Isaiah 1:18
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
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(18) Come now, and let us reason together.—The Authorised Version suggests the thought of a discussion between equals. The Hebrew implies rather the tone of one who gives an authoritative ultimatum, as from a judge to the accused, who had no defence, or only a sham defence, to offer (Micah 6:2-3). “Let us sum up the pleadings—that ultimatum is one of grace and mercy—‘Repent, and be forgiven.’”

Though your sins be as scarlet.—The two colours probably corresponded to those now designated by the English words. Both words point to the dyes of Tyre, and the words probably received a fresh emphasis from the fact that robes of these colours were worn by the princes to whom Isaiah preached (2Samuel 1:24). To the prophet’s eye that dark crimson was as the stain of blood. What Jehovah promises is that the guilt of the past, deep-dyed in grain as it might be, should be discharged, and leave the character with a restored purity. Men might dye their souls of this or that hue, but to bleach them was the work of God. He alone could transfigure them that they should be “white as snow” (Mark 9:3). Comp. the reproduction of the thought, with the added paradox that it was the crimson “blood of the lamb” that was to bleach and cleanse, in Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 7:14.

Isaiah 1:18-20. Come now, let us reason together — The word נוכחהis properly understood of two contending parties arguing a case; or, as Bishop Lowth translates it, pleading together; but here it seems to import also the effect, or issue of such a debate, namely, the accommodating their differences. Though your sins be as scarlet — Red and bloody as theirs were, mentioned Isaiah 1:15; great and heinous; they shall be white as snow — God, upon your repentance and reformation, will pardon all that is past, and look upon you with the same grace and favour as if you had never offended, your sins being expiated by the blood of the Messiah, typified by your legal sacrifices. It is a metonymical expression, by which sins are said to be purged, as Hebrews 1:3, when men are purged from their sins, Hebrews 9:14. If ye be willing and obedient — If you be heartily willing and fully resolved to obey all my commands; ye shall eat the good of the land — Together with the pardon of your sins, you shall receive temporal and worldly blessings. But if ye refuse and rebel — If you obstinately persist in your disobedience to me, as hitherto you have done; ye shall be devoured with the sword — With the sword of your enemies, which shall be commissioned to destroy you, and with the sword of God’s justice, his wrath and vengeance, which shall be drawn against you; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it — And he will surely make it good for the maintaining of his own honour.

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.Come now - This is addressed to the nation of Israel; and the same exhortation is made to all sinners. It is a solemn act on the part of God, submitting the claims and principles of his government to reason, on the supposition that men may see the propriety of his service, and of his plan.

Let us reason together - ונוכחה venivākechâh from יכח yâkach, not used in Kal, but in Hiphil; meaning to show, to prove. Job 13:15 : 'Surely I will prove my ways (righteous) before him;' that is, I will justify my ways before him. Also to correct, reprove, convince, Job 32:12; to rebuke, reproach, censure, Job 6:25; to punish, Job 5:17; Proverbs 3:12; to judge, decide, Isaiah 11:3; to do justice, Isaiah 11:4; or to contend, Job 13:3; Job 16:21; Job 22:4. Here it denotes the kind of contention, or argumentation, which occurs in a court of justice, where the parties reciprocally state the grounds of their cause. God had been addressing magistrates particularly, and commanding them to seek judgment, to relieve the oppressed, to do justice to the orphan and widow; all of which terms are taken from courts of law. He here continues the language, and addresses them as accustomed to the proceedings of courts, and proposes to submit the case as if on trial. He then proceeds Isaiah 1:18-20, to adduce the principles on which he is willing to bestow pardon on them; and submits the case to them, assured that those principles will commend themselves to their reason and sober judgment.

Though your sins be as scarlet - The word used here - שׁנים shānı̂ym - denotes properly a bright red color, much prized by the ancients. The Arabic verb means to shine, and the name was given to this color, it is supposed by some, on account of its splendor, or bright appearance. It is mentioned as a merit of Saul, that he clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet, 2 Samuel 1:24, Our word scarlet, denoting a bright red, expresses the color intended here. This color was obtained from the eggs of the coccus ilicis, a small insect found on the leaves of the oak in Spain, and in the countries east of the Mediterranean. The cotton cloth was dipped in this color twice; and the word used to express it means also double-dyed, from the verb שׁנה shânâh, to repeat. From this double-dying many critics have supposed that the name given to the color was derived. The interpretation which derives it from the sense of the Arabic word to shine, however, is the most probable, as there is no evidence that the double-dying was unique to this color. It was a more permanent color than that which is mentioned under the word crimson. White is an emblem of innocence. Of course sins would be represented by the opposite. Hence, we speak of crimes as black, or deep-dyed, and of the soul as stained by sin. There is another idea here. This was a fast, or fixed color. Neither dew, nor rain, nor washing, nor long usage, would remove it. Hence, it is used to represent the fixedness and permanency of sins in the heart. No human means will wash them out. No effort of man, no external rites, no tears, no sacrifices, no prayers, are of themselves sufficient to take them away. They are deep fixed in the heart, as the scarlet color was in the Web of cloth, and an almighty power is needful to remove them.

