The book of Isaiah opens dramatically. The Lord tells the children of Israel that they have forsaken Him, that they are damaging themselves by their actions, and that He doesn’t want to be a part of it any more. In words that must have been shocking to Isaiah’s listeners, the Lord tells them to stop participating in worship:
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.Isaiah 1:11-14
Why does God want them to stop participating in these important worship activities, which He commanded them to do? Because of the hypocrisy. They are going through the motions of religious observance, but they’re not even trying to live according to His law. They’re just pretending to be committed to Him. It’s all fake.
At the end of this list of activities, Isaiah makes a statement which is the most shocking of all. Still speaking on behalf of God, he says, “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” (Isaiah 1:15).
As I read these verses with my family yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking of Abinadi, who also delivered a stern message to a hypocritical people. “Except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God,” he said, “they shall be brought into bondage.” Then he warned them that these consequences would not be easily or quickly overcome:
When they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictionsMosiah 11:23-25
The people didn’t repent, and they were conquered by their enemies. When they prayed for deliverance, Mormon tells us, “The Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities.” But then he adds, “Nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage” (Mosiah 21:15).
Eventually, He did deliver them, but only after they experienced bondage for a period of time.
Here’s my interpretation of these passages: God is always aware of us, and His love for us is constant, but He won’t always answer our prayers in the way we want. In particular, when we disregard His warnings and fail to follow His guidance, we can’t expect Him to immediately bail us out when the consequences arrive. It’s part of the learning process, and learning isn’t always easy.
But it’s important to note that both Isaiah and Abinadi affirmed God’s willingness to forgive us when we truly repent. “Wash you,” said Isaiah, “make you clean…. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:16, 18). And Abinadi taught that “God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state” and that “the arms of mercy were extended towards them” (Mosiah 16:4, 12).
Today, I will strive to follow the guidance I have received from God. I will remember that He is always committed to my growth and happiness, but that He will not always shield me from the consequences of my actions.