CLICK HERE to read Isaiah 57.
This chapter continues the previous one, both being addressed to converts as well as members who have either left the church and come back or who are having trouble having faith in God because of those moments when God’s people don’t do a good job of loving and caring for each other. That is not right, but we should not blame God for what people have done (or failed to do). Here the Lord reminds the people that He is aware of them, that He loves them, and that He will take care of them as promised. Then He also confronts those who will not turn to Him, those who have betrayed their covenants, and those who have chosen wickedness.
The Lord explains also that sometimes people die because He wants to protect them from “evil to come”, that their righteousness spares them from having to endure the suffering that is about to unfold (verse 1). Other times righteousness earns a person the strength to do the enduring! But when righteous people die, their bodies lay still awaiting the resurrection while their spirits roam free in paradise – even the very presence of God (verse 2). This time of rest is not rest like being slothful, but is rest from the care and concerns and sorrow from the world. This rest comes from the blessing of “uprightness” that permits them to be in this paradise where they can see and understand everything in its context and as part of Heavenly Father’s plan. It does not mean they are resting from work, for they are very busy helping us and continuing their service to the Lord. Missionary work continues on both sides of the veil, and there is much work to be done to prepare for His coming!
Unlike the peace and understanding given to the righteous – those alive or on the other side of the veil, the wicked mock the process by thinking mortality is their own like an object they can purchase. They feast in mortal passions outside the bounds the Lord has set: engaging in alcohol that numbs the connection to the spirit; calling up of spirits – either feigned (fake, illusions) or evil, or trying to distract real spirits from their work (Saul and Samuel in 1 Samuel 28); and engaging in endanger spirits by joining them through sexual unions without doing the work to be worthy of uniting with another god-in-process and without making the covenants and promises to care for and develop such a union. While all “fun” or “feel good” past times, all of these behaviors have both immediate (to our spirits) and eternal consequences we cannot even begin to fathom (verse 4).
But our lives are not an object, and it is the Savior who purchased us. We are His.
And the people around us that we destroy or harm or distract are also His (verse 3).
Instead of uniting with each other in good and healthy and happy ways, we use and abuse each other in ways that are perversions of what the Lord has established as good for us. Instead of doing the hard work of connecting our physical bodies to our spirits, so that we can be one integrated soul, we overfeed our bodies and ignore our spirits, or numb our spirits out so that our bodies don’t have to feel, or deny our spirits and engage in only that which delights the body without any kind of spiritual context or mooring.
In this context, the Lord directly addresses pornography (verse 5). He calls the Israelites out for “enflaming yourselves” with idols under the trees. He is talking about images of male and female “gods” carved out as images and statues that depicted all kinds of sexual behavior. These depraved and immoral depictions were perversions of what was designed to unite us, causing people to focus on themselves and their impulses for self-satisfaction rather than the uniting of their spirit with another. The Israelites copied these images from pagan temples, and set them up in groves of trees for “to inflame their passions and provide a gathering place for the licentious and wanton sexual indulgences which modern textbooks politely refer to as “fertility rites” (Skousen, p. 693). The Lord had commanded the people to cut these groves down – not just destroy the images, but destroy the place where they had engaged in such behavior (Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; 2 Kings 18:4; 2 Chronicles 31:1; Micah 5:13-14). It was the false prophets of these “rites” that confronted Elijah, who showed the power of the real God by calling down fire that did demonstrate His power and real-ness (1 Kings 18:22-40). These were also the same people that sacrificed infants and children to the “fire gods” (Molech). The Lord is describing the physical consequences (destruction of families and loss of posterity) of the physical choice to engage in pornography, and He is implying that the spiritual penalties parallel.
Verse six makes sense only if you go back to Deuteronomy 27:5-6 (see also Exodus 20:25 and Joshua 3:31), where the Lord instructed His people how to build altars. He told them to use whole stones and not to use iron tools. This was a type of the whole sacrifice of the first lamb, of The Lamb, as well as reminding the people of humble hearts and simple things, line upon line. When disobedient people decided to pervert the Lord’s ways, changing them from what He had asked them to do, they instead focused on the altars being fancy and polished, cutting stones exactly and setting them in order. Remember this is not for temples that the Lord’s command is talking about in this case, it was originally for private worship. Instead, the people made it a public spectacle of pride and sexual sin and sacrificing of children, mocking everything the original covenants had taught. So when the Israelites themselves begin to adopt these practices, the Lord is grieving that they have polluted themselves and warning them that it will spiritually corrupt them as well.
