The prophet Isaiah shared the Word of God during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Over approximately 50 years, he instructed and reproved Judah. Though three of the four kings of Judah were considered good, the people and its capitol city, Jerusalem, were characterized by sin. Their deeds and hearts were sorely lacking in meeting the path laid out by God. By the promise of God and detailed prophecy, Jesus the Christ would be born the seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David in Bethlehem. Were it not for this predetermined plan of God, Judah would quite likely have become as Sodom and Gomorrah as the prophet Isaiah himself shared with them. Though his writings in the book called by his name are lengthy, verses sixteen and seventeen of the first chapter summarize it well. The first sentence of those verses summing even more succinctly:
“Wash Yourselves, Make Yourselves Clean;”
When Moses had taken the people by God’s command out of Egypt, they came to Mount Sinai. The Lord told Moses to prepare the people for his appearance before Him by telling them to prepare and wash themselves and their garments (Genesis 19:10). The Lord’s own priesthood to serve in His tabernacle were to wash themselves in order to serve (Exodus 29:4). The sacrifices of the High priest each year were for the purpose of cleansing the people and himself due to the presence of their sin (Leviticus 16:19-20). Today, Christians engage in the practice of baptism for the washing of their sins by the blood of Christ (I Peter 3:21). Perhaps the phrase, “cleanliness is next to Godliness” comes to mind when examining the expectation of God for his people. While the physical cleanliness was part of the early presentation of God’s people, it is apparent it was a type of the spiritual cleanliness expected by their Creator. Thus returning to the word’s Isaiah shared with Judah: “Wash Yourselves, Make Yourselves Clean”. Judah had soiled themselves with sin. God through Isaiah was calling them to repent. In this command, Isaiah details six areas of focus:
1. Cease to do evil.
2. Learn to do good.
3. Seek to do justice.
4. Reprove the oppressor.
5. Defend the orphan.
6. Plead for the widow.
This series of six articles will focus upon the words of Isaiah individually and apply them to Christians today. Though these are timeless principles of God and not tied to the authority of the Law of Moses which no longer holds power over the faithful, the authority of the New Testament will still be demonstrated for each. This article will focus on the first principle: “Cease to do evil”.
What is evil? In the beginning, there was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis 2:16-17, God told man not to eat of this tree. Until the point that man did this, they did not know evil. However, upon eating of the fruit of that tree, they did know evil. For the first time in his life, man was disobedient to the command of God. Their actions introduced them to evil. Eating a fruit is evil? It is if it is in opposition to God. Stealing, murder, pre-marital sex, lying, immodest dress, social drinking, breaking the simplest laws of the government, thinking thoughts against God’s will, cursing, watching corrupt television, listening to immoral music, or dressing or acting in a way to cause others to lust after you? All of these are evil! It does not matter how big or small man considers a transgression against God’s commands to be, disobedience is evil. The list could go on and on.
It is true, many in the world know the actions they engage in are said to be wrong and yet, they do them anyway. Perhaps they disagree with the assessment there is a right and wrong directed by God. They trust their own judgment and believe that if there is a God, He will understand. It is possible; these individuals may not even care if God doesn’t like their actions. They are going to do what they want and whatever is to happen will happen. Such people are ignorantly defiant of God’s will. They do not know the truths of God’s Word and perhaps they have never sought to know or understand them. This does not give them excuse (Romans 1:20). Neither defiance nor ignorance can change an action from evil to good. God’s message is still: “Cease to do evil.”
The situation of the defiantly ignorant reminds me of the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. The great chocolate magician Willy Wonka brings five children into his chocolate factory to see his many secrets. He gives them various instructions about what to do and what not to do. The particular scene which comes to mind is when one of the children “Violet Beauregarde” takes some dinner flavored gum to chew without permission. Wonka warns her “Oh, I wouldn’t do that. I really wouldn’t”. Of course, she goes against the instruction. As everyone watches in amazement, they all query her about the experience she is having. Wonka in a resigned voice, knowing he will be ignored, states nonchalantly “Stop, don’t”. But the girl chews onward in defiant oblivion. She doesn’t think it’s a big deal. It’s only gum after all. In the end, she turns blue and blows up like a blimp, suffering the consequences of her actions. Her ignorance did not save her. It did not justify her actions. What she did was wrong and so are the actions man does when they rely upon their own perceived sense of what is right or wrong. God has stated the times of ignorance are over. God has shared the truth with man and man can choose whether or not to seek and accept or not. The consequences of evil are not going to change.
