Repentance or Ruin? A Nation’s Choice Isaiah 3:1-5
Many of us remember the proclamation made by the 93rd Congress of the United States calling for a national day of humiliation, fasting and prayer. Congress called on the people of this nation to humble themselves before their Creator, acknowledge their final dependence on Him, and repent of their national sins.
This clarion call is not new in the history of mankind. Isaiah, some 2,700 years before, seeing the moral and religious decay around him, called on the nation of Judah to humble herself, repent of her national sins, and acknowledge complete dependence on God.
In the first three chapters of Isaiah, the prophet describes the religious, political and social conditions in the nation of Judah. Reading Isaiah’s description of Judah is like reading America’s newspapers or weekly news magazines. There is an alarming similarity between Judah’s state and America’s.
First, pagan religions had flooded the land because the people had forsaken their God. Isaiah states that Judah was “. . . filled with customs from the east, and are soothsayers” (2:6), like the pagans around them. Today there is a growing interest in eastern cultic religions in America. Such cultic groups as Hare Krishna, Moon’s Unification Church, Transcendental Meditation, Zen Buddhism, and Guru types of religions from the east are gaining many followers. Many Americans have turned to pseudo-prophets, who profess to prognosticate future events. Thousands of people are allowing daily horoscope readings to govern their lives. Isaiah cried out against the house of Judah for such practices.
The people had become affluent, and they were depending on this affluence for their security. Isaiah states that Judah was “. . . full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots” (2:7). The people of Judah were full of gold and silver. How true this is in America. In 1969, 18% of American families had income of $15,000 or more. Projected reports state that by 1980, over 40% of the families will be in the $15,000 bracket The number of millionaires in this country tripled in just seven years—from 67,000 in 1962 to an estimated 200,000 in 1969. One out of every thousand Americans was then a millionaire1. The percentage of millionaires in 1976 is even greater.
Judah had the latest advances in military equipment and was depending on military power for security. This country is spending billions each year on defenses, hoping to feel secure because of military power. How familiar is the sound of this indictment when viewing America’s economic and military profile.
The nation was filled with “corrupt worship”. Isaiah stated, “Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands . . .” (2:8). Although Americans do not bow down to idols as household gods, we still have set up idols. In America, people, position, prestige, pleasure and possessions have become false idols. These are fleshly works of the hands which have neither the power to satisfy, nor can they bring lasting meaning and security to life.
God could not accept the hypocritical worship of Judah. It was an abomination to Him. He became weary watching it and turned a deaf ear to their prayers. He said through Isaiah:
To what purpose Is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? . . . Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot bear; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting … I am weary of bearing them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear . . .(1:11,13-15).
The condition of Judah was so bad, God likened them to “. . . Sodom and . . .Gomorrah” (1:10), the worst condemnation which could ever fall on a people. God cannot look on pseudo-worship and must strongly condemn it.
God took the pulse of Judah and found her to be in a weakened, critical condition. Judah’s medical chart read:
. . . the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment (1:5-6).
Judah was on her deathbed. Looking at our country, her medical chart is similar to Judah’s. The diagnosis is grave indeed. There are signs on our chart that we are in critical condition.
God warned Judah that she had a choice to make, “repentance or ruin.” God’s indictment against the nation is seen in Isaiah 3:1-15. Notice in this chapter how sin can destroy a nation and bring God’s judgment upon it.
I. The Steps of Decay (vv. 1-8)
When a nation does not heed God’s warning, He will bring judgment upon them by the removal of various life supports.
A. Removal of Bread (v. 1)
Isaiah says, “. . . the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread . . .” Bread is called the “staff of life”’, and many nations around the world are suffering from lack of it. World famine is shocking: “With 13,000 being born every hour, 7,000 men, women and children also die each hour from starvation (120 per minute), and 165,000 today! The world grain reserve this year is estimated at no more than eight days’ supply.” On the whole, America does not feel the famine problem the rest of the world faces. But, we do face problems of inflating food prices and proper levels of diet and nutrition. Our grain reserves are the lowest in twenty years.
