We all have blind spots. Blind spots are things that we cannot see because of gaps in our vision. These blind spots can cause significant damage to us and to others. Like the luxury car I once backed into our people mover, which hurt both my wallet and my pride! But there are worse blind spots than this.
Isaiah wrote his prophecy in Judah in a period spanning 60 years and four kings, from 740 BC to around 680 BC. He wrote under a looming geo-political shadow of an evil empire, Assyria. But for Isaiah, the problem is not the darkness out there. The problem is the darkness within. The opening chapter of Isaiah is a ruthless exposé of these blind spots in the people of God and the hurt they have caused.
A HURTING FATHER
"Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me."
- Isaiah 1:1
There is emotion here. Any parent, any father, understands what it is so love your children. But God’s beloved children have hurt him. He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. He lavished his love on them. But:
"They have forsaken the LORD
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged."
- Isaiah 1:4
I suspect that many of us never think of what our rebellion really does to God. We think that our rejection of God and our love for other things is no big deal. But this passage exposes that blind spot and it is weighty.
Jonathan Edwards put it like this:
Our obligation to love, honour and obey any being is in proportion to his loveliness, honour and authority. Therefore, sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous and so deserving infinite punishment. If there is any evil in sin against God, it is infinite evil.
Every sin you can think of is petty compared to this sin of despising and forsaking God, which results in a ruptured relationship and a hurting father.
A HURTING CHILDREN
God the hurting father pleads with his children in verse 5 when he says:
"Why will you still be struck down?
...The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint."
- Isaiah 1:5
The image in verse 6 is of a body beaten almost to death. Every part of it bruised and bleeding, festering and infected and weeping. And yet, despite this, refusing to go to the doctor to have the wounds bound up and healed.
To reject God always brings suffering. God wants good for his beloved children, but our blind spots - our limited information and perspective - deceive us and tell us that we know what is good for us. Our attitude to human sexuality is just one example. God gives us moral constraints within which to best enjoy his gift of sexuality. But we think we know better and the results hurt ourselves and others. Sin always brings suffering. Not always immediately, but always in the end.
A HIDEOUS RELIGION
The people to whom Isaiah wrote in Judah were very religious. They went through the ceremonies and festivals that God had commanded of them. Yet in verse 10, God calls them Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the epitome of hideous evil, these cities which God had destroyed by fire long ago for their rampant sin. How that must have stung! And he is only just getting started.
"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings"
- Isaiah 1:11
"...you are trampling my courts"
- Isaiah 1:12
"Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me. ...
I cannot endure your religion, my soul hates it,
it is burdensome to me."
- Isaiah 1:13-14
What is wrong?
They have religion without relationship. They have rituals without repentance. They go through the forms and the externals, they give gifts to God, their lips sound close to him but they hearts are far away. This is the equivalent of the serial adulterer who buys his faithful wife flowers to make up and offers to wash the dishes while all the time having a relationship with another woman. It is disgusting.
And yet we religious people are still tempted to do this. To hide the darkness of our hearts in the place no one would ever seek to look - in the church. This is not just the secret darkness of the paedophile or the pastor who abuses his power for gain. It is the darkness of a Sunday religion, of empty external forms without a soft heart of grace and love for God and for others.
This exposé is a truth we need to hear again and again. As Christians, we have blind spots. Isaiah chapter 1 is the 360 degree review that reveals us as we really are not how we imagine ourselves to be. It is the scales that do not lie. Or the mirror mirror on the wall that tells us what we do not want to hear. True, we are saved and set free. Beloved children filled with his good Holy Spirit. We are ambassadors of light. We are cities on a hill shining the light to the world. Yet still there is darkness within each one of us.
To have that blind spot exposed hurts. It stings. But it is also the place of hope. God does not expose our darkness to crush us, but to purify us. Not by minimising the darkness but by shining his light into it.
A HINT OF HOPE
In verse 18 there is spark of light:
"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 like crimson,
they shall become like wool."
- Isaiah 1:18
God says he can make people whose sins are scarlet white as snow.
Then in verse 26 and 27 there is a brighter flare of light.
"Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city.
Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
and those in her who repent, by righteousness."
- Isaiah 1:26-27
Then a few verses later in chapter 2 the spark becomes a brilliant shining flame.
"He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore."
- Isaiah 1
The dark foreground in Isaiah chapter 1 is real and it is terrible. But there is light behind. There is hope of sins being washed away, of redemption from sin, of a city of God filled with justice and righteousness. Most of all there is hope of a coming one who will bring us peace.
DARKNESS AND LIGHT?
We ask others to reveal our blind spots to us so that we can take action to remove them. Yet I can’t forgive my own sins or make my own darkness bright. But this is the hint of hope, the golden thread of light which runs through Isaiah. It is this: that a hurting father rejected and scorned by his ungrateful children will send his only begotten son to do what we could not. True God of true God, light of light would step into our world of darkness and suffering. Such is our darkness that we will murder him as Isaiah 53 prophesied we would. Yet, in that very murder, the light would blaze forth into the darkness forever destroying its power.
As Christians we stand on the other side of the coming of the light of Jesus the Messiah.
Sin and darkness are defeated. But even now God’s exposé of us, as with Israel long ago, shows that some darkness remains. Our lives are like the cloud shadows on a fast running day: patches of brightness, followed just as quickly by patches of dullness, fading in the end to the darkness of death.
The Messianic thread in Isaiah will shine bright in the weeks ahead and it is not exhausted with the first coming of the Lord Jesus. It continues and one day it will come in all its fullness - which is actually how the book of Isaiah ends. It reminds us that the darkness out there and the darkness still in here will not have the last word. That light will reign. That Jesus will come and come again. And until that day it calls me to humbly repent. To weep over my remaining darkness in my life and to look forward in joyful expectation that this same Jesus, the Messiah, who will one day remove it forever.
Andrew is the Lead Pastor of City on a Hill Geelong. He has spent most of his life as an officer in the Australian Army. Graduating with the Sword of Honour from the Australian Defence Force Academy, he served in Infantry and Intelligence, including operations in East Timor with the commandos. He holds a postgraduate degree in International Relations from Oxford University and an MDiv from Ridley College. Andrew later became an Army Chaplain at the Australian Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka, before leaving the full time Army in 2013 to plant City on a Hill Geelong. Andrew has been married to his beautiful wife Danna for over 20 years and has five young children. He loves the ocean, traveling, camping, playing with his kids (including attending their innumerable sporting matches), and reading military history.