Judgment and Hope

Bible Book: Isaiah  1 : 10-20
Subject: Judgment; Hope; Faithfulness; Dedication

Isaiah 1:10-20

This is the first of several messages to come from the book of Isaiah. The name “Isaiah” means “The Lord is Salvation.” Many consider Isaiah the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. In the New Testament he is mentioned by name over twenty times, and is directly quoted over sixty-five times—sometimes by Jesus. He prophesied during the period of the divided kingdom, when the Northern kingdom of Israel was on the decline, and prophesied mostly to the Southern kingdom of Judah. He was a contemporary of Hosea and Micah, and ministered during the reigns of four kings: Uzziah (called “Azariah” in 2 Kings), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. 

His ministry took place approximately 740-681 B.C. He was married and had at least two sons, both of whom are named in the book. Several of his prophecies were fulfilled during his lifetime, such as his prediction that the Assyrians, led by Sennacherib, would fail to conquer Jerusalem (37:6, 7, 36-38), and his prediction that Hezekiah would be healed from what had seemed to be a terminal illness (38:5; 2 Kings 20:7). 

He also predicted events that would take place within about 150 years after his death in 681 B.C. He predicted the fall of Jerusalem and Judah’s captivity at the hands of the Babylonians, which occurred in 586 B.C. He further predicted the return of the Jews from captivity under Cyrus, which did take place in 538 B.C., and he even namedCyrus, who—if he had been born yet, would have been only a small child when Isaiah made that prediction. He made numerous predictions concerning the first coming of Jesus, and his substitutionary death for sinners. 

He also made numerous predictions concerning the second coming of Christ, and related events—and since so many of his prophesies have already take place exactly as he predicted, there is no reason to doubt that his prophecies relating to the distant future will also be fulfilled precisely as he, writing under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, has foretold.

Today’s passage—Isaiah 1:10-20, is a message of judgment, but also of hope. 


(vss 10-15)

“10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivalsI hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 

“Your hands are full of blood”—“a symbol of cruel wrongs perpetrated or tolerated, including the guilt of actual murder (Isaiah 1:21)"--Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges]

Sodom and Gomorrah were two of the most wicked cities in all of Biblical history. So, by using those two names to address the leaders and citizens of Judah, Isaiah was denouncing their sinfulness in the strongest of terms.

The people of Judah were still going through the outward motions of worshipping and serving the Lord, but their personal lives were full of moral filth—so all of their religious activities were repulsive in the sight of God. Their worship was “worthless.” Their sacrifices and offerings and ceremonies were an offense to him. He called them “meaningless” and “detestable.” He said that their religious festivals and feasts were “a burden.” He said, “I am weary” of them, and “I hate them.”

He said, in verse15, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!”

That same principle holds true today: if you and I are harboring in our hearts sin of which we have not repented, and which we have not confessed, and which we have not forsaken, God turns a deaf ear to our prayers. Psalm 66:18 (KJV), “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”

Some specific hindrances to prayer are named in the Bible. Selfishness is one. James4:2-3 (KJV), “2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”

Pride is another. Job 35:12-13 (KJV): “12 There they cry, but none giveth answer, because of the pride of evil men. 13 Surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it.”

Neglect of the needy. Proverbs 21:13 (KJV): “Whoso stoppers his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.”

Refusing to hear God’s Word. Proverbs 28:9 (KJV): “He that turner away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.”

 Marital discord. 1 Peter 3:7 (KJV): “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”

An unforgiving spirit. Matthew 6:14-15 (KJV): “14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Lack of faith. James 1:5-8 (KJV): “5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” 

James is not saying that faith must be flawless in order to reach God with our prayers. I believe that Kurt A. Richardson, in The New American Commentary, has nailed it; he says that doubting referred to here is “the believer holding back from acting.”


 (vss 16-17)

Although the word “repentance” is not found in these verses, repentance is clearly what God is demanding—and in the Bible, repentance is always linked with faith [Acts 20:21]. Repentance and faith are like two side of the same coin. They are inseparable. In the Bible, the presence of one always presupposes the presence of the other.

“16  Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” 

In those two verses there are 9 imperatives, 2 to stop what they were doing, and 7 to do what they were not doing. Living for God is not simply a list of “thou shalt nots.” It also consists of many “thou shalts.” Acts 10:38 says that “Jesus…went about doing good”—and he is to be our example. Daniel 11:32 says, “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”

God is not only demanding repentance, he is demanding proof of it—as John the Baptist did centuries later. John was baptizing people who had believed his message concerning the Messiah and had repented of their sins. But apparently some folks got all caught up in the excitement and were coming to John, asking for baptism, when nothing had changed in their lives—and in verses 7-8 we read: “7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance….”—and he went on to give examples of what he meant by “fruits worthy of repentance.”

So, God was demanding proof of two kinds: they were to prove they had repented by turning away from their empty religious practices and their ungodly behavior, and living clean lives. There is an old ,spiritual which contains this powerful line: “I knowed they wuz God’s chillun,’ ‘cause I seen ‘em doin’ right.” Isaiah 55:7 says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

The other proof God required was reaching out to people in need. In Matthew 25, in telling of the judgment to come, Jesus said that he will commend the righteous [those who are right with God through faith in Christ] for the evidence they will have shown of their salvation—and he particularly spoke of evidence which will consist of having ministered to him, the Son of God, personally, in very specific ways.

Greatly surprised, the redeemed will say, “Lord, when did we do all these things for you?” And his response will be that given in Matthew 25:40: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Jesus was concerned about the lost, the last, and the least—and he expects you and me to have that same concern and to translate that concern into action.


(vs 18)

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.”

