A Faithful City
We continue our study of the messages from God to Judah through the prophet Isaiah. We will look today at the second half of chapter one.
21 How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. 22 Your silver has become dross,Your drink diluted with water. 23 Your rulers are rebels, And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe, And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow's plea come before them.
24 Therefore the Lord God of hosts, The Mighty One of Israel declares, "Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries, And avenge Myself on My foes. 25 "I will also turn My hand against you, And will smelt away your dross as with lye, And will remove all your alloy. 26 "Then I will restore your judges as at the first, And your counselors as at the beginning; After that you will be called the city of righteousness, A faithful city."
27 Zion will be redeemed with justice, And her repentant ones with righteousness. 28 But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together, And those who forsake the Lord shall come to an end. 29 Surely, you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, And you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen. 30 For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away, Or as a garden that has no water. 31 And the strong man will become tinder, His work also a spark.
Thus they shall both burn together,And there will be none to quench them. NASB
Isaiah chapter one is the first recorded message that the Lord spoke through His prophet to Judah and Jerusalem. It is not certain that it was delivered to Judah in the order it is recorded. However, as I said last week this message sets the tone of the rest of the book.
God's prophets were usually sent by God to call His people back to Himself. They called for repentance. Repentance is another word for change. Back when God gave the Law to Israel through Moses He promised that if they would keep their focus on God and following Him and living by the Law He had given then He would be with them in all their endeavors. However, if they left their love for Him and His Lordship, they would be sent in to captivity and loose their freedom. They would become slaves to other peoples.
How many times, during the period of the judges did this nation abandon God and begin serving the gods, who were not really gods at all. Each time the people grew in power and overcame Israel. Then God sent a judge to deliver them and call them back to their first love. They led them back to having no other gods but the one true God, Jehovah, their deliverer and king.
Here in Isaiah, and in the other prophets, we read the story of Israel, and then the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. When the kings left their love of God and led the people into idolatry, also called spiritual adultery, God sent the prophets to call the kings and the people back to their commitment to God. They told them again and again that they would go into captivity or be destroyed if they refused to repent.
God's message to Judah and to Jerusalem in these final years before the Babylonian captivity was a call to repentance. The northern kingdom of Israel is being taken over and destroyed because they rebelled against God, they left their first love. Now the southern kingdom is going the same way.
When you take God out of the equation you have people deciding for themselves what is right and wrong. As we heard in the Book of Judges, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Many will follow the basic morality that we have implanted in us as beings created in the image of God, but as more and more people lose their way, more and more injustice permeates society until all moral contracts are worthless and without meaning. There is one ultimate authority. Without Him all other authority is meaningless.
You have no right to tell me how to live. I will do what I want to do. These are the calls of those who refuse to surrender to the Lordship of the Creator. Leaving God out of the equation leads to the corruption of what freedom was all about.
God gave us the ability, the freedom, to choose to love Him and trust Him, or to go our own way. We are indeed free to make that choice. Once that choice is made we are not free to choose the consequences of that choice.
That is not to say, that a society who ignores God and yet follows His rules would be as bad as a society who decides to follow its own rules. God's guidelines for living are good even without Him in the equation, but the best recipe for life is to follow the Rule Giver, not just His rules. Any society who practices the golden rule is better off than one that does not. It is even better to be connected to the Rule-giver and live in a relationship with Him. This is the path of life. It is our connection to Him that gives us life. Without Him we are moving toward our destruction, toward death, eternal separation from God.
When we choose to walk away from God, we move from light toward darkness. We move from right toward evil. We move from life toward death and ultimate destruction.
We are free to choose God, or to refuse Him. He is Lord no matter what we choose. We were made to walk with Him and fellowship with Him but we must do so on His terms, not our own. For Him to give in on this would be disastrous. He will not stop being Lord because we choose to ignore Him. He will not stop loving you because you stopped loving Him.
