GEMS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
“‘Come, now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’”
What if someone came to your house and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Woe unto you, sinner, loaded with iniquity, evildoer, corrupter! You have forsaken the Lord. He is fed up with your offerings, your hymn singing, and your worship. Your prayers are an abomination to Him; He will not hear them. Your hands are full of blood.’” What hope would there be for you? If the Judge of all mankind is also the Prosecutor, there can be only despair.
This is exactly what happened to Israel in the seventh century before Christ. God sent the prophet Isaiah to deliver a list of scathing accusations against His people (read Isaiah 1). The Prosecutor brought the charge; the Judge pronounced them guilty as charged. There awaited only the sentence.
Then, the Judge said this astounding thing: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord.” He graciously invites them into the courtroom, not to stand in silence as they are condemned, but to actually participate in the deliberation of the case—to hear and respond. “Come, please, and let us debate your case together.”
What follows is even more astonishing; the Lord lays before these spiritual criminals a verdict of acquittal. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” One can only imagine some Israelites standing with their mouths agape, totally unable to utter a word. Perhaps they were ready to offer a defense, but suddenly there is nothing to defend. It is not that the Judge makes light of their crimes. He calls them what they are. “Your sins are like scarlet . . . they are red like crimson.”
Scarlet is a brilliant color that stands out in the midst of other colors. The sins of Israel stood out with glaring intensity, like red, flashing lights on a dark night. God compares the people to Sodom and Gomorrah. (1:9-10)
Scarlet is the color of fresh blood. The Lord had told them: “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15)
“Scarlet” is a bright red dye extruded from the corpses of cochineal scale insects. It is virtually permanent.
And yet, there IS a cleansing, and it is one that leaves not the slightest shade of scarlet behind. There is a verdict of acquittal that does not violate justice. Man cannot accomplish this (see Psalm 49:7-8), but God can. The Old Testament Gospel promises and the symbolism of the Temple rituals revealed this to Israel. The New Testament reveals it to us: “God set forth [Christ] as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness . . . that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26) Thus, the whole garment of the soul is made as white as snow. Blood washing away blood? Who would imagine such a thing? White as snow . . . pure and holy. “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)
What if someone (for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses) came to your house and said, “Woe unto you, sinner”? Now, you can say, “I have been cleansed. I am white as snow. God says so. Jesus made it so. The Holy Spirit convinced me that it is so.” There is no despair. There is only a solid, certain hope. Yes, our sins are like scarlet and, yes, God has made them as white as snow through our Lord Jesus Christ. All glory, thanks, and praise be to God!
John Pfeiffer is retired from the pastoral and teaching ministry. He is a former president of Immanuel Lutheran College.