“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;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
We have acquired a new evangelical God. He no longer burns with the fire of judgement or shines with the blinding white light of unapproachable righteousness. His Son is not stained with the blood of the sacrifice, nor are His followers aware of any blood on their own hands that would put them in need of such a sacrifice. He is a kinder, gentler God, more in touch with the felt needs of the people. This God is fashionable; He matches the prevailing colour of newer sanctuaries. Colour Him mauve.
For most of history, God has not been popular. He has been more inclined to choose the weak things over the strong. Most people have thought His message foolish. He used to say that the fear of Him was the first step in finding Him. No wonder so few have followed Him. Of course, all that has changed since God has adopted mauve as His colour.
This is exciting news for ministers. They can finally put behind them the maligning they used to get from the world and preach a gospel everyone will be eager to hear—God really does like us; He accepts us just as we are and without demanding that we change! Those scary messages about sin and guilt and judgement and the cross were old-fashioned ways of telling people that God wants them to feel good about themselves. All that about judging sin and dying on the cross—that was God’s business, theological stuff He had to deal with so He could be nice. Now that it’s over, people don’t need to hear about all that uncomfortable stuff. All they need to know is that God likes them and has wonderful plans for their lives.
I trust you recognise the sarcasm. Though much of the teaching of the Old Covenant is rejected as overly harsh and far too demanding, it is nevertheless the Word of God. We dare not dismiss what has been written there as though it had no value for us today. What we do discover when we encounter God in the pages of the Word is a God defined by bold colours.
Contemporary religious ideals are presented in dull, drab greys and muted shades; however, the Bible portrays God in brilliant, bold, scintillating colours that cannot be toned down. Mankind’s sinful condition and the Lord’s holy perfection stand in distinct contrast to one another—the brilliance of His righteousness cannot be mixed or blended with the darkness of mankind’s sinful condition. Job asked the question, “Who can produce something pure from what is impure?” Then, he answered his own question: “No one” [JOB 14:4]! 
Failure to make a distinction between what is holy and what is unholy brought censure on the priests under the Old Covenant. God, speaking through Ezekiel charged, “[Judah’s] priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them” [EZEKIEL 22:26].
You will recall that there was to be a bold distinction between the holy and the common. Moses had given the instruction in the Law, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses” [LEVITICUS 10:10, 11]. Even in the matter of food, those responsible to instruct the people were “to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten” [LEVITICUS 11:47]. Even down to the Millennial reign of the Lord Jesus, those appointed to holy office are responsible to discriminate, to distinguishing between holy and common. “[The priests] shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” [EZEKIEL 44:23].
THINK! “Come, now, let us reason together, says the Lord.” Thus does God call His people to think; He challenges them to engage in vigorously defending their case. “Reason together” is a rather weak translation of the Hebrew. This is a judicial term used when one would argue his case in a court of law. It speaks of arguing or proving the case.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to translate this challenge, “Let us debate the case in court.”  In short, God challenges Israel, and consequently all who read this challenge, to think! Consider how to frame your disobedience to Him; think carefully in order to see if it is rational or reasonable.
It is vital that we keep in mind that the passage under consideration is not written to the world—God is not asking the lost somehow to justify themselves or even to attempt to do so. The LORD calls on those who are called by His Name to justify why they are acting as they do, why they are disobedient. Go back and note the repeated references to the relationship once enjoyed by those He now addresses.
“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the LORD has spoken:
‘Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.’
[ISAIAH 1:2, 3]
“Israel does not know!” “My people do not understand!” His own people are being addressed!
The LORD God continues castigating the people called by His Name.
“Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the LORD,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.”
What sins had the people committed? In what ways had the people proven disobedient? Isaiah charged them with murder [see VERSE 21], robbery, bribery, exploitation of the vulnerable [see VERSE 23] and idolatry [see VERSE 29]. Grasp the reason for God’s anger and you will begin to understand the horror of what He says. It has rightly been said that God does not discipline the devil’s children; however, if a people claim relationship to Him, they must know that He will not tolerate sin; they will be held responsible to obey Him.
Is this not the stern message of the writer of the Letter to Hebrew Christians? “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” [HEBREWS 12:7-10].
I bring up this matter early in this study because I would have you see that what was written so many millennia past is relevant to us in this day late in the Age of Grace. God is warning us through the warning that He issued to Israel. The warning given is applicable to the faithful in this day. We who are called by the Name of the Son of God must not imagine that we can live without regard to the will of God—we cannot!
In the immediate context of the passage, God challenges Israel to present their case. Rebellion and stubbornness will assuredly bring destruction, as they knew so very well. This is the warning of verse twenty.
“If you refuse [to obey] and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword.”
Alternatively, if they submitted to His reign and changed their behaviour in order to honour Him, they would receive forgiveness and experience restoration.
