In reading this passage, two important phrases stand out, “…but not in truth or right” and “…so that you would not say, ‘My idol did them…'” The underlying theme, like so much of the prophets, is fidelity. God desires truthful worship, and compassionate living.
The first phrase concerns appearance. The condemnation falls upon a people who have used the Faith as a way to get what they want. They said the right things but in truth do not mean it. Hollow words of worship so as to attain selfish ambitions. So the question rises, why do you worship God? Is it to get what you want from God? Do you go to church, so that God will give you a pass on immoral decisions? Do you go to church, so that God will answer your prayers? God cannot be cajoled. Worship God, because as God’s creation, you can do no other thing but worship. Worship rightly done places the worshiper in a place of total dependence. Truthful worship results in thanksgiving for all the Lord has done and will do, regardless if it aligns with our desires. For God is God, and we are not.
The second concerns misattribution. The Lord directs attention to what has been declared in the past by the Lord. The message is simple, do not give credit to some created thing when the credit belongs to God. Do not say, “oh, what luck!” or “What are the chances of that?” when clearly God was at work. Giving credit to the god of luck, misattributes what God has clearly done. Consider evolution and all processes that have taken place, is this due to the god of random happenstance, or to the God who created heaven and earth?
The heart of the matter for Isaiah is truth. Do you truly worship God? With robust words of worship, directed at the on worthy of worship, come to the Lord with thanksgiving and praise!
The passage provokes more questions, than answers. For instance, what part of the law is Paul thinking of? Simply thinking of the ten commandments will not do. The Ten Commandments are built upon a particular belief in God, not some abtract moral code apart from God. What is readily apparent is that both Jews, who have the law, and all Gentiles, who do not have the law, will come under the search eye of God’s judgment. Sin has warped all of God’s good creation.
Acknowledging that sin has had such an effect upon the world is important for our Faith. We can set aside naive assumptions about the world, and know that sin lurks in the corner. Every saint we know, has sin in their past. Every movement towards justice, apart from the Spirit, will have the tinge of injustice. There is no sin free vantage point to retell history. We want new history books telling again history in light of what has been left out before. But even as that is a project worth doing, the story will continue to lack every moment of injustice. Christians may not be able to tell all the truth of history, but the Spirit helps us to see the sin of it all, especially our own. Perhaps that’s the most truthful thing we can do, confess our sins. Frightening as that sounds, the Spirit empowers us to confess our sin, and God is faithful and just to forgive us. So even as God knows the secrets of our hearts, we know that we have forgiveness in Christ. Thanks be to God!