B. Removal of Water (v. 1)
Isaiah says, “. . . the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah . . . the whole stay of water.” No nation can survive without a pure water supply. America is heading swiftly toward a water quality crisis. Lakes and rivers are dying because of pollution. In the United States, we have an unchanging supply of fresh water estimated at 650 billion gallons a day. Today the population uses 350 billion gallons daily. By the year 2000, demands will reach 1,000 billion gallons per day. This will be in excess of the available supply. This is only a sample of the many statistics which could be presented concerning the removal of our water resources.
C. Removal of Leaders (vv. 2-3)
When a country continues to sin against God, He takes away the wise leadership of that nation.
1. Removal of Military Defenses
God removed “The mighty man, and the man of war” (officers) and the “captain of fifty” (sergeants).
2. Removal of Civil Authorities
God removed the “judge” (those skilled in justice and law), . . . the ancient, . . . and the honourable man, the counselor . . . and the eloquent orator” (the aged, respected, wise counselors).
3. Removal of Skilled Craftsmen
God removed “. . . the skillful craftsmen (those proficient in industry).
4. Removal of the Prophet
God removed “… the prophet. The prophet was a man of God speaking for righteousness and against sin.
When mediocrity prevails in a country, shortage of superior leadership, the pulse of a nation slackened, foreign aggressors weakly resisted, and unwise decisions being made in government, we soon sense there is a crisis in leadership. This type of situation will bring a nation to the brink of death. America must take a lesson from Judah and take heed, lest the same fate fall on her.
D. Replacement of Leaders with Incompetent Rulers (v.4)
When competent leaders are removed from a nation, God will at times allow incompetent men to rule. He says, “And I will give children (youngsters) “to be their princes, and babes” (pranksters) “shall rule over them.” America felt some of this during the last administration, when young men were put in positions of authority, only to make horrendous errors in judgment, throwing the nation into one’of the most trying periods in its short history.
E. Rebellion of the People (v. 5)
Incompetent leadership leads to rebellion and lawlessness in a nation. Without authority and leadership, a disrespect and defiance for law and authority is manifested. Isaiah clearly shows this when he states, “And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor.” Selfishness and self-centeredness sets in, causing “every man to do what is right in his own eyes.”
This age is one of permissiveness and lawlessness. Everyone may do his or her own thing, as long as it does not hurt a neighbor. The only problem is that a permissive society does hurt and oppress many innocent people. The result of this attitude is that the children are affected. Isaiah tells us, “The child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient (elder). This causes respect for position and station in life to disappear. Isn’t this the spirit of society today? Many young people have turned a deaf ear to their elders, throwing off all allegiance and respect for family and civil authority.
F. Rulerless People (vv. 6-7)
The result of a rebellious people is anarchy in society. When anarchy rules, man becomes desperate to establish any kind of orderly government to protect him from his fellow man. But many who are called upon to rule, “be thou our ruler” (v.6); who would jump at the opportunity for power and authority in normal times, will not take the responsibility when anarchy rules. The pleas of the destitute and the frantic cry out, “be a healer” (v. 7), but their pleas fall on deaf ears.
Many nations throughout the world are convulsing in this very situation today. The nation of Lebanon is a classic illustration of this point. We can be thankful to God that this situation has not come upon America. But, the storm clouds of warning are on the horizon. If the seeds of rejection of authority, selfishness and lawlessness are not nipped in the bud, we may well find the rains of ruin falling on us.
II. The Sins of Destruction (w. 8-9,11-15)
Isaiah now turns from the steps of decay to enumerate the sins which brought about the actual destruction ofJudah.
