In the Israeli agricultural society, everyone knew their animals well. The ox and the donkey were known as loyal animals and were “loyal and faithful animals.”[1] So, Isaiah compares the fickle Israelites to these animals. He writes, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” These are just dumb animals but at least they are loyal. I like the way Ortlund describes this situation, “God’s children make animals look intelligent. Oxen and donkeys are stupid. Even as animals, they’re dense. But they know enough to go find their master. After all, he feeds them. But we are often unmoved by God’s love. We wander from one false master to another—hungry, empty, frustrated, wondering why God seems unreal. But the name ‘Israel’ declares that God still longs to bless us (cf. Genesis 32:22–29; 35:9–12). The words ‘my people’ show how closely God identifies with us. What madness is this, that we treat God our generous Father as a problem to work around, while we get on with the real business of life! The prophet is saying, ‘That’s stupid.’ And it breaks God’s heart.”[2]

During the creation account, we see that God only has to speak to bring things into existence. The whole creation obeys his word. He says “let there be light” and light appears. He says “let the plants appear on the dry ground” and they appear. He says “let the planets appear” and we have them in their particular orbits. He “let there be animals on the earth” and they appear. The birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the land all respond to His voice with obedience. But not mankind! We are the highest of his created order. God shared himself with us by creating us in His image. All the created order is pronounced good except man. We have been pronounced, “very good.” Briley adds to this thought, “It is a great irony that human beings are the creatures with whom God desires the most personal, intimate relationship, yet we alone consistently fail to honor and respond to him.”[3]

God had acted completely out of his love for mankind. He created us out of his love. This is so obvious to me. He filled the world with color and gave us eyes to see. He filled the world with flowers and fragrances and gave us noses to experience them. He filled the world with foods to eat and made us with taste buds to enjoy them all. He put us in bodies and made us male and female and blessed us with the command to multiply and fill the earth. But we look around us and complain about what we see. We dislike some odors, we don’t like some foods, and we are unhappy with limits being placed on our physical pleasures. We blame God for there being any kind of unhappiness or pain or sorrow in the world. We ignore the blessings and focus on the pains and then blame God. Although death came in response to our rebellion as promised by God originally, we blame God for all suffering in the world. Again, out of His great love for us, God sent his son into the world to save the rebellious. He came dealing with the pain and healing the sick and raising the dead and his most precious creation, mankind, hung him on a cross. God took upon himself the suffering we experienced to demonstrate that love for us while we were yet sinners. Our rebellion, like that of a beloved child, broke God’s heart. Psalm 69:20-21 speaks for Messiah. This is the greatest expression of God’s love for mankind and it was scorned and rejected. “They have broken my heart by saying evil things about me. It has left me helpless. I looked for pity, but I didn’t find any. I looked for someone to comfort me, but I didn’t find anyone. They put bitter spices in my food. They gave me vinegar when I was thirsty.” The Psalmist also tells us what God desires from us. Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

[1] Friesen, Ivan D. 2009. Isaiah. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA; Waterloo, ON: Herald Press.

[2] Ortlund, Raymond C., Jr., and R. Kent Hughes. 2005. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[3] Briley, Terry R. 2000–. Isaiah. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub.