The prophet Isaiah is saying the same thing in more detail as what Peter says in Acts 3:19: "Repent." That is how the breach, the separation, between God and man will be healed. That is how atonement is made. Atonement is not all something that Christ does. There will never be oneness with God until man does something with his free-moral agency.
The problem in Isaiah 1 is a hypocritical people just going through the motions. They were observing the rituals: burning incense, making the sacrifices. Yet, at the same time, their daily lives were filled with all kinds of unlawful acts—business shenanigans—that, according to God's law, is taking advantage of others. They were lying about the weights and balances, selling shoddy products, and as a rule, not conducting business in an upright way. They were murdering one another's reputations through gossip, and lying to one another using charm and deceit. God is saying that their lives were full of hypocrisy.
In the same way, people who today claim to be children of God, who attend Sabbath services and holy days yet have a heart full of greed, covetousness, anger, hatred, bitterness, envy, and so on, are simply hypocrites.
As it pertains to us, what we see in Isaiah is that there must be a relationship between worshipping God and our character in its practical aspect out on the streets, in our homes, in the way that we conduct business. We might say our character away from church, out of the eyesight of God's people, must reflect what we profess to believe. How can those who treat their fellows with contempt, greed, envy, jealousy, anger, hatred, and revenge, do those things through the week and then come to church services before God, thinking that somehow or another they are not separated from Him? Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24, "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." That is quite plain.
Because of all these things, God treated His people Israel in the same way as pagan idols treated their worshippers. Remember, the idols are not alive; they do not have ears that can hear, eyes that can see, or mouths that enable them to speak. So idol worshippers made their lamentations, their prayers, and their praises to their idols, and the idol never responded. God says, "I am going to be just like an idol to you. When you talk to me, I am not going to talk to you, and when you look at me, I am not going to look back at you. I am not going to see you." So in this way, He became as one who is dumb and deaf. He did not respond to their prayers.
It is essential to note that God, in His wisdom, knew before creating mankind that mankind would sin. If there were to be both reconciliation and character building, He would have to provide a means that would not only satisfy the legal requirements, but also contain within it the moral and spiritual influences that would motivate a man to cooperate on his own.
We play a major part in this because God has given us free-moral agency. By and large, the Protestant world has convinced Americans, Canadians, and Western Europeans that Christ did it all for us. It is a bald-faced lie! But sometimes, we who know better act as though it all depended on God. God gave us free-moral agency so that we can respond to Him, put His Word into practice, and exemplify before others what God is like.
It would be nice to say that we live lives like Christ so much that we could say of ourselves what Christ said: "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" (John 14:9). There is a Person who was really at one with God.
What God is trying to do with the things that He has provided—namely, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of His Holy Spirit—is to motivate man to repent—to change, to turn to God, to resist the desire to continue in sin—to work at building character and learn to live by faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Reconciliation and the Day of Atonement
Just because He calls them your Sabbaths, or your feast days, does not necessarily mean that they were not even meeting on the correct days. The context shows that they were doing the ceremonial things (Isaiah 1:11, 13; Amos 5:22).
If Israel regarded the Sabbath as merely ceremonial, then they were at least keeping the Sabbath in a ceremonial way. When He says "your new moons," or "your Sabbaths," they could very well have been on the same days that God commanded, and not something "new" that they came up with. There is a possibility in the book of Amos, because of Jeroboam I, that they indeed may have been keeping different days. But, in Isaiah 1, it seems "the Sabbaths" He refers to there, are "the Sabbaths" that we know of today as Saturday.
Thus, if indeed they were still keeping the weekly Sabbaths and the holy days (at least in terms of the right days on the calendar), then God's displeasure was caused by the way that they were keeping them, their attitude and lack of understanding as to why they should be keeping them. That is what concerned God. So bad were these issues, that as far as God was concerned, those days that they were keeping were no longer His, and He was separating Himself from them.
For short periods of time, small groups of people in Israel kept it right—but how to keep it was almost always a bone of contention between God and Israel. That issue is written about frequently in the Bible. It is not that they were keeping the wrong days, but how they were keeping them and their lack of understanding as to why they were keeping them that God was concerned about.
