Setting Matters Straight Between God and You
“Though the sins of you people should prove to be as scarlet, they will be made white just like snow.”—ISAIAH 1:18.
1, 2. (a) What might you imagine if someone said: “Come now, and let us reason together”? (b) Why ought we not expect to have a give-and-take with God?
IF, BECAUSE of some past error or unkindness, strained relations existed between you and another, how would you respond to these words: “Come now, and let us reason together”? That could be an invitation to sit down for a give-and-take, with mutual concessions and compromise. Each could present his view, and each might then concede some measure of fault or misunderstanding.
2 But could you imagine that the Creator would in that sense plead, “Come now, and let us reason together,” as Isaiah 1:18 reads in many Bibles? Not at all. None of us could expect to “argue it out” (The New English Bible) or to have a give-and-take with Jehovah, as if he might need to concede fault and to compromise. If, though, we want peace with God, what does Isaiah 1:18 require?
3. What is the proper sense of the Hebrew word sometimes translated “reason together” at Isaiah 1:18?
3 The Hebrew word rendered “reason together” basically means “decide, adjudge, prove.” It has a legal flavor, implying more than two persons just reasoning together. A decision was involved.* (Genesis 31:37, 42; Job 9:33; Psalm 50:21; Isaiah 2:4) Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies offers the meaning “to be right; to reason, to demonstrate what is right and true.” God was commanding: “Come now, let us set things right” (The New American Bible) or, “Let us set matters straight.”
4-6. Who was Isaiah, and when did he serve as a prophet?
4 Jehovah God used the prophet Isaiah to deliver this potent message. Who was Isaiah, and why was his message appropriate in his time? Moreover, how can we benefit from it?
5 At the mention of “prophet,” many today might conjure up thoughts of some ascetic young man who was proclaiming his distorted view of reality. Others might think of an old eccentric who styles himself a judge of prevailing conditions. How different from such was the balanced and rational man Isaiah, whom Jehovah God used to write the Bible book bearing his name!
6 “Isaiah the son of Amoz” lived in Judah and actively served Jehovah “in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah”—over 40 years. Modestly, Isaiah did not provide much information about himself. Tradition says that he was related to Judah’s royal family. We know for sure that he was a family man whose wife bore him two sons. He may have remarried after she died, becoming father to another son, prophetically named Immanuel.—Isaiah 1:1; 7:3, 14; 8:3, 18.
7. Why should we be interested in Isaiah’s prophecy?
7 There are similarities between Isaiah’s time and ours. You have seen that we live in a time of international tension, of wars or threats thereof. While religious and political leaders who claim to worship God project themselves as examples to be followed, we regularly see press reports of their financial and moral scandals. How does God view such leaders, especially those linked with Christendom? What lies ahead for them and for those following them? In the book of Isaiah, we find divine comments that are most relevant to such current matters. We also find lessons for each of us as we personally strive to serve God.
Prophet to a Guilty Nation
8. What does the book of Isaiah contain, and in what style was it written?
8 Reading the book of Isaiah, you will find messages about the guilt of Judah and Jerusalem, historical details of enemy invasions, pronouncements of desolation for surrounding nations, and encouraging predictions of restoration and salvation for Israel. This is written in a vivid, gripping style. Dr. I. Slotki says: “Scholars pay wholehearted tribute to Isaiah’s brilliance of imagination and his picturesque and graphic descriptions, his command of powerful metaphor, alliteration, assonance, and the fine balance and rhythmic flow of his sentences.” Let us examine in particular the opening message of Isaiah—that found in Isa chapter 1.
9. What do we know about the time and circumstances of the writing of Isaiah chapter 1?
9 The prophet does not state exactly when he wrote this chapter. Isaiah 6:1-13 dates from the year that King Uzziah died. So if it was earlier that Isaiah recorded his opening chapters, they may reflect the situation below the surface during Uzziah’s kingship. Basically, Uzziah (829-777 B.C.E.) “kept doing what was right in Jehovah’s eyes,” so God blessed his reign with prosperity. Yet, we know that all was not well, for “the people were still sacrificing and making sacrificial smoke on the high places” before God struck Uzziah (or, Azariah) with leprosy for presumptuously offering incense in the temple. (2 Chronicles 26:1-5, 16-23; 2 Kings 15:1-5) The underlying badness in Uzziah’s time may have led to the crop of wickedness we read about involving his grandson King Ahaz (762-745 B.C.E.), which also might be what Isaiah was describing. But more important than a specific date for Isa chapter 1 is what moved God to say: “Let us set matters straight between us.”
