My, YHWH is furious! Why? In the same vein as Amos 5, Isaiah has discerned that the worship of Judah is nothing else than a smokescreen for evil. That is, the rich and comfortable of Judah parade into the temple of Solomon, that building gracing the skyline of Jerusalem for over two hundred years, and participate in worship of such grandeur and majesty as to be the envy of the world. Their clothes are fine, their harps are well-tuned, their priests well-schooled, their sacrifices clean and pure, their choirs rich-toned, their pew-mates only those who belong, who are one of them, not those riff-raff who live in the seedy and undesirable huts in the valley of Hinnom. These fat cats are in fact people and leaders of Sodom and Gomorrah, not the finest persons in the highest of Judean society, as they are so convinced that they are.
And why does Isaiah see them so differently than they see themselves? Because, "your hands are full of blood," thunders the prophet (Is. 1:15). Well, of course, they might reply; these whole burnt offerings are a bloody business! That is not what I mean, says Isaiah.
Wash yourselves! Clean yourselves up!
Shove aside your evil actions from my eyes!
Stop doing evil! Learn to do good!
Pursue justice! Rescue the oppressed!
Protect the orphan! Litigate on behalf of the widow! (Is. 1:16-17)
At last the prophet makes the problem plain. These comfortable worshippers would rather enjoy a fine psalm, sung by a fine choir, ensconced in the beauty of the temple, and smell the pleasing odor of their sacrifices than open their eyes to the injustices that surround them. Their worship has gotten in the way of what YHWH has called them to be and do. For Isaiah, as for Amos and Hosea and Micah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, worship that does not lead to justice in the community is just not worship of YHWH at all!
Of course, only a prophet can see any of this. All on the surface seems fine, grand and glorious in fact. The economy is getting stronger; we can stay in our air-conditioned houses; oil is plentiful; the malls are full of eager buyers. People are purchasing houses again; the cranes of building again dot the skyline of our cities. Surely, it is okay. But the prophet peers below the surface of things, peeks under the skirts of things, looks at the bulging bellies of things, and finds dangerous corruption, painful indifference, blinded eyes. But, as always with true prophets, there is hope, even for these listless lieabouts in the temple.
If you are willing and really hear, you may eat the good stuff of the land (Is. 1:19). Yes, there remains hope, however slim it appears. But there is also danger.
But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be consumed by a sword!
Without doubt, the mouth of YHWH has spoken! (Is. 1:20)
Yes, this is a vision in the daytime, something unseen by the rest of us. Perhaps it is past time for more prophets to appear whose eyes see deeper into the heart of things and who are willing to speak a truth that few wish to hear. What about you and me?
Note: Allow me to remind you again of a cruise that I will be participating in next September 3-13, 2014, embarking from Copenhagen and visiting Berlin, Tallinn, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Russia, Helsinki, Stockholm, and returning to Copenhagen. I will be lecturing at sea on the book of Job. The title of my lectures is: "The Book of Job: Just Who is God Anyway?" The trip is sponsored by Educational Opportunities. Full information may be found at its website: www.eo.travel. I hope to see you there; I would love to meet some of you who are reading my weekly column. Thanks for that, and may God continue to bless your ministry.