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Isaiah 1:12-17 (ESV):

12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.

God looks fed up with the celebration of the new moons, the Sabbaths, the calling of convocations and solemn assemblies in general. Instead, He rather wants the Israelites to learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause (v17).

Is God assigning equal importance to the new moons, the Sabbaths and the holy convocations, and presenting them as less important than what really matters, namely, doing good and seeking justice?


Related:

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God is indeed calling the people out for missing the mark--they are focused on the outward observances but miss the point. This is the same sort of failing that Jesus called out the scribes and Pharisees for in Mark 7:1-16 (though this latter case appears to be an even more extreme example).

New moons, Sabbaths, and holy convocations

New moons were important to the people because the observance of the new moon started a new month. Since feasts were assigned to specific days of the month, getting the new moon on the right day was necessary to get the feast on the right day.

The function of the Sabbath is regularly taught in the Old Testament--a day to keep holy. By Jesus' day, many rules had been layered on top of the commandment, to which Jesus responded "the Sabbath was created for man and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). The commandment was designed to benefit people, not the other way around.

Holy convocations were part of the great Jewish feasts, and were intended to be services that brought to the people's remembrance the great things God had done for them and had promised to them. Going through the motions of attending the convocations without the remembrance and spiritual edification was not accomplishing the purpose for which the convocations were given.

Ranking commandments

Among the three--new moons, Sabbaths, and holy convocations--no rank order (1st, 2nd, 3rd, or equality across the board) is assigned. So too are the ten commandments--they are not ranked either.

When Jesus wanted to summarize the law and the prophets and rank order commandments, He said:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Conclusion

The Lord does not specifically rank the new moons, Sabbaths, and convocations in this passage, but points out that they are not ends in themselves. They are means to greater ends.

This does not mean the commandments are unimportant; it means that the commandments serve God's purposes and not the other way around. The people chastised by Isaiah were so focused on the outward observances that they missed the point of the conversion & transformation the outward practices were designed to produce.

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Isaiah 1:

13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

Is God assigning equal importance to the new moons, the Sabbaths, and the holy convocations in Isaiah 1:13-14?

Isaiah put them in the same category. There is no mention of their respective importance being equal or not. On the contrary, Sabbath was singled out in the 10 commandments in Exodus 20:

8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

One can make a case that Sabbath was more important than the New moon. However, what was even more important?

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.

To do good was more important than a sinful Sabbath. Sabbath was important provided that they did it righteously. Isa 66:23

And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.

Doing good was more important than a sinful Sabbath. Do good, then Sabbath was important.

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This passage of itself doesn't say or imply that these things are of equal importance. The point is simply that all of them are less important than that the people are doing "evil deeds". The rituals are supposed to help us to focus our minds on God and to bring spiritual truths to our minds. They are not a substitute for right living.

But this doesn't mean that the things he mentions are equally important. Just because he lists them together and basically says that they are all less than something else doesn't mean that they are equal to each other.

Like, suppose when discussing some math problem I said, "2, 3, and 7 are all less than 10". That certainly doesn't mean that 2, 3, and 7 are all equal to each other. Or if I said, "Fred is guilty of illegal parking and robbery but George is guilty of murder. George's crime is worse than Fred's crimes", that certainly would not mean that illegal parking and robbery are equally bad. Just that both are less bad than murder.

As to whether these three things ARE equally important ... I can't think of anything in the Bible that explicitly says. My first impulse would be to say that Sabbath observances are the most important of the three because they are explicitly commanded by God while the other two are not. But if someone wants to make a case for a different order, I'm happy to hear it.

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