10. During King Ahaz’ reign, what situation prevailed in Judah, especially among the leaders?
10 Isaiah frankly proclaimed: “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. . . . 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 1:4-6) King Ahaz’ 16-year rule was marked by rank idolatry. He burned “his sons [as sacrifices] in the fire, according to the detestable things of the nations . . . And he regularly . . . made sacrificial smoke on the high places and upon the hills and under every sort of luxuriant tree.” (2 Chronicles 28:1-4; 2 Kings 16:3, 4) Injustice, bribery, and immorality were rife among the princes, who were more fit to be rulers in ancient Sodom. (Isaiah 1:10, 21-23; Genesis 18:20, 21) Certainly, God could not approve of them. And with such leaders, how would the people fare?
11. How should we understand Isaiah 1:29, 30?
11 The prophet Isaiah illustrated the deplorable situation of the people by mentioning the sacred trees and gardens where they offered idolatrous sacrifices and burned incense to pagan deities. These “mighty trees” would become a cause for shame. (Isaiah 1:29; 65:3) Transferring the imagery to the idolaters themselves, Isaiah wrote: “You will become like a big tree the foliage of which is withering, and like a garden that has no water.” (Isaiah 1:30) Yes, people leaving Jehovah would “come to their finish.” They would become like tow (combustible pieces of flax), and their idols would become a spark—both to be consumed.—Isaiah 1:28, 31.
12, 13. What similarities can be drawn between our time and Isaiah’s?
12 Now compare that with the situation today. Within a month’s time, the press in the United States reported: A leading presidential candidate withdrew in a scandal over reports of his “womanizing”; a prominent clergyman was replaced after confessing to adultery and being accused of homosexuality, wife swapping, and misusing funds to pay hush money. (He “reportedly had drawn an astounding $4.6 million in compensation since 1984.” Time, May 11, 1987) In Austria last year, the Abbot of Rein ‘was dismissed and charged with squandering $6 million on a hunting lodge and parties for members of the former ruling family and for young women of less noble background.’ You probably could give other examples of such leaders. What do you think God’s view of them is?
13 As to the people in general, there is increasing religious polarization. Some turn from religion in disgust or apathy. For instance, merely 3 percent of England’s population attend the established church. At the other pole, we find extreme religiousness. This is evident in the growing charismatic churches, with their emotional appeal of being “saved,” speaking in tongues, or seeing the sick “healed.” Crowds flock to shrines hoping for miracles. Others make sacrifices as acts of “faith,” such as crawling on bleeding knees to see the Virgin of Guadalupe [Mexico City]. A newspaper said: “While to outsiders her existence and the fervor with which she is worshiped might seem a blatant mixing of Christianity and paganism, the Virgin is arguably the most important figure in Mexican Catholicism.”
How Can You Gain His Favor?
14. Through Isaiah, how did Jehovah make it clear that He does not accept all who claim to worship Him?
14 Jehovah God leaves no confusion as to his view of those who claim to be on his side but who will not “worship the Father with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) If a nation, a religious group, or a person is not acting in accord with God’s revealed standards, any religious displays are pointless. For instance, religious festivals and sacrifices were a required part of true worship in ancient Israel. (Leviticus, chapters 1–7, 23) Yet, Isaiah set out God’s view—displeasure with the unfaithful Jews keeping those observances. God said: “When you spread out your palms, I hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening.” (Isaiah 1:11-15) That is just as true today. Rather than mere religious ceremonies or memorized creeds and prayers, God wants prayers and right deeds that come from the heart.
15. Why does Isaiah 1:18 give us reason for hope, and what is the meaning of the words, ‘Come and let us set matters straight’?