A. Polluted People (vv. 8-9)
“Their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of His glory” (v.8). “His glory” is an appellation for “His essence”. Thus they had provoked Him to look on them with anger. It is the “tongue” and “actions” of a nation which provoke God to judgment. Today, these sins are so prevalent in the American culture that one wonders how long it will be until judgment falls.
Isaiah says, “. . . they declare their sin like Sodom, they hide it not” (v. 9). Today, immorality is boldly portrayed before our eyes. The barriers and blush of decency have passed away, and we are bombarded by pornographic literature, homosexual acceptance and illicit sex. But more horrifying than this is that certain churches have accepted and are promoting such sexual freedom.
Churches across the country have defended homosexuals, given grants to prostitutes to organize “craft guilds , and a number of clergymen have suggested that premarital sex is acceptable. One Christian campus publication actually advocates free love and the abolishment of marriage.
God said conditions were so bad in Judah that “The show of their countenance doth witness against them” (v. 9). Not only was Judah reflecting such sins, but across the face of America the expression of sensuality in look and dress is clearly etched. Even the Christian’s countenance mimics the sin of the day, and they are manifesting the sins so graphically expressed by Isaiah. One looks with alarm when viewing those who are the salt of the earth loosing their savor for godliness. Could this be the “falling away” of the last days mentioned by Paul in II Thessalonians 2:3?
B. Perverse Children (v. 3 2)
Judah’s society was being oppressed by juveniles. Isaiah states, “As for my people, children are their oppressors.” How true this is in America. Because of breakdowns in the home, family and school, society is oppressed by juveniles. In America the number one criminal is between the ages of 15 to 20. The nation’s second worst group of offenders is between 10 and 14—between grades four and nine in school! In a classroom of thirty, the chances are that six or more are part of a group contributing to 51% of the nation’s crimes—and 20% of the six are repeat offenders!4
We wonder why there is so much violence among young people today. There are a number of reasons contributing to the problem, but one reason is the violence seen on TV. “Did you know that by the time most children are fifteen, they have seen 13,000 killings of TV?5 Did you know that “5.6 million children (ages 2-11) are watching TV at 11:00 P.M.; and at 1:00 A.M. 1.1 million of these children are still up, watching the tube? 6 What will be the future of this nation if these startling trends continue?
C. Problem Rule (v. 12)
Isaiah tells us that “women rule over” the people. One of the tragedies of a fallen society is that men do not fulfill their role in governing, whether it be in the home, church or state. Today, in America many women are assuming roles once held by men.
D. Poor People are Plundered (w. 14-15)
Isaiah says, “the ancients of his people, and their princes . . . have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses” (v.14). Instead of being proper administrators of the land of Judah put under their control, the chief oppressors and perverters of justice were the leaders. By means of unfair taxes or unlawful schemes, many leaders had filled their houses with ill-gotten gains. In recent years many government officials have been convicted because of impropriety, graft and bribery. Dishonesty has abounded in local, state and national government at an alarming rate.
Just as the huge stone in a mill first crushes and then grinds the grain into fine flour, so the leaders of Judah did devour their poor population. Time will not allow an extensive review of the inequalities perpetrated by men of power and position on the poor in America, but they are very evident.
E. Prophetical Proclamation (v. 11)
Isaiah cries out In great anguish of soul because of what he sees around him. “Woe unto the wicked! It shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hand shall be given him.” He warns the wicked that God will bring judgment upon them because of their wicked deeds. How true is Paul’s statement, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap” (Gal. 6:7). How true this has been in America in recent years! Those involved in Watergate reaped the fruit of their doings. In Chicago, many officials in government have been convicted and jailed for corruption.
The sins enumerated by the prophet are being boldly manifested throughout our country. If these sins continue, the death bell of destruction must toll for America as well. But it does not have to toll destruction if the righteous in our land will rise up in dedication. God does hear the cries of the righteous, and He acts accordingly.
