Isaiah 5:8-30 (NKJV)
Woe to those who join house to house; They add field to field, Till there is no place Where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!
In my hearing the Lord of hosts said, “Truly, many houses shall be desolate, Great and beautiful ones, without inhabitant.
For ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, And a homer of seed shall yield one ephah.”
Woe to those who rise early in the morning, That they may follow intoxicating drink; Who continue until night, till wine inflames them!
The harp and the strings, The tambourine and flute, And wine are in their feasts; But they do not regard the work of the Lord, Nor consider the operation of His hands.
Therefore my people have gone into captivity, Because they have no knowledge; Their honourable men are famished, And their multitude dried up with thirst.
Therefore Sheol has enlarged itself And opened its mouth beyond measure; Their glory and their multitude and their pomp, And he who is jubilant, shall descend into it.
People shall be brought down, Each man shall be humbled, And the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.
But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, And God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness.
Then the lambs shall feed in their pasture, And in the waste places of the fat ones strangers shall eat.
Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, And sin as if with a cart rope;
That say, “Let Him make speed and hasten His work, That we may see it; And let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, That we may know it.”
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!
Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink,
Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away justice from the righteous man!
Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, And the flame consumes the chaff, So their root will be as rottenness, And their blossom will ascend like dust; Because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them And stricken them, And the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets.
For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still.
He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar, And will whistle to them from the end of the earth; Surely they shall come with speed, swiftly.
No one will be weary or stumble among them, No one will slumber or sleep; Nor will the belt on their loins be loosed, Nor the strap of their sandals be broken;
Whose arrows are sharp, And all their bows bent; Their horses’ hooves will seem like flint, And their wheels like a whirlwind.
Their roaring will be like a lion, They will roar like young lions; Yes, they will roar And lay hold of the prey; They will carry it away safely, And no one will deliver.
In that day they will roar against them Like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks to the land, Behold, darkness and sorrow; And the light is darkened by the clouds.
Today we will be looking at God's judgment at the excesses of the Israelites.
The theme of today's passage continues on from the condemnation of excess found in Isaiah 3. Remember that in Isaiah 3, God condemned the fact that the rich and the rulers were oppressing and taking advantage of their fellow countrymen so as to live in haughty superfluity. Here in Isaiah 5, God condemns not the belongings of those people but the acts that these people perform. In essence, God is doubly condemning them: not only for what they have despite the plight of those less fortunate, but also their actions which have landed others in being less fortunate. We begin in vs. 8, where woe is called upon those who join house to house and add field to field. The phrasing of this might be somewhat confusing at first, but essentially these are people who constantly expand their property until there is no place left. Now we can already charge these people with the problem of avarice (i.e. greed), but it goes further. If you look at Micah, who was a contemporary of Isaiah, you can see that these lands aren't expanded nicely. Rather, these people are forcefully taking land from their own people (Micah 2:2) in the same way that enemies of Israel would do. Habakkuk also references this (Habakkuk 2:9-12). The fact that at least three prophets (and probably Jeremiah as well in Jeremiah 22) make note of this practice just emphasises how prolific this was as a practice and how detestable God saw it. In response, God says that these houses will be desolate and uninhabited, and whatever yields these great fields might have had would be reduced. Usually fields produced more than what was sown, but God proclaims the opposite. Ten acres of vineyard for a bath (probably equivalent to 22 litres) and a homer of seed (probably equivalent to 220 litres) yielding an ephah (same as a bath but for measurements of solids; like how we differentiate litres and cubic meters) of crop. If you’ve ever done any planting, you know how backwards or how horrible that would be. It is the exact opposite of what these fields were expanded for and is a fitting punishment for the greed that drove such actions. Next in vs. 11, God condemns those who rise early to drink till the night. Rather than an assessment of alcoholism, this is a critique of the splendour and the laziness that the rich are able to practice. The only reason to be able to rise early to drink till the night is because someone has no need or desire to work. Instead, all their effort has gone into partying and feasting, with zero regard to what God has made. It at once judges these extravagant practices and the fact that these people give no glory to God for what they have despite their splurges and their partying and songs. It is also to worship themselves rather than to worship God. To this, God takes their drunkenness and applies it to their awareness of their situation. That they are unaware and unwise to the fact that they have gone into captivity. That the honourable are famished and the people have dried up in thirst while they themselves party from dawn to dusk. Their punishment is that Sheol (the Hebrew concept of death and hell) will swallow them whole in their pomp and jubilance; every man shall be humbled. In vs. 15, we see again the use of “eyes” as a metaphorical reference to the soul and the being. Those who lift themselves up will be trampled to the ground. But the Lord will be exalted in judgment and hallowed in righteousness in opposition to their foolhardy and stuck-up ways. The rich and fattened shall be replaced with strangers, and lambs will feed in the pastures once used for crops (which equated to riches). From vs. 18 onwards, Isaiah proclaims woe on multiple groups. First, it is those who draw sin to them through vanity. Those who expect God to work harder and do more as if they could commandeer the Lord and as if they should have the right to expect God to demonstrate His power. Amos also proclaims woe in his prophecy to those who desire the day of the Lord rather than doing good (Amos 5:8) as does Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:15). These people continue to sin because “God hasn't arrived”. Further woe is proclaimed upon those who twist definitions, calling good evil and evil good. They have gone so far as to reverse what is right and invert morality (vs. 20). Those who claim wisdom in the stead of God and despite all that is going on around them despite their “wisdom” (vs. 21). And finally those who are mighty at drinking wine and valiant for mixing drink. Justifying wickedness for bribes, something that under Mosaic Law (Exodus 23:8) should not be allowed and to which the Proverbs (Proverbs 17) have stated that both parties become equally liable to the evil caused. Note here that Isaiah draws a parallel between these “mighty men” and the mighty men of David; those that fought valiantly against wickedness where now the people valiantly brew themselves drinks. The same spirit that once sought justice now merely seeks drunkenness. The punishment for all these acts is that they will be devoured by the flames in the same way chaff from winnowing wheat is burned. No longer is there use for them, because they will ascend as dust due to their rottenness. Their actions are seen as rejecting the law of the Lord and despising (the word here is naats; ץאַנָ., meaning to spurn or treat with contempt) the word of the Holy One. God's rage has been invoked against these people and His hand lies outstretched to strike them down; but even that is not enough to satiate His wrath. Instead, God further summons the nations from afar to come swiftly to conquer Israel. The imagery here is fierce. An army so swift and mighty that none of its membership are weary or stumble or sleepy. A force to be reckoned with. By the historical accounts, this army likely describes the invasion of Assyria, Egypt and Babylon, all mega forces of the time. And indeed, their armies could be described as this unstoppable force. Yet something to remember is that despite the strength of these nations and the military force, they only operate in the capacity that God allows. Thus when foreign kings proclaim against the Lord later in Isaiah, God condemns the foreign nations not to be too haughty or proud of what they have done, because they were simply tools in the Lord's repertoire. God does not merely lay waste to Israel as punishment. He does it in the most furious way possible. Remember that while God’s tolerance is great, His temper is not something that mortals can contend with. If we get too invested in certain ways that oppose God, we can be sure that eventually He will bring us to our knees in humility.
Daniel is currently and forevermore will be a student and a learner, trying to delve into the deep conundrums of life and seeing where the path leads. He enjoys linking different things in life back to God through strange and seemingly random connections. Daniel is in the Young Professionals ministry of the Central Christian Church.