This is a Bible study on Isaiah 57:3-21.

6 pages.

Isaiah 57:3-21 - Can God’s Mercy Reach Me?

Read Isaiah 57:3-21.


A tall man with a dark complexion walked into the little chapel on the boardwalk. He wore a black leather jacket and mirror teardrop sunglasses. His hair was greasy and disheveled. He took a seat in the back row. At the front of the chapel the speaker was addressing a group of volunteers who had come to work at the chapel for the summer, eager to share the gospel with the people who would be spending their vacation at the Jersey shore.

Suddenly, the man with the dark complexion stood up. His voice was loud and searing. “Hey man, I got a question. I killed six men in Vietnam. Where does that put me with God?”

Everyone sat stunned. No one moved. The man stood there, waiting for an answer. The speaker at the front of the chapel did not address the man; he simply continued to speak to the group of volunteers huddled around him.

The tall dark man shouted again, this time louder. “Hey man! You! I’m talkin’ to you! I killed six men in Vietnam with my bare hands. You hear that? I want to know, where does that put me with God?”

That tall dark man wanted to know, he needed to know: How far does God’s mercy reach? Can God’s mercy reach to me in my sin? In this passage of Scripture presently before us, we find the answer to our question: The greatness of your sin cannot put you beyond the mercy of God, if you return to Him with a contrite spirit.

God’s Mercy Can Reach You, No Matter How Great Your Sin🔗

In verse three the LORD addresses the people of Israel, commanding them to draw near to Him. Their hearts and lives were far from Him, even though they had been dwelling in His land, note Isaiah 29:13,

Then the LORD said, these people [only] approach me with their mouth and [only] honor me with their lips, but have removed their heart far from me, and their reverence for me is [nothing more than] a tradition they have learned by rote.

The LORD now proceeds to describe these people in the following terms. He begins by calling them “sons of a sorceress.” Here is a reference to the fact that they have forsaken their confidence in the LORD and have turned to pagan astrologers and soothsayers for guidance; recall Isaiah 2:6, “You have forsaken your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of the customs of the East and practice divination like the Philistines.” The Word of God forbids any unhealthy interest and interaction with the unholy spiritual powers of darkness.

The LORD then goes on to address these people as an “offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!” He is describing them as spiritually illegitimate children; they are not true spiritual descendants of Abraham, possessing his faith and commitment to the LORD; they are not true children of God, trusting, loving and serving their heavenly Father.

In verse four the LORD charges these people with mocking Him and defying Him: they make faces at God and stick out their tongues at Him. Then, in verses 5-8 the LORD condemns the practice of idolatry, which was rampant throughout the nation. They pursue their idolatries with great passion, even sexual passion that was part of the pagan religious ritual, (“you who burn with lust among the oaks”), even succumbing to the practice of sacrificing their own children (vs. 5). We should note that the New Testament also defines covetousness and materialism as being forms of idolatry: “Of this you can be certain, no immoral or impure person nor any greedy man, (who is an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5:5). It is just as wrong in the sight of God to sacrifice our children to the idolatry of materialism, setting for them an example of devotion to money and to things instead of devotion to the LORD, setting them aside for the pursuit of things and personal pleasures, as it is to practice religious idolatry.

These people have offered their worship and their sacrifices to their multitude of idols, and now the LORD scornfully inquires, “[The idols] among the smooth stones of the ravines are your portion; they are your lot. Yes, to them you have poured out drink offerings, to them you have presented grain offerings. Should I accept these things?” (vs. 6); i.e. the LORD is asking, Do you suppose that such offerings, being presented to your idols, appease Me? Have they not rather provoked Me? Here is a vivid indictment against the false teaching that all religions are the same, they are merely worshiping the same God under different names and in different ways. In further refutation of this teaching, note the Apostle Paul’s testimony concerning the conversion of the Thessalonians, “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” The practice of idolatry (false religion) is viewed by the LORD God as an act of spiritual adultery (vs. 7-8). Furthermore, as these verses indicate in not so subtle terms, the practice of pagan religion involved a great deal of sexual promiscuity:

You have made your bed atop a high and lofty hill; and there you went up to offer your sacrifices. 8And you have hung my memorial plaques behind the doors and the doorposts; for you have uncovered yourself to lovers other than me. You have climbed into your bed and made it available; you have made a covenant with them, you have loved their bed, you have looked at their nakedness.

