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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 1:20-23 Your drinks are thinned

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, December 26, 2023

20 “But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

After all of the blessings have been promised, the Lord reminds his people: If you rebel, if you turn away from me, you will be “devoured by the sword.” The wicked may think that they have proven that God does not exist with their rebellion. “Why hasn’t he zapped me yet, if he exists?” They clap their hands and think they’ve scored a point. They think that they understand the mind of God so completely that their own puny existence is all he cares about. When God withholds his justice for a time; even for a lifetime, the lifetime of an unbeliever, he offers the chance to repent, but he may also be holding off judgment because something in that person’s life might still benefit his kingdom. Perhaps that person’s wicked life of unbelief will still impact someone else in a positive way. A grandfather might be an atheist and yet still help his grandchild, not noticing that God has allowed him to keep living so that his help for that child will help the church; help the gospel of Christ crucified to resonate in a heart that needs to hear it, even though the old grandfather’s heart is hardened. God may use an unbeliever the way a gardener will use fish heads to fertilize the soil, even though the fish don’t see any benefit to themselves. “The eyes of the wicked will fail; all way of escape will be lost to them” (Job 11:20).

The unbeliever ignores the voice of God, but God speaks nevertheless. “The mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The creation thrills to hear the voice of the Creator, but the Enemy poisons the ears of sinners to turn away, to listen to anything else. The devil ruins, he twists, he tortures in ways that keep sinful men and women from knowing that the devil himself is the one tormenting them. And yet they listen to him by not listening to God.

21 How the faithful city has become a whore,
she who once was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.

Are these the words of the prophet, or of the Lord? Since they are the words of the Lord’s prophet and recorded at the command of the Holy Spirit, the answer doesn’t need to concern us here, where “It is both” is an acceptable answer.

The faithful city is Jerusalem, the beloved center of Israel. How the city has become a whore! Since translations must keep pace with the language of the day, we must sadly acknowlege that in our time, calling a woman a prostitute is no longer an insult. How many women now sell their appearance, their bodies, cheaply on the internet? What is the word for a woman who sells her body? I only say this to defend the use of “whore” as a Biblical term. It is not meant as a compliment. Justice has been replaced with injustice. Righteousness, once a resident of the city of God, has fled, and murderers are there. Some lurk in the shadows, some sit on thrones.

This is the same thing that Jeremiah lamented: “Unfaithful Israel committed adultery and I sent her away. I gave her a certificate of divorce, yet I saw that despite this very thing, treacherous Judah her sister had no fear. She went and became a prostitute as well. Since she regarded her sexual sins so lightly, she polluted the land by committing adultery with stones and trees” (Jeremiah 3:8-9). The people of Judah didn’t think that anything they were doing was wrong. They thought that since they were a special people, everything they did must be special, acceptable, okay, and unstained by any sin. Theirs had become a nation where people believed that their own choices were supreme. “What I do with my body, my life, my words and deeds, my choices, is my business, and nobody has the right to say otherwise.” They completely forgot that God’s law says otherwise. Luther summarizes with perfect simplicity: “God threatens to punish all who transgress these commandments. Therefore we should fear his anger and not disobey what he commands. But he promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore we should love and trust in him and gladly obey what he commands.”

22 Your silver has become dross,
Your drinks are thinned with water.
23 Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves bribes and chases gifts.
They do not defend the fatherless,
and the widow’s plea does not come to them.

These verses expand on what was said in verse 21. What was good is now bad. What was silver is now dross, the stuff skimmed from molten silver and thrown into the slag pile. What were good drinks (alcohol is assumed, but whether wine or beer isn’t specified) is watered down so that taste, smell, and after effects are all wanting. The drinks that should have given some relaxation only cause anxiety and grief. Those who were the leaders of the people (“Your princes”) are now the very opposite. They have become rebels against the very government that they should have embodied! They run with thieves.

And finally, everyone loves bribes. Everybody chases after the perks without assuming the responsibility. What should be done (and now we return to the case of the fatherless and widow as in verse 17) is not done. In fact, the poor widow’s plea isnt even heard, much less judged. This is a government that rules without governing. These are not public servants, they are wolves who tear into the flocks they should have been shepherding. “Wild donkeys in the wilderness,” said the ancient Christian, “are the prey of lions; likewise the poor are the pastures of the rich.”

But the repentant believer turns to God in grief and fear, confessing sins both great and small, and is invited by the Lord to trust in Jesus to forgive. “In spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). If we are oppressed by someone whose mind is on earthly things, we can trust that “our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:19,20). Turn over your sins to him, and set your faith in him. In Jesus is forgiveness, resurrection, and everlasting life.

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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