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“You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water.” ~ Isaiah 1:30 NIV

I came across this verse the other day. It’s a “be like a tree” text, but on the surface it’s not a nice one. I read on. “The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire.” (Is. 1:31)

Ouch. This second verse reminded me of the weeks this summer when a wildfire raged nearby in Northern Colorado and smoke blanketed the city. A drive to the eastern plains for a baseball game took our family past fields of severely stunted corn. Most of the national weather reports over the summer at least mentioned the unusually hot temperatures and severe drought conditions.

We know what a physical drought is like. Hot. Dry. Wilting leaves. Extremely flammable. But it’s just as possible to be in a moral or spiritual drought.

The earlier verses, when taken in the context of the entire first chapter of Isaiah, address such a situation. Israel, as a nation, was filled with religious routines and burnt offerings … while equally filled with corruption, evil, and rebellion. Going through the motions with hearts that were far from God.

Isaiah’s message was a warning call to repentance. There was a choice to be made, a choice with benefits or natural consequences. “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land, but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Is. 1:19-20) “Zion will be delivered with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish.” (Is. 1:27-28)

And then comes Isaiah’s reference to oaks and gardens. “You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen. You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water.” (Is. 1:29-30)

The sacred oaks and gardens were places devoted to pagan worship and fertility ceremonies. The people of Israel chose them over the true God only to find themselves spiritually barren. They continued to go through the motions with Temple sacrifices and burnt offerings, but their worship was rejected because of the condition of their hearts.

They lived in a spiritual drought when all along they could have tapped into the source of living water and been like a tree planted by the water whose leaves did not wither.

There’s a warning there for me to examine my heart. No more lip service to a Holy God and then a life lived my way. He deserves all of me … and promises a well-watered life in return.

What about you? Have you ever found yourself in a moral drought? Have you ever gone through religious rituals with a rebellious heart? Did you repent, seek justice, and obey?

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