Isaiah 1:21-31. The City

21 See how the faithful city has become a prostitute!
She once was full of justice;
righteousness used to dwell in her—
but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross,
your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves;
they all love bribes and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them.

24 Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty,
the Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes
and avenge myself on my enemies.
25 I will turn my hand against you;
I will thoroughly purge away your dross
and remove all your impurities.
26 I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.”
27 Zion will be delivered with justice,
her penitent ones with righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will both be broken,
and those who forsake the LORD will perish.
29 “You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks
in which you have delighted;
you will be disgraced because of the gardens
that you have chosen.
30 You will be like an oak with fading leaves,
like a garden without water.
31 The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark;
both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire.” 

A city is its people. There are buildings and infrastructure, spaces and services– the physical environment. But the city is the collective identity of her inhabitants, displaying the collective will, values, culture and priorities of the people. That’s why Kiwis say, “The only problem with Australia is the Australians.”

And so Isaiah’s condemnation of Jerusalem is really all about her people. They have rejected righteousness, their pride turgid with sin. Corruption and oppression taint the leadership. They are culpable but the people have allowed them to continue (we get the leaders we tolerate and deserve).

And so God will act decisively (v24). He will avenge himself on his enemies– those people of the city who have defied his ways. The leadership of the city will be purged and God will provide the kind of leadership like Jerusalem enjoyed at the beginning: like King David, like Nathan the Prophet. Already in the book of Isaiah, the new future that God promises centres on a new leadership. Someone will come to Jerusalem who will once again rule in righteousness. All who oppose him will be brought low.

In the New Testament, the New Jerusalem is the Church. We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Learning from Isaiah, as the people of God, we are responsible to uphold our leadership in prayer, to honour them, to follow them, and to appoint those properly qualified under God to lead us. We want them to serve with excellence. We back them. We encourage them. And we are to hold them accountable if they should deviate from God’s ways.

Father, I pray for the leadership of our churches. Please raise up such godly people, well qualified and equipped, that we are guided and nurtured in righteousness and holiness. Amen.