Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Isaiah 5: 18-23


18 Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood,
And sin as if with cart ropes;
19 Who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it;
And let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near
And come to pass, that we may know it!”
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight!
22 Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine
And valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23 Who justify the wicked for a bribe,
And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!

The last of the six woes come in today's passage of Isaiah 5. They read like proverbs, and, not surprisingly, many of the cross-references for our verses do link back to the Book of Proverbs. They are pretty self-explanatory, as one would expect a proverb to be. Appreciating the punch and poetry of Isaiah!....

  • Woe #3 (vs 18): Useless flaunting with brazen mocking

The visual imagery is terrific. While a cord of three strands is not quickly broken apart (Ecclesiastes 4:12), a cord of falsehood (worthlessness; uselessness; vanity, in other translations) is snipped with ease.

"The Lord is righteous; He has cut in two the cords of the wicked."
--Psalm 129:4
Judah is not only characterized as being blatantly sinful, but it has made great effort, as dragging something of weight and heft, to make sure its sinful lifestyle is being maintained--for all to see! As if their pursuit of sin is not enough, the people do so mocking God with every step. Look at verse 19: "...Let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near...." That name for God that Isaiah has used and will use in his prophecy is here used as if by a taunting "I-dare-ya" grade-schooler. "You've got judgment for us? Bring it on!" Guess they forgot about what it says in Deuteronomy 6--what our Lord later quotes in the Gospels--about putting God to the test. Not sure those thoughts aren't still out there.

"Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.'"
--II Peter 3: 3 and 4

  • Woe #4 (vs 20): Ill-thought substitutions

Sometimes [OK, a lot of times!], when I'm cooking, I will have to make a change in the recipe I'm following. That item I thought was in the pantry, fridge or spice rack just isn't there when I reach for it. Time for a last-minute substitution [or deletion!] There are times when you can whip up missing ingredients from other sources or else choose to alter your dish's flavor profile with something different. And, then, there are times when you make an ingredient substitution and you just get it wrong! It's not just distasteful--literally. It's more likely trash-bound. This is God's point.

When you "call evil good and good evil," you get it wrong! It's not just confusing, it's what Proverbs 17:15 calls "an abomination to the Lord." To how many things can we look at in our society today and apply this thought? Something that was once an "evil" that, over time, with insistent persuasion and re-framing (as if "dragging iniquity with cords of falsehood," perhaps?) has become something perfectly acceptable?

"'The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear [healthy, sincere], your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!'"
--Matthew 6: 22 and 23

Judah's spiritual blindness had led the nation into a dark period of its history, indeed!

  • Woe #5 (vs 21): "Wise in their own eyes"

If my Mom is reading today, she is nodding her head up and down, with maybe even a little "uh-huh" thrown in. I do, now, understand about this, being a parent myself. We spend our lives learning--actively or passively, well or not so much. But it is over the entire course of our lives. Yet true wisdom is not something we can inherit or pursue on our own.

"Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, 'He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness'; and again, 'The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.'"
--I Corinthians 18: 18-20

Bottom line: We fall short! Surprise--not. Our best reasoning is not good enough to be considered wisdom. We just don't have it all. But, God's people thought they were wise enough to think and to stand for themselves. We all get caught up in the deception that we can be wise on our own, yet, enough living in the world will show you how "useless" this thinking is. Just not smart! Love how Matthew Henry put it in his commentary: "...They think themselves able to disprove and baffle the reproofs and convictions of God’s word, and to evade and elude both the searches and the reaches of his judgments; they think they can outwit Infinite Wisdom and countermine Providence itself." Back to the hits of 1979....

"What a fool believes he sees  
No wise man has the power to reason away  
What seems to be is always better than nothing  
There's nothing at all but what a fool believes he sees...."
--Doobie Brothers
  • Woe #6 (vs 22): "Drunkin' bribin' judgin'"

Don't drink and bribe! As if bribing a judge in and of itself was not enough of an issue, mix in impaired judgment to your bringing your bribe to a judge. It was working in Judah, and God had had His fill. 

