Isaiah 1:17-18

This is my second winter working part-time at our local ski hill as a chair lift operator. The half a shift I spend in the booth at the top of the lift can be pretty slow. To make the most of this time, last season I started bringing Bible verses to memorize. Pictured here is the one I’ve been working on this week.


It reads:

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:17-18)

I’ve heard a lot about verse 18 in Bible classes, sermons, and worship talks. Verse 17, not so much. Why is this?

We tend to apply verse 18 to believers in general, but verse 17 iseems to be reserved for lawyers or radical activists. What if God intended both verses for all members of the kingdom? What questions might we need to ask?

Here are a few for starters:

How does a person get an education in doing right? What books, films, people, and experiences would be helpful?

What is justice? How can a person or community seek it? Who isn’t getting it right now? What is the relationship between right/righteousness and just/justice?

What does it mean to be oppressed? Who in my community might be oppressed? Or further afield? Am I complicent in the oppression? How can I defend them? What wisdom guides this defense (e.g., nonviolence).

Who is without parents or spouse in my community?  Or futher afield? What are their needs? In what way are the disenfranchised, marginalized, powerless, or hurting?

If we had spent as much time on those questions over the past 2000 years as we have on the theological issues in verse 18 (forgiveness), I wonder what this world might look like today. And since I can’t ask others to answer these questions if I’m not pondering them as well, I have to make this personal.

Thankfully, my wife has been sharing this quest with me for over a decade now. Our lives don’t look the same today as when we got married. We’ve invested ourselves in fighting human trafficking and in caring for immigrants and refugees in ways I wouldn’t have predicted at our start. I wonder what changes and challenges are yet ahead.


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