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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 1:15-17 The fatherless and the widow

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, December 23, 2023

15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you.
Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.

It was common, or at least not unusual, for the Israelites to raise their hands when they prayed, from Moses (Exodus 9:29) to Solomon (1 Kings 8:36) to Paul (1 Timothy 2:8). But in this verse, the Lord says that he will not hear the prayers of the people. This can only be on account of unbelief, because God always hears the prayers of believers; of his faithful people.

The accusation that Judah had become infected with unbelief is serious, and it should have been frightening. If God is against us, who could possibly be for us (the opposite of Romans 8:31)? But “if anyone turns a deaf ear to the law of God, even his prayers are detestable” (Proverbs 28:9). And Isaiah says later in this book, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Since prayer cannot be separated from the spiritual life and spiritual health of the believer, it is sometimes called the heartbeat of faith. The child wants to speak to the Father. “You received the Spirit of sonship,” Paul says, “And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15). That is to say, the Christian will want to pray. But when prayer becomes nothing but a form, like a habit to ward off bad luck, or a duty “just in case God is listening,” then it is not done out of faith, and it becomes evidence of a crumbling faith.

Finally, God warns: “Your hands (which should be spread out in prayer) are full of blood(s).” Blood (really “bloods”) here is a reference to any sins and all sins, culminating in murder, but including every lesser crime. They are all the same in God’s sight.

16 Wash yourselves! Purify yourselves!
remove the evil thing you do from my sight.
Stop doing evil.  17 Learn to do good.
Seek justice. Help the oppressed.
Defend the fatherless. Plead for the widow.

Here I suspect that there is an incorrect verse division, since the last phrase of verse 16 is identical in form to the five phrases of verse 17; each one is an imperative followed by an object: Cease evil, learn good, and so on.  Moreover, the six pairs match one another. “Stop doing evil” is combined with “Learn to do good.” “Seek justice” goes with “help the oppressed.” Also, the second item in each pair is modified and expanded by the following pair:

A, Stop doing evil, Learn to do good:
B, (Doing good is) Seek justice, help the oppressed.
C, (The oppressed are, for example) The fatherless, the widow.

The concern of God for the fatherless and the widow runs all the way through the Scriptures, especially the prophets. This begins with many passages in Moses, especially in Deuteronomy (10:18, 14:29, 16:11,14, 24:17-21, and so on). Of the six references to the fatherless in Job, five are accusations of sinning against orphans and widows (Job 6:27, 22:9, 24:9, 31:17, 31:21).

This leads some commentators to suspect that God is most concerned with social matters; social justice in particular. While this is often man’s concern, the Lord is combining man’s love for man (verses 15-17) with man’s love for God and right worship (verses 10-14). These are the same divisions that we see in the Ten Commandments. True attention to the will of God will remember to love God and love one’s neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). Social matters and concerns are not absent from Scripture, but they are not supreme. Faith and the forgiveness of sin are supreme, for these things are the greatest gifts of God’s grace. Consider the lesson we learn in the creed’s second article when it reviews the purpose of Christ’s incarnation: “Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” All of Jesus’ miracles and parables and teachings are passed by in the creed to show the main reason for his coming: To suffer and die for our sins. The social things that so many hold up as most important are only examples of our sins. Let us remember those things while giving our full attention to his grace in forgiving us for all of our sins. He has overcome our doubt and unbelief (Mark 9:24), and he has brought us back into the Father’s loving arms.

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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