• Lori

Isaiah 57: Drowning in Depravity

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

”The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.” (Isaiah 57:1)

The beginning of chapter 57 is Isaiah’s deep breath before he plunges into a scathing commentary on the moral and social chaos devouring the people of God. As you begin to read verse 1, you may feel your heart sink and your face fall on behalf of the godly. They’re dying and no one seems to care.

But not so fast. Their numbers aren’t dwindling because evil is winning, but because God in his mercy is removing them from the scene when their suffering becomes greater than their impact.

It’s soothing to imagine His big hand coming down from the sky and lifting them out of the mess. But, alas, it doesn’t work that way. The writer of Hebrews tells us they were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword (Hebrews 11:37a).

And so, Isaiah’s next words are even more precious:

Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.

And these words from Hebrews more poignant:

— the world was not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:37b).

Jewish tradition says Isaiah was one of those sawed in two. Peace was waiting for him and he would rest with the rest of the faithful—but only after he’s done saying all that God called him to say (Isaiah 6:11-12).

This chapter is full of things that make me blush. Though it’s hard to imagine having to stand, like Isaiah, in the midst of the depravity, it’s even harder to imagine that people were enjoying it.

Whether you read these verses as a graphic description of the sexual sin in the land or as a metaphor for Israel’s illicit relationship with the next-door neighbors, the force behind it was idolatry. The people of Israel had gone to bed with pagan gods, and their leaders had gone to bed with foreign powers. The chapter is filled with seedy sex scenes because that was the nature of the idols they had chosen.

When the Israelites entered Canaan after forty years of herding flocks through the dry desert, they found a land full of farmers, not shepherds. The ten men sent to spy out the land saw clusters of grapes so large they had to be carried on poles between two men (Numbers 13:17-27). Pomegranates. Figs. The land was fertile beyond their imaginations, and the Canaanites attributed it to the fertility of their gods.

Since pagans believed they could influence their gods by performing themselves what they desired the gods to do, immoral sex and prostitution were practiced with abandon, the more in public the better. They also believed financial prosperity would come if they sacrificed their firstborn in the fires of Molech.

Rather than driving the abhorrent Canaanites out, the Israelites became a motley crew, with the tablets of God’s laws in their temple but hearts were conformed to the pagans around them. Rather than hanging mezuzahs on their doorposts (Deuteronomy 6:8-9), they hung effigies of idols behind their doors. Their grain and drink offerings, rather than going to the temple, were going to the shrines of Baal.

Or if you consider Isaiah’s words a metaphor for Israel’s corrupt politics, the metaphor works. He depicts Israel’s leaders jumping into bed with foreign ambassadors and sacrificing their nation to foreign kings. (The name Molech means king).

I believe Isaiah was addressing both the leaders and the tribes. As go the leaders, so goes the nation.

Although they wouldn’t acknowledge it, the Israelites’ perversion had sapped their strength, yet powered by pride, they wouldn’t relent; they were intent on finding a cheap substitute for God.

The Creator seems flabbergasted by it all. Did they really believe there was a god who could contend with him? Had they forgotten who he was and what he had done? Did they mistake his inactivity for inability?

Leaving them to their own sad devices, he turned his face away and gave his attention to their future:

But whoever takes refuge in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain. (verse 13)

A road to his holy mountain would be built up, marked out, and cleared of the clutter that would cause them to stumble. And in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), the road would be revealed:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but through me.” – Jesus.

Though I’ve been familiar with verse 15 for years:

“I live in a high and holy place,

but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite,”

as I’ve studied what God says about building his kingdom, I’ve come to believe he doesn’t leave his high and holy place to visit the contrite; he moves them in to live with him. I’d interpreted the word contrite as “sorry,” like a sad little boy on a stool in the corner but I found that the word means “crushed.“

Knowing our frame and remembering that we are dust (Psalm 103:14), God makes this announcement: I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me— the very people I have created.

Punishment can’t accomplish his highest intentiona holy people sharing his holy dwellingso he chooses to restrain his power. Refusing to act out the full extent of his anger, he forgives. He heals and comforts and enables men to repent. He sets the contrite on a new path, “creating praise on their lips.”

Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

The wicked, with turbulent, unsettled souls, will find no rest, and in their frantic posing will only churn up the muck they’re drowning in. They’ll have no peace with God, and unlike those made righteous, they’ll have no peace in death.

But there is one who is “able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25).