Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause, (Isaiah 1: 16-17, ESV).
Those who have never understood the phrase “righteous anger” would do well to read Isaiah 1: 1-20. The Book of Isaiah starts with a bang; God is not happy with His people. The country lies desolate before them – cities burned, towns ravaged, foreigners taking over. Matthew Henry tells us that this has the effect of awakening the people, but only partly so. “Oops! God’s angry. We’d better placate Him with sacrifices!” Only this time, it doesn’t work.
Not only did God not accept their sacrifices, He flat out abhorred them. Why? Because He knew their hearts. They viewed the sacrifices as cause and effect, “a bribe,” as it were. The real issue was that sacrifice was for atonement, and they didn’t want atonement; they merely wanted to appease God’s anger. “Many who will readily part with their sacrifices,” says Henry, “will not be persuaded to part with their sins.” And this was the real issue.
While the passage speaks of a remnant of people committed to God, the rest of Israel was wholly corrupt. Any parallels? Yes, yes. It’s too easy. But let’s be honest; it happens in every society. What’s happened to America has happened to every society before it. We fail to take God seriously; and often, we in the church are the worst offenders.
We craft worship songs that are more about how we feel than about who God is; we seek preachers to make us feel good about ourselves. We give God our lip service, but we withhold our hearts. Why? Because of our idols – those sins we hold too close to our hearts to give up. But like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, we’ll hold fast to that which binds us, only realizing too late how craven we were as our sins pull us down into the fires of Hell.
But God is not willing to let us go without a fight. See the passage immediately following:
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. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken,” (Isaiah 1: 18-20, ESV).
Good stuff … and frightening. Notice where the gray area is in that last passage? Right. There is none. God is black and white. There is no gray with Him. No middle ground. You’re either for Him or against Him, and it doesn’t go well for those who are against Him (“eaten by the sword” … Yikes!).
It’s beyond time for us to repent – as a nation and as individuals. It’s time for us to wash ourselves clean in that fountain provided by the shed blood of Christ. It’s time for us to turn away from our sins and turn to God. Only then will justice rule the nation. Only then will we stop focusing on ourselves long enough to stop the oppression of those whose voices cry out for relief.
No government program can replace personal work. We must be involved on a personal level in the fight to win justice for the oppressed and fatherless; we must care for the widows ourselves. We must act outside ourselves, our circles, and our comfort zones. We must find ourselves in the service of others.
It is the only sacrifice pleasing to God.