Isaiah, who experienced a vision and call from God in the year that King Uzziah died (740 BC), has provided us with many of the most memorable images in the Hebrew Scriptures. The first one comes in Isaiah 1:18. Barry Webb writes of this passage…
This is deservedly one of the most famous expressions of the grace of God in the Bible.
The theme of rebellion has been progressively developed through verses 2-17. The guilt of the accused has been amply established, and they are reminded of it here in vivid language: their sins are scarlet, red as crimson, the colour of blood (cf. 15b). We have reached a point of crisis.
But at the very point when judgment is expected, grace intervenes. The divine judge reasons with the accused, and makes an offer which is truly amazing in its generosity: nothing less than total pardon (18)! What they had wrongly tried to achieve by cultic manipulation is now offered to them freely, on the one condition that they cease their rebellion (19-20a). The alternative is certain destruction: they can eat the good from the land (19b) or ‘be eaten’ by the sword (20a). The choice is theirs. The Lord is gracious, but he is not to be tribled with.
The just basis for the forgiveness freely offered here will be unfolded later in the book. But it did not require the suffering of the exile to make it possible. It was always possible if only the people would repent. But grace is always hard for rebels to understand; their view of God is too small.
My own sins often stand out to me in blood red colors. How amazing that God would change the color of them to white, a color representing cleanliness, a fresh start! Of course, as a Christian I know that changing my sin from scarlet to something white as snow did cost blood, the blood of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What can I do but thank him for his indescribable gift, and simply accept that gift every day? It is as we receive that gift of grace that God himself enables us to turn from our rebellion and walk in his grace day by day.