A Father and His Rebellious Sons
1, 2. Explain how Jehovah has come to have rebellious sons.
HE PROVIDED well for his children, as would any loving parent. For many years he made sure that they were fed, clothed, and sheltered. When it was necessary, he disciplined them. But their punishment was never excessive; it was always administered “to the proper degree.” (Jeremiah 30:11) We can only imagine, then, the pain that this loving father feels at having to make the statement: “Sons I have brought up and raised, but they themselves have revolted against me.”—Isaiah 1:2b.
2 The rebellious sons referred to here are the people of Judah, and the aggrieved father is Jehovah God. How tragic! Jehovah has nourished the Judeans and raised them to an elevated position among the nations. “I went on to clothe you with an embroidered garment and to shoe you with sealskin and to wrap you in fine linen and to cover you with costly material,” he later reminds them through the prophet Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 16:10) Yet, for the most part, the people of Judah do not appreciate what Jehovah has done for them. Instead, they rebel, or revolt.
3. Why does Jehovah call upon the heavens and the earth to bear witness to Judah’s revolt?
3 With good reason, Jehovah prefaces these words regarding his rebellious sons with the statement: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for Jehovah himself has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:2a) Centuries earlier the heavens and the earth heard, as it were, the Israelites receive explicit warnings regarding the consequences of disobedience. Moses said: “I do take as witnesses against you today the heavens and the earth, that you will positively perish in a hurry from off the land to which you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 4:26) Now in Isaiah’s day, Jehovah calls upon the invisible heavens and the visible earth to bear witness to Judah’s revolt.
4. How does Jehovah choose to present himself to Judah?
4 The severity of the situation calls for a straightforward approach. Even in these dire circumstances, however, it is noteworthy—and heartwarming—that Jehovah presents himself to Judah as a loving parent rather than merely the owner who has purchased them. In effect, Jehovah is entreating his people to consider the matter from the standpoint of a father who is in anguish over his wayward sons. Perhaps some parents in Judah can even personally relate to such a predicament and are moved by the analogy. In any event, Jehovah is about to state his case against Judah.
Brute Beasts Know Better
5. In contrast with Israel, in what way do the bull and the ass display a sense of faithfulness?
5 Through Isaiah, Jehovah says: “A bull well knows its buyer, and the ass the manger of its owner; Israel itself has not known, my own people have not behaved understandingly.” (Isaiah 1:3)* The bull and the ass are draft animals familiar to those living in the Middle East. Indeed, the Judeans would not deny that even these lowly beasts display a sense of faithfulness, a keen awareness that they belong to a master. In this regard, consider what one Bible researcher witnessed at the close of the day in a Middle Eastern city: “No sooner had the drove got within the walls than it began to disperse. Every ox knew perfectly well his owner, and the way to his house, nor did it get bewildered for a moment in the mazes of the narrow and crooked alleys. As for the ass, he walked straight to the door, and up to ‘his master’s crib.’”
6. How have the people of Judah failed to act understandingly?
6 Since such scenes are no doubt common in Isaiah’s day, the point of Jehovah’s message is clear: If even a brute beast recognizes its master and its own manger, what excuse can the people of Judah offer for having left Jehovah? Truly, they have “not behaved understandingly.” It is as if they have no consciousness of the fact that their prosperity and their very existence depend upon Jehovah. It is indeed an evidence of mercy that Jehovah still refers to the Judeans as “my own people”!
7. What are some ways in which we can show ourselves appreciative of Jehovah’s provisions?
7 Never would we want to behave without understanding by failing to show appreciation for all that Jehovah has done for us! Instead, we should imitate the psalmist David, who said: “I will laud you, O Jehovah, with all my heart; I will declare all your wonderful works.” (Psalm 9:1) Continually taking in knowledge of Jehovah will encourage us in this regard, for the Bible states that “the knowledge of the Most Holy One is what understanding is.” (Proverbs 9:10) Meditating daily on Jehovah’s blessings will help us to be thankful and not take our heavenly Father for granted. (Colossians 3:15) “The one offering thanksgiving as his sacrifice is the one that glorifies me,” says Jehovah, “and as for the one keeping a set way, I will cause him to see salvation by God.”—Psalm 50:23.