“If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land”
With wry wit, God appears to indicate that even an ox or a donkey could figure this out, though His people are apparently unable to work through the matter.
“The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
Accepting the divine challenge, join me in thinking through the distinction between the Lord God and mankind. Let your mind think in terms of the stark contrast between sinful mankind and holy God. Whenever we think of God, especially when we appeal to what is revealed in Scripture, we visualise brilliance—delightful hues and glorious colours. Whenever we contrast mankind with God, our thoughts turn to that which is dark, foreboding, dim.
Brilliance figures large in every description of the LORD God that is provided in the Word. It is fair to say that God’s brightness awes those who witness it. Think of a few instances provided in Scripture. For instance, Daniel was given a vision of the Ancient of Days seated in glory. Listen to that awe-inspiring description of the True and Living God.
“Thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.”
[DANIEL 7:9, 10]
The description that Daniel provides is quite similar to that which is included in Ezekiel’s prophecy. As he opens the book bearing his name, Ezekiel provides this exciting description of the LORD. “Above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.
“Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking” [EZEKIEL 1:26-28].
Take special note of the description of the One seated on the throne in either case.
Whether Daniel or Ezekiel, either prophet is reduced to speaking of colours and of brightness. This is an anticipation of the statement given by the Apostle of Love concerning the Lord God, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” [1 JOHN 1:5].
Now, focus your attention on the report of Jesus’ transfiguration. When the Master was transfigured, witnesses reported that “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light” [MATTHEW 17:2]. Again, the emphasis is on the brilliance of His appearance, the overwhelming brightness that stuns those witnessing His glory, driving them to their knees.
That which John witnessed on the holy mount was witnessed yet again before the aged saint would leave this life. You will recall the manner in which John opens the Apocalypse. He relates how he was worshipping on the Lord’s Day—the first day of the week. He heard a voice speaking—a voice that arrested him. I will appeal to the account of John has given at this point. “I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters” [REVELATION 1:12-15].
Later, as he peers into Heaven itself, John saw the throne of God. Listen, yet again, to his description of what he saw. “I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald” [REVELATION 4:1-3].
Nor should we imagine that only in eschatological or apocalyptic passages of the Word are found descriptions of God’s brightness and brilliance. Focus on one passage found near the end of Paul’s First Letter to Timothy. Paul was giving a charge to the young pastor and appealed to the coming of our Lord Jesus to emphasise the importance of what he has written. These are his words. “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” [1 TIMOTHY 6:13-16].
God is light and mankind dwells in darkness. This is the testimony of the Word of God. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” [1 JOHN 1:5, 6]. Without Christ, mankind is incapable of recognising the good and the holy. This testimony by the Apostle John is echoed soon after these words. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” [1 JOHN 2:9].
Jesus testified to the religious leaders of His day, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” [JOHN 8:12]. His words iterate the promise Isaiah delivered over seven hundred years before Jesus walked in Judea.
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.”
[ISAIAH 9:1, 2]
We know that at our best there is a bright contrast between the Lord whom we confess and our own character. We must not imagine that we will be able to coerce Him or compel Him to overlook our wilful attitudes. We dare not think that He will somehow ignore sin. Therefore, when He invites us to enter into His court, it is not to discuss our sin—that is already established! Called before the bar of divine justice, His child is offered pardon rather than condemnation.
OUR CONDITION — “Your sins are like scarlet… [Your sins] are red like crimson.” As I have already noted, God’s ancient people were charged with murder, with rebellion, with bribery, exploitation of the vulnerable and with idolatry [see VERSES 21 AND 23]. Surely, such dreadful sins indelibly stained the worshippers as they attempted to lift their hands to worship the LORD! Dare we think we who are called by the Name of God’s Holy Son are immune to these same charges?
I doubt that any of us are murderers. Surely no church can be guilty of murdering people in this day! However, is it possible that our hands are stained with blood? Is it possible that we have condemned the innocent to death more often than we might otherwise imagine? Recall a charge found in the sayings of the Wise Man. The passage in question is PROVERBS 24:11, 12.
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?”
Frankly, that passage makes me terribly uneasy. It leaves the image of lost people who can accuse me before the Great White Throne. I know that each individual must answer for his or her own sin, but could I not have done more? Should I not have tried harder? Did I not receive a final charge from the Master before He left—a charge that is too often ignored and neglected? “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”  [MATTHEW 28:19, 20].
If the churches of this day are not fulfilling the command of our Risen Saviour, are we not accountable before Him for our failure? If the Zion of God does not obey His Word, is there an answer that can be given that would satisfy the Son of God? I think not!
