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We know that God seeks worshippers – but only those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. He rejects the worship of religious hypocrites – despite their multiplied religious activities and outward attempts to look like Christians. Isn’t it sad to hear the results of different surveys that give out the statistics of how many people attend church every Sunday; how many claim to pray daily and to read their bible on a somewhat consistent basis, etc., etc, etc. – and yet we see so little holiness and concern for God’s righteousness. God is fed up with religious frauds.

Our nation is full of religious hypocrites. We have a huge population of self righteous people who refuse to acknowledge that their hands are stained with blood. They think that somehow their prayers of meaningless repetition and their distracted attendance at church services will earn them favor in God’s sight. Christmas is the best season for religious hypocrites. They come out of the woodwork and like to identify themselves with the baby in the manger. They use their musical talents to sing the famous carols on TV specials. They attend Christmas Eve services with their families, even though they are MIA the rest of the year.

God is not mocked. He looks at the heart and the motives rather than just the external religious practices. Remember a couple of other key parallel passages:

Psalm 51:17

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.”

Micah 6:6-8

“With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Is God nullifying the requirements of the Mosaic law with its very specific instructions about the sacrificial system? Certainly not. But He is rejecting any form of religious worship that is disconnected from the heart reality.


Contrast between Religious Ritual and Reformation Reality


(:10) Derisive Call to Attention [cf. vs. 20 – brackets this section]

“Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah.”

Same verbs used in vs 2 to call heaven and earth to attention

Addresses both the leaders who bear the greatest culpability and then the general population who must assume their responsibility as well

What an insulting shot across the bow of Isaiah’s proud Jews! Just as their spiritual rebellion was shocking and hurtful to the Holy One of Israel – this response was intended to shock sinners out of their complacency.

Sodom = place where sin abounds with no shame or restraint; sin is the openly affirmed lifestyle; practiced out in the open and celebrated

God has spared a remnant – vs.9

Young: If a milder outcome has been granted to Jerusalem than to the cities of the plain, it is not due to any merit found in Jerusalem, for she was a city of hypocrites, but only to the wholly unmerited favor of the sovereign God in whose hands lie the destinies of cities and nations. In His own good pleasure God had chosen not to destroy Jerusalem utterly.

Oswalt: Isaiah is saying that the instruction which God gave Moses did not have chiefly to do with cultic prescription and legalistic righteousness. Rather, God’s tora has to do with character and attitudes and relationships, all of which may be symbolized in the ceremonies but which are not to be replaced by the ceremonies.

A. (:11-12) Rejection of Hypocritical Sacrifices and Burnt Offerings

1. God Rejects Quantity that Lacks Quality

“‘What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ Says the LORD.”

People may have tried to argue that they have continued to engage in the prescribed religious activities; Isaiah exposes their religious formalism and hypocrisy; he is not denigrating the commanded performance of animal sacrifices as if God wanted them done away with; instead, he condemns their disconnect between sinful hearts and lives and outward religious observances

Look at how much I give … Look at how much I pray . . . Look at how much I do (all my religious activities)

2. God is Fed up with Hypocrisy

“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, And the fat of fed cattle.”

Tone of exasperation

Motyer: [summarizes this section] These sins mean nothing to the Lord; add nothing and do nothing

3. God Takes No Pleasure in Such Worship

“And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats.”

1 Sam. 15:22 “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.”

Prov 15:8 “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD”

Jer. 6:20 “For what purpose does frankincense come to Me from Sheba and the sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable and your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.”

Hos. 6:6-7 “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant, there they have dealt treacherously against Me.”

Matthew 6 – Sermon on the Mount – Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of their religious activity

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them”

4. God Only Accepts the Worship He Has Ordained

“When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?’”

