Isaiah 1-39 - Lesson 1

By Harold Shank

Isaiah Chapter 1 Title: Real Relationships


  1. The student can explain the general background of Jerusalem in the 8th century B.C.
  2. The student can explain the three images Isaiah uses for the divine-human relationship.
  3. The student can explain why God was unhappy with the people of Jerusalem.


  1. A Bible for each student
  2. A map on which to locate Jerusalem
  3. A worksheet listing the main points of the lesson
  4. Encourage the students to read Isaiah chapter 1 before class


The central theme of the book of Isaiah is the nature of God and how he relates to his people. Isaiah 1 introduces the reader to that theme. Background. The following characteristics of 8th century Jerusalem provide the background for understanding Isa 1-12.

  1. Geography: Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, a small nation tucked in among other small nations between the two mighty powers of the 8th century, Egypt to the southwest and Assyria to the northeast. International intrigue and war will repeatedly surface in Isaiah’s writing.
  2. History: The golden age in Israel in the 10th century was dominated by David and Solomon, the great nation builders. Civil war and a divided nation characterized the 9th century that witnessed God sending prophets to help the people draw closer to him. Prophets including Elijah and Elisha combated paganism and sought to return the people to God. The early 8th century witnessed the development of the two class society, growing international unrest and a spiritual crisis which prompted God to send the first four writing prophets—all contemporaries: Micah and Isaiah in Jerusalem and Amos and Hosea to North Israel.
  3. Religion: The people of Jerusalem regularly worshipped at the temple, read Scripture, and prayed. Yet at the same time they ignored the needs of widows and orphans, cheated others, tolerated unjust courts, and depended more on international alliances than they did on God.

Learning Experiences

  1. Relationships. The book of Isaiah is about God and how he relates to his people. The opening chapter explains what was. Isa 1 uses three metaphors to describe the deteriorating relationship between God and Jerusalem.
    1. Father-Son (Isa 1:2-3).
      1. In this image God is the caring father who does all he can for his son, Jerusalem, only to find him unresponsive and rebellious.
      2. God speaks in verses 2b-3
      3. This passage introduces the image of God as Father and Israel or Jerusalem as son
      4. How did God “rear and bring up” Israel as a father raises a child?
      5. What kind of child did Israel become? What is the evidence for that statement?
      6. See the image of rebellion in 1:2, 5, 20, 23, 28
    2. Doctor-Patient (Isa 1:4-9).
      1. Isaiah uses this image to metaphorically describe the sin of the people and their unwillingness to contribute to their good health. God is the physician treating the people who appear to have a terminal disease, but Dr. God has a remedy to reveal to these ailing people which he will unveil in the following chapters.
      2. Using several different translations, assemble a list of the medical terms used in this text. There are at least 11 physical conditions described in Isa 1:4-9.
      3. The same image is used in Hos 6:1-3.
      4. Using several different translations, assemble a list of the words for sin used in this text (start in Isa 1:3). There are at least 8 descriptions of sin described here, one of the most complete lists of words used for sin anywhere in the Bible.
      5. How would you describe the patient Israel? (sick, uncooperative, failure to take medication, lifestyle that exasperates the condition, sick from head to toe).
      6. When Isaiah drops the physician-patient metaphor in Isa 1:7-9 he seems to describe an invasion. This invasion may be the one mentioned in Isa 7:1 (in 732 B.C.) or the one in Isa 36-37 (701 B.C.).
      7. God plays two roles in the “sick” metaphor.
        1. God makes the people sick by bringing destruction because they have violated the intimacy of the father-son relationship. Through this coming destruction God seeks to win his people back. Compare God’s action with his son Jerusalem to a contemporary parent who takes drastic measures to win back the child.
        2. God saves a remnant of the people. He restores some of the people in Jerusalem to health (see the survivors in Isa 1:9). He recognizes that not all the apples in the basket are bad ones, but he does remove the bad ones before they destroy the whole basket. The good ones that are left are the survivors, called the remnant in most of Isaiah.
    3. Husband-Wife (Isa 1:21).
      1. God is the husband and Jerusalem is the unfaithful wife. She is sleeping around with others. God is not only husband, but marriage counselor as he seeks to restore his marital bliss.
      2. Jerusalem was once the faithful wife of God practicing justice and righteousness.
      3. But in Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem had become much like an unfaithful wife. No longer content with God and his call for a community of justice and righteousness, the elite now played the harlot before a kind of consumerism of focusing their lives on wealth, power, and comfort.
      4. Isa 1:23 drops all images. List the kinds of activities that tore at the fabric of the community in Jerusalem. There are at least nine negative activities taking place in Isaiah’s Jerusalem.
  2. Problems. Isa 1 identifies three reasons why God is unhappy with the people of Jerusalem.
    1. Worship (Isa 1:10-15).
      1. The people offer God vain and empty worship. They worship in the correct way at the right place, but with the wrong hearts. 
      2. Worship took place at Solomon’s temple which dominated the city of Jerusalem.
      3. What kinds of worship did the people offer? There are at least 14 kinds of worship described. Ethics (Isa 1:17, 23).
        1. The people oppress others in their community and fail to take care of the vulnerable. God cannot accept worship from people who do not do unto others what they would want others to do to them.
        2. Isa 1:2-6—there was little vertical relationship between God and his people indicating that their hearts were not in their worship. They have rebelled 1:2, 5, 20, 23, 28.
        3. Isa 1:16-17—the horizontal relationships in the community were at risk. Their community ethics permit injustice and unrighteousness to exist.
      4. Rebellion (Isa 1:2, 5, 20, 23, 28).
        1. The people have rebelled against God.
        2. That rebellion will be seen in their dependence on foreign alliances rather than on God and their ill-treatment of others in the community.
      5. Solutions. Isa 1 offers three proposals on what needs to happen.
        1. Repent (Isa 1:16-18). The people are called to give up their erring ways and return to God (1:16-18).
        2. Refine (Isa 1:25). God promises to refine the people much as metal is purified. He will use discipline to turn the people back towards himself.
        3. Punishment (Isa 1:31). Ultimately God plans destruction, but he follows that word of doom with the prospect of the good he will do with Jerusalem in the future (2:1ff).