The principle has been established long years ago when God spoke through Ezekiel. “Son of man, speak to your people, and say to them, ‘Suppose I bring a sword against the land, and the people of the land take one man from their borders and make him their watchman. He sees the sword coming against the land, blows the trumpet, and warns the people, but there is one who hears the sound of the trumpet yet does not heed the warning. Then the sword comes and sweeps him away. He will be responsible for his own death. He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, so he is responsible for himself. If he had heeded the warning, he would have saved his life. But suppose the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people. Then the sword comes and takes one of their lives. He is swept away for his iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for that person’s death’”  [EZEKIEL 33:2-6].
Then, to ensure that neither Ezekiel nor those who would read what God commanded to be written would misapply the word of the LORD, the LORD commanded His servant to write, “As for you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them on my behalf. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you must certainly die,’ and you do not warn the wicked about his behavior, the wicked man will die for his iniquity, but I will hold you accountable for his death. But if you warn the wicked man to change his behavior, and he refuses to change, he will die for his iniquity, but you have saved your own life”  [EZEKIEL 33:7-9].
Surely the churches of this day have not rebelled against the Lord! However, when I see news reports of churches that are advancing women into eldership roles despite the clear teaching of the Word of God, what shall such be called except rebellion? When we witness people who openly engage in gross sin elected to the role of church leaders, is that not rebellion? When historic churches where the Gospel was once preached host Muslim prayer services or celebrate sinful behaviour or denigrate marriage as given by the Lord our God, do not such actions constitute rebellion? And what shall we say about evangelical churches that say they would not approve of such actions? If those churches elect men to leadership who have no divine appointment, it must be recognised for what it is—rebellion. When credentials and connections, rather than character and calling, become the criterion by which men are advanced to holy office, the people of God must realise that the churches are guilty of rebellion.
Is this not the warning given through Jude, the brother of our Lord? “These men do not understand the things they slander, and they are being destroyed by the very things that, like irrational animals, they instinctively comprehend. Woe to them! For they have traveled down Cain’s path, and because of greed have abandoned themselves to Balaam’s error; hence, they will certainly perish in Korah’s rebellion”  [JUDE 10, 11]. Remember that Korah’s rebellion was defined by the exaltation of a clique against the leadership which had God appointed. When we elect our leaders rather than seeking out those whom God has appointed, we must be very careful that we are not guilty of rebellion.
Few modern Christians would ever attempt to bribe others. However, I wonder whether we Christians could be found guilty of attempting to bribe God. The idea that we can exchange some duty for His gifts comes perilously close to bribery. Whenever we hear someone cry, “I’ve been good! Why did this happen to me?” it is actually an admission of attempted bribery. Arguing that we should not be ill, or complaining that we should not struggle with having all that we want, or grousing that we should never experience hardship because we have done what God called us to do is tantamount to attempted bribery of the Holy One.
Let’s admit a neglected truth—we do not serve God because of what we can get, we serve God because of Who He is! I am humbled by Jesus’ teaching on this particular issue. “Would any one of you say to your slave who comes in from the field after plowing or shepherding sheep, ‘Come at once and sit down for a meal’? Won’t the master instead say to him, ‘Get my dinner ready and make yourself ready to serve me while I eat and drink. Then you may eat and drink’? He won’t thank the slave because he did what he was told, will he? So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, ‘We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty’”  [LUKE 17:7-10]. Isn’t that humbling! It is necessary to keep this in mind if we will honour Him!
Then, God charged His people with exploitation of the vulnerable. They had failed to bring justice to the fatherless and refused to defend the rights of widows. I am fearful that the churches of this day have fallen under this same evil condemnation. I don’t say that we haven’t built orphanages in the past or that we somehow have deprived widows of life. What I do mean is that we are quite content to permit government to take charge of all ministries of compassion. It allows us to continue on our way without the messy business of dealing with needy people. We are willing to fling a quick prayer heavenward before murmuring some consoling platitude; but we don’t like to be discomforted by involving ourselves with needs.
We’ve come a long way from the days when women prepared meals for shut-ins and those who were otherwise unable to care for themselves as they once did. We don’t have such old-fashioned groups as Ladies Aid Societies or a Woman’s Missionary Union.
There were once groups of men in every congregation who devoted themselves to works of compassion. Perhaps they were called “The Brotherhood,” or perhaps they went by another name. They would do such mundane but vital ministries as shovelling snow for elderly or those who were ill in the community, providing basic automobile maintenance for single mothers or pensioners within the congregation or doing minor yard work for the elderly. Somehow, we have become so focused on our own lives that we no longer serve the vulnerable among us.
We Christians are somewhat cowed into silence about providing child care for single parents so they can have some time to themselves, providing counselling for unwed mothers or allowing ourselves to be servants of Christ for those who are friendless. The government has assumed responsibility for providing language training for those newly arrived in our communities. We would never think to provide Bibles for those who are coming to us.
