Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. (Is. 1:2-4)
We have started off the series looking at the backdrop in which Isaiah wrote this book which was named after him, and in which he performed his prophetic ministry. As a prophet, Isaiah was to deliver the words of God to the people (unlike the secular definition of a prophet being one who foretell the future). In this particular case, Isaiah was prophesying to the house of Israel during the time of the godly king Uzziah (before he died just before chapter 6). We thus can see Isaiah through the revelation of God knew the hearts of the people to be far from Him, although they were close to Him in appearance, since the first 5 chapters of Isaiah were written during the godly reign of King Uzziah.
God started his accusation against Israel by leveling the charge of rebellion and deliberate forgetfulness against His people. The Lord brings heaven and earth as witness against them, not that they could actually function as such as they are inaminate and nothing is more reliable than God's given Word (Mt. 24:35; Mk. 13:31; Lk. 21:33), but because humanly speaking, these two are the two physical realities that does not seem to change, and encompasses the two visible extremes. Therefore, God by asking them to hear and witness what He has to say is showing everyone in the universe including the principalities in the heavens that whatever God will say is true and will be seen as such. Truly, God will be justified when He speaks.
God in verse 2 and 3 portrayed the picture of the raising up of children, the children being Israel, and yet these children are ungrateful and rebelled against Him. He compared them with brute, stupid animals, who yet know their masters, yet Israel who are men do not know God. His people are worse than the basest of animals as they cannot even recognize and know the God who raised them up and treated them kindly.
Now, this analogy is obviously meant to show the moral outrage that such rebellion should be. Is anything worse than turning your back on the one who raised you up? This is detestable in any oriental culture, of which the ancient Hebrew culture can be considered a part of, and only slightly better of even in liberal Western society. To repay back evil for good is bad enough, but when you repay your parents evil for their good is a total outrage, which God is conveying to the people that their actions towards him is like such, especially towards a perfect parent like God.
Remember that the people of Isaiah's day were nominal believers, being under the godly King Uzziah. Yet their entire attitude shows their departure from God, and that their hearts are far from Him. By not truly acknowledging him as God but just making God into a religion with all its rituals and formalities (Is. 1:11-14), God treated such ritualism and dead legalism as rebellion.
Hard words indeed, but one we have to grapple with also. Remember that in the days of King Uzziah they were still compromising the faith and their worship by utilizing syncretism (2 Kings. 15:4), worshipping Yahweh using pagan alters and maybe even rituals. God detest anything which detract away from Himself, even just 'small, ninor sins', and regards things like syncretism, even 'a little bit of syncretism', as rebellion against Him.
In verse 4, Isaiah proclaims the plight of the people of Israel. They are stated as being sinful, laden down with iniquity as well as "offsprings of evildoers" parallel to the concept of "children who deal corruptly". Thus, whether through guilt or sin, they are all culpable. They are spoken of being forsaken of the Lord. Since they rebelled against God, God left them to their own devices and they have became estranged from God their rightful Father.
From all this, it can be seen Isaiah started off on a 'harsh' note. The prophet minces no words and through speaking forth the words of God, he cuts to the issue at hand. Israel has by and large forsook their God and rebelled against Him. Although they keep the rites and comands on the surface, they are being religious for the sake of being religious, rather than because of obeying the God who loved and brought them up.
As an application for this week, let us think about this and learn from wayward Israel. Are we doing things for the sake of being religious? Are we merely going through church formalities and rituals just for their own sake; that it make us fulfil our church duties? Or worse still, are we compromising the biblical standards in our Christian walk and service, and see no problem with it? If so, please do repent of such errors and turn back to a geniune relationship with Christ. Compromise is rebellion against God, and God will not accept lame human excuses of it being a 'small sin', 'just a bit of compromise', because He is a perfectly holy God who demands absolute perfection (Mt. 5:48) and any 'small transgression' of the Law is held accountable before God as if he broke all of the Law (Jas. 2:10).