Cities are known by their various nicknames. For example, New York City is often referred to the as The Big Apple. Paris as the City of Lights. San Francisco is known as the City by the Bay. Los Angeles is known as the City of Angels, Detroit is often referred to as the Motor City and Chicago as the Windy City.
However, in Isaiah 1:21-31, Jerusalem is identified as the Unfaithful City. Why? The Prophet Isaiah provides us the answers.
To begin with, Jerusalem and people had committed spiritual and religious harlotry or adultery. Instead of righteousness filling its streets and homes, murderers dominate. “How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.” (1:21)
Secondly, the people have forsaken their integrity. They are hypocrites. They do not behave as God’s chosen people. “22 Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. 23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.”
Because of this rebelliousness, the LORD promised to judge Jerusalem. However, there would be a future restoration. The LORD always preserves a remnant. Isaiah 1:24-26 says, “24 Therefore the Lord declares, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes. 25 I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”
The promise of restoration is only for the repentant remnant. Those who remain rebellious against the LORD will be righteously judged by the LORD. Isaiah 1:27-28 says, “27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. 28 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.”
The unrepentant will also be ashamed and embarrassed before the LORD because of their sin. Many Jews practiced their idolatry before oak trees and in beautiful gardens. In other words, they worshiped the creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-25). Isaiah 1:29-31 says, “29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen. 30 For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. 31 And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them.”
How ironic that Isaiah proclaimed this oracle of judgment using the image of a tree and a garden. It is reminiscent of Psalm 1, in which the psalmist likens the faithful to a tree. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
Dr. John Walvoord writes, “The contrast between the fate of the remnant and the wicked is detailed in these verses. The remnant will dwell in the new redeemed city of Jerusalem (Zion; cf. v. 8) where God’s justice will be present (cf. v. 26). Rebels (cf. vv. 20, 23) will perish, after being embarrassed that they were ever involved in idol worship near sacred oak trees (cf. 57:5) and in gardens (cf. 65:3; 66:17). Whereas they once enjoyed worshiping idols (probably including Baal), in those pleasant surroundings they would become like fading oak trees and a dry garden. Though once strong (like a mighty man) in defying God, the unrighteous and his work … will burn. This unquenchable burning probably refers to the destruction by the Babylonian army as well as eternal judgment.”
God’s final judgment is coming. Are you ready to meet Him? Are you covered by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone? This is the only way to meet God, not as judge but rather as Savior and LORD.
Soli deo Gloria!