Shall be as white as snow - That is, the deep, fixed stain, which no human power could remove, shall be taken away. In other words, sin shall be pardoned, and the soul be made pure. White, in all ages, has been the emblem of innocence, or purity; compare Psalm 68:14; Ecclesiastes 9:8; Daniel 7:9; Matthew 17:2; Matthew 28:3; Revelation 1:14; Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13.

Though they be red - The idea here is not materially different from that expressed in the former part of the verse. It is the Hebrew poetic form of expressing substantially the same thought in both parts of the sentence. Perhaps, also, it denotes intensity, by being repeated; see Introduction, 8.

Like crimson - כתולע katôlâ‛. The difference between scarlet and crimson is, that the former denotes a deep red; the latter a deco red slightly tinged with blue. Perhaps this difference, however, is not marked in the original. The purple or crimson color was obtained commonly from a shellfish, called murex, or purpura, which abounded chiefly in the sea, near Tyre; and hence, the Tyrian dye became so celebrated. That, however, which is designated in this place, was obtained, not from a shellfish, but a worm (Hebrew: תולע tôlâ‛, snail, or conchylium - the Helix Janthina of Linnaeus. This color was less permanent than the scarlet; was of a bluish east; and is commonly in the English Bible rendered blue. It was employed usually to dye wool, and was used in the construction of the tabernacle, and in the garments of the high priest. It was also in great demand by princes and great men, Judges 8:26; Luke 14:19. The prophet has adverted to the fact that it was employed mainly in dying wool, by what he has added, 'shall be as wool.'

As wool - That is, as wool undyed, or from which the color is removed. Though your sins appear as deep-stained, and as permanent as the fast color of crimson in wool, yet they shall be removed - as if that stain should be taken away from the wool, and it should be restored to its original whiteness.

18. God deigns to argue the case with us, that all may see the just, nay, loving principle of His dealings with men (Isa 43:26).

scarlet—the color of Jesus Christ's robe when bearing our "sins" (Mt 27:28). So Rahab's thread (Jos 2:18; compare Le 14:4). The rabbins say that when the lot used to be taken, a scarlet fillet was bound on the scapegoat's head, and after the high priest had confessed his and the people's sins over it, the fillet became white: the miracle ceased, according to them, forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, that is, exactly when Jesus Christ was crucified; a remarkable admission of adversaries. Hebrew for "scarlet" radically means double-dyed; so the deep-fixed permanency of sin in the heart, which no mere tears can wash away.

snow—(Ps 51:7). Repentance is presupposed, before sin can be made white as snow (Isa 1:19, 20); it too is God's gift (Jer 31:18, Lam 5:21, Acts 5:31).

red—refers to "blood" (Isa 1:15).

as wool—restored to its original undyed whiteness. This verse shows that the old fathers did not look only for transitory promises (Article VII, Book of Common Prayer). For sins of ignorance, and such like, alone had trespass offerings appointed for them; greater guilt therefore needed a greater sacrifice, for, "without shedding of blood there was no remission"; but none such was appointed, and yet forgiveness was promised and expected; therefore spiritual Jews must have looked for the One Mediator of both Old Testament and New Testament, though dimly understood.

Come now, and let us reason together; I am willing to lay aside my prerogative, and to submit the matter to a fair and equal trial, whether I do not deal justly in rejecting all your services, which are accompanied with such gross hypocrisy and wickedness, and whether I do not deal very graciously in offering mercy and pardon to you upon these conditions.

Though your sins be as scarlet, red and bloody, as theirs were, Isaiah 1:15, great and heinous,

they shall be as white as snow; they shall be washed and purged by the blood of the Messias, whereby you shall be made white and pure in God’s sight. It is a metonymical expression, as sins are said to be purged, Hebrews 1:3, when men are purged from their sins, Hebrews 9:14.

Shall be as wool; which for the most part is white, and is compared to snow for whiteness, Revelation 1:14.

