In Isaiah 1:1–15 the prophet described the wickedness of the southern Jewish Kingdom of Judah in the 8th century B.C. In 1:16-20, the prophet described how the LORD would purify His people.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes cease to do evil, 17Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. 18 Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The LORD’s people are to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 11:44; I Peter 1:13-16). This means that those in a covenant, saving relationship with the LORD, by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, must continually seek to be separate from the power of sin in their lives. Otherwise, it is doubtful they truly know the Lord as Savior (Hebrews 12:14).
The people of God have a responsibility, as the Prophet Isaiah outlined in 1:16-20. The statements, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean” are two imperatives or commands. To wash and to become clean refers to pursuing moral behavior God desires. As such, these commands are to be personally and individually obeyed by each and every believer.
The evidence of such obedience is then outlined by the prophet. Spiritual cleanliness is displayed by removing the evil from your actions, ceasing to do evil, learning to do good, seeking justice for those without parents and women whose husbands have died. Additionally, pursuing social justice is part of what it means to be holy as the LORD is holy.
Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” True and lasting holiness originates from imputed righteousness from the LORD. Sanctifying righteousness is also from the LORD. So also will be glorifying righteousness.
Isaiah 1:19-20 says, “19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The result of sanctifying holiness for Israel would be temporal blessings within their land. The result of disobedience would be judgment from the LORD. This parallels the curses and the blessings found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “The prophet offered his readers the same choice God gave Moses in Deuteronomy 28, a choice between a blessing and a curse. They may choose repentance and obedience and reap the benefits of the land or refuse to do so and become victims of foreign oppressors. To accentuate the opposite outcomes, the Lord used the same Hebrew word to depict both destinies. On one hand, they may eat the fruit of the land; on the other, they may be eaten by conquering powers.”
If God’s people then acknowledged the depth of their sins and that their wickedness’ were like blood-colored stains on their souls (scarlet, a red dye made from a worm, and crimson, red-colored cloth)—then God in His grace would cleanse them, making them spiritually white like snow or wool. Acknowledgment of sin was to precede God’s cleansing. The same is true today.
Repent of your sin and receive God’s sanctifying cleansing. Your scarlet sin will become white like snow. Your crimson cloth of life will become white like wool.
Soli deo Gloria!