Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag. Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine. - Isaiah 1:22
Jesus of Nazareth unveiled his miraculous powers at a wedding where, to the intense discomfiture of the wedding hosts, the consumption of wine had far exceeded the supply. So the wine ran out, which was going to be a matter of great social consternation. Then Jesus stepped forward and, to his disciples’ amazement, he turned water into wine (see John 2:1-11). Jesus transformed the ordinary and mundane into something extraordinary and delightful. He saved the day.
The people of ancient Jerusalem, centuries earlier, had done the opposite. They had turned their wine into water: “Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag. Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine” (Isa. 1:22). Morally and spiritually the people of Jerusalem were no longer what they used to be. In their heyday they were known for being “faithful,” they were “the home of justice and righteousness”—they were “once like pure silver” (1:21-22). But slag had polluted their silver, and water had seeped into their wine. They had become morally impure and spiritually corrupt.
It probably did not happen all at once. It was not as if the inhabitants of Jerusalem had woken up one morning and decided to become unfaithful, unjust, and unrighteous. In all probability there had been a slow erosion of standards, a growing carelessness about details, and a gradual blurring of distinctives. Murderers were not dealt with summarily, thieves attained social standing, bribery was excused, and caring for the needy ran a poor second to paying attention to the greedy (1:22-23). It started at the top and worked its way down, until the whole culture was polluted and diluted.
God was outraged. He took decisive action and announced that he would deal with the corruption personally. God’s purpose was to restore his people’s purity: “I will melt you down and skim off your slag. I will remove all your impurities. Afterward I will give you good judges and wise counselors like the ones you used to have. Then Jerusalem will again be called the Home of Justice and the Faithful City” (1:25-26). These promises, of course, would be fulfilled only when the Messianic kingdom was finally established.
What God promised long ago to do for the city of Jerusalem he promises today to do for the individual. When God sees silver turning to slag and wine to water through the erosion of standards, spiritual carelessness, and poor moral discipline, he speaks out. He promises to deal firmly in order to cleanse and then restore. His discipline is not vindictive; it is restorative. His judgment is not spawned through anger; it is born from love. His intention is to redeem the repentant (1:27)—those who turn away from sin and turn to God with new trust. For those people, God will de-slag the silver and re-wine the water. But the unrepentant never experience it. Their silver remains slag, and their wine turns to water.
For Further Study: Isaiah 1:21-31