The Lord reminds them that for community worship, they had a fancy temple that was very nice and beautiful and a symbol of the sacred space it was (verse 7). They had to prepare spiritually for it, and be worthy, and make sacrifices there. They had access to the Lord’s presence by being obedient to His ways, and this made them a happy and holy people. But they have defiled these covenants, lost the privilege of the temple, and taken the depraved “fertility rites” into their communities (verse 8). So instead of aligning themselves spiritually with the Creator and true King of this Earth, they worshiped made-up gods of the earth to align themselves politically, and by so doing have delivered themselves even to hell (verse 9). Now instead of being on track with a lifestyle that leads them to holiness, which is happiness, they are on a road of weariness and hopelessness that makes them grieve for what they can’t even remember and so don’t even know they want (verse 10).
The Lord calls them out on all of this, demanding that they acknowledge the adversary as the one who has seduced them into doing these things that have betrayed their covenants and offended God (verse 11). He says that He will declare the great plan of happiness to all people, so that all will know of the plan of salvation, and all of history will be revealed to show how He has kept every promise. This will also expose everything people have done to slow, hinder, or in attempt to stop His plan from happening. Those who were set apart and empowered to be holy so as to testify to the rest of the world, will instead have their sins revealed to all (if the people have not repented and had their sins covered by the atonement). Everyone will see the difference between sin and righteousness, and because everyone will see this for themselves, everyone will agree with His judgments (verse 12).
The Lord then warns the people again that their judgment is coming, and that they are about to suffer the consequences of what they have chosen. He says that when they begin to suffer, they will cry out to Him, but He will tell them to go get help from the false gods they have worshiped (idols, money, power, sex, alcohol, pornography) and see then how much better they feel (verse 13). He says that once judgment has already arrived, there is no more time to repent, and only those worthy of the temple will receive their inheritance.
I love verse 14 because it has some fun aspects to its fulfillment. The Lord says that when the people are preparing to repent, and ready to literally return to their land (Israel), they will ask Him for help to remove the “stumbling blocks” that make it hard, and they will say “cast ye up, cast ye up”. This means that there will be practical problems in returning to the land, and they will call returning to Israel a “going up”, or an ascension. It is very difficult for Jews to return to Israel, though the last sixty years have made it more and more possible, with one “stumbling block” removed at a time. Also, when Jews return to live in Israel, it is called “making Aliyah”, which means the “ascent” to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
The Lord then compares Himself to these scattered children who must return to Him to return home. He declares that He is God, and that He is the Holy One of Israel (verse 15). He inhabits the holy place of eternity (see Abraham 3:2-3), and only those who are “of a contrite and humble spirit” can be there in His presence. These are those who have come to Him in repentance and are covered by the atonement. But when our lowly selves have attained entrance to His presence, by which we can boldly approach only because of the atonement, then He will revive our spirits and our hearts! We will know it is good what He has done, and rejoice in it, and rejoice in our wholeness, our completeness, this perfection accomplished only by what He has done for us.
This is our hope! This is why we do not give up, even though we know we fail so often and are yet far from being obedient children. He has provided a way for us, and in His way there is hope, and by the atonement we receive mercy so that He is not angry with us forever (verse 16). He does not hate us, but loves us very much. He is angry at our greed and disrespect and bad behavior and poor choices, but He does remember who we are – and that we are His children – and that He has made specific promises to us (verse 17). It’s just that He wants us to learn how to keep our promises, too. He has always known we would need help learning, and that’s why the atonement was always part of the plan (verse 18). We can be so grateful for this! Our gratitude overflows in testimony (verse 19): if we truly are grateful for the atonement, we will testify of it!
But those who refuse to see, who don’t want to hear, who will not submit to His ordinances, will continue to be “like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” (verse 20). Verse 21 describes it painfully true, as we all know from when we have been in that place instead of at-one with Him:
There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.