Isaiah 1:16
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(16) Wash you, make you clean . . .—The words were probably as an echo of Psalm 51:7. Both psalmist and prophet had entered into the inner meaning of the outward ablutions of ritual.

Cease to do evil; (17) learn to do well.—Such words the prophet might have heard in his youth from Amos (Amos 5:14-15). What had then been spoken to the princes of the northern kingdom was now repeated to those of Judah.

Isaiah

THE GREAT SUIT: JEHOVAH VERSUS JUDAH

Isaiah 1:1 - Isaiah 1:9
; Isaiah 1:16 - Isaiah 1:20.

The first bars of the great overture to Isaiah’s great oratorio are here sounded. These first chapters give out the themes which run through all the rest of his prophecies. Like most introductions, they were probably written last, when the prophet collected and arranged his life’s labours. The text deals with the three great thoughts, the leit-motifs that are sounded over and over again in the prophet’s message.

First comes the great indictment {Isaiah 1:2 - Isaiah 1:4}. A true prophet’s words are of universal application, even when they are most specially addressed to a particular audience. Just because this indictment was so true of Judah, is it true of all men, for it is not concerned with details peculiar to a long-past period and state of society, but with the broad generalities common to us all. As another great teacher in Old Testament times said, ‘I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, to have been continually before me.’ Isaiah has nothing to say about ritual or ceremonial omissions, which to him were but surface matters after all, but he sets in blazing light the foundation facts of Judah’s {and every man’s} distorted relation to God. And how lovingly, as well as sternly, God speaks through him! That divine lament which heralds the searching indictment is not unworthy to be the very words of the Almighty Lover of all men, sorrowing over His prodigal and fugitive sons. Nor is its deep truth less than its tenderness. For is not man’s sin blackest when seen against the bright background of God’s fatherly love? True, the fatherhood that Isaiah knew referred to God’s relation to the nation rather than to the individual, but the great truth which is perfectly revealed by the Perfect Son was in part shown to the prophet. The east was bright with the unrisen sun, and the tinted clouds that hovered above the place of its rising seemed as if yearning to open and let him through. Man’s neglect of God’s benefits puts him below the animals that ‘know’ the hand that feeds and governs them. Some men think it a token of superior ‘culture’ and advanced views to throw off allegiance to God. It is a token that they have less intelligence than their dog.

There is something very beautiful and pathetic in the fact that Judah is not directly addressed, but that Isaiah 1:2 - Isaiah 1:4 are a divine soliloquy. They might rather be called a father’s lament than an indictment. The forsaken father is, as it were, sadly brooding over his erring child’s sins, which are his father’s sorrows and his own miseries. In Isaiah 1:4 the black catalogue of the prodigal’s doings begins on the surface with what we call ‘moral’ delinquencies, and then digs deeper to disclose the root of these in what we call ‘religious’ relations perverted. The two are inseparably united, for no man who is wrong with God can be right with duty or with men. Notice, too, how one word flashes into clearness the sad truth of universal experience-that ‘iniquity,’ however it may delude us into fancying that by it we throw off the burden of conscience and duty, piles heavier weights on our backs. The doer of iniquity is ‘laden with iniquity.’ Notice, too, how the awful entail of evil from parents to children is adduced-shall we say as aggravating, or as lessening, the guilt of each generation? Isaiah’s contemporaries are ‘a seed of evil-doers,’ spring from such, and in their turn are ‘children that are corrupters.’ The fatal bias becomes stronger as it passes down. Heredity is a fact, whether you call it original sin or not.

But the bitter fountain of all evil lies in distorted relations to God. ‘They have forsaken the Lord’; that is why they ‘do corruptly.’ They have ‘despised the Holy One of Israel’; that is why they are ‘laden with iniquity.’ Alienated hearts separate from Him. To forsake Him is to despise Him. To go from Him is to go ‘away backward.’ Whatever may have been our inheritance of evil, we each go further from Him. And this fatherly lament over Judah is indeed a wail over every child of man. Does it not echo in the ‘pearl of parables,’ and may we not suppose that it suggested that supreme revelation of man’s misery and God’s love?

