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Looking at them from the outside the Jews of Isaiah’s day appeared to be fulfilling all of their religious obligations:

They diligently in brought the prescribed sacrifices and burnt offerings [1:11-12; Leviticus 1-7].
They offered the incense that God had declared holy [1:12; Exodus 30:34-48].
They observed the monthly New Moon festivals [1:13; Numbers 10:10],
They kept the weekly Sabbaths [1:13; Exodus 20:8-11].
They came together for the prescribed annual feast days [1:13; Leviticus 23:4-44].
They prayed [1:15].

Outwardly, in a formal way, they were doing all of these things that God required.

But God was not at all pleased with this show of religion, expressing his response in unmistakeable terms:

‘I have more than enough of …I take no pleasure in … who has asked of you this trampling of my courts …Stop bringing meaningless offerings. Your incense is detestable to me … I cannot bear your evil assemblies … Your New Moon festivals (etc) … my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them …I will hide my eyes from you … I will not listen’ [verses 11-15].

Underneath this formal adherence to the divinely appointed religious observances was an inner corruption of heart that expressed itself in the way they lived their daily lives, the way they lived when they were not in the Temple.

The source of this corruption of heart was their rejection of the one true God [1:4] – they no longer loved God. The expression of this corruption of heart was seen in the way they treated other people - they no longer loved people:

‘… they do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them’ [1:23].

‘… the plunder from the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?’ [3:14,15]

‘Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.’ [10:1.2]

And even the poor and needy, who were victims of injustice at the hands of the rich and mighty, were themselves corrupt and hypocritical because of their own rejection of God:

‘… nor will he (the Lord) pity the fatherless and the widows, for everyone is ungodly (KJV has ‘hypocrite’) and wicked, every mouth speaks vileness’ [9:17].

And this is a challenge to us:

How do we live when we are not in our church building?
How do we live when we are not engaging in our Christian service?
Are all the things we do ‘for God’ or ‘in God’s name’ just a formal thing?

All of the formal rituals listed at the beginning of this meditation were in one way or another a proclamation of and a dependence on the grace of God. But those engaging in them went out from the Temple and into their daily lives and forgot all about grace.

And we - what are we doing? We, in a formal way in our churches, proclaim the grace of God in the death of Christ every time the Holy Communion – the Lord’s Supper – is celebrated. We get ourselves baptised and in that also proclaim the grace of God in the death of Christ. We sing songs proclaiming his amazing grace. And then what to we do?

Do we demonstrate that same grace in the way we treat our spouse?
Do we demonstrate that same grace to our children?
Do we express that same grace as we drive, or shop, or do business, or play sport?

The Bible is very direct about this. The way God sees it is quite simple: if we do not show real love to people, then we do not love God. The absence of compassion in our interpersonal relationships indicates that love for God and knowledge of God is seriously absent from our hearts [1John 1:7-11; 3:11-18; 4:7,8].

The Lord’s response to the hypocrisy of Israel was ‘Come now, let us reason together …’ [1:18-20]. Let’s talk about this and get it sorted. It doesn’t have to stay this way. There is hope. There is forgiveness. There can be restoration.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014, 2023