In all seriousness, there is quite a list of cases in which the rights of the righteous ones have been denied. How long, yes? How long.... There are hearts pained with grief, horror and bitterness over seeing righteousness "lose." Is this woe still "on the books"? Does God let righteousness lose? Though James repeats that the unrighteous "...have condemned and put to death the righteous man...." (James 5:6), he also teaches us what to do--looking to prophets, like Isaiah, as role models.
"You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful."
--James 5: 8-11 (italics mine)

"Therefore...." There's that word again! God explains what's coming down in the face of judgment.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 5: 24 and 25

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Isaiah 5: 13-17


13 Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge;
And their honorable men are famished,
And their multitude is parched with thirst.
14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure;
And Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, 
her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it.
15 So the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased,
The eyes of the proud also will be abased.
16 But the Lord of hosts will be exalted in judgment,
And the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness.
17 Then the lambs will graze as in their pasture,
And strangers will eat in the waste places of the wealthy.

If God spoke through David Byrne, He might have said, "This ain't no party. This ain't no disco. This ain't no fooling around." It's "Life During Woetime", and God is bringing the woes on His people. 

Two woes into Isaiah, Chapter 5, when He declares, "Therefore...." and the pronouncement of exile (vs 13). Why? "For their lack of knowledge." Because Judah didn't know it was in the wrong? Truly it knew. But, this is a nation that had so gone astray in all respects, because it was not living out the truth it had been given. Lack of knowing--being in relationship with God--led them to a state of spiritual blindness and confusion. They didn't recognize themselves much less who He was. To quote our theme song again: "We dress like students, we dress like housewives, or in a suit and a tie. I've changed my hairstyle so many times now, I don't know what I look like!"

"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also will reject you from being My priest.
Since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children."
--Hosea 4:6

No one is excluded from God's judgment, as both "the honorable man" and "the multitude" (vs 13), "the common man" and the "man of importance" (vs 15) are mentioned as lacking life's sustenance and having their worldly reputations abased. I have said this before, and I say it carefully again: God does not have a ranking scale for sin. Sin is sin, no matter what it is. But when you study the Bible and see the references, the stories, the guidance, the discipline related to pride, you get the urge to push that one up a little higher in your own mind. Isaiah 2, verses 11 and 17, basically use the same words and speak the same thought as Chapter 5, verse 15b: "The pride of man will be humbled and the loftiness of men will be abased...." The wisdom of Solomon was not heeded:

"The highway of the upright is to depart from evil;
He who watches his way preserves his life.
Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before stumbling.
It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly
Than to divide the spoil with the proud."
--Proverbs 16: 17-19

The consequence of exile before Judah should not have been unexpected. The freewill which could have allowed them to enjoy the blessings of the Father instead led them to life apart from Him. These verses not only allude to the here-and-now punishment of exile to Babylon but to the later ultimate judgment for all people. Isaiah uses sensory imagery in his description of Judah's sin: "...Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her...." This is the party, the Vegas, the self-celebration, the open bar, where the fun never ends, _________________ .... [Add your metaphor here.]

"Did they glory in the figure they made? Their pomp shall be at an end; their shouts with which they triumphed, and were attended. Did they glory in their mirth? Death will turn it into mourning; he that rejoices and revels, and never knows what it is to be serious, shall go thither where there are weeping and wailing. Thus the mean man and the mighty man meet together in the grave and under mortifying judgments."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

There is a cost to living what the world considers the high life. There is a cost to not being serious about some things, namely God and His Word. Not perfection in Him and His Word, that's not possible. But, how serious are we in our commitment to being knowledgeable about Him? Knowing Him!? Sheol--the Hebrew word for the grave, which the poets use to mean death, which the Biblical commentators say means anything from an unseen abode of the dead to Hell itself; Hell, for my understanding, meaning separation from God--opened up itself "without measure" to take in Judah's joys of living the high life and all those who partook of it. What sized gaping-mouthed "monster" do we find ourselves looking at in today's unsatisfied, self-glorified world?

As we reach the end of today's verses, we are clearly reminded that all things--blessing and exile; grace and judgment--come under the arm of God.

