The court is in session
abiding witnesses are summoned (1, 2) - יהוה has a case against His people - He is calling them to court to plead their case. First יהוה summons His witnesses. It cannot be people because they are the ones on trial. He summons the mountains and hills. We may regard them as inanimate but they are there witnessing everything that goes on. We sometimes say, “If the walls could talk” – well, inanimate objects have been there while evil has been committed and יהוה will cause them to recall. They have a voice – Jesus spoke about the “rocks crying out”. We may think that we have got away with it, but inanimate creation all around us is recording all that goes on! All we have done is on record! Israelites were to defend themselves before the mountains and hills that have stood as silent and abiding witnesses to all that they have done. Israel may have thought that none had seen or known what she had done - but the mountains and hills have always been there and on judgement day they will bear witness to what they have seen. יהוה calls inanimate objects as witnesses (cf. Deuteronomy 4:26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land. 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live 31:28 Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them 32:1“Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. Isaiah 1:2 Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; for יהוה speaks, “Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me”.) Hence it is before these impartial, objective witnesses that Israel must plead her case. “Hearing” is emphasized. יהוה calls on the mountains to hear His case against Israel - the mountains are the jury before whom they must plead their case - the impartial party in the controversy between יהוה and His people. It is not just with Israel but with "His people" that יהוה has a dispute - is this us? The church?! The mountains are qualified to hear the case because they have been there right the way through - the "enduring foundations of the earth". Twice יהוה says that He has a case (ריב) with His people, a quarrel, a dispute (יִתְוַכָּח).
יהוה has a case :
what יהוה has done (3-5) v.3 - יהוה had entered a covenant relationship with His people yet they had broken it, rejected Him and gone after other gods. יהוה wanted to know the reason, He asked Israel to explain what cause He had given them to forsake Him. But there was no reason for this. Like a divorce case, there was no justification for the separation - the Husband had given no cause for the rejection. יהוה calls Israel to defend herself - to point out any way that He had let them down, not fulfilled His side of the covenant agreement. יהוה opens Himself up to the accusation of His people - but, of course, there is nothing that they can accuse Him of. Despite the fact that Jews put God on trial after the holocaust - when it comes to facing Him face to face in an atmosphere where only truth is, they will have no case at all. יהוה calls them to answer Him - but they have no answer. He has given them no cause to be fed up with Him and tire of their relationship with Him - on the contrary, He has supported, been kind and poured love on them continually. יהוה hasn’t given them reason to be impatient with Him, rather the opposite - He has been exceedingly patient despite all their wearying of Him. v.4 - What accusation could they bring against יהוה in the face of the catalogue of kindness that He had undeservedly heaped upon them? The record of history bears witness to יהוה’s goodness to them - there is no case for accusing Him of neglect in His relationship to His people. Redeemed: It was He who brought them up out of Egypt, delivered them from a life of slavery. Has He not done the same for us? Yet from an even worse slave master. Bless His Name! Has יהוה ever let us down? No, He has only ever consistently poured undeserved favour upon us. We have no excuse for our breaking of relationship with Him. He ransomed them - just as He ransomed us with His own blood (cf. 1 Peter 1:18,19) - what a price He paid to make us His own! What justification have we for rejecting Him? He has rescued us! Set us free! Hallelujah! We have no cause for complaint, only cause to offer praise and thanksgiving. Led: יהוה sent leaders to lead, guide, direct, provide, teach and protect them - Moses, Aaron and Miriam. He personally kept them, allowed no one to touch them. Has He not given us His Spirit to lead and guide us into all truth? v.5 - "remember" - when we have a complaint or grumble against יהוה, we do well to remember - recall all His dealings with you in the past, all His faithfulness, all that He has done for us. The thought of accusing יהוה will soon vanish and be replaced with gratitude. Blessed יהוה reminded them of the incident of Balak, who resolved to curse Israel and hired Balaam to do so. What did Balak counsel: (Numbers 22:6 please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.) What did Balaam reply: (Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s leaders, “Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.). But although Balaam was willing to curse, he was unable - יהוה turned the curse into a blessing! Hallelujah! He would allow none to harm them even though that was their intention. Shittim was where the Moabites led Israelites into adultery and fornication and from there Joshua sent spies to inspect the land, Gilgal was where the reproach was rolled away where they first entered into the Promised Land. How can we say יהוה has neglected us, not been faithful, kind, fully fulfilling His part of the covenant relationship all the way through our journey? The notion is utterly ridiculous! An analysis of the facts of history show such a case is completely unfounded. יהוה acted the way He did, turning curse to blessing and protecting His people for a reason: so that they may come to know His character - that they might know the righteous acts of יהוה. He is completely righteous, there is no accusation that we can lay at His feet - the break in relationship is 100% our fault - the blame rests completely on us! יהוה is righteous - we are not. In the court case with יהוה, we end up fully in the wrong - GUILTY!