After the indictment comes the sentence {Isaiah 1:5 - Isaiah 1:8}. Perhaps ‘sentence’ is not altogether accurate, for these verses do not so much decree a future as describe a present, and the deep tone of pitying wonder sounds through them as they tell of the bitter harvest sown by sin. The penetrating question, ‘Why will ye be still stricken, that ye revolt more and more?’ brings out the solemn truth that all which men gain by rebellion against God is chastisement. The ox that ‘kicks against the pricks’ only makes its own hocks bleed. We aim at some imagined good, and we get-blows. No rational answer to that stern ‘Why?’ is possible. Every sin is an act of unreason, essentially an absurdity. The consequences of Judah’s sin are first darkly drawn under the metaphor of a man desperately wounded in some fight, and far away from physicians or nurses, and then the metaphor is interpreted by the plain facts of hostile invasion, flaming cities, devastated fields. It destroys the coherence of the verses to take the gruesome picture of the wounded man as a description of men’s sins; it is plainly a description of the consequences of their sins. In accordance with the Old Testament point of view, Isaiah deals with national calamities as the punishment of national sins. He does not touch on the far worse results of individual sins on individual character. But while we are not to ignore his doctrine that nations are individual entities, and that ‘righteousness exalteth a nation’ in our days as well as in his, the Christian form of his teaching is that men lay waste their own lives and wound their own souls by every sin. The fugitive son comes down to be a swine-herd, and cannot get enough even of the swine’s food to stay his hunger.

The note of pity sounds very clearly in the pathetic description of the deserted ‘daughter of Zion.’ Jerusalem stands forlorn and defenceless, like a frail booth in a vineyard, hastily run up with boughs, and open to fierce sunshine or howling winds. Once ‘beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, . . . the city of the great King’-and now!

Isaiah 1:9 breaks the solemn flow of the divine Voice, but breaks it as it desires to be broken. For in it hearts made soft and penitent by the Voice, breathe out lowly acknowledgment of widespread sin, and see God’s mercy in the continuance of ‘a very small remnant’ of still faithful ones. There is a little island not yet submerged by the sea of iniquity, and it is to Him, not to themselves, that the ‘holy seed’ owe their being kept from following the multitude to do evil. What a smiting comparison for the national pride that is-’as Sodom,’ ‘like unto Gomorrah’!

After the sentence comes pardon. Isaiah 1:16 - Isaiah 1:17 properly belong to the paragraph omitted from the text, and close the stern special word to the ‘rulers’ which, in its severe tone, contrasts so strongly with the wounded love and grieved pity of the preceding verses. Moral amendment is demanded of these high-placed sinners and false guides. It is John the Baptist’s message in an earlier form, and it clears the way for the evangelical message. Repentance and cleansing of life come first.

But these stern requirements, if taken alone, kindle despair. ‘Wash you, make you clean’-easy to say, plainly necessary, and as plainly hopelessly above my reach. If that is all that a prophet has to say to me, he may as well say nothing. For what is the use of saying ‘Arise and walk’ to the man who has been lame from his mother’s womb? How can a foul body be washed clean by filthy hands? Ancient or modern preachers of a self-wrought-out morality exhort to impossibilities, and unless they follow their preaching of an unattainable ideal as Isaiah followed his, they are doomed to waste their words. He cried, ‘Make you clean,’ but he immediately went on to point to One who could make clean, could turn scarlet into snowy white, crimson into the lustrous purity of the unstained fleeces of sheep in green pastures. The assurance of God’s forgiveness which deals with guilt, and of God’s cleansing which deals with inclination and habit, must be the foundation of our cleansing ourselves from filthiness of flesh and spirit. The call to repentance needs the promise of pardon and divine help to purifying in order to become a gospel. And the call to ‘repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,’ is what we all, who are ‘laden with iniquity,’ and have forsaken the Lord, need, if ever we are to cease to do evil and learn to do well.

As with one thunder-clap the prophecy closes, pealing forth the eternal alternative set before every soul of man. Willing obedience to our Father God secures all good, the full satisfaction of our else hungry and ravenous desires. To refuse and rebel is to condemn ourselves to destruction. And no man can avert that consequence, or break the necessary connection between goodness and blessedness, ‘for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,’ and what He speaks stands fast for ever and ever.Isaiah 1:16-17. Wash ye, make you clean — Repent, and do works meet for repentance: cleanse your hearts and hands from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and do not content yourselves with your ceremonial washings. He refers to the charge preferred in the preceding clause, and alludes to the legal purifications commanded on several occasions: see Leviticus 14:8-9; Leviticus 14:47. Put away the evil, &c., from before mine eyes — Reform yourselves thoroughly, that you may not only approve yourselves to men, but to me, who search your hearts and try all your actions. Learn to do well — Begin, and inure yourselves, to live soberly, righteously, and godly. Seek judgment, &c. — Show your religion to God, by practising justice and mercy to men. Judge the fatherless, &c. — Deliver and defend those that are poor and helpless, and liable to be oppressed by unjust and potent adversaries.1:16-20 Not only feel sorrow for the sin committed, but break off the practice. We must be doing, not stand idle. We must be doing the good the Lord our God requires. It is plain that the sacrifices of the law could not atone, even for outward national crimes. But, blessed be God, there is a Fountain opened, in which sinners of every age and rank may be cleansed. Though our sins have been as scarlet and crimson, a deep dye, a double dye, first in the wool of original corruption, and afterwards in the many threads of actual transgression; though we have often dipped into sin, by many backslidings; yet pardoning mercy will take out the stain, Ps 51:7. They should have all the happiness and comfort they could desire. Life and death, good and evil, are set before us. O Lord, incline all of us to live to thy glory.Wash you - This is, of course, to be understood in a moral sense; meaning that they should put away their sins. Sin is represented in the Scriptures as defiling or polluting the soul Ezekiel 20:31; Ezekiel 23:30; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 9:4; and the removal of it is represented by the act of washing; Psalm 51:2 : 'Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin;' Jeremiah 4:14 : 'O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved;' Job 9:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:22; 2 Peter 2:22; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14. It is used here in close connection with the previous verse, where the prophet says that their hands were flied with blood. He now admonishes them to wash away that blood, with the implied understanding, that then their prayers would be heard. It is worthy of remark, also, that the prophet directs them to do this themselves. He addresses them as moral agents, and as having ability to do it. This is the uniform manner in which God addresses sinners in the Bible, requiring them to put away their sins, and to make themselves a new heart. Compare Ezekiel 18:31-32.