As the people gave themselves over to idolatry, involving both spiritual and physical immorality, they removed the remembrance of God and His law from before their eyes. The memorial plaques were now fastened behind the doors and the posts, instead of being prominently displayed as a constant reminder of the law of God, note Deuteronomy 6:4,8-9,

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts... 8Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

In verses 9-10 the LORD condemns the political policies of Israel. Rather than looking to the LORD their God as their King and Defender, they trusted in their own diplomacy and looked to their neighboring nations for security. Israel spared no effort in seeking to secure peace by means of their foreign diplomacy; they surrendered the wealth of their land and utterly abased themselves: “You went to the king [of Egypt], bearing gifts of olive oil and an abundance of spices. You sent your ambassadors to a distant land, and you abased yourself, bowing down as far as Sheol.” Israel exerted great effort and put great hope in their diplomatic endeavors: “You were tired out by the distance of your journey, yet you did not say, It is hopeless. You found renewed strength; therefore, you did not faint.”

In verse eleven the people are described as a nation that has lost all fear of God. The LORD sarcastically inquires, “Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, that you have not remembered me nor [even] given me a thought?” What fear caused them to commit such immoral and abominable acts, as those described in the previous verses? The point being made is that they are devoid of that holy fear of God, which serves to restrain evil; having no fear of God before their eyes, they now plunge into every form of evil. The patience and long suffering of God have been misinterpreted as acceptance of their sins, or indifference to their immoral conduct, or even impotence on the part of God: “Have I not been silent for a long time, [so therefore] you do not fear me?” Having lost their fear of God, they have become emboldened in their sin; note the earlier indictment the LORD brought against them through the prophet Isaiah, “The look on their faces testifies against them; they display their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought calamity upon themselves” (Isa. 3:9).

Indeed, the LORD now warns them (and us) that the day is coming when He will act (vs. 12). On that day, declares the LORD, “I will expose your 'righteousness.’” That is to say, the LORD will examine and evaluate the nation’s claim to righteousness in the light of His own divine righteousness, and expose their “righteousness” as being in fact unrighteousness. Furthermore, the LORD asserts, “your deeds shall be of no benefit to you.” Their works, which shall be exposed as works of sin, not works of righteousness, shall not speak in their defense; on the contrary, those works will testify against them. From the language employed in verse twelve there is conveyed the impression that there was present within the people an incredible and misguided sense of self-righteousness; the type of people of whom Proverbs 30:12 speaks would apply to this people: “those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth.”

On the day when the LORD reveals Himself in His righteousness and justice He will take action against this sinful nation. Those who cling to their idolatry shall cry out (presumably to the LORD), but the LORD will simply direct them to their idols in which they have trusted: idols that themselves shall be swept away by the wind of holy judgment (vs. 13a). “But the man who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and inherit my holy mountain” (vs. 13b); those who acknowledge their sin, return to the LORD, and take refuge in Him, shall possess the land: they shall be saved to gain a share in the LORD’s everlasting inheritance. But note that the use of the singular, “the man,” seems to indicate that there will be few who do forsake their sins and return unto the LORD, their Maker and Lord.

The scene presented to us in this passage is that of a people whose lives are far removed from God and His commandments; a people who exhibit no fear of God, but yet possess an unfounded sense of self-righteousness. Here is a people who are destined to have an encounter with God that will result in condemnation (vs.13a). But, as verse 13b indicates, those who are awakened to their present condition, repent, and take refuge in the LORD, shall be spared—despite the greatness of the sins they have committed. Note, again, the LORD’s promise recorded back in Isaiah 55:7,

Let the wicked man forsake his way, and let the unrighteous man [forsake] his thoughts. Let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him. [Let him return] to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

God’s mercy can reach each one of us, no matter how great our sin; provided that we are awakened to our true condition before God and seek the forgiveness and restoration He offers through the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 Jn. 1:8-9

God’s Mercy Can Reach You, If You Are Contrite🔗

The LORD commands the construction of a great highway by means of which the contrite shall return to their God, (whom He identifies as “my people”), and to His blessed presence: “It will be said, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people’” (vs. 14).

