Isaiah is well known to be the most difficult prophet to understand, mainly because if you do not read his words by the Spirit, the text just sort of floats in one ear and out the other. Isaiah chapter 1 happens to be a chapter I can grasp without requiring major revelation to understand. Since I would never presume to be the final word on any verse of scripture, let alone an entire chapter, please take this commentary on the first chapter how it is offered, with a grain of salt. This is my understanding, not the prophet’s understanding of this text. Read it as a rough guide to the contents, and nothing more. Let the Spirit fill you in on the finer details.
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
The Lord calls upon heaven and earth to bear witness against the children of Israel. The Lord fed them and gave them His word (the word of God), but they rebelled against him. Even the ox and the ass know who their owner is, and who feeds or cares for them, but God’s own children do not give their Father even that much credit or consideration. They act like they have no idea where their blessings, their sustenance comes from.
4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
Isaiah launches into some of his famous visuals in an effort to paint the picture of the spiritual state of the children of Israel. The nation of Israel is sinful, laden or loaded with iniquity or sin. They are a generation or posterity of evildoers, and they corrupt what they are given in purity. All of that and we have not made it through the first sentence yet. Israel has abandoned the Lord, provoked Him until He became angry, and have not gone forwards, but backwards in their progress as a people.
The Lord asks Israel why He should punish them further. The Hebrew word translated here as “stricken” means smitten, as in to be struck or hit. So why should God smite them any further than He already has in His attempts to teach them to be humble and obedient, they will just rebel more and more. He says that the Head of Israel (as a people) is sick and the heart of Israel is diseased (Hebrew translation).
The body politic, the whole of the nation is rotten. From the bottom of the foot to the crown of the head, nothing is healthy. Nothing is sound or strong. The whole body is full of wounds, bruises, and rotting sores. These spiritual ills have not been tended to to make them better. The festering sores have not been drained of their poison (closed), the open wounds have not been bound or sewn shut, and no spiritual ointment has been placed on the sores to soften them up. (You know what happens to an open sore, it scabs up and tends to leave scars.)
7 Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
9 Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
10 ¶Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
The enemies of Israel are destroying them as a people (at the very least in a spiritual sense) in front of their eyes. There isn’t even an attempt to conceal the destruction. Now here is a good visual, imagine a nation being ransacked by enemies, but in a small cucumber garden, under a lean to or a small covering, sits a young lady, diligently guarding the cucumbers so nothing comes in and damages them. The Lord is comparing this to the spiritual state of Israel. The whole nation is being spiritually ruined, but here and there are lone individuals who are still doing their duty and being obedient.
In verse nine Isaiah says that if it were not for these few righteous, the whole nation would be on a par with Sodom and Gomorrah in their evil. In verse ten he addresses Israel as the evil people they are, as the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
In this block of verses the Lord is first asking why the people are still bringing Him sacrifices. Their hearts are obviously not in touch with the spirit of sacrifice, so why are they doing it? The Lord finds no joy or pleasure in empty offerings. He asks the people who has asked them to come and offer sacrifices to Him when it is obvious to Him they have no real desire to do so. If they are not there to worship Him then why even tread or walk the courts of the temple? These types of sacrifices are an abomination to Him; these sacrifices disgust Him. The Hebrew translation of “I cannot away with,” means “I cannot endure it.” He says all that they do is sinful, even their solemn assemblies. His soul hates all their feasts and appointed days of worship. They trouble His soul, and He is tired of having to put up with them.
15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Imagine a supplicant before the king, on their knees, forehead on the ground, and hands spread out in front of them on the ground in supplication before their ruler. Now read verse 15 and imagine the Lord’s response. He says that because Israel is guilty of murder, their “hands are full of blood” when they come to Him and prostrate themselves in supplication, he will turn His head and look the other way, and He will not hear their prayers. The Lord makes this same kind of statement on multiple occasions in the Book of Mormon when the people become wicked. He tells them that because of their wickedness the day will come when they will seek His help and He will be slow to listen to their pleas for help and mercy.
Verses 16 and 17 are the answer to their problem. They just need to repent and start doing good again. If they will start to help the less fortunate, and not be so selfish, the Lord will forgive them and aid them in their time of need. Verse 18 is a Seminary and Missionary scripture. The Lord is telling Israel that even if the blood on their hands and garments is the deepest of red (crimson), He can take away the stain of their sin and they can be made white as wool. This demonstrates the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an all or nothing proposition. If the Lord forgives us of a sin, it is as though that sin never happened.
Verses 18 and 19 are a promise from the Lord to Israel. If they will become willingly obedient, they will prosper in the land, but if they refuse to obey willingly, and instead rebel, the sword of destruction will come down on them. The Lord has declared it to be. What the Lord declares will come to pass, comes to pass, without exception.
21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
If the faithful city represents Jerusalem, Jerusalem still represents the nation of Israel, so whether the Lord is referring to Jerusalem proper or just the people of Israel as a whole, the result is the same. Where once there was wisdom and righteous judgment, now this faithful companion to the Lord is nothing more than a harlot, a prostitute who has sold her virtue for profit.
In verse 22 both references describe corruption of that which was pure. In verse 23, the princes or noble families of Israel are accused of consorting with thieves, being covetous of gifts and rewards, and they have abandoned their responsibilities to the fatherless and the widows, leaving them to fend for themselves.
24 Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
25 And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.
31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.
In verses 24-28 the Lord tells Israel that He will punish those who have become His enemy. The day will come when those corruptions that have entered into the House of Israel will be purged and removed. God will restore Israel’s judges, and the day will come when people will talk about Jerusalem as “the faithful city.” This, of course, has to also refer to Israel, because they will be the ones living in the city. Those who have sinned against the Lord will be consumed in that day. (This is beginning to sound a lot like a Millennial reference.)
Verses 29-31 make reference to those who will be left after the purging. Those who used the special groves to worship other gods will be consumed, and those remaining will be ashamed of the groves of wickedness planted by their forefathers. Those who persisted in being false with the Lord will all burn together, and none can save them from the fire that will come.
There you have it. I welcome your additional insights and comments, even if they are contradictory. Like I said, this is just my understanding of these verses. Five years from now, hopefully, if I read Isaiah again, I will have learned more about these verses and will probably have to write a completely different explanation.
Click the link below for a
printable PDF version of the article.