Acts 17:30 – And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Why is it that men do evil in the first place? As many as the number of evils there are, perhaps there are a similar number of reasons man engages in disobedience. Here are a few: First, men often engage in evil because it will bring them pleasure. Sin is most often a pleasurable experience at some point or it would not be engaged in. Simply because it feels good or makes a person happy, does not make the action have the authority of God. Stepping on the gas and breaking the speed limit so you can get somewhere on time makes you feel good, but it isn’t according to the law and is therefore, evil.
Second, men often engage in evil to acquire wealth, power, or recognition. Every day people lie on their resumes about their education, experience, and background. They think this will bring them gain in the end, but it is only an earthly achievement. Moreover, it is an evil achievement.
Third, men often engage in evil, because they are trying to cover up evil. Adam and Eve tried playing the blame game for their actions instead of owning up to what they did in the garden. They were essentially lying to God about their actions. Deception is evil and must cease.
Finally, though not an exhaustive list, men engage in evil because of a lack of love. They do not love their neighbor, citizen, family, friend, or stranger enough to not defraud them. They defraud them morally, financially, spiritually, in whatever way they wish, because they have a lack of love in their heart. The lack of love in their heart causes them to be disobedient to God. If they loved Him, they would not be disobedient (John 14:15). A lack of love and greater interest in themselves rather than their fellow man and God causes man to do evil.
There are many excuses man gives for the evil they do. “It is ok if I don’t give back the extra change I received at Walmart. I am not hurting anyone”. Whose change is it supposed to be? It is Walmart’s change. The individual is essentially robbing Walmart. “But Walmart is a massively big company, I am not hurting anyone!” This excuse is used frequently, but is never true. When someone engages in evil, they always hurt self. Stealing is wrong. Keeping the change is stealing from Walmart. The additional damage could have been from those silently observing to see what would happen. Then they would reason, “Well, they did it so I can too!” So now self and others have been hurt from a foolish and yes, evil action. It also hurts God, because he sees the damage being done to the sinner’s life and it grieves His Spirit (Ephesians 4:17-32).
Another common excuse to do evil is: “I am not ready to change my life, I want to live a little first, then I will commit.” In other words, self comes before God. Self comes before any impact I have on those who come in contact with me. Regardless of how wise a person thinks they are by taking this attitude, they are not guaranteed their next breath. As the man of Luke 12:16-20 made big plans for his riches and future only to have his life end before they were realized, so too does this possibility exist for all men, young and old. Loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind means God comes first (Matthew 22:37). When man does not put God first, he is engaged in evil.
A third common excuse used by man: “It’s not my problem, it’s theirs”. Often I see young men and women dress on the edge of decency. Yes, their peer group may be pressuring them into meeting all the “official” guidelines of clothing – no low cut blouses, skirt to the knees, shoulders covered…, but they still wear the clothes tight and have the desire to make others look at them. Guys trying to show off their chests, arms, abs, or legs are doing the same thing! There is a heart problem here. In seeking to cause others to desire them, they are being lascivious. They are causing someone else to lust. Clothes are a tool. They are a tool for covering the body. Clothes are not properly to be a tool to create a longing in someone. “But it’s not my problem, it’s theirs”. Man is to keep one another from stumbling in sin. They are not be a stumbling block (Romans16:17, I Corinthians 10:32-33, I Thessalonians 4:3-7, Jude 1:22-23). When we enable someone else’s sin through our behavior, it is evil.
Why cease from evil? God said not to do evil (Romans 6:11-15, I Thessalonians 5:22). Man should love himself enough not to be disobedient to God. He should love others enough not to do evil. He should love God enough not to do evil. Hear the words of the prophet Micah:
Micah 6:8 – He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
Know and understand, the man who does evil does not have a pleasurable future. The prophet Isaiah when calling upon Judah to “Cease to do evil” instructed them of the consequences. In Isaiah 1:20 following his words of instruction Isaiah stated:
“But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword:”
The Word of God is that sword (Ephesians 6:17). It is two edged and sharp (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God can both protect in love and devour with punishment. Isaiah shares the Word of God with the people so they might no longer sin through disobedience. Some people today say that God would never do such a thing, but to the contrary, consider these words from His apostles:
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 – And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
2 Peter 3:7-12 – but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
God never desired that man do evil and choose to be disobedient. He warned Adam and Eve not to do evil. He called men to change their evil ways in the days of Noah (2 Peter 2:5, I Peter 3:18-20). He called non Hebrew nations to repentance (Jonah, Nahum). He called Judah to repentance (Isaiah 1:16). Today, he calls all men to receive the power of salvation through the Gospel repenting of the evil they have done and cleansing themselves before Him (Acts 2:38, Romans 1:16). Doing evil does harm to individual, community, and God. Evil is commanded against and must stop. In its place one must “learn to do good”. Learning to do good will be the topic of the next article in this series.