Isaiah 1:1-3: Israel's Rebellion Against ʏʜᴡʜ

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, [and] Hezekiah kings of Judah. Hear, [you] heavens, and listen, [you] earth, because ʏʜᴡʜ has spoken. I have brought up and raised children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knows the one who bought him, and the ass the feeding trough of his owner. [But] Israel does not know, [and] my people do not show understanding. — Isaiah 1:1-3 (my translation)

In the first verse of the book of Isaiah, the book is introduced as the חֲזוֹן (ḥᴼzôn) of Isaiah. חֲזוֹן literally means "vision", but is used more specifically here to refer to a "word of revelation", and this introduction can be considered a title for the book.[1] In support of a dispensational theology, I quote Buksbazen, who remarks,

Isaiah's vision ranged far beyond the borders of the two states of Judah and Israel and included all mankind as seen from the standpoint of God's eternal purpose and of His future Kingdom. Nevertheless Israel's ultimate destiny was always in the center of Isaiah's vision. He saw the restoration and redemption of Israel as having redemptive significance for all nations.[2]

For informational purposes, I share this additional note from Buksbazen:

Assuming that Isaiah began his ministry shortly before the death of Uzziah, 740 B.C. (not after his death, as most commentators maintain) and lasted until the end of Hezekiah's reign (685 B.C.), we arrive at a period of approximately 55 years.[3]

In verse 2 and 3, Isaiah draws attention to a great scandal:

These are alliterative words, skillfully employed by the prophet to heighten the sense of outrage. Israel's sin is so enormous, and so disturbing to the divine order of the universe, that no lesser witnesses than heaven and earth will do.[4]

ʏʜᴡʜ had invested a great deal in his people. They are his children (or translated literally, "sons"[5]) that he "brought up" and "raised"[6]. As a nation, He brought them out of Egypt and through the desert wanderings, and he fought for them in Canaan. In their times of foolishness and wandering away from God, he was faithful to them and drew them back with discipline and deliverers.

Despiting owing everything to ʏʜᴡʜ, the Israelites rebelled against him. פשׁע here means to "to break with" or to rebel or revolt against God.[7] TWOT explains:

The fundamental idea of the root is a breach of relationships, civil or religious, between two parties. [...] In a context of international relationships, the verbal form designates a casting off of allegiance, a rebellion against rulers. [...] By analogy, but in a religious sense, Israel was accused of rebelling against her divine king and the established covenant between them.

Israel's sin here is great, but Buzbaken notes

In spite of their rebellion and disloyalty to Him, God still calls them "sons."[8]

In verse 3, ʏʜᴡʜ illustrate Israel's sin by a contrast.

Even the proverbially dumb animals, such as the ox and the ass, have sufficient sense to understand who is their master and who provides them with the daily food and shelter.[9]

But Israel, in contrast, does not acknowledge their dependency on ʏʜᴡʜ or their obligations to him.

Speaking generally, it is a grave sin of modern society, in that we are completely dependent on God, our creator and sustainer, and yet most people fail to know, acknowledge, or honor him. For each human being, it is God who has woven together all our intricate parts in our mother's womb (Psalm 139:13) and apart from him, we could not indeed even continue to exist (Acts 17:18). Every breath we take is a gift from God (Psalm 104:27-29). Also, God has given us the things in creation that sustain us, such as our atmosphere, so beautiful and uniquely suited to support life on earth; as well as the hydrological cycle (rain, clouds, and so forth); and the wonders of sunlight, a carefully chosen spectrum of light frequencies which makes it through our atmosphere, heating our planet while driving the truly marvelous processes of photosynthesis in our plant systems. Much more could be said about the wonders of the human body, and other things which God has given us to make our lives pleasant or interesting. But we do not give God any credit or honor for these things, and indeed we hardly think of him at all, unless bad or unpleasant things happen to us, and then we are eager to mock God and to give him the blame.

All of that is true, and a useful application of this passage. The scandal Isaiah decries, though, is not that people in general do not know God. But rather, God's people do not know God! He speaks of those whom ʏʜᴡʜ calls "my people" and his "children". It is one thing for pagans to rebel against God, but what about those who are called by his name, and who have been dedicated to loving and serving him? That is truly a scandal of cosmic proportions. And so this is a challenge to all those, in modern times, who are believers in Christ, or claim to be, but they follow their own way instead of God. It is possible even for a true, born-again Christian to become, for a time at least, enamoured with the idols and pleasures of this world, such as worldly entertainment, ungodly friends, immorality, or money. When these things became more important than knowing and following Christ, than his daily walk and communion with Christ drops off, his knowledge of God fades away, and he stops acknowledging and honoring God in his thoughts and daily decisions.

If that describes you today, repent! Whatever it is that is holding you back from following him, give it up or get rid of it. Turn back to God and learn to know him again.

End Notes

[1] The literal meaning of חֲזוֹן is "vision". BDB puts this instance under a special sense "vision, as title of book of prophecy", citing Nahum 1:1, Isaiah 1:1, Obadiah 1, and 2 Chronicles 32:32. HALOT categorizes this under sense "word of revelation", which includes "in book titles", citing the same references, but also listing other uses such as Daniel 9:24.

[2] The Prophet Isaiah, Victor Buksbazen, pp. 96-97

[3] Buksbazen, pg. 100

[4] Buksbazen, pg. 100. Regarding the alliteration, "hear, [you] heavens" is שִׁמְע֤וּ שָׁמַ֙יִם֙, while "and listen, [you] earth" is וְהַאֲזִ֣ינִי אֶ֔רֶץ, with pairs of of שׁ consonants and א consonants.

[5] בָּנִים, lit. "sons" but the plural can refer to children generally, including the daughters, as in Genesis 3:16.

[6] In גִּדַּ֣לְתִּי וְרוֹמַ֔מְתִּי, two words which can refer to the nurturing of children are used in parallel, as in Isaiah 23:4. The literal meaning of the first word is to make something great or large, while the literally meaning of the second word is to bring something high. See HALOT.

[7] HALOT puts this instance under "to break with", sense "to break with God". BDB gives "rebel, revolt".

[8] Buksbazen, pg. 100

[9] Buksbazen, pg. 101

Additional Hebrew Notes

Regarding קֹנֵהוּ and בַּעַל: HALOT gives "owner" for this instance of קֹנֶה, which is the participle of קנה. Likewise, it gives "owner" for this instance of בַּעַל. So, they are similar words. But קֹנֶה means one who has bought something, whereas the basic meaning of בַּעַל is to possess something.

Regarding "ass" versus "donkey": for חֲמוֹר, HALOT does not list this instance, but gives "she-ass" as the feminine rendering, making reference to "Equus asinus", coming originally out of Africa. Oxford 3rd edition (2009) defines "ass" as "a donkey or related small wild horse". So, a distinction is not clear to me.

Regarding הִתְבּוֹנָן (בין), which I translated "show understanding": HALOT gives "to behave intelligently" for this instance, categorizing it under "hitpol" sense 1, though the general meaning of root is "to understand". BDB lists it under hithpael sense 1 "shew onself attentive, consider diligently". TWOT notes "The background idea of the verb is to "discern," [...] The verb refers to knowledge which is superior to the mere gathering of data". TWOT gives more information about various uses but does not discuss the hithpael sense specifically.

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