Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land. The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing: “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”
Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands.
Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge; their honored men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst. Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down, her revelers and he who exults in her. Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,and the eyes of the haughty are brought low. But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. Then shall the lambs graze as in their pasture, and nomads shall eat among the ruins of the rich.
Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes, who say: “Let him be quick, let him speed his work that we may see it; let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near, and let it 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 sweetand sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,and shrewd in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!
Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust;for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.
He will raise a signal for nations far away, and whistle for them from the ends of the earth; and behold, quickly, speedily they come! None is weary, none stumbles, none slumbers or sleeps, not a waistband is loose, not a sandal strap broken; their arrows are sharp, all their bows bent, their horses' hoofs seem like flint, and their wheels like the whirlwind. Their roaring is like a lion, like young lions they roar; they growl and seize their prey; they carry it off, and none can rescue. They will growl over it on that day, like the growling of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and distress; and the light is darkened by its clouds. (Is. 5:8-30)
The subtitle for this entire passage in the ESV is 'Woe to the Wicked', and it is very fitting. In this passage, Isaiah proclaims his last series of woes and the judgments of God against the people of God before his terrifying and awesome experience with the LORD of glory Himself in Is. 6. The sins of Israel are here exposed in greater and greater measure. Isaiah denounces through the Spirit greed which exploits people and take over their land (v. 8), hedonism or the seeking after carnal plasure (v. 11), those who sin delibrately and mock God's justice (v. 18-19), those who take pride in themselves and their own wisdom and learning (v. 21), those who pride in drunkenness (v. 22) and those who pride in practising injustice (v. 23). And all of these sins God takes note of and He will repay them in full, in utter destruction.
To the sin of greed, exploitation and oppression of the poor, God proclaims the judgment of desolation so that they will be robbed of the comfort of enjoying their purchase (v. 9). Though they have such large and beautiful houses, because they rejected God and oppressed the people of God, God will remove them such that they will not enjoy what they purchase. God will subject them also to His much more drastic version of the Law of dimishing returns, that although they have more land, they will yield even less crops, even less crops than was yielded when they formerly had less land in fact! For ten acres of land to yield one bath (about 22 liters worth) of crops is very little indeed, and for one homer (about 220 liters worth) of seed to give a yield of 10% (one ephah = about 22 liters worth) shows the utter economic devastation that the LORD will bring about on such people.
Turning to the hedonists, God condemned them, both in verses 11-12 and in verse 22. These people desire only their own carnal pleasure, rising early to indulge in pleasures and continuing/ tarrying late into the evening while enjoying the pleasures of wine (v. 11) and of the arts (v. 12a). Yet they neither regard God nor praise Him for the abundance they are abusing at that very moment in living for their pleasure. They similarly brag about their ability to drink and hold their liquor (v. 22), and God's wrath burns against those who waste their lives living for themselves.
Isaiah then hereby pronounces their destiny, as the LORD will bring judgment upon His sinful people. Because of their rebellion, they will go into exile (v. 13), and such a judgment extends to even the honored men who will grow hungry and all will grow thirsty for lack of water. It must here be noted that Isaiah proclaims that they suffer jugment in going into exile for 'lack of knowledge', thus showing forth that the people do not know the Word of God, and such is a fact both because of the lack of godly teaching, and a general apathy to knowing the Word of God which is easily accessible to them. Sure, they still have official priests and prophets, but these priests and prophets are only being religious (cf Is. 1:11-14) and doing their 'jobs'. Neither are the people interested to know about God also anyway. And therefore God pronounces His judgments by sending these reprobates all to hell/ Sheol (v. 14a) as it figuratively enlarges to accomodate its new inmates. All those who take pride in their sinful ways will go there, including the nobles who lead the way in apostasy (v. 14b). The Lord will punish the proud and the wicked, humbling them and bringing them low (v. 15), and through His justice He exalts Himself (v. 16), and once done giving the spoils of the destroyed to His people (v. 17), and letting those with little (ie Nomads) enjoy what the wicked have 'toiled for'.
As we can see so far, this has many implications for our situation today. The Visible Church now, as was then, is filled with preachers who treat their jobs as a profession. Rather than tending and feeding the sheep, they are interested in being "professional", "scholarly" and of course "uplifting", "positive" and "nice". God has became a tool of the religious industry, it seems. And the flock wants it that way! Dare criticize the popular preachers like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and Joseph Prince? Oh no, you are so negative, so judgmental, and besides how dare you criticize someone who is doing the work of God?! After all, I benefit from their ministry! And on and on goes the merry-go-round. The dearth of theological knowledge and soundness in today's churches is appalling by the standards of the early post-apostolic churches who do not have the rich heritage of doctrine which we have, and is matched perhaps only by the pre-Reformation era of the Roman Catholic Church-state. And 'my people want it so' (Jer. 5:31). Both priests and prophets have abdicated their responsibilities before God, and that is what the people of God desire! No wonder they have a lack of knowledge, which is both a present reality and a chosen reality, and such will lead to their destruction. Anti-intellectualism after all is a sin and no excuse for leniancy before the judgment seat of Christ! So, Christian, are you pursuing after God and His Word, or are you trying to cop-out by playing the Spirit versus the Word card? God will not allow you to do so, and He will hold you accountable for not reading and obeying the Word of God. And no post-modern plea of "But we don't know what is the correct interpretation" will help you then either, for this only proves the hypocrisy of those who say that yet at the same time they know perfectly well how to interpret all other sayings (and those "Fundamentalists" they critique), and most especially their bank account statements. (Ever heard of the Emergent that will tolerate anyone using their post-modern 'logic' to alter the figures in their bank book?)
