A. Judah's idolatry is like spiritual adultery.
1. (1-2) The persecution of the righteous.
The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.
a. The righteous perishes: Carrying on the rebuke of Judah's leaders from the previous chapter, the LORD speaks to the persecution of the righteous. In this case, it is persecution through neglect (the righteous perishes and no man takes it to heart).
i. When Isaiah proclaimed this is important. Many critics of the Bible demand that Isaiah was written after the Babylonian exile, because so many events after the exile are precisely prophesied. But the sins described in this chapter are strictly before the exile. This chapter is a marvelous proof that the book of Isaiah was written in the days of Isaiah, by one author, and before the exile.
ii. "There is no evidence of corresponding post-exilic practices. A prophet in the post-exile could not have written like this." (Motyer) "All in all we prefer to think of the reign of Manasseh, for the abominations of this king are all found in this chapter." (Bultema)
b. The righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace: Though the righteous were ignored and persecuted by the wicked leaders of Judah, God would not forsake them. When they perished, when merciful men were taken away, God used it to bless the righteous, to take them away from evil and to allow them to enter into peace.
2. (3-10) The spiritual adultery of God's people.
But come here, you sons of the sorceress, you offspring of the adulterer and the harlot! Whom do you ridicule? Against whom do you make a wide mouth and stick out the tongue? Are you not children of transgression, offspring of falsehood, inflaming yourselves with gods under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks? Among the smooth stones of the stream is your portion; they, they, are your lot! Even to them you have poured a drink offering, you have offered a grain offering. Should I receive comfort in these? On a lofty and high mountain you have set your bed; EVEN there you went up to offer sacrifice. Also behind the doors and their posts you have set up your remembrance; for you have uncovered yourself to those other than Me, and have gone up to them; you have enlarged your bed And made a covenant with them; you have loved their bed, where you saw their nudity. You went to the king with ointment, and increased your perfumes; you sent your messengers far off, and even descended to Sheol. You are wearied in the length of your way; yet you did not say, "There is no hope." You have found the life of your hand; therefore you were not grieved.
a. Whom do you ridicule? The wicked among God's people made fun of the righteous. They mocked them, and God heard it. Here, the LORD challenges them, simply asking "Who do you think you are? Who are you mocking? Are you not children of transgression, offspring of falsehood?"
i. This speaks to a common sin of human nature - to see the sins or the problems of others, while being blind to our own sins or problems.
b. Inflaming yourselves with gods under every green tree: Here, the LORD begins to expose the spiritual adultery of His people. They are "hot" with passion for other gods, worshipping them in the ritual worship places of Canaanite paganism (every green tree . . . among the smooth stones of the stream . . . on a high and lofty mountain).
i. In this picture, the LORD is the husband of Israel, and their passionate, chronic attraction for idols was like the lust of an adulterer. His people pursued the false gods like a lover runs after the focus of their love, and they yield themselves to the idols as a lover yields themselves to their beloved (you have uncovered yourself to those other than Me).
ii. "According to the presentation of verse seven, the whoredom of Judah is compared to that of an adulteress who has become so impudent that she no longer commits her sins in secret but publicly and shamelessly. She acts without and restraint and refuses to blush with shame." (Bultema)
c. Under every green tree: The picture of "spiritual adultery" is especially fitting, because many of the pagan gods the Israelites went after were "worshipped" with illicit sex rituals. A green tree might be a place of such idolatry, because the evergreen tree spoke of constant fertility.
d. Slaying the children in the valleys: One of the Canaanite gods the Israelites worshipped was named Molech, and he received children as sacrifices. Molech was "worshipped" by heating a metal statue representing the god until it was red hot, then by placing a living infant on the outstretched hands of the statue, while beating drums drowned out the screams of the child until it burned to death. Molech was one of the "lovers" God's people forsook the LORD for in their spiritual adultery.
i. People who would not make a small sacrifice for the LORD God would kill their own children for a pagan idol! "And as the love of harlots is oft hotter than that of husband and wife, so superstition many times outdoeth true religion." (Trapp)
e. Even to them you have poured a drink offering, you have offered a grain offering: These are the sacrifices that should have been given to the LORD. But His unfaithful people gave them to idols instead. "For the devil is God's ape, and idolaters used the same rites and offerings in the worship of idols which God has prescribed in his own [worship]." (Poole)
f. Also behind the doors and their posts you have set up your remembrance: In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, God told Israel to inscribe His name and His word on every door post. Here, there is a perverse twisting of that - the remember their pagan gods behind the doors and their posts.
i. "The sensitive Israelite reader would, of course, remember that it was the word of God - and, most aptly, the assertion that there is only one God - that was the be inscribed on the doors." (Grogan)
g. You are wearied in the length of your way: As time went on, the spiritual adultery of God's people wasn't rewarding. After the initial thrill of their spiritual adultery wore off, they were wearied. But even then they would not repent (Yet you did not say, "There is no hope").
