by Ben Nelson
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. (Isa 1:11-15)
God gave Israel a strict set of laws by which they were to approach Him for forgiveness of their sins. They were to bring offerings, blood sacrifices, to the temple. With this blood, offered to God on their behalf by the priests, God would pardon their sins, and they could continue in their relationship as His own chosen people. But along comes Isaiah roaring about this sacrificial system. God is commanding them here to stop bringing these “vain oblations”. He called their keeping of the law “iniquity”. He said “STOP – I HATE IT”
Why did God hate it so much? Because it was vain. Because it was empty. Because the people had stopped approaching God broken by their own need to sacrifice, and broken hearted at how their sin had offended God. Now they came presumptuously, saying in their hearts, “I will pay for my sin with this offering, and go on living the same for another year”. No wonder it made God so sick. There was no repentance. There was no remorse, but the keeping of these laws simply cleared their conscience, and allowed them to continue in their sin.
Look at how the passage ends. God says “And when ye spread forth your hands, [picture the worship service in your church on any given Sunday] I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, [notice they had not stopped praying] I will not hear: [God simply stopped listening] your hands are full of blood.” I hear people saying and praying all the time that they want to know the will of God. Well right here He states that He will not hear Israel’s prayers. It was the will of God not to hear, to close His ears.
I was raised in the church, and heard all my growing up years that God answers all prayer. That God will answer, yes, no or wait. But the Bible says that He was not listening to Israel’s prayers right here.
Why did God close His ears, and turn His head? Well the verse says that their hands were full of blood. Now I understand that the literal blood on the hands of the priests was from the offering of sacrifices commanded by God. But the Bible has a lot to say about bloody hands and here God’s intention is that you see the relationship between your impotent prayers and the blood on your own hands.
To link the thoughts together one more time, lets look at the end of the book of Isaiah. Chapter 59:1-3 says: “Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.” You see, God is saying, it’s not that I can’t hear, but that I won’t hear, because of the blood on your hands.
Does anyone else talk about bloody hands in the Bible, or is it just something that Isaiah was worried about? What about David, man after God’s own heart? Ps 24:3-4 “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” and again in Ps 51:14 “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” Job says “The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.” (Job 17:9)
But clearer still are Paul’s words in Acts 18 and 20. First in Chapter 18 vs.6 the Bible says “And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he [Paul] shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.” Then in chapter 20 when he was leaving the church at Ephesus after pasturing there for 3 years he tells the elders he is leaving behind “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)
Paul said that the reason he did not leave with bloody hands is because he had not shunned his duty to declare to them all the counsel of God. He clarifies this further in verse 31 “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” Listen to that. Three years warning night and day with tears. Paul seems to think that his hands are clean and he can have a clear conscience with God because he had warned them. Warned them of what?
For the answer to this we must go to the book of Ezekiel. God actually put almost exactly the same material in chapters 3 and 33 of Ezekiel, but we are going to look at chapter 33 because the picture is so clear.
1 Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2 Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: 3 If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; 4 Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. 6 But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand. 7 So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. 8 When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. 9 Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. (Ezekiel 33:1-9)
Ezekiel was set up as watchman on the wall, watching for the coming disaster. He was to watch for that which would come and destroy the city. If he saw the danger coming and warned the people, then their life and death was in their own control. They could risk it all by doing nothing or they could live by running to safety. But if the watchman did not warn the city of the impending danger, their destruction would be on his head.
My brothers and sisters, God has set you up as a watchman. He has given you a clear vision of the impending disaster that is getting ready to strike. What is that disaster? It is not just another terrorist attack, or an enemy over running your city. It is the wrath of God. God’s wrath is being stored up against the wicked, and it is getting ready to be poured out. Anyone who can read the newspaper, or listen to the broadcasts can see that we are closer than we have ever been to the end of time. The day of the lord is near. Jesus is coming back. Amos said this: “Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light.”
Jesus gave us this command: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:150-16). It was not a suggestion, but a command. He was talking to YOU. Not a little group of people who lived 2000 years ago, but to you and me. He commanded us to go, and to warn everyone of the wrath to come. He said (just like He told Ezekiel) what they do with it is up to them, but you have no choice.
But could this possibly affect our prayer lives, we who are under the new covenant? Listen to more of the words of Jesus in John 15. First in verse 7 He says “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” Sounds like a prayer answering promise to me. Then in verse 10 He explains exactly how to “abide”. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.” Lets just turn it around to make it clear – Keep My commandments and you will abide in my love, and if you abide in my love, you can ask anything of me and I will do it.”
So here it is in a nutshell. You can not expect that God will hear a word you say until you begin to obey His commandments, and particularly until you begin to warn the people in your circle of influence of the wrath that hangs over their head. You have blood on your hands and God has closed the windows of heaven. Do not expect to receive anything from God until you repent, and I don’t mean say your sorry, I mean turn around and begin preaching the gospel and warning the wicked of the wrath to come. It is their only hope. It is your only hope.