Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
When you meet someone new, how many times have you asked the inevitable question, “So…ah…what do you do?” Imagine if next time you asked someone that question, they said, “Oh, I’m a prophet.”
It’s a job title no one in our society actually holds anymore, but it was an occupation in ancient Israel. And unlike the way we often only use the word prophet to denote someone who makes accurate predictions about the future, the job descriptions of biblical prophets were much broader. As much as the biblical prophets, like Isaiah, tell us things about the future, they just as often help us understand what God is doing in the present through the wisdom of Scripture and God’s Spirit. Prophets are truth-tellers, meaning prophets name things things that we probably know about ourselves but would rather forget. The job of the prophet is to not let us forget and bring things out into the light.
Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, goes for the proverbial jugular in Chapter 1 and names something that devoted religious folks (probably not that different than you and I) know about themselves but would rather forget; namely that their offerings and worship routines are oftentimes done out of obligation rather than the true desires of their hearts. The Israelites knew that God blessed them when they gave their resources to the poor and at the temple, as well as when they participated in the ritual of corporate worship with their times of feasting. However, rather than the blessing being an overflow piled on top of the even great joy of pleasing the Lord, it became the goal. God goes so far to say that He hates their worship and giving because of the misplaced motives of the heart.
My wife and I recently had a tough conversation about the motives of my heart when I serve her and our family. When I give her time to herself by watching our boys, clean the house without being asked, or even write notes and give gifts, what is my actual “why”? Those are all good thing and my wife always gushes with gratitude, but lately I’ve found myself using these “good deeds” as currency to claim that she can’t give me feedback. I had to reckon with the fact that I often serve my wife and kids out of messed up motives.
In verses 16-19, rather than responding with final judgement, however, God invites the Israelites to cleanse themselves and receive renewed motives rooted in the restorative power of the gospel, where God’s heart for goodness and justice reign. How? Through God Himself bleaching-out our blood-soaked garments and making them as white as snow. In this, Isaiah points to a future reality of Jesus’ work on the cross as the source of all abundance. Jesus gave it all away for us because He knew that everything, including mortality itself, belong to God the Father.
Without repentance and grace-filled hearts, we will give for the wrong reasons, usually because we like the idea of being viewed as a generous person. Surely God can and does use our corrupt motives for His good, but we can never live truly abundant lives outside of the lens of the cross. If we give chiefly because we want to be recognized, we’ll always be disappointed. Even the most philanthropic people get questioned eventually for not being generous enough in one way or another, so if the recognition of man is our aim, we’ll be crushed.
This passage’s view towards giving is akin to the widow’s mite parable of Jesus, where the amount given is far less important than the desire to gratefully give out of a transformed heart. Only in repentance and the experience of abounding grace do we find the true path towards joyous generosity.
- What motives in worship and giving to God might you need to repent of?
- How does the ultimate sacrifice of the cross transform your heart towards abundance in worship and giving?
Lord, I admit that my motives in worship and giving are often secretly self-serving. Please transform my motives and give me the joy of giving as one who knows that they can never out give you in the sacrifice of your very own son. As your child, I already have it all. Please never allow my giving to be contingent on anything other than the blessing of knowing you.
Today’s devotional was prayed over and prepared by Dustin Youngstrom, Pastor of Marriage Ministry