14 Your monthly and regular meetings my soul detests. They have become a burden on me; I am weary of putting up with them.
As Jehovah attaches importance to Sabbath and monthly meetings elsewhere (Isaiah 56:2, 6; 58:13; 66:23), it isn’t that they of themselves are unacceptable. It is that his people measure their righteousness before God in terms of their attendance at them, not by their personal integrity. Word links show what kinds of things burden and weary Jehovah, but also that by repenting of evil his people may become clean: “You have burdened me with your sins, wearied me with your iniquities. But it is I myself, and for my own sake, who blot out your offenses, remembering your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:24–25).
15 When you spread forth your hands, I will conceal my eyes from you; though you pray at length, I will not hear—your hands are filled with blood.
While spreading forth the hands and praying at length are two legitimate forms of prayer, they can’t benefit an unrepentant people guilty of gross crimes. The word “blood” not only implies extreme injustice (Isaiah 26:21; 59:3, 7), it encapsulates injustices in general. Although “hands filled with blood” alludes to murder and abortion, it further epitomizes societal failings and abuses whose ripple effects include suicides to which an unrighteous people contribute. In short, the worship of Jehovah by those whose hearts aren’t broken, whose spirits aren’t contrite (Psalm 51:16–17), Jehovah can’t countenance.
16 Wash yourselves clean: remove your wicked deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil.
Instead of simply telling his people to repent, Israel’s God explains how to repent. His definition involves ridding their lives of their evil actions, neither excusing nor repeating them. Of course, that includes his people’s admitting their guilt, taking ownership of aberrant behavior. While becoming “clean” signifies Jehovah’s remission of their sins, it follows only upon their living righteously. The words “before my eyes” signify that Jehovah sees all things, precluding the idea that his people can escape the curses of his covenant that will inevitably follow unless they speedily “cease to do evil.”
17 Learn to do good: demand justice, stand up for the oppressed; plead the cause of the fatherless, appeal on behalf of the widow.
Doing “good” implies keeping the terms of Jehovah’s covenant. Jehovah’s definition of doing good includes seeking justice for the oppressed—persons unable to aid themselves. While the widows and fatherless represent those most in need, others aren’t excluded. By citing extreme examples of persons and behaviors, Isaiah doesn’t mean to limit things to them. The fact that Jehovah’s people must “learn” to do good suggests that they no longer know. The words “demand,” “stand up for,” “plead,” and “appeal” go beyond passively noticing others’ needs to actively intervening on their behalf.
18 Come now, let us put it to the test, says Jehovah: though your sins are as scarlet, they can be made [white] as snow; though they have reddened as crimson, they may become white as wool.
Two possibilities exist for interpreting this verse. First—as Hebrew has no question marks—Jehovah is asking, “With blood on your hands, do you still imagine you can become clean? Do you assume I will readily pardon you though you are guilty of the unpardonable sin?” Do Jehovah’s people pretend that the God who said, “Whoever sheds a man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6), will simply overlook their crimes so long as they go to church and put on a good appearance? That kind of hypocrisy is indeed characteristic of a Sodom-and-Gomorrah type of society (vv 9–10).
Second, in this verse’s larger context of Jehovah’s people’s repenting of transgression and purifying their lives, they may even now become clean of gross crimes. They shouldn’t assume, though burdened with guilt, that they are too far gone, that there exists no further hope of recovery. The “test” Jehovah presents is whether or not they will repent of doing evil. While “scarlet” and “crimson”—the color of “blood”—allude to murder, abortion, etc. (v 15), they also signify the stain of wickedness in general. Jehovah is willing to forgive those who “cease to do evil” and “learn to do good” (vv 16–17).