Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah.
The leading men of Jerusalem are supposed to reply to the charge of Jehovah, pointing to the elaborate manner in which his worship is kept up. And Jehovah rejects their plea with scorn.
I. THE DIVINE INDIGNATION AGAINST WICKEDNESS. No more scathing denunciation could there be than to term the rulers of the holy city "chiefs of Sodom," and the people in general "people of Gomorrah." Those were names of horror and shame. Christ used them in the same manner of extreme denunciation. Three forms of sin were prevalent - luxury, violence, and oppression. The widow and the orphan stand out especially as victims of greed and hard-hearted, grasping selfishness. As nothing could be more humane and gentle than the spirit of the Law, so nothing could be more wicked than the disregard of it. The Talmud, no less than the prophets, said the strongest things against injustice. The judge is particularly cautioned not to be biased in favor of the poor against the rich. What a light does this throw upon the fine education of the conscience! How much more flagrant the opposite fault! "He who unjustly hands over one man's goods to another, he shall pay God for it with his own soul. In the hour when the judge sits in judgment over his fellow-man, he shall feel as it were a sword pointed at his own heart." So says the Talmud. Jerusalem had evidently, in the earlier time of Isaiah, been obscuring its highest conscience.
II. DIVINE CONTEMPT FOE SACRIFICES AND RITUAL.
1. These things were never beautiful nor acceptable unless as expressions of piety. If the piety were not existent, the streams of blood, the reek of incense, became a spiritual disgust. The beasts chosen for sacrifice were from the meeker and pursued animals: how horrible a lie for the persecutor and the proud to bring such symbols to God! Says the Talmud, "Look at, Scripture: there is not a single bird more persecuted than the dove; yet God has chosen her to be offered up on his altar. The bull is hunted by the lion, the sheep by the wolf, the goat by the tiger. And God said, 'Bring me a sacrifice, not from them that persecute, but from them that are persecuted.'"
2. Mere attendance on public worship is not acceptable. Who has required them, Jehovah asks, to "wear out" his courts? Their thronging and their noise is offensive to him. Their meat offerings are vanity; meaning nothing spiritual, they have no value whatever. The incense itself, the finest flavor and aroma of the offering, stinks as it were in the nostrils of God. New moon and sabbath, and all the innumerable solemnities, - they are hateful and burdensome to Jehovah. He cannot endure the contradiction - wickedness and worship quantity goes for nothing, quality is everything in the service of God. There is only one act of true worship, but it fills a lifetime. Repetitions of unmeaning acts harden the heart, dull the perceptions, accumulate guilt. Homer spoke of the crimes of men "going up to the iron heaven." So here the heaven is like an iron bound, not suffering the prayers of the wicked to pass through.
III. THE TRUE DIVINE SERVICE.
1. It consists in moral, as distinguished from ritual acts. In making the "inside of the cup and platter clean. It is a "washing" of the soul from those thoughts and passions which lead to sin. It is a giving of one's self up to the godly sorrow that works repentance. "When the gates of prayer in heaven are shut, that of tears is open, "says the Talmud. What more blessed than the tears of the sinner over his sin? The rainbow of hope never fails to overarch them.
2. It has a negative side. Self must be denied in every evil meaning that self bears. The evil lusts and habits in the embrace of which we have been locked, must now be held at arm's length, and a divorce a mensa et tore be effected. Every true learning must be preceded by an unlearning; there must be a pause and a turning of the whole person, in short, a conversion, before we can start on a new course. God's voice says to us, "Hold! Leave off!" as often as it says, "Go forward!" Habits form unconsciously. It is, perhaps, a question more important to ask, because easier to be answered and dealt with - Are we doing anything to break off bad habits? It is God's part to weave and form the good in us. We should make space and room for him to operate in our souls.
3. It has a positive side. We are to learn - to inquire, to seek, in order to act rightly. Thought is the soul of act. We learn to do well by looking to good examples. The "consideration" of Christ is the life-business and art of the Christian. "Why do I tell you incessantly to study the old masters?" asked a great painter of his pupils. "Because the great masters are nearest to nature" (Ingres). So Christ is nearest to. God, to the nature and soul of all goodness. "Learn of me!" Nor can we approximate to right living without much seeking, much thought, comparison of experiences, much earnest prayer. "Show me thy ways, teach me thy paths!" Note the stress laid upon justice. This is the basis of character. Love is a vague sentiment without it, and may work as much harm as good. Love strengthened and purified by justice; this is the ideal of the good man's character. It is the imitation of God. And to seek to resemble the revealed Divine in temper and in life, - this is the essence of worship, the heart of piety. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.