Worship is a hearty, spiritual expression of the believer’s adoration and love to God, in word and in deed, as a result of the redemptive act accomplished in Christ. Man’s words and deeds (for instance, material sacrifices) are valuable to God only in the light of a redeemed, contrite and holy heart. God thus looks for a true worshiper who will worship Him in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23-24). In this article, you are going to encounter Jehovah’s preconditions for proper worship. The article takes an exegetical approach which includes: an historical background, contextual analysis, and contemporary application of biblical passages. The article also presents a concise summary and conclusion.
Historical Background of Isaiah 1:10-20
Isaiah 1:10-20 was birthed in circumstances of total rebellion of Israel and its leaders against the Lord’s demonstrated love and care (1:1-9). God had done all that was sufficient to prove His love and care to Israel, but Israel was quite unwilling to perceive it. God compared Israel’s understanding capacity with that of brute animals, and His conclusion was that animals had better understanding than His people (v. 3)! In this context, Israel had forsaken God, like Sodom and Gomorrah, and had embraced void rituals of worship which God detested. God saw total depravity that inevitably pointed to imminent judgment. He saw foreign nations devastate Israel and that; only a handful remnant was left on account of His enduring mercies (v. 9).
Contextual Analysis of Isaiah 1:10-20
The prophetic oracle of Isaiah begins at this juncture with the call for attention directed at both rulers and the people of Judah. Isaiah employed Sodom and Gomorrah to metaphorically describe the morally and spiritually depraved leaders and the people of Judah contrary to what God had actually expected them to be and to do in terms of genuine spiritual worship in the context of the Law of Moses (v. 10). Traditionally, the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah was viewed as a classic example of punishment resulting from the abrogation or even suspension of a covenant with a deity – in this case, with Yahweh (Botterweck et al 1999, 163; cf. Tenney and Douglas 1987, 952). In this case, Judah had become spiritually polluted to the extent that Isaiah employed the two cities in which sexual license, human hubris and transgression against hospitality were commonplace as an alarm to call Judah back to repentance in order to escape impending judgment (cf. Gen. 14:2; 19:1-25).
Verses 11-15 reveal God’s abhorrence of hypocritical worship underpinned by legalistic animal sacrifices and offerings that did not align with true spirituality. Judah had willfully embarked on rebellion against God and yet she bragged about being an authentic worshiper of Jehovah as evidenced by the massiveness of her sacrifices. In this context, God was never moved by the abundance of sacrifices; rather, He sought a reverential and penitential heart that trembled in His presence (v. 11a, 12). God strongly attacked the form of religion and thus demanded the content of it that gave meaning to all the exteriors of religion; He wanted integration between the form of religion and its ethical content (cf. Motyer 1993, 45). It is indeed a human tendency to think that God can easily be lured by what we give and show on the outside, as we deliberately forget the fact that we are simply stewards of what we temporarily “own” and “give” in this life. All that we have belongs to Him (Ps. 50:7-12). And that God looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).
Isaiah’s indictment on rebellion was thus not a contradiction to God’s own law on the worship rituals that He Himself had ordained for Judah, rather the point was to remind worshipers that the instituted religion was meant to touch and transform human hearts so that they were able to revere God, that is, the purity of the heart was to precede the offerings, sacrifices and the appointed festivals and convocations, themselves being the shadow of God’s redemptive plan to be fulfilled in due time in Christ (Isa. 53; Heb. 10:5). In this context, appearing in the presence of God (His courts, v. 12) without true heart of worship amounted to trampling, profaning, the Lord’s true intent of the instituted Jewish religion (v. 13a).
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