The LORD reveals Himself to be a God of great compassion and condescension to those who are contrite:

This is what the high and lofty One—who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy—says, I dwell in the high and holy place, I also dwell with the man who has a contrite and humble spirit, in order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isa. 57:15

God reveals Himself to be “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity.” Here is a reference to His incomprehensible majesty and exaltation, and yet He is a God who condescends to minister His refreshing life-giving grace to the contrite. God reveals Himself to be the One “whose name is Holy.” Here is a reference to His absolute moral purity, a purity that is as infinite as the eternity He inhabits, and yet He is the God who delights to minister His forgiveness and mercy to the contrite. Twice in verse fifteen the word “contrite” is used.

What does it mean to be contrite? It means to honestly acknowledge our sins to God; as opposed to denying them, rationalizing them, minimizing them, or ignoring them. It means to express regret for those sins; acknowledging them to be an offense to our holy God, and that they have made a separation between us and our God, and that they will drag us to hell if we do not part company with them. To be contrite means to give our sins over to God, asking forgiveness by virtue of Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary, and seeking to lead a new life by God’s grace. Note Proverbs 28:13, “Whoever covers his transgressions shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall obtain mercy.” The LORD graciously condescends to show mercy to the contrite, as the Psalmist testifies, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psl. 51:17).

In verses 17-18 there is revealed to us the divine process that produces contrition in the hearts of God’s children. The LORD declares, “Because of his sinful greed [or, selfishness], I was angry.” The practice of sin, which literally is defined in terms of covetousness or selfishness: self-centeredness as opposed to God-centered living, causes the LORD to express His indignation with a holy anger. Consequently, the LORD continues, “I struck him; I hid my face.” His righteous indignation caused the LORD to take punitive measures against the sinner and break off fellowship with him. Then, as a result of the LORD’s act of discipline, “he returned with all his heart.”

Such divine disciplinary measures have the effect of causing the child of God to return to his heavenly Father with all his heart, because he cannot bear the prospect of eternally being alienated and separated from the divine presence of God. Note: The Hebrew word, בוּשׁ, meaning, “to turn,” (rendered “turning away” in some translations), also has the meaning “to return,” which is preferable in this context. Now the LORD declares, “I have seen his ways [i.e. now referring to his repentance], and I will heal him...and restore comfort to him.” When the LORD witnesses this contrition—this returning to the heavenly Father with sorrow, seeking forgiveness and restoration­ He is moved with compassion and ministers His mercy in restoring the repentant sinner to covenantal fellowship.

Verse nineteen reveals to us the extent of God’s mercy. Not only does the LORD pronounce the blessing of peace “to those who are near,” (i.e. those who are living in fellowship with God), He also pronounces the same blessing of peace “to those who are far.” From verses 17-18 it becomes clear that this is a reference to the contrite sinner who returns to the LORD:

Because of his sinful greed, I was angry and I struck him; I hid my face and was angry. Then he returned with [all] his heart. 18I have seen his ways, and I will heal him. I will guide him and restore comfort to him... vs. 17-18

Referring to the Prodigal Son, the Lord Jesus declares,

he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Lk. 15:20

Verse nineteen indicates that in the final analysis there is no distinction between the righteous, (that is to say, the man who possesses the righteousness of Christ his Savior and is devoted to Him), and the repentant, (the man who turns to Christ the Savior with all his heart and becomes devoted to him): the former is living in fellowship with God, while the latter is brought into that holy fellowship, both alike receive God’s blessing of peace. As the Lord Jesus teaches in His parable of The Lost Sheep, “I tell you...there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Lk. 15:7).

But the following verses reveal to us the limitation of God’s mercy. Verses 20-21 indicate that there is a vast distinction between the righteous and the unrepentant: “But the wicked are like the tossing sea; it cannot rest, and its waters churn up mire and mud. 21There is no peace, declares my God, for the wicked.” Whereas, according to Isaiah 57:2, the righteous “enters into peace,” according to Isaiah 57:21, “there is no peace for the wicked.”