3 times a year, the males in Israel were required to come and appear before God: Ex 23:17; 34:23; Deut 16:16 Isaiah seems to be painting the image of a trampling by a herd of animals mindlessly meandering through and muddying up God’s holy courts. Quite a disgusting image indeed, but a picture of God’s opinion of worship without righteousness and mere formalism and ritual with inner genuine commitment

J. Vernon McGee: God specifies His charges against His people. He has put His hand upon a definite thing, and He is going to prove that particular point in which they are wrong. He puts His finger on the best thing in Judah, not the worst. He shows them what is exceedingly wrong. Israel has a God-given religion and a God-appointed ritual in a God-constructed temple, but they are wrong in that which represented the best. They are bringing sacrifices and going through the ritual according to the letter of the Law, but their hearts are in rebellion against God. Their religion is not affecting their conduct. Frankly, that is a problem among believers today. A great many of us have reached the place where we have a form of godliness, but we deny the power thereof (2Ti 3:5).

“Who requires you” — A particular challenge for the children of believers – we almost pressure them into a form of hypocrisy – requiring their outward allegiance when their heart may not yet belong to the Lord; we need to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord … but we must encourage honesty in their own relationship with the Lord

B. (:13-14) Rejection of Hypocritical Offerings and Holy Days and Religious Festivals

1. Rejected as Worthless [very strong expressions used in these 2 verses]

“Bring your worthless offerings no longer,”

Emptiness, nothingness, vanity

Psalm 119:37 “Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!” (NET)

Lamentations 2:14 “Your prophets saw visions for you that were worthless lies. They failed to expose your sin so as to restore your fortunes. They saw oracles for you that were worthless lies”. (NET)

Jonah 2:8 “Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.” (NET)

2. Rejected as an Abomination

“Incense is an abomination to Me.”

Detestable, Disgusting

Leviticus 18:22 “You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.” (NET)

Deuteronomy 7:26 “You must not bring any abhorrent thing into your house and thereby become an object of divine wrath along with it. You must absolutely detest and abhor it, for it is an object of divine wrath.” (NET)

Proverbs 21:27 “The wicked person’s sacrifice is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent!” (NET)

Proverbs 28:9 “The one who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” (NET)

Isaiah 41:24 “Look, you are nothing, and your accomplishments are nonexistent; the one who chooses to worship you is disgusting.” (NET)

3. Rejected as Unbearable

“New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.”

[New moons – Num. 28:11-14]

Bad combination: Sin and the solemn assembly – these 2 don’t go together; a mismatch

4. Rejected as Hateful

“I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,”

Amos 5:21-24 “I absolutely despise your festivals! I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies! Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied; I will not look with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves. Take away from me your noisy songs; I don’t want to hear the music of your stringed instruments. Justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up.” (NET)

5. Rejected as Burdensome and Wearisome

“They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them.”

Grogan: The people have been shown as burdened with guilt (v. 4); but here God is shown as burdened with their sacrifices.

Motyer: It is strong language to describe their temple worship as meaningless, detestable and unbearable!

C. (:15a) Rejection of Hypocritical Prayers and Appeals for Deliverance

“So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen.”

“spread out your hands” = asking for help 1 Kings 8:22; Lam. 1:17

One reason for Unanswered Prayer = our own sinfulness and hypocrisy – especially here of those who are not even in the family of God – what right do they have to access to God in prayer?

Motyer: “hide my eyes” denotes the opposite of the Lord letting his face shine on them (Nu. 6:25; Ps. 4:6-7).

You can offer up as many “Hail Marys” as you please – they fall on deaf ears

D. (:15b) Root Problem Remains

“Your hands are covered with blood.”

Wiersbe: Instead of lifting up “holy hands” in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8), their hands were stained with blood because of their many sins (Isa. 59:3; Ezek. 7:23).

Not speaking here of hands covered with blood because of the animal sacrifices they were offering; this is much stronger imagery of men of violence and bloodshed

Oswalt: see the charge as hyperbolic. Whatever the worshipers’ personal involvement in violence and injustice, they are certainly implicated in the excesses of their society.

Look at the blood of abortions in our land today


A. (:16-17) Call for Cleansing and Reformation

1. Cleanse Your Guilt

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;

Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.”

Simplicity of these imperatives – sacrificial and worship system might seem complex in terms of God’s detailed instructions .. but look at the simplicity of the heart attitudes and root character that God affirms

Constable: Washing (v. 16) is symbolic of repenting (cf. Acts 2:38; 13:24; Titus 3:5).