The evil of your doings - This is a Hebraism, to denote your evil doings.

From before mine eyes - As God is omniscient, to put them away from before his eyes, is to put them away altogether. To pardon or forgive sin, is often expressed by hiding it; Psalm 51:9 :

Hide thy face from my sins.

Cease to do evil - Compare 1 Peter 3:10-11. The prophet is specifying what was necessary in order that their prayers might be heard, and that they might find acceptance with God. What he states here is a universal truth. If sinners wish to find acceptance with God, they must come renouncing all sin; resolving to put away everything that God hates, however dear it may be to the heart. Compare Mark 9:43-47.

16. God saith to the sinner, "Wash you," &c., that he, finding his inability to "make" himself "clean," may cry to God, Wash me, cleanse me (Ps 51:2, 7, 10).

before mine eyes—not mere outward reformation before man's eyes, who cannot, as God, see into the heart (Jer 32:19).

Make you clean; cleanse your hearts and hands from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and do not content yourselves with your ceremonial washings.

Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; reform yourselves so thoroughly, that you may not only approve yourselves to men, but to me, who search your hearts, and try all your actions. Wash ye, make you clean, &c. These two words are to be regarded as one, since they intend the same thing, and suppose the persons spoken to to be unclean, as they were, notwithstanding their legal sacrifices and ceremonial ablutions; and are designed to convince them of it, to bring them to a sense of their inability to cleanse themselves, to lead them to inquire after the proper means of it, and so to the fountain of Christ's blood to wash in, which only cleanses from it:

put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; the exhortation is not barely to put away their doings, but the evil of them, and that not from themselves, but from before the eyes of God, from the eyes of his vindictive justice, which is only done by the sacrifice of Christ; and the use of this exhortation is to show the necessity of putting away sin to salvation, and the insufficiency of the blood of bulls and goats to do it, since, notwithstanding these, it remains untaken away; and to direct to the sacrifice of Christ, which effectually does it.

Cease to do evil; either from ceremonial works done with a wicked mind, or from outward immoralities, such as shedding innocent blood, oppressing the fatherless and widow, things mentioned in the context; it denotes a cessation from a series and course of sinning, otherwise there is no ceasing from sin in this life.

{y} Wash ye, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil;