III. The Strength of Dedication (v.10)
Isaiah does have a word of optimism for the nation of Judah. “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with them; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.” God will turn away judgment from a people who turn in repentance. There is always that faint light of hope shining through the dark clouds of impending doom. God must reward the wicked with judgment, but He will preserve the righteous from judgment.
God, who is just In His dealings with nations, always gives them a clear choice before His judgment is carried out. God called Judah to a “national examination” of Her present state.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool: (1:18).
God is willing to rationalize our situation, as a father does when his children have done wrong. Just as a father wishes to forgive, rather than punish, God waits to see the repentant spirit and changed conduct of a nation, before staying His hand of judgment.
There is a “National Choice” to be made by Judah or any other nation in sin. The choice is:
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; . . . If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land. But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it (1:16, 19-20).
The choice is either to walk in God’s way, having life and blessing; or walk in sin, choosing death and destruction.
The same choice is being given to America. In this Bicentennial year, there are many prophetic voices crying out across America, “Repentance or Ruin?” Choose life, eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword! Which will it be?
Some feel that the prophet’s voice is falling on deaf ears, that America is too far gone for God to stay His hand of judgment. But, God’s promise to Abraham was that He would spare Sodom if He found at least ten righteous in the city (Gen.18:32).
We have experienced God’s unprecedented grace and blessing for the last two hundred years, because of the thousands of God-fearing, Bible-believing people who have stood in righteousness and prayer before God. But, there seems to be a crack in the dike and unless it Is patched swiftly, God could remove the blessings we have experienced.
There is a choice to be made in this Bicentennial year: “Repentance or Ruin?” But, you say, “How can I be effective in bringing about a nation’s repentance?” The formula is simple, the plan has already been given. All we need do is individually appropriate this plan, and encourage others to do the same. Here is the formula. *
God says, “If my people, who are called by my name, shall
1. “Humble themselves —Bow in self-abasement before God, desiring to please and live for Him;
2. “Pray” — Pray that God would stem the tide of evil and spare the nation;
3. “Seek my face “—Be totally consecrated to God, seeking to do His will;
4. “And turn from their wicked ways —Repent of individual sins and walk in righteousness before God:
“Then God says, “will I”
- “Hear from heaven” — God will incline His ear and be willing to act upon our prayers;
- “Forgive their sin” — God will purge us from our sins.
- “Heal their land” — After the corruption of sin has been removed, God will bring both spiritual and physical healing to our land (III Chronicles 7:14).
If each American would make an individual choice of “repentance”, God would not bring “ruin” to this great and blessed country. Why not choose this very moment (before putting this article down) to heed the proclamation of the 93rd Congress? Right now, humble yourself before God, confess both your personal and national sins, and acknowledge your complete dependence on God to direct your life.
If you mean business with God and are really concerned for the welfare of our country, here are some definite steps you can take to stem the sins of destruction sweeping America:
1. Share this article with your family and friends, so that they too can help bring about national repentance.
2. Write to your Congressman concerning issues and sinful practices in your area.
3. Write to the TV networks concerning programing that has a corrupting impact upon our nation.
A.B.C.—1330 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10019
4151 Prospect, Los Angeles, Calif. 90027
C.B.S.—51 West 52nd St., New York, N.Y. 10019
7800 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90036
N.B.C.—30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y.10020
3000 West Alameda Blvd., Burbank, Calif. 91503
P.B.S.—485 L’Enfant Plaza North SW, Washington, D.C. 20024
4. Speak out on issues in your area when you have the opportunity.
REPENTANCE OR RUIN?
THE CHOICE IS OURS!
Only by application can this be applied to the United States. It should be clearly noted that the interpretation has reference to the Jewish people and nation of Israel.
- T. Wilson Litzenberger, Startling Trends in our Generation, (Broadview: Gibbs Publishing Company, 1974), p. 134.
- Pulpit Helps, March, 1976, p.5
- Pulpit Helps, op. cit.,p, 5.
- The Church Around the World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, June, 1975).
- Ibid., November, 1975.