A Shocking Affront to “the Holy One of Israel”
8. Why can the people of Judah be called “the sinful nation”?
8 Isaiah continues his message with strong words for the nation of Judah: “Woe to the sinful nation, the people heavy with error, an evildoing seed, ruinous sons! They have left Jehovah, they have treated the Holy One of Israel with disrespect, they have turned backwards.” (Isaiah 1:4) Wicked deeds can accumulate to the extent that they become like a crushing weight. In Abraham’s day Jehovah described the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah as “very heavy.” (Genesis 18:20) Something similar is now evident in the people of Judah, for Isaiah says that they are “heavy with error.” In addition, he calls them “an evildoing seed, ruinous sons.” Yes, the Judeans are like delinquent children. They have “turned backwards,” or as the New Revised Standard Version puts it, they are “utterly estranged” from their Father.
9. What is the significance of the phrase “the Holy One of Israel”?
9 By their wayward course, the people of Judah are showing gross disrespect for “the Holy One of Israel.” What is the significance of this phrase, which is found 25 times in the book of Isaiah? To be holy means to be clean and pure. Jehovah is holy to the superlative degree. (Revelation 4:8) The Israelites are reminded of this fact every time they observe the words engraved on the shining gold plate on the high priest’s turban: “Holiness belongs to Jehovah.” (Exodus 39:30) Hence, by referring to Jehovah as “the Holy One of Israel,” Isaiah underscores the gravity of Judah’s sin. Why, these rebels are directly violating the command given to their forefathers: “You must sanctify yourselves and you must prove yourselves holy, because I am holy”!—Leviticus 11:44.
10. How can we avoid showing disrespect for “the Holy One of Israel”?
10 Christians today must at all costs avoid following Judah’s example of disrespecting “the Holy One of Israel.” They must imitate Jehovah’s holiness. (1 Peter 1:15, 16) And they need to “hate what is bad.” (Psalm 97:10) Such unclean practices as sexual immorality, idolatry, thievery, and drunkenness can corrupt the Christian congregation. That is why those who refuse to stop practicing these things are disfellowshipped from the congregation. Ultimately, those who unrepentantly follow a course of uncleanness will be excluded from enjoying the blessings of God’s Kingdom government. Really, all such wicked works constitute a shocking affront to “the Holy One of Israel.”—Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 5:6-11; 6:9, 10.
Sick From Head to Foot
11, 12. (a) Describe Judah’s bad condition. (b) Why should we not feel sorry for Judah?
11 Isaiah next strives to reason with the people of Judah by pointing out to them their sickly state. He says: “Where else will you be struck still more, in that you add more revolt?” In effect, Isaiah is asking them: ‘Have you not suffered enough? Why bring further harm to yourselves by continuing to rebel?’ Isaiah continues: “The whole head is in a sick condition, and the whole heart is feeble. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no sound spot in it.” (Isaiah 1:5, 6a) Judah is in a loathsome, diseased state—spiritually sick from head to foot. A grim diagnosis indeed!
12 Should we feel sorry for Judah? Hardly! Centuries earlier the entire nation of Israel was duly warned about the penalty for disobedience. In part, they were told: “Jehovah will strike you with a malignant boil upon both knees and both legs, from which you will not be able to be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.” (Deuteronomy 28:35) In a figurative sense, Judah is now suffering these very consequences of her stubborn course. And all of this could have been avoided if the people of Judah had simply obeyed Jehovah.
13, 14. (a) What injuries have been inflicted upon Judah? (b) Do Judah’s sufferings cause her to reconsider her rebellious course?