"Power is not exalted but in judgment. It is the honour of God that, though he has a mighty arm, yet judgment and justice are always the habitation of his throne."
--Matthew Henry

"You have a strong arm;
Your hand is mighty, Your right hand is exalted.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Lovingkindness and truth go before You."
--Psalm 89: 13-14

Matthew Henry referenced Psalm 89 when he wrote his statement. What is at the basis of the extension of God's arm? Righteousness and justice. The hand that brings forth powerful judgment does so with the intent of bringing people into right relationship with the God from whom lovingkindness and truth also flow forth. Even under this period of separation, which lasts into this very day for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ, God has grace yet to give and truth yet to fulfill to completion.

"'I will surely assemble all of you, Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel.
I will put them together like sheep in the fold...'"
--Micah 2:12 (excerpt)

"Transmit the message, to the receiver, hope for an answer some day...."
--Life During Wartime, Talking Heads

Do you know the way to Babylon? Woe, woe, woe-woe, woe, woe, woe-woe, woe. More woes! ....'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 5: 18-23

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Isaiah 5: 8-12


Woes for the Wicked

Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field,
Until there is no more room,
So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land!
In my ears the Lord of hosts has sworn
“Surely, many houses shall become desolate,
Even great and fine ones, without occupants.
10 “For ten acres of vineyard will yield only one bath of wine,
And a homer of seed will yield but an ephah of grain.”
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink,
Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!
12 Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, 
by tambourine and flute, and by wine;
But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord,
Nor do they consider the work of His hands.

We will be looking for six "Woe to those..." as we read forward in Isaiah, Chapter 5. After presenting the "Parable of the Vineyard," the prophet now introduces six specific judgments brought upon God's people.

"Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field...."
--vs. 8

The first pronouncement goes against greedy landowners of the day, though the picture described could easily represent the sprawling suburban growth seen in the time before the crashes that stalled the U.S. economy. The county in which I live continues to struggle with how much growth is good for supporting the community and how much growth takes away from the natural, pastoral beauty and space of the land as it is. The trouble in this passage is with the greed and with violating God's intentions for the land.

"'The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me. Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land. If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.'"
--Leviticus 25: 23-25

First off, the land belongs to God! This is one of those principles that we don't acknowledge all the time, either. Our name may be on the title of the house, but we truly don't own the land. God also wanted for His people to retain within the family of God that land that He had given to them. Note the provisional intent of the kinsman.

But this is not what was happening, as the mark of success became not joy in God and family but in how much one acquired, even at the loss of family and one's senses.

"They covet fields and then seize them,
And houses, and take them away.
They rob a man and his house,
A man and his inheritance."
--Micah 2:2

Verse 9 says that houses "shall become desolate." Recall what we read in the parable. The Lord will "lay it waste." What He built no longer existed, and He would not tolerate what was being built in its place. Greed and earthly wealth will pass away at His hand. Look at the phrasing used by Isaiah here: "In my ears, the Lord of hosts has sworn...." Pretty strong! No wonder that Jesus would come to affirm these words before His death in speaking of Jerusalem--after laying out His own "woe to's" in Matthew 23.

"Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
--Matthew 23: 38 and 39

The punishment facing the landowners would be tangibly noticed, as explained by verse 10. There would be a marked reduction of what had once been successful crops of grapes and grain. My study Bible indicates that, judging by the amounts listed, famine-like conditions might have existed. Clearly, God was intervening.

"You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”
--Haggai 1:6

"Woe to those who...pursue strong drink...."
--vs. 11

The second woe condemns the drunkard. So important to differentiate between the drinking of wine and its production from the pursuit of strong drink. Obviously, growing and harvesting grapes for the production of wine was a significant industry for Israel. It still is! But what verse 11 speaks to--and quite a few other verses in the Bible--is the overindulgence of drinking and the resulting disregard of other things, like "the deeds of the Lord" and "the work of His hands." (vs. 12)

