Weekly Torah Section: Devarim Deut. 1:1-3:22, HafTorah Isaiah 1:1-27
This is the last Sabbath before Tish B’Av. It is known as the Sabbath of vision. This comes from the first verse of Isaiah, “the vision of Isaiah, son of Amos.” Isaiah began his ministry in 740, the year King Ussiah died. He prophesied during the reign of four different kings of Israel.
What is Tisha B’Av? It is the day when both the first and second temples were destroyed, first in the year 586 by Nebuchadnezzar and second in the year 70 by Titus. On this day the book of Lamentations is read. This book begins with the same word that we find in Isaiah 1:21. This is one of the reasons that Isaiah is the reading before Tisha B’Av.
But I want us to look at Isaiah in some depth tonight to see what he has to say to us. You could compare these verses to a court case. G-d calls heaven and earth as His witnessed. His sons have rebelled against Him. In verse 3 of Isaiah 1, even an ox and a donkey are more loyal than His people. They do not understand, rather than being the holy nation of G-d they have become a sinful nation. In fact G-d uses four phrases to describe His people. Rather than honor Him as the Holy One of Israel, by their sin they mock Him. Isaiah goes on to compare then to a beaten man who rather than giving up goes on struggling. Their land lies desolate and cities burned. In Isaiah 1:8 Jerusalem is left like a shelter in a vineyard – a hut in a cucumber field – like a besieged city.
They would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah but there were a few survivors – the remnant so to speak. In Romans 9:29 Paul uses these verses to make the same case except for the remnant of Jewish believers Israel would have not survived. Only a minority of Jews in the days of Messiah recognized the Messiah for who He was.
In Isaiah 1:10-15, G-d makes His case about the festivals, Sabbath, and offerings. What was the real problem here? Is He saying that the rituals are the issue? No. The people are the problem. They are going through the rituals of their faith with no heart issues involved. They are treating G-d like a math equations. Bring the right sacrifice on the right day and He is happy. Is this a problem today? Are we guilty of a religious veneer covering life that goes day after day without an acknowledgement who we are or who we serve?
Another issue that arose from these verses is that the church as early as the 2ndcentury began to attack Judaism and its own Jewish members, using these verses in Isaiah as text proof that G-d was finished with all of these sacrifices, festivals and such. The Epistle of Barnabas is a prime example of this growing anti Jewish leaning of the church. But make no mistake; here Isaiah is talking about a heart issue, not a ritual issue.
So, what is the solution for Israel given by Isaiah? It is the same as it always has been. Isaiah 1:10-17. Wash yourselves. John carries this over into the New Testament. Washing yourselves was a physical act, a witness that you were repudiating your sins and sought spiritual rebirth.
Remove the evil deeds from My sight. Real repentance requires a commitment to fear G-d. Our sins are an offense to Him, nothing is hidden from Him. Cease to do evil – a change in behavior – quit doing what we were doing. Our confession must bring about change in our lives.
Do good. Not only do we have to quit what we were doing. It isn’t enough to just stop bad behavior. We must replace it with good behavior as James says in the New Testament, James 1:27. Isaiah gives some examples of good behavior – “seek justice, defend the orphans and plead for the widow.” So here Isaiah sets out for Israel the problem and the solution. Then He calls the people to “come let us reason together.” G-d gives them and us the opportunity to set things right. In the New Testament in Luke 24:47, Acts 5:31, and Acts 13:38 as well as many other verses we see this same process set out through Yeshua. So my word for you is to “come and reason with G-d”, He is always ready to hear us. Don’t make your faith an equation but live it each day in your life to the fullest.