13 Isaiah continues to describe Judah’s pitiable state: “Wounds and bruises and fresh stripes—they have not been squeezed out or bound up, nor has there been a softening with oil.” (Isaiah 1:6b) Here the prophet refers to three types of injuries: wounds (cuts, such as those inflicted by a sword or a knife), bruises (welts resulting from beating), and fresh stripes (recent, open sores that seem beyond healing). The idea presented is that of a man who has been severely punished in every manner imaginable, with no part of his body escaping harm. Judah is truly in a broken-down state.
14 Does Judah’s miserable condition move her to return to Jehovah? No! Judah is like the rebel described at Proverbs 29:1: “A man repeatedly reproved but making his neck hard will suddenly be broken, and that without healing.” The nation seems beyond curing. As Isaiah puts it, her wounds “have not been squeezed out or bound up, nor has there been a softening with oil.”* In a sense, Judah resembles an open, unbandaged, all-pervasive sore.
15. In what ways can we protect ourselves from spiritual sickness?
15 Taking a lesson from Judah, we must be on guard against spiritual sickness. Like physical illness, it can affect any one of us. After all, who of us is not susceptible to fleshly desires? Greed and a desire for excessive pleasure can take root in our hearts. Hence, we need to train ourselves to “abhor what is wicked” and “cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) We also need to cultivate the fruits of God’s spirit in our everyday lives. (Galatians 5:22, 23) By doing so, we will avoid the condition that plagued Judah—that of being spiritually sick from head to foot.
A Desolated Land
16. (a) How does Isaiah describe the condition of Judah’s terrain? (b) Why do some say that these words were likely uttered during the reign of Ahaz, but how might we understand them?
16 Isaiah now leaves his medical analogy and turns to the condition of Judah’s terrain. As if he is gazing down on a battle-scarred plain, he says: “Your land is a desolation, your cities are burned with fire; your ground—right in front of you strangers are eating it up, and the desolation is like an overthrow by strangers.” (Isaiah 1:7) Some scholars say that although these words are found early in Isaiah’s book, they were probably uttered later in the prophet’s career, perhaps during the reign of wicked King Ahaz. They assert that Uzziah’s reign was too prosperous to justify such a bleak description. Granted, it cannot be stated with certainty whether Isaiah’s book is compiled in chronological order. However, Isaiah’s words about desolation are probably prophetic. In uttering the above statement, most likely Isaiah is employing a technique found elsewhere in the Bible—that of describing a future event as if it has already taken place, thus emphasizing the certainty of a prophecy’s fulfillment.—Compare Revelation 11:15.
17. Why should the prophetic description of desolation not come as a surprise to the people of Judah?
17 In any event, the prophetic description of the desolation of Judah should not come as a surprise to this stubborn and disobedient people. Centuries earlier Jehovah warned them of what would happen if they rebelled. He said: “I, for my part, will lay the land desolate, and your enemies who are dwelling in it will simply stare in amazement over it. And you I shall scatter among the nations, and I will unsheathe a sword after you; and your land must become a desolation, and your cities will become a desolate ruin.”—Leviticus 26:32, 33; 1 Kings 9:6-8.
18-20. When are the words of Isaiah 1:7, 8 fulfilled, and in what way does Jehovah ‘leave a few remaining’ at this time?
18 The words at Isaiah 1:7, 8 are apparently fulfilled during the invasions by Assyria that result in the destruction of Israel and widespread destruction and suffering in Judah. (2 Kings 17:5, 18; 18:11, 13; 2 Chronicles 29:8, 9) However, Judah is not totally wiped out. Isaiah says: “The daughter of Zion has been left remaining like a booth in a vineyard, like a lookout hut in a field of cucumbers, like a blockaded city.”—Isaiah 1:8.