God is at odds with the pursuit of a pleasurable life when it involves leaving Him out and blurs one's vision to the point of saying self-interest is the only interest. Judah was drunk on itself, as it forgot all that God had provided. Recall the beautiful words of the parable, with God taking such great care in finding the choice land and growing His people in fertile, protected surroundings. He wanted to be among them again like the pillar of cloud and fire. But the opportunities for earthly gain were too enticing to ignore, and led to their ill pursuits--pursuits for which God would not stand: "He will tear them down and not build them up." (Psalm 28: 5b)

We, again, see that though God does not run out of grace, He cannot continue to freely give it in the face of a people who do not pursue Him. This was affirmed to me in this past Sunday's message at my church, in which our interim pastor quoted from Romans 1:

"And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice...."
--Romans 1: 28 and 29 (excerpt)

God gives over Judah to its depraved mind. "Therefore My people go into exile...." as we begin with verse 13. ....'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 5: 13-17

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Isaiah 5: 6 and 7

“I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed,
But briars and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.”
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.

Although there is more to come from Chapter 5, the Parable of the Vineyard ends with our last two verses today, Isaiah 5: 6 and 7. In verse 6, Isaiah completes the picture of the vineyard as it will stand under God's providential care--neither pruned nor hoed, and rife with briars and thorns. 

I've just come back from my extended family's yearly trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We always pass by a vineyard, well cared for with its vines staked and its bases clear of weeds. Tiny globules forming off the vine in the hot sun. Not the time to see ripened grapes, but I can sense that the excellent care of the vine and foundational grounding will allow for the best possible fruit at harvest.

Not so the vineyard in the parable, as God says that He will "lay it waste," going so far as to order the clouds "to rain no rain." [I love that phrasing, even though I'm not sure what else God planned for the clouds to rain down.] The point is that God is in charge of this entire effort, and His intentions are purposeful and non-negotiable.

"'Have You completely rejected Judah?
Or have You loathed Zion?
Why have You stricken us so that we are beyond healing?....

Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain?
Or can the heavens grant showers?
Is it not You, O Lord our God?
Therefore we hope in You,
For You are the one who has done all these things.'"
--Jeremiah 14: 19 and 22, excerpts

God gave Jeremiah a prayer for mercy during this time of proposed drought that God shared through Isaiah. The "waste" that was to land upon Judah would certainly appear as a rejection by God. But, this was a nation that, for all intents and purposes, didn't acknowledge that God brought the rains in the first place. Their sin and its consequences would be as the stinging briars left behind in their land, though felt in their hearts all the way to Babylon.

"Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles. Those who had escaped from the sword he [Zedekiah] carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia...."
--II Chronicles 36: 19 and 20

Isaiah closes out the parable by explaining what the symbols are: the vineyard being Israel (Israel and Judah), and the men of Judah, "his delightful plant." But, as we know from reading earlier, what God had planned to be a plant of great personal enjoyment and productivity had become a vineyard of stinkin' bad fruit. His care in the staking, pruning and tilling of the perfect soil had been contaminated by worldly bugs, rampant unbridled growth and a resulting yield of sour grapes. This was a vineyard that would face complete devastation, but not at the hand of a God who had run out of grace in His storehouse.
"Note, God, in a way of righteous judgment, denies his grace to those that have long received it in vain. The sum of all is that those who would not bring forth good fruit should bring forth none. The curse of barrenness is the punishment of the sin of barrenness, as Mark 11:14 [Christ's cursing of the fig tree]."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

God waited in expectation of fruitfulness, but the wages of sin is death--death to a vineyard! God had given His grace in abundance, but the field of thanksgivings to Him and His Name lay barren. His people had turned against Him and against themselves. [Isaiah 3: 14, "It is you who have devoured the vineyard...."]

"It is very sad with a soul when instead of the grapes of humility, meekness, patience, love, and contempt of the world, which God looks for, there are the wild grapes of pride, passion, discontent, malice, and contempt of God—instead of the grapes of praying and praising, the wild grapes of cursing and swearing, which are a great offence to God."
--Matthew Henry

"Woes for the Wicked," as we leave our parable for an exposition on six judgments facing Judah.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 5: 8-12

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).