But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.
As I read through the chapters of Isaiah I am increasingly impressed with the development of this multi-layered prophecy. In chapter 54 the Lord reveals the future glory of Zion. In chapter 55 He invites the thirsty to taste the waters of eternal life. In chapter 56 He foretells the salvation of the gentiles. In chapter 57 He indicts the wicked and identifies with the contrite in spirit. In chapter 58 He calls His people to abandon their false worship and to draw near with their hearts. Now He tells them that their false worship does them no good.
More often than not you will hear people emphasize the importance of praying because God does hear your prayers, and that is true. But we want to be clear that it is not unconditional and absolute. The exception here is that the people were given over to all sorts of evil amongst themselves and so God withholds His protection and blessing.
The word “justice” is used in this chapter in two senses: one has to do with men doing the right thing and the other has to do with God’s judgment of Israel’s oppressors. The people neglected the former and thus God withheld the latter.
I believe this passage in verses 1-15 shows that the main challenge to approaching the Lord is our own evil nature. People are not battering the gates of heaven with passion. They are running to evil at full speed. We are the obstacles to our own reconciliation with God and He has to overcome our sinful natures in order to restore fellowship.
If you want to have your sinful cake and eat it too then do not be surprised when the Lord does not answer because He will not. In 1:15-17 of this book God warns the people that they are lifting up blood-stained hands in worship to Him and He will not even look at them. In Micah 3:4 God again says that He will not hear prayers from those who do ill. James also tells us that a double-minded man who prays will not receive anything from God.
This is a good time to mention that the problem is not so much what the people did not do but what they did do. Their prayers were not answered because they did evil, not because they did not do amazing things. God was not turning away because He was not impressed but because He was repulsed by their wickedness. These are the conditions under which you should not pray. The solution is simple: confess and repent and you will see the Lord reveal His power.
What is holding you back?