19 Amid all the devastation, “the daughter of Zion,” Jerusalem, will be left standing. But she will look very vulnerable—like a shanty in a vineyard or a watchman’s booth in a cucumber field. In a journey down the Nile, one 19th-century scholar was reminded of Isaiah’s words when he saw similar booths, which he describes as “little more than a fence against a north wind.” In Judah when the harvest was over, these booths were allowed to fall apart and collapse. Still, as flimsy as Jerusalem might appear before the all-conquering Assyrian army, she will survive.
20 Isaiah concludes this prophetic statement: “Unless Jehovah of armies himself had left remaining to us just a few survivors, we should have become just like Sodom, we should have resembled Gomorrah itself.” (Isaiah 1:9)* Against the might of Assyria, Jehovah will finally come to Judah’s aid. Unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, Judah will not be obliterated. It will live on.
21. After Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, why did Jehovah ‘leave a few remaining’?
21 More than 100 years later, Judah was again under threat. The people had not learned from the discipline inflicted through Assyria. “They were continually making jest at the messengers of the true God and despising his words and mocking at his prophets.” As a result, “the rage of Jehovah came up against his people, until there was no healing.” (2 Chronicles 36:16) The Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah, and this time, there was nothing remaining “like a booth in a vineyard.” Even Jerusalem was destroyed. (2 Chronicles 36:17-21) Still, Jehovah ‘left a few remaining.’ Even though Judah endured 70 years in exile, Jehovah ensured the continuance of the nation and especially of the Davidic line, which would produce the promised Messiah.
22, 23. In the first century, why did Jehovah ‘leave a few remaining’?
22 In the first century, Israel went through its final crisis as God’s covenant people. When Jesus presented himself as the promised Messiah, the nation rejected him, and as a result, Jehovah rejected them. (Matthew 21:43; 23:37-39; John 1:11) Was this the end of Jehovah’s having a special nation on earth? No. The apostle Paul showed that Isaiah 1:9 had yet another fulfillment. Quoting from the Septuagint version, he wrote: “Just as Isaiah had said aforetime: ‘Unless Jehovah of armies had left a seed to us, we should have become just like Sodom, and we should have been made just like Gomorrah.’”—Romans 9:29.
23 This time the survivors were the anointed Christians, who put faith in Jesus Christ. These were, first of all, believing Jews. Later they were joined by believing Gentiles. Together they made up a new Israel, “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16; Romans 2:29) This “seed” survived the destruction of the Jewish system of things in 70 C.E. Indeed, “the Israel of God” is still with us today. It has now been joined by millions of believing individuals of the nations, who make up “a great crowd, which no man [is] able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.”—Revelation 7:9.
24. What should all take notice of if they wish to survive mankind’s greatest crisis?
24 Soon this world will face the battle of Armageddon. (Revelation 16:14, 16) While this will be a crisis greater than either the Assyrian or the Babylonian invasion of Judah, greater even than the Roman devastation of Judea in 70 C.E., there will be survivors. (Revelation 7:14) How vital, then, that all consider carefully Isaiah’s words to Judah! They meant survival for faithful ones back then. And they can mean survival for believing ones today.
In this context, “Israel” refers to the two-tribe kingdom of Judah.
Isaiah’s words reflect the medical practice of his day. Bible researcher E. H. Plumptre notes: “To ‘close’ or ‘press’ the festering wound was the process tried at first to get rid of the purulent discharge; then, as in Hezekiah’s case (chap. xxxviii. Isa 38:21), it was ‘bound up,’ with a poultice, then some stimulating oil or unguent, probably, as in Luke x. 34, oil and wine were used, to cleanse the ulcer.”
The Commentary on the Old Testament, by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, says: “The prophet’s address has here reached a resting-place. The fact that it is divided at this point into two separate sections, is indicated in the text by the space left between Isa 1 vers. 9 and 10. This mode of marking larger or smaller sections, either by leaving spaces or by breaking off the line, is older than the vowel points and accents, and rests upon a tradition of the highest antiquity.”
[Picture on page 20]
Unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, Judah will not be forever uninhabited