B. God describes His dealing with His disobedient people.
1. (11-13) The end of God's patience with His people.
And of whom have you been afraid, or feared, that you have lied and not remembered Me, nor taken it to your heart? Is it not because I have held My peace from of old that you do not fear Me? I will declare your righteousness and your works, for they will not profit you. When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry them all away, a breath will take them. But he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain.
a. And of whom have you been afraid, or feared, that you have lied and not remembered Me: Here, the LORD confronts the fact that His people do not fear Him, and that they do fear someone or something else. Nor taken it to your heart: Their superficial relationship was connected to a low view of God, and their lack of respect for Him.
b. Is it not because I have held My peace from of old that you do not fear Me? Why did God's people lack respect for Him? In part, because He showed mercy and did not punish their sin immediately. They made a crucial error, common to fallen humanity: they mistook God's mercy and forbearance for weakness or lack of resolve.
c. I will declare your righteousness and your works, for they will not profit you: God's people didn't trust in Him, and the things they did trust in - themselves, and their idols (let your collection of idols deliver you) could not help them. Their idols were so weak and helpless that a breath will take them.
d. In contrast, the LORD says he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain. Trust in the LORD makes a person secure, while trust in one's self or in idols ends in ruin.
2. (14) A stumbling block removed.
And one shall say, "Heap it up! Heap it up! Prepare the way, take the stumbling block out of the way of My people."
a. Heap it up! Heap it up! This doesn't describe setting things in the way of those coming to God. Instead, using the same imagery as Isaiah 35:8, which describes a highway for God's people, meaning a raised road that is above all obstacles. Heap it up refers to the building of this road, so that God's people can return to Him without obstacle.
b. Prepare the way, take the stumbling block out of the way of My people: Whatever gets in the way of our getting right with God must be taken out of the way. In the following verses, the LORD deals with those obstacles.
3. (15-21) God describes the way of peace and restoration.
For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would fail before Me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness I was angry and struck him; I hid and was angry, and he went on backsliding in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him; I will also lead him, and restore comforts to him and to his mourners." "I create the fruit of the lips: Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near," says the LORD, "And I will heal him." But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."
a. For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: To be right with God, the first thing to do is to understand His great majesty. The LORD introduces Himself to His people with titles reflecting His great majesty, and expects His people to respond to Him as such a glorious God.
b. Though God is the High and Lofty One, and lives in the high and holy place, at the same time He will live with men - with him who has a contrite and humble spirit. This is the second thing to being right God: being contrite and humble before the God of great majesty.
c. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry: The third thing to understand in getting right with God is His great love. Here, the LORD shows His mercy to His people, but promises to relent and not be angry forever. Though God disciplined His people, He now says, I have seen his ways, and will heal him; I will also lead him, and restore comforts to him.
d. Peace, peace, to him who is far off and to him who is near: In His mercy, God invites all men to peace - both him who is far off and him who is near. Each one can receive God's shalom, which is more than the absence of hostility; it is the gift of precious well-being.
i. In Ephesians 2:17, Paul speaks of Jesus fulfilling this promise exactly: And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. As revealed through Paul, God shows that him who is far off refers to the Gentiles, while him who is near is the Jewish man. Both can come to peace through receiving God's gift through Jesus.
e. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest . . . there is no peace . . . for the wicked: In contrast to those who return to God, the wicked are still without peace. God's great mercy is held out to man - but it must be received.
i. "Their minds are restless, being perpetually hurried and tormented with their own lusts and passions, and with the horror of their guilt, and the dread of Divine vengeance due unto them, and ready to come upon them." (Poole)
ii. Isaiah 57:20-21 is a good example of how the sea was thought to be a dangerous, dark, restless place in the mind of the ancient Jews. No wonder that in the new heaven and the new earth, there is no more sea (Revelation 21:1).