Come now, and let us reason, together, saith the Lord,.... These words stand not in connection either with the preceding or following, but are to be read in a parenthesis, and are thrown in for the sake of the small remnant God had left among this wicked people, in order to comfort them, being distressed with sin. These, seeing their sins in their dreadful colours, and with all their aggravating circumstances, were ready to conclude that they were unpardonable; and, seeing God as an angry Judge, dared not come nigh him, but stood at a distance, fearing and expecting his vengeance to fall upon them, and therefore put away the promises, and refused to be comforted; when the Lord was pleased to encourage them to draw near to him, and come and reason with him: not at the bar of his justice; there is no reasoning with him there; none can contend with him, or answer him, one of a thousand; if he marks iniquity in strict justice, none can stand before him; there is no entering the lists with him upon the foot of justice, or at its bar: but at the bar of mercy, at the throne of grace; there the righteous may dispute with him from his declarations and promises, as well as come with boldness to him; and at the altar and sacrifice of Christ, and at the fountain of his blood: here sinners may reason with him from the virtue and efficacy of his blood and sacrifice; and from the Lord's proclamation of grace and mercy through him; and from his promises to forgive repenting and confessing sinners: and here God reasons with sensible souls from his own covenant promises and proclamations to forgive sin; from the aboundings of his grace over abounding sin; from the righteousness of Christ to justify, his blood to cleanse from sin, and his sacrifice to atone for it; and from the end of his coming into the world to save the chief of sinners: saying,

though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Every sin is a transgression of the law, and hateful and abominable to God; no sin is venial in itself, but deserving of the wrath of God, and the curses of the law; all sin is mortal, the wages of it is death: but all are not alike; some are greater, others lesser; some are attended with aggravating circumstances, as when the persons that commit them have, besides the light of nature, also the law of Moses, or the Gospel of Christ; have had the advantage of a religious education; have sat under a Gospel ministry, and received much speculative light and knowledge; yea, have been under convictions of sin time after time, and yet have been ringleaders and encouragers of others in sin, guilty of very enormous crimes, which in themselves are comparable to "scarlet" and "crimson": and perhaps reference may be had to the sin of murder, since the persons, among whom these dwelt, their hands were full of blood; and may respect the crucifiers of Christ, among whom there were some savingly convicted and converted. Moreover, they may be signified hereby on account of the effects of them, they defile men, provoke God to wrath, and, through the law, work wrath in their consciences; and may signify, that they are sins of a deep dye, and which have such a place in their hearts and consciences, that nothing can remove them but the blood of Christ: and besides are open, flagrant, and notorious to all, and especially to God; yet these, through the grace and blood of Jesus, become as white as wool and as snow: not that pardon of sin takes sin out of the hearts and natures of men, nor changes the nature of sin, or causes it to cease to be sin; but this is to be understood of the persons of sinners, who hereby are made so white, yea, whiter than this, Psalm 51:1 as they are considered in Christ, washed in his blood, and clothed with his righteousness, which is fine linen, clean and white; God, seeing no iniquity in them, has thus graciously dealt with them, and they being without fault, spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. It was with respect to this Scripture that the Jews in later times were wont to tie a scarlet thread to the head of the scapegoat, when he was sent into the wilderness; though at first they fastened it to the door of the outward porch, and then to the door of the inward porch, and, if it turned white, it was a sign their sins were forgiven them, but, if not, otherwise (k); and it is owned by them, that it belongs to future time, the time of the Messiah (l).

(k) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 89. 2.((l) Gussetius observes, that signifies not "oppressed", but infected with leaven, and so means, reduce to a right way him that is corrupt with the leaven of vice, by hindering him that he may not go on to hurt the fatherless. Comment. Ebr. p. 265.

Come now, {a} and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be {b} white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

(a) To know if I accuse you without cause.

(b) Lest sinners should pretend any rigour on God's part, he only wills them to be pure in heart, and he will forgive all their sins, no matter how many or great.

18. let us reason together] more accurately, let us implead one another (Acts 19:38, A.V.). The idea is that of a legal process in which each party maintains his own case (see ch. Isaiah 43:26). It is felt by some comm. that the legal figure is inconsistent with an absolute offer of forgiveness in the two clauses which follow. The difficulty would be obviated by the subtle and attractive rendering (proposed, but now withdrawn, by Cheyne) “let us bring our dispute to an end”; but this is unsupported by grammar or usage. The second member of each sentence might be taken as an indignant question, “If your sins are … shall they be white …?”—or as an ironical concession, “Though your sins be … let them be white …!” The idea of pardon, however, may be retained, provided it be understood as conditioned by the alternative of Isaiah 1:19-20.

scarlet and crimson are really synonyms for one colour, properly “crimson.” The dye in question was obtained from the dried and powdered bodies of an insect (coccus ilicis, in Hebr. tôla‘ath shânî = “bright worm”). There is perhaps no other instance of red used as a general symbol for sin, though white is the natural emblem of innocence (Psalm 51:7).