  1. The God of the OT and the God of the NT is the same God. What are some passages in the NT that reflect the nature of God that Isaiah describes in his three images?
    1. Father-son—Jesus saying that he must be about his father’s business; Jesus praying the “Our Father.”
    2. Physician-patient—Jesus talked about only the sick needing a physician; Jesus sometimes healed people and other times forgave their sins.
    3. Husband-wife—Paul’s household verses in Colossians and Ephesians use this same imagery. Compare the teaching of John with Isaiah’s point about worship and ethics.
      1. 1 John 4:20 says “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
      2. Discuss how the vertical relationship with God depends on the horizontal relationship with others.


Read Isaiah 2-4.

Additional Study.

Use the following material if the class spends more than one week on Isa 1

  1. More on the images of God as Father
    1. Isaiah later refers to God as father. See Isa 63:16; 64:8.
    2. Many New Testament passages use this same imagery.
    3. Consider reading passages such as Matt 3:17; 6:9; Luke 2:49.
    4. What other passages mention God as Father?
  2. In Isa 1:2-3 the prophet talks about “knowing” God.
    1. Explore the meaning of the word “know.” Although it can refer to sexual relationships (Adam knew his wife—Gen 4:1), Isaiah and other passages (see Hosea 4:6) often use the word “know” to refer to an intimacy between God and his people that prompts them to loyalty.
    2. Point: The Hebrew word “know” here goes beyond intellectual knowledge to a level of intimacy. No wonder Isaiah chose the father-son, physician-patient and husband- wife images because they all reflect a deeper level of knowing.
  3. More on the Husband-Wife imagery
    1. Hosea (chapters 1-3) and Jeremiah (chapters 2-4) develop this metaphor more than Isaiah.
    2. Consider how Hosea’s relationship with his unfaithful wife, Gomer, parallels God’s relationship with his people.
  4. Justice and righteousness
    1. These two words often appear together in the OT and are usually summarized into one word, righteousness, in the NT. These two words appear in Isa 1:21; 26; 27.
    2. Justice refers to a community that maintains equity and fairness.
    3. Righteousness is a one word summary of the Golden Rule. Do to others what you would want them to do to you.
      1. Righteousness has a variety of meanings in the Bible.
        1. Often it seems to be a synonym for “good living.”
        2. At times, especially in Romans, it describes how God through Jesus’ death on the cross makes us as if we had not sinned.
      2. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” In this passage righteousness might be best understood as the expressing the same kind of expectation Isaiah was describing with his words “justice and righteousness.”
  5. Other images in Isaiah 1.
    1. The other two images are:
      1. Jerusalem is like impure metal or tainted silver (1:22, 25, metal working image).
      2. Jerusalem is like spoiled wine or diluted beer (1:22, beverage image).
    2. God’s solutions use the same images:
      1. He will make Jerusalem faithful (1:26, husband wife image).
      2. He will make Jerusalem like pure silver (1:26, metal working image). 6.Changes in Jerusalem
    3. The earlier days of Jerusalem as a just city is described in 1Kings 3:7-12, 16-28; 10:9; 2 Chron 19:5-10. Perhaps the most recent experience of justice would be 2 Chron 26:1-5.
    4. Archaeological discovery supports this claim by showing that in the 10th and 9th centuries B.C. all of the houses in most Israelite villages were the same, the classic four-room Israelite house. However, by the 8th century the archaeological record shows a divided community with one section composed of small houses with shared walls and mud floors while another section had larger houses built of cut stone with paved floors. There was a wealthy side of town and a poor side of town.
  6. The oaks and gardens in Isa 1:29-31 are interpreted in two basic ways by commentators.
    1. Some view these verses as a description of idol worship (much like Isa 57) which did take place in places that represented luxuriant growth.
    2. However, others understand these verses as indications of luxurious living (as will be described in Isa 3 and 5) by the oppressive classes that ruled the city. Isaiah is then announcing that they will lose the luxury on which they now focus.
    3. This second interpretation fits nicely with the emphasis on Jerusalem as an unjust and unrighteous community.
  7. God evaluates 8th century Jerusalem by how they treat the weakest members of the community (widows and orphans). Compare Isaiah’s teaching with God’s evaluation of the Christian community in Mt 25:31-36.
    1. Compare Matthew 6 with Isaiah 1. What parallels are there? What differences?
    2. Where else in history might one find the economic disparity that Isaiah encountered in 8th century Jerusalem?
    3. How is our contemporary community like or unlike Jerusalem?
    4. How is our congregation like or unlike ancient Israel?
  8. What does God’s reaction to Israelite worship suggest about our worship? What lessons can we learn for ourselves about worship from Isaiah chapter 1?

Download Worksheets

Back to Isaiah 1-39

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.