Isaiah, the first of the Major Prophets, has been appointed to be read at the end of the year in every Anglican Prayer Book I’ve ever looked at. The reason for this, I have long assumed, is that it contains many prophecies of Jesus that are well-known, well-loved, easily recognizable, and often associated with either Easter or Christmas. And since there is so much Scripture clamoring for our attention through Holy Week and Eastertide, and those dates are not fixed anyway, the Old Testament slot of the lectionaries have always concluded the year with the book of Isaiah. Normally this wouldn’t begin until mid or late November, but because the current draft ACNA daily lectionary appoints separate reading tracks for the Morning and Evening Offices, we end up starting the book of Isaiah today, on October 19th.
Chapter 1 is a fantastic opening chapter for such a rich book. Many people might find it frustrating that it doesn’t introduce us to the man Isaiah himself – that doesn’t happen until his commissioning account in chapter 6. But think of chapter 1 as the opening scene of a movie or television show: it’s action-packed, it draws you in, it gives you a taste of what’s to come and stuns you with the intensity of the book as a whole. Then in a few chapters it’ll step back and give you a little of Isaiah’s backstory and character, once you’ve gotten the teaser at the beginning.
What does chapter 1 have that makes it so great an opening? The first verse gives us an impressive array of kings under whom Isaiah ministered, hinting to us of his longevity and long-suffering. Verses 2-17 then launch into a blistering accusation against the kingdom of Judah, denouncing their sinfulness, discrediting the efficacy of their sacrifices, comparing them to the long-ago-destroyed city-states of Sodom and Gomorrah, and imploring them to repent, wash themselves, and act justly once again.
God offers a word of hope in verses 18-20: “let us reason together.” If you just think about what you’re doing and come back to me, I will make you clean! Otherwise, in the meantime, God calls the condition of his people to be akin to that of a whore in verses 21-23.
And finally verses 24-31 describe the blessing of a future restoration. When God has finished punishing them, and they finally repent and turn to him, he will rebuild Jerusalem, restore the efficacy of the sacrifices, strengthen his people, and punish their enemies.
Isaiah is a long book to get through; but if you really soak in this chapter at the beginning, you will find its content, tone, and themes echoing throughout the next 65 chapters, all the way to Christmas!