(y) By this outward washing, he means the spiritual: exhorting the Jews to repent and amend their lives.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
16, 17. In opposition to this false service of God, Jehovah calls for moral reformation and enunciates the true conditions on which the restoration of His favour depends.Verses 16-20. - THE REQUIREMENT OF GOD - AMENDMENT OF LIFE. God, having put aside the worthless plea of outward religiousness made by his people, goes on to declare, by the mouth of his prophet, what he requires. First, in general terms (ver. 16), and then with distinct specification (ver. 17), he calls on them to amend their ways, both negatively ("cease to do evil") and positively ("learn to do well"). If they will really amend, then he assures them of forgiveness and favor; if they refuse and continue their rebellion, the sword will devour them. Verse 16. - Wash you, make you clean. The analogy of sin to defilement, and of washing to cleansing from sin, has been felt among men universally wherever there has been any sense of sin. Outward purification by water has been constantly made use of as typical of the recovery of inward purity. Hence the numerous washings of the Levitical Law (Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 1:9, 13; Numbers 19:7, 8, 19; Deuteronomy 21:6; Deuteronomy 23:11; etc.); hence the ablutions of the priests in Egypt (Herod., 2:37); hence the appropriateness of the rite of baptism; hence the symbolical washing of hands to free from complicity in blood-guiltiness (Matthew 27:24). "Wash you, make you clean, "could not be misunderstood by the Israelites; they would know that it was a requirement to "wash their hands in innocency" (Psalm 26:6; Psalm 73:13), even apart from what follows. Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes. Not "hide it, "for that was impossible; but remove it altogether - in other words, "cease from it." "Cast off all the works of darkness;" get rid of evil, to begin with. So much is negative. The prophet's address has here reached a resting-place. The fact that it is divided at this point into two separate sections, is indicated in the text by the space left between Isaiah 1:9 and Isaiah 1:10. This mode of marking larger or smaller sections, either by leaving spaces of by breaking off the line, is older than the vowel points and accents, and rests upon a tradition of the highest antiquity (Hupfeld, Gram. p. 86ff.). The space is called pizka; the section indicated by such a space, a closed parashah (sethumah); and the section indicated by breaking off the line, an open parashah (petuchah). The prophet stops as soon as he has affirmed, that nothing but the mercy of God has warded off from Israel the utter destruction which it so well deserved. He catches in spirit the remonstrances of his hearers. They would probably declare that the accusations which the prophet had brought against them were utterly groundless, and appeal to their scrupulous observance of the law of God. In reply to this self-vindication which he reads in the hearts of the accused, the prophet launches forth the accusations of God. In Isaiah 1:10, Isaiah 1:11, he commences thus: "Hear the word of Jehovah, ye Sodom judges; give ear to the law of our God, O Gomorrah nation! What is the multitude of your slain-offerings to me? saith Jehovah. I am satiated with whole offerings of rams, and the fat of stalled calves; and blood of bullocks and sheep and he-goats I do not like." The second start in the prophet's address commences, like the first, with "hear" and "give ear." The summons to hear is addressed in this instances (as in the case of Isaiah's contemporary Micah, Micah 3:1-12) to the kezinim (from kâzâh, decidere, from which comes the Arabic el-Kadi, the judge, with the substantive termination in: see Jeshurun, p. 212 ss.), i.e., to the men of decisive authority, the rulers in the broadest sense, and to the people subject to them. It was through the mercy of God that Jerusalem was in existence still, for Jerusalem was "spiritually Sodom," as the Revelation (Revelation 11:8) distinctly affirms of Jerusalem, with evident allusion to this passage of Isaiah. Pride, lust of the flesh, and unmerciful conduct, were the leading sins of Sodom, according to Ezekiel 16:49; and of these, the rulers of Jerusalem, and the crowd that was subject to them and worthy of them, were equally guilty now. But they fancied that they could not possibly stand in such evil repute with God, inasmuch as they rendered outward satisfaction to the law. The prophet therefore called upon them to hear the law of the God of Israel, which he would announce to them: for the prophet was the appointed interpreter of the law, and prophecy the spirit of the law, and the prophetic institution the constant living presence of the true essence of the law bearing its own witness in Israel. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith Jehovah." The prophet intentionally uses the word יאמר, not אמר: this was the incessant appeal of God in relation to the spiritless, formal worship offered by the hypocritical, ceremonial righteousness of Israel (the future denoting continuous actions, which is ever at the same time both present and future). The multitude of zebâchim, i.e., animal sacrifices, had no worth at all to Him. As the whole worship is summed up here in one single act, zebâchim appears to denote the shelamim, peace-offerings (or better still, communion offerings), with which a meal was associated, after the style of a sacrificial festival, and Jehovah gave the worshipper a share in the sacrifice offered. It is better, however, to take zebâchim as the general name for all the bleeding sacrifices, which are then subdivided into 'oloth and Cheleb, as consisting partly of whole offerings, or offerings the whole of which was placed upon the altar, though in separate pieces, and entirely consumed, and partly of those sacrifices in which only the fat was consumed upon the altar, namely the sin-offerings, trespass-offerings, and pre-eminently the shelâmim offerings. Of the sacrificial animals mentioned, the bullocks (pârim) and fed beasts (meri'im, fattened calves) are species of oxen (bakar); and the lambs (Cebashim) and he-goats (atturim, young he-goats, as distinguished from se'ir, the old long-haired he-goat, the animal used as a sin-offering), together with the ram (ayil, the customary whole offering of the high priest, of the tribe prince, and of the nation generally on all the high feast days), were species of the flock. The blood of these sacrificial animals - such, for example, as the young oxen, sheep, and he-goats - was thrown all round the altar in the case of the whole offering, the peace-offering, and the trespass-offering; in that of the sin-offering it was smeared upon the horns of the altar, poured out at the foot of the altar, and in some instances sprinkled upon the walls of the altar, or against the vessels of the inner sanctuary. Of such offerings as these Jehovah was weary, and He wanted no more (the two perfects denote that which long has been and still is: Ges. 126, 3); in fact, He never had desired anything of the kind.
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