Isaiah 1:21-23: Widows, Orphans, and Greedy Rulers

I found our passage today somewhat underwhelming, so our emphasis is going to be how to draw the Word of the Lord from readings like this.

Please understand that I am not saying that our passage is underwhelming. It is "pure Word." It's deep, rich, accomplishes what it is sent to do, and comes from the infallible, all-wise God that we serve. Thus, it is full of treasure.

It just happened to be work for me to get to those treasures.

Drawing from the Deep Wells of Salvation

I chose to reference the "deep wells of salvation" because Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures "are able to make you wise for salvation" (1 Tim. 3:14). Jesus is our "great God and Savior" (Tit. 2:13). We came to him for salvation. We should make use of the Scriptures so that we come to him with wisdom.

Wisdom is the principle thing. Get wisdom. In all your getting, get understanding. (Prov. 4:7)

It is worth mining the Scriptures and giving time to them. It is worth meditating on them and "getting" wisdom and understanding from them, even if it is hard.

Here are some methods I use when Bible-reading seems slow, difficult, or unimportant.

When I run across a passage that doesn't leap out at me, I do several things, especially when I'm supposed to write publicly or teach the church about it.

  • I slow down. In this case, I sat on this "Through the Bible" post for several days.
  • I read slower. I read a verse, then read it again, then think about it and savor it.
  • There's an assumption here that I ought to pray for revelation and wisdom. I always pray for revelation and wisdom, for me, for my family, for the church, and for all the churches. Paul devoted himself to prayers for revelation and wisdom (Eph. 1:16-17; 3:16-18 (comprehension); Php. 1:9 [knowledge]; 1 Cor. 1:4-5). I don't always specifically pray for revelation when I'm reading because I have always already prayed for it. I listen to that still, small voice in my heart while I read. It doesn't fail me often.
  • I ask someone. Often this involves an internet search or a commentary.
  • I look up the Greek or Hebrew and compare translations. I am not an expert on either language, so I don't engage in or believe arguments from the Greek unless they are backed up by someone who is an expert.

Apparently these methods work, at least for me, because originally I was going to cover all the way to the end of the chapter (v. 31). I only got through verse 23.

Meditation and the Food Laws

I delve into this much more deeply at The Christian and the Law of Moses on my Christian history site, but for now ...

Jesus did not abolish the Law. He brought it to fullness (Matt. 5:17). Food laws especially are easy to apply once we understand them in their fullness, the ripe, new wine to be put in wineskins refreshed by the oil of the Holy Spirit (Mk. 2:22).

Under the Old Covenant, earthly Israel was only to eat animals that ruminated (chewed the cud) and parted the hoof. Again, you can follow the link above to find the abundant scriptural and historical testimony to this truth, but for now it is only important to know that we are called to be "clean animals." We are to ruminate (meditate) on the Word of God and to separate from the world (part the hoof; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17).

Animals that chew the cud bring their food back up to be chewed on again and again. The purpose is to get every bit of nutrition that they can from the food they eat.

If we wish to be clean, we need to do the same with the Scriptures and with every other form of God's Word.

Isaiah 1:21-23

If you don't have a Bible on hand, you can read or reference today's passage at BibleGateway.com.

Verses 21-23 address the situation that will be dealt with for the rest of the chapter: the faithful city, Jerusalem, has become a harlot.

We took note in Isaiah 1:1 that Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Of those four kings, only Ahaz did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 16:2), so this is likely to be under Ahaz' reign.

The passage is pretty simple, but we have something important to learn from it. The once-faithful city is so unrighteous that God calls it a harlot. So the question is, with the multitude of sins that Judah must have been active in, which ones does God specifically point out?

Which Sins Did God Call Out?

  • The rulers are thieves.
  • Everyone loves a bribe.
  • The orphans are not defended.
  • The widow's plea can't make it to the people (the rulers) that can help.

I think we can be forgiven for drawing a parallel between the ancient city of Judah as described in this passage and the United States that we know today.

I don't like to get involved in politics except to pray but the fact is that most US citizens regard most of our government officials as easily-bought-off lovers of money and prestige.

