This summer God wooed me to a study of some of the most treasured promises found in Scripture. This one was especially meaningful for me. It came when I needed to know and understand God’s forgiveness.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
After mulling this over for a bit, I read the entire chapter to establish the context. Isaiah used vivid word pictures to describe Israel’s condition as a result of her rebellion. Battered from head to toe. Covered in bruises, welts, and infected sores. God said that her heart was sick, too. Likewise, Jerusalem was abandoned and in ruins (v. 5-8).
God told Israel that even an ox and a donkey recognize their owners and respond to their care. Think about your own pets and how they respond when you feed them, play with them, love on them. Our pets return our affection. (Well, most of them do!)
Not so with Israel. Even though God provided and cared for her, she ignored Him, continuing in a sinful lifestyle (v. 3). Then she offered the appropriate sacrifices (without a repentant heart), thinking that would please God.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary (BKC) says this:
The people had the mistaken idea that they could live any way they pleased, so long as they made restitution in the sacrificial system. But instead of trusting in religious ritual (vv. 10–15) the people were to obey God and have the right attitudes toward Him and the right actions toward others.1
Sound familiar? It’s easy to read about rebellious Israel and get all judgy over her sinful choices. Or the sinful choices of many in our world today. But God stopped my thoughts and turned them inward.
You know, Selah.
I hate to say it, but sometimes this is me. Yes, sometimes I sin on purpose. Often I make mistakes and recover quickly. I confess my sin, ask forgiveness from those I offended, and move forward. Other times, my response pivots in the opposite direction. I choose to disobey God.
- I realize I’m driving a few miles over the speed limit. Do I correct? Or push it even further?
- I catch myself starting to share some juicy tidbit. Do I stop? Change the subject? Or do I barrel ahead, lambasting someone’s character?
- I find myself frustrated with one of my kids. Do I pause? Shift gears and approach the situation calmly? Or do I set all reason aside and respond in anger?
- I crave—whatever unhealthy food choice is available at my house. It might not even be unhealthy, but overindulgence.
What did God think when Israel sinned on purpose?
God was weary with Israel’s insincere sacrifices (v. 11-14). He wanted her to stop and return to Him in genuine repentance.
The first phrase in Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us settle the matter.” Some translations use the word reason. The BKC explains that this is a legal term used for convincing the court of the truth. Israel needed to understand and be convinced that God was right. Her attitudes and actions were wrong toward Him and others.
What does God think when I sin on purpose?
I’ve been on a healthy eating plan all year. It’s been tough. But God has supported me with mountains of His grace. There is a time, a place, and a way to enjoy “off plan treats.” But I didn’t do that. I abandoned my plan altogether. It was not a moral or social sin, but it was not God’s plan. And in that, I fell short of His mark.
It’s not comfortable to admit that I sin on purpose. But sometimes I do.
Why? Because my flesh craves something. Control. Pride. Food. Stuff.
But I don’t feel like being strong or asking God for His strength. And I know God will forgive me later.
There. I said it. I’m no different than rebellious Israel.
What God wanted from Israel and what He wants from me are the same.
True devotion. The right attitude of obedience from a heart of love, followed by actions that honor Him.God wants true devotion. Obedience from a heart of love, followed by actions that honor Him.
Have you tried to remove a red blotch from fabric? It is difficult to get rid of. That’s how it is with our sin. It leaves an ugly stain that cannot be washed away with simple soap and water.
We’re going to make mistakes. (Hopefully most of them won’t be on purpose.)
But when we turn to God with the right attitude, convinced that He is right and we are wrong, He gives us a new start (Lamentations 3:22-23). He stands ready to remove our sin stain. When we offer Him the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), God cleans away our sin in one fell swoop (1 John 1:9). What was once red, crimson, scarlet, becomes fresh and white as new snow–leaving no trace of what was once there.
Later in Isaiah, the prophet describes (the future) Israel when she is fully trusting her God. (We studied this beautiful promise, too!)
We have a strong city! The Lord’s deliverance, like walls and a rampart, makes it secure. Open the gates so a righteous nation can enter—one that remains trustworthy. You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith, for they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:1-3 NET)
What a change! Now Israel has the right heart toward God. The result? A strong city–completely safe and secure.
How did she get there? She maintained her faith and trusted her God.
How do we get to this place?
It’s not easy. It starts with keeping our eyes focused on the Lord (Hebrews 12:1-3) and growing our faith in Him. As we delight ourselves in God, He replaces our earthly inclinations with desires that please Him (Psalm 37:4). And, they please us!
God provided Israel’s story for me at the right time. I was in need of a fresh vision for my personal goals, for God’s intent for my life. God wants me strong and secure in Him. At peace because my eyes are focused on Him and my heart is fully trusting Him (Isaiah 26:3 NLT).
Guess what, God wants the the same for you!
1 Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.