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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 1:10-11 Religion that Horrifies God

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, December 21, 2023

This Christmas we turn briefly to the words of Isaiah, who always, always, looks ahead to the coming of Christ.


10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
11 What are your many sacrifices to me? says the LORD.
I have more than enough rams as burnt offerings
and fat from well-fed creatures.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls or lambs or male goats.

Here at the beginning of his book, Isaiah begins boldly and with a gifted confidence to proclaim law to the nation. The law in this case is not only what God wills (which is of course the power and authority of the law), but here the prophet proclaims what we usually consider as the law, which is what the people are doing wrong. He doesn’t hesitate or mince any words.

“Hear the word of the LORD!” This is how the prophets usually begin their messages, even Samuel (1 Samuel 15:10), Elijah (1 Kings 17:2) and Elisha (2 Kings 7:1). “LORD” in all capital letters is God’s holy name, Yahweh or Jehovah, the name that means “I am” according to Exodus 3:14-15; “This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”

“You rulers of Sodom… you people of Gomorrah!” Other prophets compared the Israelites to Sodom and Gomorrah: Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:14); Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:46); Amos (Amos 4:11); and Zephaniah used the same comparison against Moab and Amon (Zephaniah 2:9). The sinners of Sodom did what they pleased and ignored the Lord’s will. What the sin was is not the main issue. That they sinned is the core of the whole matter. For what difference in the Lord’s eyes is idolatry compared with adultery? A lie or a theft? The murder of ten, or the murder of eleven? He wants all sin to be repented of. God wants all sinners to realize that they are Sodom in practice, that they will be Gomorrah in destruction, and be terrified. “Lord, have mercy on us!” (Psalm 123:3; Matthew 9:27). Each one of us should fall to our knees alongside Peter who said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).

The religion of Judah was horrifying God. It was not what he wanted at all. The people were bringing sacrifices to his temple. They were slaughtering and butchering animals, and burning their flesh. Some of their actions conformed to some of the law. But their hearts weren’t in the right place. As Luther says: “The ungodly disregard faith and consider sacrifice to be the supreme worship of God; that is, they despise the kernel and admire the husk. To them faith is worthless because they do not see it, but they do see the showiness of works and admire them” (LW 16:15).

Should we make God overlook our sins by obeying his instructions about slaughter, and not butcher our hearts and lives first? Slit the throat of your idolatry, and rip the hide from your sinful pride, and burn all of your arrogance to ashes, and then sweep the residue into a little pan and carry it outside of your life, and you will be on the right track. It is humility before God, shame over sin, horror over punishment, and faith that God will forgive sin for Jesus’ sake—that is truly worship that God loves.

But what about the blood sacrifices? Did they have no place at all anymore? After all, Isaiah lived some six hundred years after Moses, two hundred years since Solomon built the temple. Was worship changing, becoming more modern? No. But the Lord wanted Israel to remember that the sacrifices of the temple only pointed to one single future sacrifice, the blood of Christ shed on the cross for all the sins of mankind. “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. Amen” (Psalm 85:2). This was his plan all along. This is why we put our trust in Jesus, who accomplished it all in our place.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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