what יהוה requires in response (6-9) - יהוה had brought His case against His people - there was no excuse for their rejection of Him for He had been faithful, loyal and full of loving-kindness. The separation was solely due to the people. What did יהוה require in response to all this goodness that He had lavished upon His chosen people? Not religious devotion: The people decide to come to God - but יהוה is not interested in religious ceremony but with character - a life that reflects His own nature, that attests to the reality and truth of relationship with Him: justice, loyalty, kindness and humility. It is these qualities that יהוה looks for. Israel had not rejected religion - but she had severed relationship with יהוה. She recognized the need to come before יהוה (as do religious people today) but it was an approach based on what she did - putting on a religious show, via religious ceremony and ritual, impressing with her religiosity and "spirituality" - making a show of worship (bowing before God) and bringing impressive sacrifices (burnt offerings). Yet she could go to extreme lengths in this religious ritual and make no impression on יהוה - not even come near Him. Alas, the same is true today! For all our religious carry on - how close are we really to God? Man thinks that God is impressed by the costliness of his sacrifice - the extreme by which he afflicts himself. But this is placing all the more reliance on what we give (thinking God then owes us) rather than depending on יהוה’s mercy and grace. Man has gone, and will go, to extreme lengths in his religious observance. But thousands of rams as burnt offerings, myriads of rivers of oil, make no impression of God - they are all His anyway (cf. Psalm 50:7-23 “Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God. “I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings are continually before Me. “I shall take no young bull out of your house or male goats out of your folds. “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. “I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains. “Shall I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of male goats? “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High; call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honour Me.” But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth? “For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you…. “These things you have done and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes. “Now consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver. “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honours Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.”). God is more concerned with morality than material gifts, with character than religious ceremony. Even the ultimate sacrifice - giving up your most precious son or even your own life - can, and will, do nothing to remove our guilt. There is nothing we can pay to redeem ourselves from our rebellion against God (cf. Psalm 49 No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him— For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever—that he should live on eternally, that he should not undergo decay). There is nothing of ourselves that we can give that pleases God. What He looks for is REPENTANCE - a life that is turned around, whose behaviour is changed: (cf. v.8 with ch.2 & 3) Israel was characterized by corruption at the highest level - injustice, oppression, robbery, greed, selfishness and pride. What יהוה wants is the exact opposite! Changed life, changed behaviour: repentance! Justice: - The leaders practised injustice and corruption; יהוה demands JUSTICE. They were self seeking, cruelly oppressing the poor and weak, exploiting them in order to gain wealth for themselves. Covenant love: יהוה demands LOVING-KINDNESS - loyalty. They are to delight in loving, kind commitment to others: חסד is a selfless word - a giving of yourself on behalf of others. Humility: They ambitiously sought to further their own cause, delighting in and exploiting their position, amassing wealth, presuming on God and their security (cf. 3:11) - utter arrogance, pride, rebellion and independence from God. Yet יהוה demands that they walk humbly in fellowship with Him - dependant upon Him, living in HUMILITY. Compare (Hosea 10:12 Sow with a view to righteousness ,reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek יהוה until He comes to rain righteousness on you.), with the repentance יהוה required there: sow righteousness (cf. justice); reap loving-kindnessֶ (חסד again); break up you fallow ground (humbly seeking יהוה). These are the three essential qualities required in returning to יהוה: righteousness/justice, loving-kindness/selfless loyalty, humility seeking/walking in fellowship with God. (cf. Matthew 9:13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”). Fear His Name: v.9 - יהוה declares judgement on His people for their corruption - defrauding, lying and violence. Curse would come upon them. יהוה Himself speaks to the city of Jerusalem announcing judgement. And when He speaks, it pays to listen, to fear - to tremble at His mighty Name! For He has appointed a time for judgement. They will get away with their evil ways no longer, but will pay for what they have done - reap the recompense for their sin. It is wise to fear יהוה because judgement is coming. Fear of יהוה is what He requires.