My point is simply that through neglect of the immediate needs before us, we either exploit through neglect or permit exploitation of those who are vulnerable in our communities. Neither should we imagine that through focusing on immediate needs about us that will cause us to get our hands dirty with service that we can neglect the greater world about us. I note that the ministry identified as Canadian Global Response is ministering throughout our world. This fine ministry still lacks funds for Philippines Typhoon Relief, funds for Education for Syrian Children, funding for Fleeing Families in Northern Iraq and a number of other ministries. The vulnerable in our world still need the hands of Christ to provide and to encourage.
I know that the passage is focused on ministering to believers during the days of the coming Tribulation, but somehow I must believe that the words of the Master spoke near the end of His days among those first disciples apply to us even now. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” [MATTHEW 25:40]. In short, those shall be commended—as shall we—for showing compassion to the vulnerable.
God’s ancient people were charged with idolatry. My great fear is that we, also, can be charged with idolatry. I don’t suggest that any of us have a statue of stone or wood before which we bow; but I do fear that we have idols that displace the Son of God from our hearts. Whether it is pleasure, or power or possessions—idolatry is ever a threat to modern Christians. Our souls are enticed, and we will surrender our privileged position as sons and daughters of God for a momentary benefit that can never last.
Is a new car really so important that we will cease serving God in order to work more hours so we can drive a newer vehicle? Is that dream home really so important that we would actually permit the work God that assigns to lag in order to live a little better. So many of our dreams are idols because we have become so focused on them that we forget the Lord our God. Candidly, if Christ is not central to our lives, then we likely have an idol usurping His place.
I must remind you of a disquieting truth: this call of God is issued to His own people. Emphasis of that truth is found in the preceding verses:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.”
[ISAIAH 1:16, 17]
The actions named are all performed by those receiving the divine call! This is not salvation; this is preparing ourselves to fulfil the will of God. This call of God is for His people to repent! The LORD God is saying, “Clean up your act!” God does not say, “Remove your evil deeds!” Rather, God says, “Remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes.”
One preacher makes the point that, “Repentance is not just removing evil deeds; it goes the second mile and, after the deeds have passed, goes back to clean up the residual evil, the damage done. True repentance makes things right again.”  God cannot accept our service, our worship, until we reflect His character. We must again be concerned about compassion and justice for those who hurt, and especially for those whom we have hurt. Make right the wrongs that you have been tolerating. Then you will again be acceptable before the Lord your God.
GOD’S OFFER — “You can become white like snow… You can become white like wool.”  God is not making an unconditional promise that requires no repentance; rather this promise is conditioned upon repentance. The verb in either instance is modal. The metaphor of sin as an indelible stain that mars the beauty of what the worshippers attempted to present is pictured. However, what is stained can be cleansed through repentance. Moreover, this is not the mere act of covering over the stains that disfigure life and worship—God offers to transform that which is disfigured and indelibly stained. The stain of sin will be removed. The stain is removed when His people repent and change their ways. Thus, God’s people can be pure again.
I am quite aware that I have painted with a broad brush today. Found here-and-there throughout the churches of our Lord are multiple individuals who long for righteousness, who seek God’s glory, who endeavour to serve Him with their whole heart. I pray the message today will have encouraged these precious individuals to continue praying, to keep on serving with their whole hearts, to pursue hard after righteousness and to seek God’s glory continually.
Undeniably, the embers of the Faith are barely glowing throughout much of our land. Though religion is reasonably popular, wickedness seems to be in ascendency. For the most part the people of God are not terribly concerned about this particular condition. If they register any awareness of the peril of the days, it is to speak casually about the Lord’s return. Their concern seems more about seeking an escape mechanism than it is a deep longing because of grief over wickedness. We are not unlike the people of Israel in the days of Amos.
“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”
I wonder, do we hear the voice of the Lord speaking to our heart today?
“‘Come, let’s consider your options,’ says the LORD.
‘Though your sins have stained you like the color red,
you can become white like snow;
though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet,
you can become white like wool.
If you have a willing attitude and obey,
then you will again eat the good crops of the land.
But if you refuse and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.’
Know for certain that the LORD has spoken.”
These are the true colours of purity sought as we reveal the glory of God through holiness for His people. May God then bless His people with repentance. Amen.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version (Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, TN 2009)
 Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Logos Research Systems, Oak Harbor, WA 2000) 406-7; James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Logos Research Systems, Inc., Oak Harbor, WA 1997)
 Cf. Paul R. Gilchrist, “865 יָכַח,” in Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Moody Press, Chicago 1999) 376-7
 The NET Bible First Edition (Biblical Studies Press, 1996-2006)
 Raymond C. Ortlund and R. Kent Hughes, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2005) 38
 The NET Bible First Edition, op. cit.