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Isaiah’s first accusation against the people of Israel concludes with the charge:

‘They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him’ [1:4].

Such accusations continue:

‘… they have … spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel’ [5:24].

‘Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed?
Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride?
Against the Holy One of Israel!’ [37:23]

The God whom Israel has rejected, the God whom they have despised, is ‘the Holy One of Israel’.

This title points to the utter uniqueness of God: he is not one god among many gods. He is totally distinct from all else – totally separate from the created universe, and totally separate from the gods created by man. He is the God who alone is God. There is no other ‘god’ with whom he can be compared: he is ‘the Holy One’ – the separate one, the only one of his kind.

Thus Isaiah’s message contains repeated reference to this total otherness of God:

‘To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? …
To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? Says the Holy One’ [40:18,25].

‘Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.
I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from met here is no saviour’ [43:10,11].

‘I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God …
Is there any God besides me?
No, there is no other Rock; I know not one’ [44:6,8].

‘… there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is none but me’ [45:21].

‘I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me’ [46:9].

It is this fact that renders Israel’s rejection of God so horrendous: in doing so they have rejected the only God who really is ‘God’ and have put in his place human ideas of god, counterfeit gods. Of these counterfeit gods Isaiah says:

They are man made and dependent on man [40:19,20; 41:7; 44:12-20; 46:6,7]
They know neither the past nor the future [41:22,23]
They are less than nothing, utterly worthless [41:24]
They are ‘but wind and confusion’ [41:29].

Not only are these counterfeit, substitute gods worthless and detestable, but they also rob those who worship them of their true identity and dignity:

‘… he who chooses you is detestable’ [41:24

‘Those who speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant …’ [44:9]

‘They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see
and their minds closed so they cannot understand’ [44:18]

‘They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves’ [Jeremiah 2:5].

To belong to the Holy One of Israel, to be in positive relationship with the Holy One, is to be ‘holy’ – set apart, separate, belonging to God, his treasured possession –

‘For you are a people holy to the LORD your God’ [Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2].
‘… the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendour’ [55:5].

It was belonging to the Holy One that made Israel ‘holy’. It was God, the Holy One, who had created the nation of Israel out of nothing, redeemed them from slavery, given them glory. In rejecting and despising the Holy One of Israel they have rejected and despised not only God but also the identity and glory which they derived from God.

What relevance does this have in the twenty-first century?

Today we do not have to look far to see the increasing corruption and degradation of the human. God has, for the most part, been rejected, and in rejecting God, in despising all knowledge of God, humans have robbed themselves of the unique dignity and identity bestowed by God in creation and that unique glory that derives from a positive relationship with God.

Today, as in the days of Isaiah, the challenge of Isaiah’s message must be proclaimed:

‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near’ [55:6].

Only with such a repentance can God be rightly honoured; only with such a repentance can humans again be truly glorious.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014, 2023