Old Testament Lectionary
The particular focus in [this passage] concentrate on worship practises which are failing to be lived out in the people’s everyday lives. What is the point of sincere piety on the Sabbath and remembering all the festivals when one fails to care for the needy or acts unjustly to the community around.
In our own church and community there would be those who say that personal piety should be separate from social justice, BUT this is not the message of the OT prophets. Worship must be lived out in everyday life, so evangelism and social justice are both consequences of relationship with God. The prophet is not suggesting that people stop worshipping God, but rather that worship without action is a failure of the relationship with God.
On the Island of Iona when I stayed there, it was understood that we worshiped followed by work as the proper expression of what God required of us. In Isa 1:10-15 after God expresses feelings about the all these offerings it states very clearly in v.16-17 what God requires. It reminds one of Mic 6:8. The way God expresses feelings in vv.11-15 moves from confrontation (v.11) to a feeling that God is really tired of trying to get the people to understand (vv.12-15). The symbolism of hands covered with blood praying, signifying guilt moves into v.16 with its command to wash so God will now see because they have ceased to do evil, whereas God refused to see their hands in v.15. The symbolism and play on words is very clever. In v.17 we note the particular concern for the fatherless and the widow. These groups of people were extremely vulnerable in the society of the time.
God is portrayed as very reasonable in v.18 with the initiation to talk this through together. However, there has to be a willingness on the part of the people to be obedient and live in ways in which justice and care are the dominant traits. The unit ends with consequences if the people refuse the invitation to change their ways. In our time we no longer accept the world view of the OT which speaks of war as a consequence of unjust behaviour, but there are consequences, both personal and corporate, when we live our lives in opposition to the good we know we ought to do.
Rev Dr Anna Grant-Henderson
Uniting Church Old Testament Lecturer