Politics

I'm one of those awful non-patriots who doesn't vote. Nor do I say the "Pledge of Allegiance" to the US and its flag. Sorry, USA, my allegiance is to the kingdom of God. As a result, I will be one of the best citizens you have ... until there is a conflict between rulers.

Jesus is Lord, not the Constitution of the United States.

Notice, too that the complaint is not only that everyone refuses to help the widows and orphans. Isaiah also complains that the widow's plea "does not come before them."

"Them" in verse 23 has to be the rulers (who love money, but do not love widows). The problem is not just that the rulers do not help them, but that the widows can't even get to the rulers to plead their case! Apparently, Jerusalem had the kind of red tape that our bureaucratic system currently has.

It was those with money that had access to the rulers, not those with need.

Bureaucracy need not be bad, even though it usually is.

The Church, Bureaucracy, and the Needy

It's not the United States to which we should compare Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capital of God's earthly kingdom; therefore, it is to be compared to the church, not to the United States.

Do we regard the plea of the orphan and widows? James, the Lord's brother. tells us that defending and taking care of them is "true religion" (James 1:27).

I can think of three ways we can be negligent in this duty:

  1. Personally, by not taking care of widowed or orphaned relatives, friends, or strangers put across our path.
  2. As leaders and members of the church we can forsake our duty to God by not teaching the saints about the importance of helping widows and orphans. We can also create bureaucratic situations where widows cannot get access to the people who can actually obtain help for them. Instead, they are left grinding their way through our "charity giving" system or benevolence fund, if we even have one.
  3. We can be negligent to widows and orphans by giving money that ought to take care of the needy to hucksters like Creflo Dollar and Benny Hinn, hoping to obtain monetary reward for ourselves (Matt. 6:19-25; 1 Tim. 6:9-10).

This is not a small issue. At the judgment, those who took care of "the least of these" will be rewarded with eternal life, while those who turn them away will be sent into the everlasting fire that was only supposed to receive the devil and his messengers (Matt. 25:31-46).

Let me suggest that in our Christian Clubs, we need to be very careful about how we apportion our giving. It may be acceptable to give for rent, for the salary of teachers, etc., but what sort of portion of the budget should those things receive knowing the immense emphasis God puts on "the least of these"?

Isaiah 1:23 is not unique. Ignoring the widows and the "fatherless" is one of the most common complaints issued by the prophets. They are definitely central to God's heart.

I searched the KJV Bible on my computer for "widow* & fatherl*." (The asterisks tell my program any random letters are okay, which helps me find plurals or alternate verb forms.) I found 18 verses mentioning widows and the fatherless together. Each one commands that they be helped, and some have God complaining that his people prefer sacrifices and other rituals to helping widows and orphans.

Usually in such a passage, God is saying he doesn't care about rituals, he only cares about whether we do what is good or not. We saw that earlier in this chapter:

When you come to appear before me, who has required this from your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more useless oblations; incense is an abomination to me; I can't bear your new moons and sabbaths, your calling of assemblies; away with them! ... Wash! Make yourselves clean! ... Learn to do well. Seek judgment. Relieve the oppressed; judge the orphans; plea for the widows. (vv. 12-13, 16-17)

Think about this in the realm of offerings. If you are not taking care of the widows and orphans first, it's not that your worship services and calling of assemblies is a secondary good. No, it wears God out, and he becomes sick of them. How would you like to find out that your offerings are going primarily to something God detests?

Isaiah 1:21-31?

So we never made it anywhere near verse 31. We will try again the next time.

I have found that if I take it slow and think about it; if I look at the words in the verse and don't rush; then there is always a lot of treasure below the surface in the Scriptures.

The more you do this, even if it is slowly and bit-by-bit, the more you build up a base of understanding, not just of the Scriptures, but also of God and his express image (Heb. 1:3), King Jesus. The more you understand what matters to King Jesus, the more you can obey him, the more you can love, the more you can know him.

And isn't that the goal? (Rom. 8:29; Php. 3:8-10).

Where To Go Next