Week 4, Part 2: Lessons from the Prophets
Day 5 – Isaiah and the Fatherless: Isaiah 1:17, 23; 9:17; 10:2
Yesterday (If you were brave enough to read the whole thing!), we looked at the backdrop of Isaiah, with hardly a mention of the fatherless. Today, we consider where the fatherless fit into the picture.
You may not be surprised to find out that some of God’s words about the fatherless came during Ahaz’s reign, but you may be surprised to learn that they were directed, not just at Ahaz, but at the leaders of the land.
Isaiah 9:16, 17 says, “For the leaders of this people cause them to err: and they that are led of them are destroyed. Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for everyone is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.”
Wait a minute! Isn’t God the Father of the fatherless? Isn’t it against His nature to not show mercy to them? God is just. His character never contradicts itself.
A few verses further down, in the opening verses of chapter ten, we get a little better picture of what is happening. “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!” Remember, from the book of Exodus, what God said would be the result of afflicting the widow and the fatherless? In light of these verses, there are two obvious reasons why God would not be showing mercy to the fatherless.
First, the rulers had already become so wicked in their practices that they themselves were falling under judgment. It is very possible that many of the fatherless and widows that are spoken of here would be the wives and children of the leaders of Israel.
Secondly, Exodus twenty-two says, “If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry…” The children of Israel were not worshiping God. They might have cried, but their cry was not going up to Him, and it certainly was not going up to Him in “spirit and in truth”. He says that they are hypocritical – what a better example of hypocritical worship than that of offering God’s sacrifices on altars built to other gods!
This was the practical, sad application of Exodus twenty-two. It also sheds a bit of light on the first mention of the fatherless in the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter one, God confronts His people with their hypocrisy and sin. He brings their religious practices under scrutiny. In essence He says to them, “Why are you offering all of these sacrifices?” He wants no more of it, His soul “hateth” their rituals. (Isaiah 1:11-15.) In verse 23, He describes the actions of the leaders of the people toward the fatherless and the widow, “Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.”
In Isaiah 1:16,17, He tells them what course of action they are to take: Cleanse yourselves, put away your evil doings, cease to do evil; learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. And then those famous words, “Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
In Isaiah 1:19,20, He gives His final declaration: “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
God’s desire was not for hypocritical sacrifices and fasts, but for obedience. As we have already covered in looking at the life of Job, our salvation is not by works. Caring for the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, the poor and needy are not our bargaining ticket as we come to “reason together” with God, but simply a test of the sincerity of our faith.
Is it possible today to do as the Israelites and offer sacrifices “to Him” on altars built to other gods? How?
If someone was to measure the sincerity of your faith strictly based on your care of the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, the poor and the needy – would you pass the test?
Up Next: Week 5: Lessons from the Prophets continued
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