This blog continues a commentary on Isaiah chapters 1-39 using the Complete Jewish Bible version.
21 What a whore the faithful city has become!
Once she was filled with fair judgement;
Justice lodged in her;
but now murderers!
22 Your silver is no longer pure,
your wine is watered down.
23 Your leaders are rebels, friends of thieves.
They all love bribes and run after gifts.
They give no justice to orphans,
the widow’s complaint doesn’t catch their attention.
24 “Therefore,” says the Lord, The God of Armies,
the Mighty One of Isra’el,
“I will free myself of my adversaries,
I will take vengeance on my enemies.
25 But I will also turn my hand against you!
I will cleanse your impurities as with potash
and remove all your alloyed metals.
26 I will restore your judges as at first
and your advisers as at the beginning.
After that, you will be called
the City of justice, Faithful City.
27 Zion will be redeemed by fair judgement;
and those in her who repent, by justice.
28 “Rebels and sinners together will be broken
and those who abandon the Lord be consumed.
29 You will be ashamed of the sacred oaks you desired,
you will blush at the gardens you chose;
30 for you will be like an oak whose leaf fades,
like a garden without any water.
31 The strong will be like tinder
and the idol’s maker like a spark;
both will burn together,
and no one will put them out.”
The substance of this complaint against Israel is in the very concrete terms used: whore, murderers, impure silver, watered wine, rebels, thieves, bribes, no justice for orphans or widows. This array of literal and metaphoric criticisms portrays a corrupt society which sophisticated citizens take for granted, but Isaiah’s God finds unacceptable. The modern reader should appreciate the moral and literary skill with which the author creates a voice of God that speaks of well-known evils to the well -known people who cause them. God is a sharp social critic, speaking bluntly to the existing society in the name of justice. The value of this criticism can be seen in its relevance to the imposition now by the UK government of the oppressive Universal Credit system on its most vulnerable citizens. Here too ears are deaf to the cry of the orphan and the widow.
The prophet uses the technological language of metallurgy to describe God’s action: he will burn out impurites and get rid of alloys in metal of his people. This is language designed to express the power and precision of God’s purifying action which is not bent on destruction but on restoration of Jerusalem as a place of justice.
The restored people will look back with shame and embarrassment on their affair with idols which left them lifeless, and its powerful citizens will have to acknowledge the passions which consumed their lives.
At every turn this judgement is precise, passionate, accurate and humane, revealing a God who is well-informed about contemporary society and faithful to his own justice, which cannot remain a mere judgement but demands implementation in the world. This is a God who would not just disapprove of liberal capiatlism but would work for its replacement by something better.