יהוה’s verdict (10-12) Wickedness: יהוה issued His verdict – He had examined the land, searching for those who continue to practice wickedness. He cannot let this go on any longer. He is going to act against them. They have stored up evil for the Day of Judgement (cf. Romans 2:5,6 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds). Ripping others off: They defraud by using short measure – selling less than you said you were - dishonest business dealings, ripping people off - such behaviour incurs the curse of יהוה! It makes Him angry! We have a consumers guarantees act because man will still do the same thing – ever heard of wound back odometers? When you sell your house do you add a few thousand more than its worth onto the price? Everyone does it! But it is deceit! v.11 - יהוה cannot ignore such dealings. He knows what is being done - there is no way that He can justify or even condone it. Such activity must be punished! God hates fraud, injustice - ripping off other people (or systems). You may not be rich – but still you can rip off the system – declare less tax than you should, claim welfare benefits to which you are not entitles. Lies and deceit: God hates fraud, it is deceit, based on lies, and He is TRUTH - it is utterly contrary and abhorrent to His very nature. Violence: v.12 - Not only dishonest business deals but their greed had become so great, so great was their desire for more wealth that they went to the extent of using violence to obtain it. Harming others in order to obtain more riches for themselves. Not only daylight robbery but also aggravated robbery. It is the rich that are full of violence - they are well off, have no need to resort to such measures, for they have all they need and more besides. Lies and violence characterize them. The truth cannot be found among the wealthy for their obtaining of wealth depends on being less than honest. Business and politics, in the majority of cases, are still based on lies. Deceit is what characterized them. This catalogue of evil has its consequences - they will reap the reward of their behaviour! Because of this יהוה will act! Judgement, punishment, great distress will come upon them - "because of your sins" (v.13). The verdict was “GUILTY” the sentence is now given:
יהוה’s sentence (13-16) v.13 – The "I" is emphatic - "I will ...." - יהוה Himself has been driven to severe action, so terrible is the sin of His people. Desolation: They would suffer sickness because יהוה will make them sick. They will be cut down, laid waste, leaving them desolate. And it is not arbitrary, it is for a reason! - because of your sins! Sin has a consequence! If יהוה strikes you down, you will fall, you cannot withstand Him. How terrible to have יהוה opposed to you! The result of sin is desolation – a terrible, all encompassing word! v.14 - יהוה had seen all the corruption, injustice and wickedness in His people (v.9-12) and now because of this sin He would afflict her in punishment. This was judgement at יהוה’s hand. Sin brings suffering. יהוה would send a curse upon His people. Dissatisfaction: Typical of a curse is dissatisfaction - you work and work but never earn enough, eat and eat are never filled - you never attain your goal or enjoy the reward of your efforts - a lack of satisfaction. You try and save, but you do not accumulate - what they do manage to acquire for themselves will be taken by the enemy, destroyed by the sword. They will try to preserve, keep something for themselves, some security - but there will be none - their security will be given to the invader. Frustration: v.15 - Utter frustration! All their labours come to nothing. No matter what they do, they never get to enjoy fruition. They plant but never get to reap. Tread the olives but never get to use the oil, tread the grape juice but never drink the wine. Endless labour but never any fulfilment or satisfaction. This is characteristic of the curse (cf. Deut 28:30, 38-41). Destruction: v.16 - They had kept the law, but it was the law of Omri not the law of יהוה! They followed in the evil ways of the house of Ahab - who instituted gross idolatry, Baal worship, and aligned himself with foreign materialistic countries (Tyre/Sidon). The Phonecians were great merchants and traders and the period of Omri and Ahab was one of great luxury and indulgence - the very thing יהוה deplores here. Because of their pursuit of wealth at the expense of justice and the welfare of the poor therefore they would be given up to desolation by יהוה Himself. Our actions have consequences! By them we bring upon ourselves our own destruction. When destruction strikes – it is the end, you are no more. They would become a reproach, an object of derision. They would bear shame because of the way they had chosen to go - they had chosen the idol of wealth, materialism and self indulgence over the worship and service of the true God and reaped the consequence. Is there a message here for our materialistic society? I think the Word of God is very up-to-date and extremely relevant!