picture of complete transformation. What is it that will bring this transformation? Willingness and obedience! The matter is in their own hands. The Lord intends them good (as He always does), but it is only their sin which stops that happening. Now we shouldn’t see this as some magic formula or even as a means to criticise the Lord. There are those somewhat unthinking people who speak negatively of the Lord in these sort of situations. Look, they say, He just looking for an opportunity to judge them. How silly is that! It is exactly the opposite; He is looking for an opportunity to bless them but their foolish behaviour prevents that.
Now it is not that the Lord is inadequate and cannot bless people, but if they are harming themselves and He won’t force their wills, then it is only going to be bad coming into their lives because they are bringing it on themselves. Consider the godless person who lives a completely promiscuous life, say. This person just happens to express their godlessness in promiscuity. It could have been in a number of ways, but they chose to be promiscuous – and then they caught a sexually transmitted disease. If I jump from an upper storey window I am going to seriously hurt myself. I can’t blame God for not catching me. He would have been speaking to me previously encouraging me not to jump. Thereafter He respects my free will and allows me to make sovereign choices – as harmful as they may be. To talk about Him blessing me when I am having to live with the consequences of my sovereign choices is just plain silly. Remember the willful child I used as an example in the previous meditation? Away from the family home they cannot receive all the goodness of the home. Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable he ends up eating with the pigs (Lk 15:16). We really have to take responsibility for our own actions and realise that we reap what we sow (Gal 6:7).
One side of the coin is the blessing the Lord offers us, by living in accordance with His design-laws, so that he can add blessing to us. The other side of the coin, as we have seen, are things going wrong, “but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (1:20). Why? Is this the Lord being nasty or is it a natural outworking? I suggest first the latter. If they disregard the Lord, then they will be spiritually, morally, socially and militarily weak, and being weak they will become a prey to the surrounding nations. Now the Lord isn’t being ‘nasty’ but sometimes He does bring discipline by either stepping back and allowing the neighbours to invade Israel, or even at times provokes them to invade, but it is always with the intent of turning Israel around and back to the place of blessing. The father who refuses to bail his child is allowing them to feel the full weight of the Law to help them come to their senses. The mother who allows her children to hurt themselves by way of the learning process (without serious danger) is allowing them to learn that we reap what we sow, dangerous things cause harm and are to be avoided. The society that overprotects erodes personal responsibility and we are poorer for it.
These are the lessons that the wise parent knows the child needs to learn, and God is the wisest of all parents! Thus we will find again and again, when Israel stray they get into trouble, but that is how life is in a Fallen World, and this no way detracts from God’s love that will always be there working to bring good to us out of every situation (Rom 8:28). Let’s learn the lessons.