Verses 18-19 calls out those who mock God, who deny the existence of God and His justice and through sarcasm call on God to show His work so that they may see it, and that God will deliver His counsel in front of them so to speak so that they hear it (v. 19), scoffing and mocking a God they think is not there, and thus wanting Him to perform as if they are the judge who God must appear before as the convict (cf 2 Peter 3:4). They flagrantly continue on in their sin, even delibrately with 'cords of falsehood' and sin so much that cart ropes are used as an analogy to show the many sins they perform — so many that cart ropes must be used to carry them around (v. 18). Those who attempt to sit in judgment of God, like for example Richard Dawkins representing the atheists and Brian McLaren representing the Emergents, will one day face the full wrath of Almighty God who will repay them their due in punishment, unless they repent. The attitude of true believers is one of submission to the Word of God, not sitting in judgment of it, as if God is our slave who must obey us, and not the other way around.
Isaiah next tackle those who pervert righteousness, who call evil good and good evil. Calling darkness light and light darkness, bitter sweet and sweet bitter, the Scriptures pronounce judgment on such people. Such people attack those who serve God and defend those who pervert the Word of God, as with all the so-called "watcher of watchmen ministries" all around the world. Attacking those who believe in the Word of God and contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 4), they call them bigots, attackers of the brethren and liken them to extremists, yet they extoll the heretics like Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and others like them. Even within Neo-Evangelicalism, those who exercise discernment and denounce the heretics within the midsts are treated as non-Christians, while the ones who are so 'loving' and 'broad-minded' that they are able to be nice to everybody including heretics are welcomed into their midsts. All of such is calling good evil and evil good, and both alike are an abomination against the Lord who is perfectly righteous without any taint of evil, and abhors any attempt at Hegelian dialetical synthesis.
The foundational principle of Humanism is next attacked in verse 21. The Christian life is lived ultimately by faith, a faith which is intellectual yes, but faith nonetheless. As Anselm says, Faith seeks understanding (fides quaerens intellectum), which is to say that the foundation of true knowledge is faith in Jesus Christ, and thus without faith, there is no true knowledge. Therefore, Isaiah proclaims woe on those who are 'wise in their own eyes', and those who think they can gain any true knowledge without basing it on a foundation of faith. As my friend Mike Ratliff states:
Unbelief, which is rooted in spiritual blindness, is deceitful. We must never forget that spiritual blindness is the product of idolatry. These nominal Christians never walk by faith. ... Genuine Christianity is of faith. ... (The Root of Liberal Theology)
Humanism in any form is antithecal to true Christianity. There is thus no such thing as 'Liberal Christianity'; Liberal yes, Christian no! Those who trust in themselves and their reasoning are thus under the very wrath and judgment of God, regardless of whether they come in under the banner of Christianity or not. For as it is written:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18)
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
Without faith, not only is it impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), but it is impossible to have any true knowledge of God. Understand they can, since Scripture is perspicuous, but it is folly to them; they cannot see the truth in it! And those who continue on in their humanism God will judge most severely.
Verse 24 starts the pronouncement of judgment against the people of God. Like a tongue of fire which spreads very quickly through dry grass is the judgment of God against those who reject and despite His Law and His Word. God Himself will turn His hand against them to destroy them, leaving their corpses in the streets (v. 25), and yet God's anger is not turned away. God will summon the pagan nations as judgment against His people, strong and mighty, determined and totally prepared to kill and destroy His people (v. 27-29) and none can stop them (v. 29). And the darkness of judgment will fall upon the land as they are forsaken by God to their enemies, and they can find no help wherever they look. (v. 30)
Dear Christian, as we look at this, let us come with trembling before our God. Let us learn to live by faith, and base all our knowledge on faith. Let us submit to God and His Word, never learning from the devil and ask "Has God said?" (Gen. 3:1 — NASB). For God is not a God who will allow us to continue sinning. Though He is patient with us, yet judgment will still come in the end for those who stubbornly remain in their sins. While we still can, let us turn to God in true repentance and follow Him in faith, learning God's definition of good and evil so that we would not pass false judgment on another.