The context makes it clear that this wonderful promise is conditioned upon their repenting, as explained in the previous two verses.

Some people mistakenly think that Christianity and serious thinking are mutually exclusive—but that is a ridiculous assumption. The Christian faith is reasonable; it is based on historically verifiable events, climaxed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which proved that he was exactly who he claimed to be: God robed in human flesh. As someone has well said, “Blind faith” is not a Biblical term—the Christian faith is reasonable.

In light of the fact that his resurrection, the crowning miracle of his remarkable life and ministry, happened just as he predicted, it is only fair and reasonable to accept also at face value his other teachings—one of which is that there is only way to be saved from the condemnation and destructiveness of sin and to go to heaven when this life is over.

So, God says to the people of Isaiah’s day, and to people of all generations, “Be reasonable. Look at the wonderful opportunity you have. Look at what is being offered to you. If you will meet my conditions of repentance and faith, your sins which have stained and marred your life like scarlet and crimson, will be washed away, and your life and your record in the sight of God will be clean and white, like snow and wool.”

One night in an evening service a young woman felt God tugging at her heart, and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. This young woman had a very rough past, involving alcohol, drugs, and prostitution, but Christ absolutely transformed her and gave her a new life. She became a faithful, exemplary member of that church, and as time went on she became involved in the children’s ministry. 

After a while this faithful young woman caught the eye of the pastor’s son. Their relationship grew into love, and they began making wedding plans. That was was when trouble began. Their plans to get married caused a big stir in the church, and it got to the point that the congregation had a meeting about the matter. Some stood and expressed their strong feeling that the pastor’s son should not marry a person with that background (as if it were any of their business!).

The young woman was in tears, and the pastor’s son was deeply hurt that his wife-to-be was being so badly treated. He stood and said this to the congregation: “My fiancé’s past is not what is on trial here. What you are questioning is the ability of the blood of Jesus to wash away sin. Today, you have put the blood of Jesus on trial. So, does it wash away sin or not?” The whole congregation began to weep as they realized that they had been slandering the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Brannon S. Howse, Why The Ten Commandments Should Still Matter To Our Nation)

1 John 1:7-9: “7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

One of the grandest men of God I’ve ever known was a missionary and college teacher named Ted Manzke. As Ted would speak of our Lord’s substitutionary death on the cross, his glorious resurrection, and his grace, and his offer to forgive us, to change our lives, and to take us to heaven when we die, he would exclaim, “What a deal! What a deal!”—and what a deal, indeed. How unreasonable for anyone to reject such an offer! 


(vss 19-20)

19 If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah was telling the people of Judah that if they would obey God’s command to repent and believe, they would be spared and would prosper; but that if they rebelled, refusing to repent and turn from their wicked ways, they would be destroyed by invading armies. The choice was theirs.

The application of that verse for you and me is that if we turn to Christ in repentance and faith and thus allow God to transform our lives, we will be blessed by his living presence to see us through life’s trials and tribulations, and to enable us to fulfill our highest potential, and to take us to heaven when we die. But if we reject Christ, then eternal separation from God in hell will be our lot. The choice is ours.

But that isn’t the only choice we have to make. We not only must choose whom we will serve; we also must choose how we will serve him—and that’s where the devil has a field day. He has convinced a lot of people that once they have decided to repent and believe and be converted, that is the end of the matter. But not so—not by a long shot.

In Matthew 12:30 Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” There is no such thing as spiritual neutrality—either in regard to salvation, or in regard to service. Once we are saved, we must choose whether to move forward and give our best in spiritual growth and service, or to settle into mediocrity.

God despises mediocrity. In Revelation 3:15-16 (KJV) God said to the church at Laodicea: “15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

God desires that we give him our very best. Romans 12:11 (NASB): “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;” In 1 Thessalonians 4:1 (NASB) Paul exhorted believers “that you excel still more.”

So, once we are converted, we have those two choices: we can drift along and settle for mediocrity, or we can determine to be our very best for the Christ who has saved us, and we can strive daily toward that end—toward excellence.

Recently I read an article entitled “The King of Cool meets the King of Kings.” Steve McQueen was a 1960s actor nicknamed the “King of Cool.” McQueen was famous for such films as Bullitt, The Great Escape, and Papillon. He had a painful childhood, with a string of abusive stepfathers who beat him, locked him in cupboards, and generally made his life totally miserable. Not surprisingly, he ran away from home with a deep-seated anger, and a broken spirit. 

When he became successful, he used alcohol, and a string of relationships to fill the dark void that his childhood had left. In his early years, he had no time for religion, but in his later years, he was intrigued by the man who was teaching him to fly. There was something about him. Eventually he asked this man why he was different. He seemed to have peace. The man explained that he was a follower of Jesus. McQueen was hooked. One Sunday morning he told his wife to put on her best clothes--they were going to church. They started going to their local Baptist church, and eventually Steve became a Christian. 

Steve then contracted cancer and needed reassurance in his faith so he contacted Billy Graham to ask to meet with him. Billy came and spent time with him, prayed for him and shared some scriptures to encourage him. In the clinic Steve sought to tell as many people as he could about Jesus. One day the nurse walked into his room and found he had passed away from a massive heart attack. On his chest, lay the Bible that Billy Graham had gifted to him, open at John 3:16. In his final days he wanted to tell everyone about his faith in Jesus. 

Steve McQueen’s story reminds us that whatever dark places we have been through, God can redeem us. Whatever wealth and fame we might have, we are empty without God. His story also reminds us that once we are saved, God expects us to share our faith with others as long as we have breath. (Source: Greg Laurie, “Steve McQueen – The Salvation of An American Icon” YouTube, 8-28-16​