15 Our knowing that provides the basis for hope. Humans can win God’s favor. How? Isaiah urged: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the badness of your dealings from in front of my eyes; cease to do bad. Learn to do good; search for justice.” At this point Isaiah presented God’s command: “Come, now, you people, and let us set matters straight between us.” So Jehovah was not asking for a session between equals who would sit down for a give-and-take. God knew what was right, or straight. His judgment was: Any changes that are needed are to be on the part of humans, who needed to conform to his just and righteous standards. That is so today too. Change is possible, with resulting favor. Even someone whose course has been unquestionably bad can change. Isaiah wrote: “Though the sins of you people should prove to be as scarlet, they will be made white just like snow.”—Isaiah 1:16-18.
16. How have some responded to Bible-based advice concerning wrongdoing?
16 There is a tendency, however, to note such counsel but to think that it applies to others. Evidently, many in Isaiah’s day did that. Actually, each individual should examine himself. If a Christian is guilty of serious sin, be it lying, fraud, sexual immorality, or other grave wrongs, repentance and works befitting repentance are vital. (Acts 26:20) Commendably, some have acted to ‘set matters straight between them and Jehovah.’ For example, The Watchtower of April 15, 1985, discussed the matter of rectifying faults that might be secret to outsiders but are observed by God. (Matthew 6:6; Philippians 4:13) Three areas for attention were mentioned: secretly accepting a blood transfusion, masturbation, and alcohol abuse. After considering that material, quite a number of readers wrote letters of appreciation; they admitted that they had had those faults, but they had been moved to repent and change.
17. Even if we are not committing gross wrongs, how can Isaiah 1:18 apply to us and help us?
17 Of course, most Christians who are considering this matter are not guilty of gross misconduct. Nevertheless, Isaiah’s message still ought to move us to a heart-searching examination. Might we need to set some matter straight with God? An essential element of Isaiah’s message was right heart motive. Regarding prayer, one might ask: ‘Do my prayers come from my heart, and to the best of my ability, are my actions consistent with my prayers?’ Some making such an examination have seen room for improvement. They had been praying for increased knowledge of God’s will, yet they spent little time studying the Bible and Christian publications. Others had been praying to have a greater share in the ministry, but they pursued a life-style that allowed for no cutback in their income by reducing their secular work. Or have you prayed that God bless your disciple making? To what extent, then, do you work at being a more effective teacher? Have you conscientiously increased your making of return visits and been willing to commit time to conducting a regular Bible study with another? Exerting yourself in line with your prayers will show that you sincerely want God to listen.
18. Why should we give attention to setting things straight between us and God?
18 It is altogether proper that each of us strive to have all aspects of our life ‘set straight’ with God, our Creator. Note how Isaiah reasoned along this line: “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) None of us would like to be depicted as less knowing or appreciative than a bull or an ass. That description would apply, though, if we felt that we did not need to work at learning about our Life-Giver and his requirements and then earnestly trying to live accordingly.
19. What prospect did Isaiah outline for those setting matters straight with God, and what meaning does this have for us?
19 Isaiah offered his people reason for optimism. He said that their standing before Jehovah could be transformed into a pure one. It could be like a crimson-red cloth that would become as white as wool or as the snow blanketing Mount Hermon’s peak. (Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 51:7; Daniel 7:9; Revelation 19:8) Even if the majority did not respond, and thus the nation was given to the sword and into captivity, a faithful remnant could return. Likewise, we can gain Jehovah’s favor, perhaps with the assistance of conscientious overseers, who serve in the congregation as loving ‘judges and counselors.’ (Isaiah 1:20, 24-27; 1 Peter 5:2-4; Galatians 6:1, 2) So be assured, you can set matters straight between God and you. Or, if you already have God’s favor, you can strengthen your relationship with him. That truly is worth your every effort.
Dr. E. H. Plumptre explains: “The [rendering in the King James Version] suggests the thought of a discussion between equals. The Hebrew implies rather the tone of one who gives an authoritative ultimatum, as from a judge to the accused.”
Points for Review
□ What was meant by the command to ‘come and set matters straight’ with God?
□ How was Isaiah’s time similar to ours?
□ What did Isaiah show was needed for individuals to gain God’s favor?
□ Aside from gross sin, in what areas might we need to set matters straight between us and God?
[Picture on page 10]
Snowy slopes of Mount Hermon, looking southwest across the upper Jordan Valley to the hills of Galilee
Photos, pages 10, 31: Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture on page 13]
Isaiah said that ‘an ass knows its owner’s manger.’ What lesson is there in this?