18–20. Jehovah condescends to plead.

Verse 18. - Come now, and let us reason together. God has from time to time permitted man to reason with him (Genesis 18:23-32; Exodus 4:1-17; Job 23:3-7; Micah 6:2); but it is difficult to see that there is any "reasoning" or "controversy" here. Mr. Cheyne translates, "Let us bring our dispute to an end." Though your sins be as scarlet... like crimson; i.e. "open, evident, glaring." Or there may be an allusion to their blood-guiltiness (see vers. 15, 19). They shall be as white as snow. Comp. Psalm 51:7, which is completely parallel, whether it was written before or after. There can be no better image of, purity than snow (comp. Job 9:30; Lamentations 4:7). As wool. A weaker illustration than the preceding one, but needed for the parallelism. (The resemblance of falling snow to wool is noted in Psalm 147:16.) Isaiah 1:18The first leading division of the address is brought to a close, and Isaiah 1:18 contains the turning-point between the two parts into which it is divided. Hitherto Jehovah has spoken to His people in wrath. But His love began to move even in the admonitions in Isaiah 1:16, Isaiah 1:17. And now this love, which desired not Israel's destruction, but Israel's inward and outward salvation, breaks fully through. "O come, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah. If your sins come forth like scarlet cloth, they shall become white as snow; if they are red as crimson, they shall come forth like wool!" Jehovah here challenges Israel to a formal trial: nocach is thus used in a reciprocal sense, and with the same meaning as nishpat in Isaiah 43:26 (Ges. 51, 2). In such a trial Israel must lose, for Israel's self-righteousness rests upon sham righteousness; and this sham righteousness, when rightly examined, is but unrighteousness dripping with blood. It is taken for granted that this must be the result of the investigation. Israel is therefore worthy of death. Yet Jehovah will not treat Israel according to His retributive justice, but according to His free compassion. He will remit the punishment, and not only regard the sin as not existing, but change it into its very opposite. The reddest possible sin shall become, through His mercy, the purest white. On the two hiphils here applied to colour, see Ges. 53, 2; though he gives the meaning incorrectly, viz., "to take a colour," whereas the words signify rather to emit a colour: not Colorem accipere, but Colorem dare. Shâni, bright red (the plural shânim, as in Proverbs 31:21, signifies materials dyed with shâni), and tolâ, warm colour, are simply different names for the same colour, viz., the crimson obtained from the cochineal insect, Color cocccineus. The representation of the work of grace promised by God as a change from red to white, is founded upon the symbolism of colours, quite as much as when the saints in the Revelation (Revelation 19:8) are described as clothed in white raiment, whilst the clothing of Babylon is purple and scarlet (Isaiah 17:4). Red is the colour of fire, and therefore of life: the blood is red because life is a fiery process. For this reason the heifer, from which the ashes of purification were obtained for those who had been defiled through contact with the dead, was to be red; and the sprinkling-brush, with which the unclean were sprinkled, was to be tied round with a band of scarlet wool. But red as contrasted with white, the colour of light (Matthew 17:2), is the colour of selfish, covetous, passionate life, which is self-seeking in its nature, which goes out of itself only to destroy, and drives about with wild tempestuous violence: it is therefore the colour of wrath and sin. It is generally supposed that Isaiah speaks of red as the colour of sin, because sin ends in murder; and this is not really wrong, though it is too restricted. Sin is called red, inasmuch as it is a burning heat which consumes a man, and when it breaks forth consumes his fellow-man as well. According to the biblical view, throughout, sin stands in the same relation to what is well-pleasing to God, and wrath in the same relation to love or grace, as fire to light; and therefore as red to white, or black to white, for red and black are colours which border upon one another. In the Song of Solomon (Isaiah 7:5), the black locks of Shulamith are described as being "like purple," and Homer applies the same epithet to the dark waves of the sea. But the ground of this relation lies deeper still. Red is the colour of fire, which flashes out of darkness and returns to it again; whereas white without any admixture of darkness represents the pure, absolute triumph of light. It is a deeply significant symbol of the act of justification. Jehovah offers to Israel an actio forensis, out of which it shall come forth justified by grace, although it has merited death on account of its sins. The righteousness, white as snow and wool, with which Israel comes forth, is a gift conferred upon it out of pure compassion, without being conditional upon any legal performance whatever.
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