Context: Isaiah lived in times that were tragic for Israel; and though he had no difficulty in seeing that his country was about to be overrun, he was powerless to save it. Israel had split into two nations after Solomon's reign, Israel and Judah. These and the other small nations of western Asia were no match for any really strong aggressor that might arise, and they had descended to intriguing and fighting among themselves. Meanwhile Assyria was growing steadily in strength and ambition. Israel and Judah were by this time wealthy countries and tempting prizes, and the people had become indolent and corrupt. The leaders of both countries were unable to see any danger in the Assyrians. When the kings of Israel and of the Aramaeans conspired to plunder Judah, the Judean king called on the Assyrians for help. Invasion followed immediately and as a result both Israel and Judah became Assyrian satellites, doomed to pay heavy tribute thereafter. Assyria had of course been ready for some time to extend its sphere of influence, and its leaders were probably both astonished and delighted when they were given an invitation to attack. Isaiah had seen already the evil that a few greedy and blundering rulers were inviting; now he undoubtedly foresaw that this result was only the beginning of a long and bitter oppression. In terms of reproach that betray his exasperation and his sorrow, Isaiah points out the ruin which all this madness has brought about. He tells his people this is just punishment for allowing themselves to become corrupt and for turning away from God. Now their country is desolate and their cities burnt, and their land is devoured by strangers. "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom," says Isaiah with bitter sarcasm; "give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah." Then he quotes God's willingness to forgive if they will repent:
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.
When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
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.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
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.
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: . . .