God’s mercy can reach each one of us, if we are contrite. That is to say, if we honestly acknowledge our sins before God; if we surrender them and ourselves to God; and if we ask for God’s forgiveness based on Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary.


How far does God’s mercy reach? Can God’s mercy reach to me and to you in our sin? This 57th chapter of Isaiah presents the answer to that question: The LORD is gracious to show mercy and grant restoration to all who exhibit a contrite spirit. The greatness of our sin—no matter what it might be—cannot put us beyond the mercy of the LORD, if we return to Him with a contrite heart.

Discussion Questions🔗

  1. Apparently referring to the people of Judah prior to the Babylonian captivity, what does the LORD say about them? See Isa. 57:3; note Isa. 2:6. As a Christian, are you careful to avoid any unhealthy interest in and interaction with the unholy spiritual forces of darkness? Are you careful to caution your children against video games and movies that feature sinister and demonic characters? Do you pray for the Holy Spirit to keep watch over them?

But you, come here, you sons of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes! Isa. 57:3

You have forsaken your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of the customs of the East and practice divination like the Philistines. They clasp hands with the children of foreigners, [making covenants with them].Isa. 2:6

  1. What is significant about the LORD’s use of the words “sons” and “offspring” in Isaiah 57:3? If you claim to be a Christian, are you being true to Christ, or are you drifting away from Him? Note 2 Pet. 3:18a. Are you praying for your children’s salvation, sharing the gospel with them, leading them to Christ and showing them Christ in your life? Note Psl. 145:4; Prov. 4:10-11,

But you, come here, you sons of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes! Isa. 57:3

Here we find a trans-generational apostasy, handed down from one generation to their children.

...grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. 2 Pet. 3:18

One generation shall praise your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. Psl. 145:4

Listen, my son, and accept what I say, then the years of your life will be many. 11I have instructed you in the way of wisdom, I have led you in the paths of uprightness. Prov. 4:10-11

  1. What had emboldened these people who identified themselves with the LORD’s covenant and bore His name, to depart into practical, and even spiritual, apostasy? See Isa. 57:11. Have you departed from Christ in all but name, becoming complacent in your sin without fear of divine retribution? Note Psl. 50:16-17, 21,

Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, that you have not remembered me nor [even] given me a thought? Have I not been silent for a long time, [so therefore] you do not fear me? Isa. 57:11

16But to the wicked, God says, 'What right have you to declare my statutes, or take my covenant in your mouth, 17seeing that you hate instruction and cast my words behind you? ...21These things you have done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was altogether like yourself. But I will reprove you, and set them in order before your eyes.' Psl 50:16-17, 21

The LORD will call such people to account for their violations of His covenant.

  1. How will the LORD respond to such people when they pray to Him for support and deliverance from their calamities? See Isa. 57:13a. To whom will the LORD look with favor? See Isa. 57:15. Do you seek the LORD’s aid while adhering to a sinful lifestyle, or do you hold communion with the LORD with a repentant heart? Note Psl. 66:18; Psl. 139:23-24,

When you cry [for help], let your collection of idols save you! But the wind will sweep them away; a [mere] breath will blow them away. But the man who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and inherit my holy mountain. Isa. 57:13

This is what the high and lofty One—who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy—says, I dwell in the high and holy place, [I] also [dwell] with the man who has a contrite and humble spirit, in order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isa. 57:15

To be contrite means to acknowledge your wrong doing and seek forgiveness.

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear. Psl. 66:18

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; 24and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psl. 139:23-24

  1. How does the LORD define the essence of sin in Isaiah 57:13a? How does this contrast to the life we are called to live? See Deut. 6:5. Which is characteristic of your life? Note 2 Cor. 5:15 and Phil. 1:21,

When you cry [for help], let your collection of idols save you! But the wind will sweep them away; a [mere] breath will blow them away. But the man who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and inherit my holy mountain. Isa. 57:13

Idolatry is worshiping and giving one’s devotion to and putting one’s confidence in any “god” other than the LORD God the Almighty.

You shall love the LORD your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deut. 6:5

...he died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again.2 Cor. 5:15

...for me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Phil. 1:21

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