Sunday, September 19, 2010

Podcast 24: Scarlett

Isaiah 101. And we're off! Isaiah 1:18.

As a bonus topic we reminisced on our favorite pulpit stories. Laughter and death ensued.

Download here!

Hopefully Jim won't mind, but here are his great comments on the Isaiah lesson this week. We'll reference it next time. Enjoy!


If I understand correctly, the reading for this week is Isaiah 1-6. Here are some thoughts on the chapters as I read them.

Isaiah is a delicious book. I think that is undeniable. Many beautiful things are written therein, and it all begins in the first chapter.

In Isaiah 1, G-d speaks out against Israel, very much in the way He did in Hosea, Isaiah’s contemporary. He compares Judah to children just like Israel in Hosea (and once to a harlot.) And just as in Hosea, the message is more than a rebuke, but a message of hope.

For Judah, things are going difficult. Israel and Syria have been coming against them, with devastating consequences. During this time, 120,00 men of Judah had been killed in one day. (See Chronicles 28.) Here, in Isaiah 1, G-d tells them the reason for their suffering. They are being punished that they might learn. But they are not learning, and so they continue to be punished.

One problem is that the people have seized upon a foreign idea of propitiating G-d. In the pagan world, the gods were bought off by sacrifices. Their favor was not earned by moral living but by rituals and devotion. If one reads The Iliad or The Odyssey one is likely to find divine favor is capricious. Greek deities are bought off by sacrifices. In Iphigenia at Aulis, the innocent Iphigenia is herself sacrificed so that the gods will send a wind to carry the Greeks to Troy so that they may lay siege to the city. This idea of earning divine favor through sacrifice had crept into Jewish practice. Ahaz had begun sacrificing to the gods of Damascus “Because the gods of Aram helped them, I will sacrifice to them” (2 Chron. 28.23).

He has a totally wrong conception of G-d, though. G-d cannot be bribed. While he set up a system of sacrifices, they are largely disconnected from atonement. The blood of an innocent is not what appeases G-d. (Of the personal sacrifices, as opposed to national, only unintentional sins are atoned by a sacrifice, a sin sacrifice. And theft, I think.) In all of Leviticus, G-d does not spend time talking about the necessity of blood for atonement, because this does not interest him. The sacrifices are for us, not for him, a way for us to express our devotion and thankfulness. But G-d is not bought by sacrifices.

And this is the beauty of Isaiah 1. G-d corrects the view that He must be appeased with blood and through ritual. He desires something else: “Wash, cleanse yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes, cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the robbed, perform justice for the orphan, plead the case of the widow” (Is. 1.16-17.) The atonement is reached through teshuvah, repentance. And we see here that it’s a two-fold process. Verse 16 is about purification and cessation of wrongdoing. Verse 17 is about doing good. It’s not enough to not do bad. One must do good.

And the next thing he says isn’t, “And then I’ll accept your sacrifices, that you may be atoned.” No, he invites Judah to argue with him and tells them that their sins will be whitewashed. All he requires is repentance, a change. (See also Ez. 18.) To do this, though, they will have to fix their conception of G-d. They will have to reject the notion that G-d’s favor is earned by sacrifice. They must return to a Torah worldview, rather than the pagan worldview. And then they will understand what G-d wants is repentance. “For you do not want a sacrifice, or I should give it; You do not desire a burnt offering. The sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit; O G-d, You will not despise a broken and crushed heart” (Ps. 51.18-19.)

I think this is what G-d means, too in Is 5.13 when He says that His people go into exile for a lack of knowledge. They’ve not heeded the signs, their punishments. They seek to appease G-d and the gods of the nations with sacrifices. But if only they knew what He wanted of them, they could turn aside. A bad idea of Who G-d is can make a terrible mess of things. Judah will be exiled because they have a bad understanding of G-d. They think the rituals are for Him. But we can give nothing to G-d.

This isn’t the end of Isaiah 1, but already this is getting long, so I press on. Isaiah 2.1-5 is Messianic. And like the first chapter, the second chapter helps to correct a misconception about G-d, but this is the misconception of the modern scholar who sees Hashem as a tribal deity. (I do not say that this was the purpose of this chapter.) Here G-d clearly tells us that the “nations shall stream to” the Lord’s house (Is. 2.2.) This is a universal message, and it echoes Solomon’s prayer for the temple, that foreigners would pray toward the temple and be heard by G-d (I Kings 8.41-43.) Likewise, in the Messianic era, G-d tells us, again through Isaiah, that His house “will be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Is. 56.7.) G-d is concerned with all peoples. And so, he brings peace, not just to Israel, but also to the entire world.

Already this has gotten long. My apologies. I will stop here for the sake of brevity.




  1. Great opening email/comment from Jim about Isaiah chapter 1. I can't agree with him more about it. God always wants to feel after his children and bring them back in to his presence. Everyone should go read Isaiah 1. It kind of makes me wish I had decided to cover the entire chapter in my sunday school class. Oh well.

  2. Picture. Nice.

    I think I've shared the story about how my seminary teacher took the verses about the daughters of Zion too literally. He interpreted "tinkling of their feet" to mean they wore ankle bracelets. And then he asked a room full of teenage girls if they wore ankle bracelets. As soon as the bell rang I went to the secretary and asked to be transferred out of his class.

    RE: Mormons eating more meat than other people. It's hard for me to say if that is true, but I will say this: On Friday I went to the Museum Cafe on BYU campus and ordered a salad because I wanted something light. I'd say 50% of the salad was chicken and bacon. Not normal.

  3. I didn't lock my knees. And I have never actually fainted again in church. I know when it is coming and I sit down before it happens. My current theory is that I forget to breathe. I did finish an Elder's Quorum lesson lying on the floor with my feet on a chair so that I wouldn't pass out once though.

  4. Jon and Rhett. You know when I got married and you found a replacement for me... I'm touched that you went so far as to find one with the same name as me.

  5. I like the pic too.

    So Mormons can have Jell-O shots...that's not really "drinking" alcohol...??

    There's a quote at the end of the lesson in the manual from Joseph F. (or Joseph Fielding?) Smith that says that the verses about how women adorn themselves also applies to men. So...there ya go.

    My all-time favorite pulpit story was also a guy who wasn't from my ward coming to F&T meeting and talking about how he was going to DisneyWorld to meet and convert Miley Cyrus and her family. The awkwardness was palpable.

    Or the Christmas sacrament meeting my mom came to where the one talk was about "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and the other had the speaker confusing the New World signs of Christ's birth with the signs of His death and said there were earthquakes and tumults and rocks rent and all that. I didn't think the branch back home could screw up Christmas...especially in front of my nonmember mom...but of course they did.

    I didn't know that "Aloha" or "Talofa" or whatever is discouraged at church. Buzzkill.

    I've also heard the 'embarazada' story, Rhett. I think every Spanish missionary has.