First step in Repentance is the admitting of sin and guilt; you need to see the filthiness of your depravity; need to take sin seriously

What can wash my sins away? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

2. Reform Your Conduct

“Cease to do evil, Learn to do good;”

Familiar metaphor of putting off and putting on; requires a learning process

Oswalt: to do good is to learn to value persons as the Creator does

3. Pursue Justice and Righteousness

“Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless;”

Not just seek justice in your thoughts .. but take action; get involved; make a difference

4. Advocate for the Defenseless

“Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”

Van Parunak: These are two of the three prototypes of helpless people in ancient Israel, the third being the foreigner (18x in the OT, 11 in Deuteronomy). The Lord omits the foreigner in this verse, not because kindness to the foreigner isn’t important, but because they need to start with the basics of caring for their own.

Encouragement for Solid Rock: our support of orphanage in India – group of young boys growing up under program of Christian discipleship

B. (:18) Offer of Forgiveness and Justification

“’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.’”

Wiersbe: The word translated “reason” in verse 18 means “to decide a case in court,” but instead of pronouncing judgment, the Judge offered pardon!

Beall: “Reasoning” with the Lord means thinking His thoughts after Him, not bargaining with Him.

You cannot get imagery that speaks more graphically of indelible stains; yet the removal of the stains produces a pristine condition of holiness and purity

Larry Richards: Scarlet and crimson were shades of red drawn from the same source, the crushed body of an insect. Isaiah chose the image not because of the color, but because this was the most securely fixed dye then known. No launderer could remove that color from cloth. Isaiah thus says God can do the impossible and cleanse sinners, even though the stain of sin is fixed as firmly as crimson in the sinner’s soul. (The Bible Readers Companion. Wheaton: Victor Books)

Oswalt: There is a delicate balance to be maintained here between human freedom and divine sovereignty. On the one hand, it ought not to be said that obedience produces forgiveness. God forgives and cleanses not because he must, but because he wishes to and has made a way for that to be done through the death and resurrection of Christ. But, on the other hand, it is also plain that God does not proclaim forgiveness to those who are unwilling to obey All the rhetorical language of the prophets, urging people to obey, is in opposition to any position that God’s forgiveness can ever be experienced apart from a disposition to obey him.

Illustration: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – set in seventeenth century Puritan Boston; Hester Prynne has a child out of wedlock – an obvious instance of adultery – she displays a Red Letter “A” on her breast and is shamed and shunned by the sanctimonious town residents – lots of intrigue between her real husband and her hidden lover … but she cannot get rid of that stain

C. (:19-20a) Call for Commitment — Covenant Obedience and Faithfulness

1. (:19) Promise of Blessing for Covenant Obedience – Repent and Eat

“If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land;”

This was a land that was characterized in the promise of God as flowing with milk and honey; yet it was a land that had experienced numerous famines and the devastation of invaders pillaging their crops

2. (:20a) Curse of Destruction for Stubborn Rebellion – Rebel and be Eaten

“But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.”

Beall: obey, and you will eat (WlkeaTo) the fruit of the land; but rebel, and you will be consumed (WlK.auT.) by the sword. Again, note the word play here, as Isaiah uses two different stems of the same verb to indicate the result of Israel’s action.

Oswalt: The verb tenses in the conditional sentences suggest disposition and act. In each case the first verb of the pair is in the imperfect, suggesting ongoing, not-yet-completed activity, whereas the second verb is, in both cases, in the perfect tense, suggesting momentary, completed action. Thus the sense is something like “If you are disposed to be willing and so obey” . . .”if you are disposed to refuse and so rebel . . .” The primary emphasis in Scripture is upon act. It is not how one feels but what one does that is of primary importance (note Jesus’ parable expressing this point of view, Matt. 21:28-32). But at the same time, unless the disposition is fundamentally changed, the spring of action will always be unsteady and insecure.

(:20b) Closing Affirmation of Divine Inspiration

“Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”


There is only one way to have a truly White Christmas this season. That is to respond to the Lord’s plea for repentance and reformation. Only the blood of Jesus can wash away the scarlet stain of sin.

The substance of all of our religious activity is irrelevant if the attitude of the heart is not correct.