By Hoyt H.Houchen
How often have we seen the above statement in Isa. 1:18 used by brethren as an invitation to others to come and study the Bible? It frequently appears as a motto at the bottom of church ads in newspapers, on bill boards, and on business cards of preachers. We would not at all discourage any Christian from inviting others to study with him; in fact, he should be encouraged to do it. But Isa. 1:18 should not be used as the invitation. It is just another passage which brethren frequently misapply.
What is the context of Isa. 1:18? It is an appeal by God to His people to consider a choice. The prophet Isaiah had declared the sins of the people in his day. They are described as a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that deal corruptly” (Isa. 1:4). They were estranged from Jehovah, and He, through the prophet Isaiah, was pleading with the people to return to Him. Having rebuked apostate Israel, the prophet exhorted this nation to wash and be clean from her defilement and to be submissive to God. Hear him: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:16,17).
Then comes the plea. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). Now, what is the choice? God has offered cleansing to His people. It is a matter of Israel either choosing to be willing and obedient (vs. 19) or to refuse and rebel (vs. 20). The choice belonged to the people. If they chose to do the former they would eat the good of the land. That is, they would not be invaded and strangers would not eat their crops. (“The good of the land” commonly referred to its produce, Gen. 45:18,20; Ezra 9:12; Neh. 9:36; Jer. 2:7). But if the people chose to do the latter, they would be devoured with the sword.
The words of Isa. 1:18 are actually a challenge to Israel to a formal trial. One expositor has called this chapter “a trial at law” but he suggests that it is far more a personal than a legal controversy.(1) Delitzsch states that the Hebrew word nocach is used in a reciprocal sense, and with the same meaning as nishpat in Isa. 43:26.(2) The idea is, that like a court of justice, the parties reciprocally state the grounds of their cause. In Amos 4:12, God employs the imagery of battle and challenges Israel to a contest on the battlefield: “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.” Here in Isa. 1:18 He challenges His people to meet with Him and test their case in court. God is stating the same thing in Isa. 46:3 where he says: ” . . . let us plead together: set forth thy cause.” God has examined Israel’s sins and now He offers His compassion. God’s verdict is “guilty” but the nation has the option of returning to Jehovah. Israel has all to gain and nothing to lose by returning to Jehovah. She would lose everything by being rebellious and disobedient. This is what Israel must consider. It is acquittal or condemnation, depending upon Israel’s decision. Israel is worthy of death. Yet, Jehovah does not treat Israel according to His retributive justice, but according to His free compassion.(3)
Jehovah accommodates their differences with the words: “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” This is the overture of mercy extended to a sinful nation if it will only repent.
It is always in order for brethren to invite friends and neighbors to the study of God’s word for an honest investigation of truth. It is never in order to take a passage out of its proper setting and misapply it. When Isa. 1:18 is studied within the sphere of its background and circumstances, it can only be understood to mean simply that God invited Israel to court. There could be no actual dispute. The sins of Israel were examined, she was found guilty, and God offered His proposition: repent or perish. The offer to come and reason (plead) was extended by God to man. This was not an invitation from one man to another man. May we always make every effort to be the best Bible students possible, analyzing each Scripture as accurately as we can, with the sincere desire to always arrive at truth.
Truth Magazine XX: 49, pp. 777-778
December 9, 1976