Isaiah 1:2-9 – God’s Lament


Isaiah 1:2-9


God cries out in anguish over the rebellion of Israel that brings preventable judgment upon them.


Although many scholars argue that the book of Isaiah begins in 1:2-20 with God’s lawsuit against Israel, the tone of God’s address in these verses is more lament than anger, more exhortation than condemnation. God mourns the rebellion of children who have been given loving parental care (vv. 2-3) and wonders (through the words of the prophet) why Israel seeks further punishment, much in the same way the lament psalms wonder why God does not intervene on Israel’s behalf. Whereas the psalms speak of God’s forsaking Israel, now God laments Israel’s forsaking of God (v. 4). The recognition of this tone is essential to how one reads the opening chapters of the book. God’s word of judgment is strong throughout this section, but that judgment should be read as coming through the divine tears of these opening verses, rather than in a divine fierce delight over retribution at last.

Since earliest days, Christian artists, noting that the ox and the donkey know the “master’s crib” (v. 3), have regularly included the ox and ass in their depictions of the manger scene at Jesus’ birth.

The reference to children that have “rebelled against me” (v. 2) is echoed word for word in the final verse of the book (66:24), forming an inclusio around the whole. The book ends with a warning against those who fail to respond to the words of judgment and promise that Isaiah pours out to try to restore Israel to God. The first verses make clear that God’s desire for Israel is life rather than death.