In vv. 2, 6-7, at the beginning and end of the section, destructive conduct is treated in most general terms: it is “sin” that causes God’s absence. But it is not Isaiah’s nature to be “general” for very long. He quickly becomes uncomfortably specific.

For one thing, his community is shedding blood (v.3), innocent blood (v.7). There are deeds of violence (v.6). Isaiah ties each sin, as it were, to an image of a body. This anthropomorphic metaphor carries us through the rest of his discussion. There are, then, “fingers of iniquity” and mouths “full of utterance of lies.”

The sins can be categorized in this way: actions which destroy and words that slander.

In verse 4, we finally realize what Isaiah is getting at: He gives us a chilling picture of a society in which those in power use all their means to subjugate and deceive the powerless and disadvantaged. We discover that justice cannot be separated from morality. To do the right thing, then–to be in the right relationship with God–is directly related to how we treat those whom God has called us to serve. Shades of Matthew 24. . . N’est-ce pas?

Walter Bruggemann understands these verses in this way: “I submit that the ‘acts of violence’ condemned, are not muggings in the street, but rather conniving actions by those who could buy and own the processes that govern, lead, and nurture the people.” In other words, the systems of Judah, during this era, had abused the trust of God’s people and were guilty of the heinous crime of exploitation. Ergo, there is no justice in the land. All have sinned and fallen short of the Kingdom of God . . .

Sound familiar? As I read of the sinful behavior of Senator Packwood in last week’s paper (re: sexual harassment), and as I observed on C-Span the worried looks of other Senators when Packwood threatened to expose their similar excesses, I was struck with outrage. The fact is, they have not only violated God’s laws–and if they committed acts of sexual misconduct they most certainly have sinned–they have violated the trust of the American people who sent them to Washington. And, what is worse, according to Isaiah, they have no shame. This lack of shame captures a part of Isaiah’s complaint against his community. Not only do they sin, they do so shamelessly. Without regard for God or humankind. And there is no peace.

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