And this was where Judah stood. They had forsaken God and He, as He had promised through Moses, would allow them to be delivered into the hands of their enemies until they repented and came back to their first love.
There is a message of judgment here, but also a message of hope for Judah and for Jerusalem. One day, they would be returned and would be known as a city of righteousness, a faithful city. God was not deserting His people. He would be with them even as they were carried off into Babylon by the Chaldeans.
God does not desire to cut anyone off from Himself. He loves us. He disciplines those He loves. The discipline is difficult to bear. It is always to remind us that we are loved and that we need Him. We were created in the image of the Creator so we could have fellowship with Him. He is constantly calling us to return to Him.
God's goal for His people is that they repent of their sinfulness, turn to Him and live for Him and with Him.
In verse 21 of this first message of Isaiah, we see the essence of what it means to be lost, to be unsaved.
“How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers.”
At one time Righteousness lodged in “the faithful city”. But now, during Isaiah's time, this city has become a harlot. She at one time lived with God at the center of all her life, but now she has gone after other gods. She has become God's unfaithful wife. She is a harlot.
When we reject God we begin living out of the emptiness of godlessness. We begin to seek love in all the wrong places. We seek meaning in life in those things that can never fully satisfy.
Only God can fill the voids in your life. Only God can be to you the fulfillment of what you were meant to be when He created you. Without His Presence we are lost and the true meaning of life is lost to us. God loves us. It is a good thing that He is Lord.
It is a good thing to begin and end each day acknowledging that God is with us. It is a good thing to know that He is with us and when we forget that, we begin to treat others out of the emptiness of our own life. We lose the ability to love others because we are too busy trying to meet our own needs.
This was the state of Israel in Isaiah's day. They had become unfaithful to God and they began ignoring the needs of widows and orphans. Eventually murder, the taking of another's life meant they had lost their connection with God and they were freed to believe that murder was an acceptable way to interact with other people.
Why is murder and abortion so prevalent today? Because the people who commit such acts do not value the life of other people. Their needs are more important to them than other people. When a society begins to believe that this is okay, they are moving away from God's directives to love Him and to love others.
When a society moves away from their submission to the Lordship of God then it is okay to lie and cheat and steal. When a society moves away from God, they begin to set their own standards and that usually means they begin looking out for number one before loving God or loving other people.
On Wednesday nights we are studying Biblical Peacemaking. God has given us the means to love one another. He has given us guidelines to help us to relate to other people in ways that are healthy and help us to love others as much as we love ourselves. I would encourage you to join us as we look at some of the tools He has provided to help us live this way.
There are a few themes I want you to look for as we go through the book of Isaiah. Look for the descriptions of how the people and their leaders were disobeying God. Look for references to the restoration of the kingdom after the captivity. Look for anything that could be a reference to the coming of the Messiah.
As I said before, chapter one sets the tone for this book of prophecy. Isaiah's messages were a call to repent of sin. He also gives a message of hope. God will not leave His people forever in captivity. They need to repent and then God will deliver them once again from the misery of His discipline.
God's greatest desire for us is that we live each day in fellowship with Him. He is Lord and we must honor Him as such. We are the losers when we leave Him out of our daily lives. Everything may seem to go along well at first, but eventually we will discover that God is jealous and demands that we love Him above all. When we love Him and seek Him, He will lead us to love others as well.
I believe that Isaiah's message about the faithful city is about Israel, but it is also about the coming of the kingdom of the Messiah. When Jesus walked the earth He told us that the kingdom of God is now. We are either citizens who are commited to following Him or we are enemies of the king.
He calls us today to love Him with our whole hearts and to love others as He has loved us. In these two commandments rest all His laws and directives.
Are you trusting Him today? Is He your king? Are you living in the kingdom of God, the city of the faithful? Or are you trying to live as if God does not matter and saying to Him by your actions that you know best how you should live?
Are you a member of the faithful city?