I read through Isaiah last year, rather more slowly than I’d like to admit. I began to notice something, a repeated phrase. God kept referring to Himself as “The Holy One of Israel”. I saw it so many times I became intrigued and looked it up. Turns out that “The Holy One of Israel” is used as a designation for God 30 times in the Old Testament and 25 of those 30 are in Isaiah. It is used once in Kings, twice in the Psalms, and twice in Jeremiah, but the overwhelming majority of instances are in Isaiah. It seems that God had a point to make in His message through Isaiah. So I skimmed over the book again and noticed a major theme of the book: His holiness, and His people’s lack thereof.
To be holy means to be set aside for a specific use or purpose, and to be used only for that purpose. God didn’t find this in His people, Israel. In regards to Jerusalem, where His Temple was situated, God says in Isa. 1:21 “How is the faithful city become a harlot! she that was full of justice! righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.” A harlot! Can you imagine anything less “set apart”? The people as a whole are mentioned in the next chapter: Isa 2:6 “. . . they are filled with customs from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners.” Instead of remaining holy, they have adopted other customs and accept as friends anyone. Pretty much all of Isaiah’s preaching against Judah addresses this issue. (Isaiah prophesied in Jerusalem/Judah before, during, and just after the time that the northern kingdom of Israel was taken away captive by the Assyrians, which took place in 722 B.C.) A quick perusal:
In chapter three God rebukes the nation’s leaders, who should be setting an example, for instead oppressing the poor. Isa. 3:14-15 “Jehovah will enter into judgment with the elders of his people, and the princes thereof: It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses: what mean ye that ye crush my people, and grind the face of the poor? saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts.” He then turns to the women, as a class: 3:16 “Moreover Jehovah said, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet”. Adultery is in the land. Even Isaiah himself was not all he should have been. If you think of the throne scene in chapter six you will remember that Isaiah’s fear was that he was a “man of unclean lips”. The angel burned his uncleanness away with a coal.
After spending several chapters prophesying the fates of the various nations, God returns to Judah’s failings and in chapter 28 He complains that the land is filled with drunkards. But it is not just the commoners: 28:7-8 “And even these reel with wine, and stagger with strong drink; the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they stagger with strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.” The priests and prophets were perpetually drunk! If anybody should have been keeping themselves holy for God it would be the priests and prophets. After all, the priests were consecrated to God and His service and were charged with teaching the people the Law when not serving in the Temple and the prophets brought the people new messages from God. And they were drunk! Apparently blind drunk (“they err in vision”). Finally God takes them to task for relying on treaties with other countries instead of trusting in Him. 30:1-2 “Woe to the rebellious children, saith Jehovah, that take counsel, but not of me; and that make a league, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin, that set out to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to take refuge in the shadow of Egypt!” Sound like a people set apart for Him?
After detailing their failings, God gives some hope. He is going to send His servant, who would make the people holy again. 49:5-6 And now saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, and that Israel be gathered unto him (for I am honorable in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is become my strength); yea, he saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” What is the servant (Jesus) going to do? Bring Jacob again and gather Israel to God. They have erred. They are less than holy. He is going to bring them back. (And, by the way, be a light to the Gentiles and salvation to the world.) Then God begins to describe the new kingdom He is going to set up, at about chapter 60. Guess what? It will be a holy nation of holy people. And because of that it will be radiant and glorious. And that is fulfilled in the Church. And that is Isaiah in a nutshell. Or at least a thin sketch of one of the major themes of the book.
What is worrisome to me, however, is how familiar that verse from chapter two sounded. Recall: 2:6 “. . . they are filled with customs from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners.” They began to be influenced by the nations around them. They used other customs. They took up astrology/omen reading like their former enemies the Philistines. They were overly friendly with those who didn’t share their faith. Gradually, they became less and less holy. They weren’t set apart at all. Is this me? I watch the world’s TV and movies. I read their novels and magazines. I have many friendly acquaintances and some close friends from the world. Am I becoming filled with their customs? Are my core beliefs and basic evaluations being affected? Am I set apart to God and His service or not? We each need to ask ourselves these questions and examine ourselves closely. Remember Peter’s warning “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first.” 2 Pet. 2:20