In the opening words of Isaiah God said Judah was a “sinful nation” (Isa. 1:4). Many parents can relate to what the Lord said about His people: “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me” (v. 2). Unlike popular preachers today, the prophet did not open His message with a big smile and smooth talk.

God uses a strong image about the degraded condition of these people:

“Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment” (Isa. 1:5-6).

This illustration might appear to be a person with a disease like leprosy. But notice that this person was “struck” and had “wounds and bruises.” That is a man who has been beaten. The same word for “sick” refers to physical violence in Jeremiah 6:7 and 10:19. That is the idea here, not disease.

The law of Moses approved of beatings for certain crimes. Solomon said a rod is for the back of fools (Prov. 26:2). “Blows that wound cleanse away evil” (Prov. 20:30). The KJV renders this “the blueness of a wound.” This is the word that is translated “stripes” in the prophecy of Jesus in Isaiah 53:5. These are the marks that a rod or a whip left on the back of a lawbreaker.

God used a rod to punish His people Judah. That rod was the Assyrian nation. God sent “Assyria, the rod of My anger” against the Jews because of their sins (Isa. 10:5-6). Hezekiah and others humbled themselves before God when this happened in II Kings 18, but many hardened their hearts.

God struck the nation of Judah and their land was desolate (Isa. 1:7-9). But that divine chastening did not change their stubborn hearts. God is asking, “Why should I punish you again? What good would it do? You didn’t repent. In fact, you are worse.” However, His question—“Why should you be stricken again?”—is the very thing Isaiah unfolds in the chapters that follow. God did punish them again, and that time they left their idols behind for good. That beating was the Babylonian captivity.

We must look at our own country when we read these words. We are paying dearly for our sins, and yet there is little repentance in the land. Sometimes we say, “We just need some really hard times in this country to wake people up!” God may send more trials upon us, but there is no guarantee that people would truly change. Even the worst calamities rarely bring long-term repentance. When we ask how much longer this nation can stand before the Lord pours out His wrath, we can almost hear the echo of God asking in Isaiah: Why should I?

When and if that happens, some will humble themselves and some will harden their hearts. There were faithful Jews in Judah, and there are faithful Christians today. Thank God for the “remnant” (Isa. 1:9).

– Kerry Duke