There is a great deal in the Bible about this commandment. When one includes what is written concerning keeping the holy days, the annual Sabbaths, with what is written concerning keeping the weekly Sabbath, there is more written directly about this commandment than any other, except the first commandment. We are not without instruction as to God's mind toward it—far from it. We have a great deal of instruction on how we should keep the Sabbath.
It is well understood that God did not inspire a list of hundreds of dos and don'ts to be written down. Instead, He chose to reveal by means of a few commands, examples, and broad principles, that we are supposed to study into, meditate upon, reach conclusions, and put them into practice in our lives. It was done this way to teach us to think through the process of choosing and coming to an understanding of why we are doing these things, developing our understanding of the mind of God.
The goal of this way is not that we would become creatures of rote, but rather, that we would do things because they are right and avoid other things because they are wrong. We would be making choices of our own free will that are in line with the mind and will of God.
The Sabbath has often been referred to as the "test commandment." God is testing the intention, the motivation that precedes the act and provides us with our justification, as well as what we will permit ourselves to do. Sometimes, in defending ourselves, we will say, "Well, I didn't mean to hurt you." Maybe not, but the fact is that the other person was hurt. This position is not good enough, because it still falls short of the glory of God. It is good to remember "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." God wants our intentions and our acts to be right. If we get the intention right, there is a far greater chance that the acts we permit ourselves to do on the Sabbath will be right. It must be this way, because the batting average for right intentions bringing forth right acts is exceedingly higher than the other way around. God wants us to understand why we are doing what we do before we do it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)
Isaiah 1:10-17 chronicles the time before Ezra and Nehemiah when Judah observed the feasts, yet in a wrong spirit and with reprehensible conduct. Isaiah preached this to the Jews about one hundred years before they went into captivity to Babylon.
This is a clear indictment of their spirit and attitude, advancing strong proof of why God later said through Ezekiel that Israel and Judah went into captivity because of idolatry and Sabbath-breaking (Ezekiel 20:12-21).
There is no reason to believe that, just because God says "your" new moons and "your" feasts, they were not the ones He appointed, at least in name. He could rightly call them "your feasts" because their keeping of them was so abominable that they bore no resemblance to His intent in commanding them to be observed. They were completely discordant with His character, as the listing of their sins shows.
He calls their giving of offerings, which were part of the spiritual aspects of keeping the feasts, vain and trampling His courts. He designates their prayers as an abomination, and their keeping of the feasts wearying to Him. Clearly, He had "had it up to here" with their Sabbath and festival observances. Have we examined our conduct recently in relation to our attitudes, approaches, and expectations for the Feast?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles
God has had it up to here with the hypocritical sacrifices that we make in mention of His name and so-called worship of the God of heaven. Our conduct on the streets and in business and in our homes nowhere near measures even to Sodom's standards. Now what is so weird about God comparing Israel to Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon? There is nothing weird about it at all! Thus God calling Israel "BABYLON, MYSTERY, THE GREAT HARLOT" (Revelation 17:5) continues to give evidence of the magnitude of Israel's unfaithfulness to her Husband and Benefactor—God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 5)
Remember to whom God was speaking—His people, those with whom He had made the Old Covenant. He was not rejecting their sacrifices or the keeping of the holy days. He was angry that they went through the rituals without the humility to submit to His great moral law in their daily lives.
We have the tendency to think of worship as something we do at a designated time and in a certain place, usually once a week. However, religion and worship in the biblical sense involve all of life. Christianity is a way of life (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4). Worship is the reflection of God living in the person no matter what he may be doing. It is his response to God, his interaction with Him. Thus, the Bible covers every aspect of life within its pages. A person truly interacting with God is worshipping God whether at church, work, play, or home. He will strive to glorify God in every situation.
Obviously, the people of Isaiah 1 were not at one with God, though they religiously observed the commanded activities. For a person to be at one with Him, what he does in every area of life must agree with what he professes by his attendance at a worship service.
How can those who treat their fellows with contempt, then take their greed, anger, revenge, and hatred into church fellowship, say they are displaying God's Spirit? These characteristics are divisive! How can they say they worship God?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Separation and At-One-Ment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Isaiah 1:11: