Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Woes of the Wicked: The Sixth Woe

"Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!" (Isaiah 5:22-23)

This sixth and last woe vividly brings to light the hopeless condition of Israel's citizens and the resultant punishment of that condition. Instead of being a nation full of men who were strong in God's righteousness, Israel was a nation of drunkards. They misappropriated the blessings of God's creation and used them to satisfy their lusts. The wicked man enjoys that which robs him of his senses lest he hear the convicting voice of God's Spirit.

Men of strength could be translated men of wealth. Likely, these were those who were using their wealth and position to feed their flesh rather than to help the needy and to better their society. These men were justifying the wicked rather than condemning them for their sins. Why? Because, they wanted the bribe offered to them. They were being payed off; therefore, the one who offered the most was the one who was aided in his case. The righteous man had become a prey in the middle of an unjust society, and God saw it all.

Human judges are intended to represent the righteous judgment of God. In fact, in Exodus 21:6, the Hebrew word behind judges literally means gods. The Lord commanded Israel's judges to be ruling in the fear of the Lord, always concerned with accurately representing God's righteous nature; but instead, the Israelites had perverted this holy office and converted the judgment halls of Israel into dens of thieves.

No one is beyond the perversion of justice. Believers can easily distort righteousness due to peer pressure, advantage, personalities, etc. God expects His people to do what is right based upon the truth of Scripture and not upon human advantage.

"Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." (Isaiah 5:24-25)

Every decision has its consequences whether good or bad. The Holy Spirit now shares the result of Israel's choices. All for which Judah's citizens had worked would be destroyed. The ill-gotten land, the bribes and the posterity of the wicked would be destroyed or taken away by the coming Assyrians and Babylonians. Ignoring the Scriptures has serious ramifications.

The word for torn literally means animal entrails, refuse, waste or decomposing animal flesh. When the enemy came, he would butcher the inhabitants of the cities. Bodies would line the streets and be torn in pieces as the chariot horses trampled them under foot. Human entrails would be spread all over; yet, this would not be the end of the matter. The hand of the Lord would remain stretched out until Judah's sin was fully recompensed.

"And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly: None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken: Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind: Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it. And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof." (Isaiah 5:26-30)

The word hiss means to whistle. God would call for the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish His people. The reality God's ability to move nations against the rebellious may be seen in II Kings 24:1-2 when God brought the surrounding nations against Jehoiakim. As time progressed, the Lord allowed the Assyrian Empire to continue its push westward until Jerusalem found Sennacherib knocking at the door. Eventually, the Babylonians would come against Jerusalem with great ferocity and leave it in ruins.

The Lord promised to give Israel's enemies the needed strength for inflicting her punishment. Much later, God would command Jeremiah to tell King Zedekiah, "For though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men among them, yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire (Jeremiah 37:10)." God is in control of all. He can strike fear into the heart of the enemy and cause him to flee in terror, or He can give the enemy frightening power. The Lord used these vivid illustrations to remind the Israelites that their confidence in themselves and their Egyptian neighbors was useless.

A lion was the primary symbol of the Babylonian Empire. Perhaps this is why the Lord used a lion in His illustration of the coming foe. Regardless, in the day of Israel's punishment, deliverance and hope would be absent.

These last verses seem to have somewhat of an apocalyptic undertone. They closely parallel the end-times prophecy of Zechariah 14:2. "For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity... ." Oftentimes, Old Testament prophecies have both a near and a far fulfillment. Such may be the case in this instance.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Woes of the Wicked: The Fourth and Fifth Woes

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20)

Israel had come to appreciate evil in its society. Normal moral decency was now looked down upon, and lewd, vile, oppressive behavior was exalted. Rejection of God's principles always leads to a warped mind. Perhaps this national degradation is what Paul had in mind as he penned the fearful verses of Romans 1:18-32.

As nations which once appreciated the Law of God become increasingly apostate, the believer should not be surprised at the growing lack of appreciation for morality. Instead, each saint should live for his Savior while faithfully spreading the gospel which calls for "obedience to the faith among all nations (Romans 1:5)."

"Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!" (Isaiah 5:21)

The Israelites simply believed that they knew more than God. They were unconvinced concerning the value of His doctrine and the rebukes of His prophets. They did not believe that God would bring the judgment which had been pronounced, and it cost them dearly.

Every individual struggles with the tendency to believe that he knows better than God; and the Christian is no exception. Why do many believers continue to walk down a path which has proven to be destructive? Why do many continue to ignore the value of biblical doctrine while heeding the venom of false teachers? The answer is, they are convinced that they are better equipped than God to guide their own lives.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Woes of the Wicked: The Third Woe

"Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were 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 nigh and come, that we may know it!" (Isaiah 5:18-19)

The Israelites were not sinning in ignorance. They were aware of what God had said through Isaiah and the other prophets; however, they cared nothing for the Lord's rebukes. Judah's sins were now open and blatant. In light of what God had said, they vehemently pursued their own lusts.

The attitude of the Israelites had grown frighteningly cold and blasphemous. The people were daring God to bring about the judgment which He had been pronouncing through His prophets. Because nothing had immediately taken place, the people were challenging God to do what He had said He would do. The Lord is very longsuffering. He has no desire to destroy people. His desire is that every man would come to repentance (II Peter 3:9). However, people often take advantage of God's goodness and patience. Rather than come to repentance through God's longsuffering, most people choose to disbelieve God's warnings. Such challenges against the Almighty are extremely dangerous. The Lord does have great patience, yet He will not fail to bring the needed judgment. The sad aftermath of God's judgment may be seen in the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

Man's disbelief and blasphemy against God has been present in all ages. The New Testament Church has been warned of such people in II Peter 3:3-4. "...There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming?" God dealt with Israel's challenge, and He will deal with the challenge of every man who chooses to blaspheme rather than to repent.

The attitude of Israel of the Israelites portrayed in this passage reminds the reader that sin only grows bolder with time. The unrepentant rebel does not get better; he gets worse. The longer a man rejects God's warnings and continues in his sin, the colder his conscience grows.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Woes of the Wicked: The Second Woe

"Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands." (Isaiah 5:11-12)

The word for night means twilight. From the break of dawn until well into the night, Judah's citizens were drinking themselves into a drunken stupor. No longer were they content to consume only the unfermented juice of the grape. No longer were they content simply to mix alcoholic wine with the stale cistern water in order to make it potable. Instead, they turned fully to unbridled drunkenness. Their conduct now mirrored that of the surrounding nations which cared nothing for holiness.

A "party-mindset" had taken over the thinking of the Israelites. Completely unconcerned with God's work, judgment or common responsibility, Isaiah's audience had become consumed with sensuality.

As society becomes increasingly less responsible and more sensual in its thinking, the Christian must guard against becoming consumed with pleasure. Many professing believers are very sensual. They live for enjoyment and follow after the things that feel good. This is very dangerous. It would be better to stop and consider how one's motives and actions may or may not compliment God's holiness. The believer needs to let biblical doctrine and not feeling guide the day's activities.

"Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst. Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it. And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled:" (Isaiah 5:13-15)

Isaiah's countrymen would be destroyed because they had no interest in God's doctrine. Such a indictment reminds the reader of Hosea's words. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children (Hosea 4:6)."

God promised that all of the sensual joy would find its ultimate end in hell. Sin often feels good when it is being committed, but its eternal effect is not worth the price. Although many of Isaiah's countrymen were rejoicing, God promised that such rejoicing would end in the flames of hell; and the high look of the proud man would be brought down.

All who disregard God's Scriptures can expect this same miserable end. To disregard what God has said is to commit suicide. In light of this, how foolish it is for believers not to give adequate attention to the Scriptures. A genuine believer cannot have his salvation revoked; however, he can fail in his service to God and others if he is ignorant of the Bible's doctrine. A lack of knowledge is dangerous. Professing Christianity is becoming increasingly unconcerned with giving adequate time to the Scriptures. Such a mindset mirrors the behavior of the ungodly.

"But the LORD of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness. Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat." (Isaiah 5:16-17)

God always has the last say. Regardless of how severely men may blaspheme God and reject His counsel, He will be vindicated in the end. Judah had rejected both judgment and righteousness; therefore, the Lord assured them that He would be both exalted and sanctified in these things. The verb sanctified means to be made sacred, holy or set apart. The Israelites refused to sanctify the Lord in their hearts and actions; therefore, God sanctified Himself in the eyes of the world by judging Israel's sin. Because God is set apart from the uncleanness of the world, the conduct of His children must reflect separation. If it does not, judgment must come.

After the Lord brought judgment upon Israel, the sheep would once again feed in the surrounding pastures, and the agricultural increase of Israel would be at the disposal of foreigners.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Woes of the Wicked: The First Woe

"Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth! In mine ears said the LORD of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant. Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah." (Isaiah 5:8-10)

The first woe condemns the covetous nature of Judah's citizens. They were gathering to themselves houses and lands through the oppression and dispossession of others. An insatiable desire for more is bad enough, but when that desire moves a man to steal from others' possessions, the Lord is greatly angered.

God condemned this attitude by assuring the Israelites that the very houses and lands which they sought to obtain would be destroyed and deserted through the horrors of war. God also promised to curse the land's ability to produce crops. A bath is a unit of measurement for liquid. It equates to approximately 5.9 gallons. Because of Judah's sin, 435,600 square feet of vineyard would produce no more than six gallons of grape juice. An homer is a dry measurement equating to approximately 6.33 bushels. An ephah is one tenth of an homer. For every bushel of grain reaped, the Israelites would have to plant ten bushels of seed. At that rate of return, Judah's inhabitants would soon starve.

"An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed (Proverbs 20:21)." The ill-gotten wealth of Isaiah's countrymen came with a high pricetag.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Illustration of the Vineyard: The Vineyard's Destruction (Part II)

"For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry." (Isaiah 5:7)

In the Hebrew text, there is a play on words in this verse. The Lord looked for mishpat, but instead He found mispach. The Lord also looked for tzedakah, but instead He found tzeakah. He did not find less fruit than should have been produced; He found rotten, stinking fruit that should never have grown in such a well-tended vineyard. Judah's failure to judge righteously and to relieve the oppressed was in direct disobedience to the command, "...Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:18)."

By way of application, God expects Christians to produce righteous fruit in their lives just as He expected Israel to bear fruit for His glory. This can only be done as one yields to the indwelling Holy Spirit. When a believer chooses to do this, he obeys the command of Jesus Christ. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman ... Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me (John 15:1, 4)."

When a Christian does not read and obey the Scriptures, he fails to allow the Spirit to fill him. This results in stinking fruit like that produced by the Israelites. Such things beg the judgment of God upon one's life.

Just as God provided Israel with everything she would need in order to be fruitful, Christ has bestowed upon the New Testament saint everything necessary to produce righteous fruit regardless of the circumstances in which he may find himself. However, each Christian must choose to allow the Holy Spirit to produce righteous fruit in his life.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Illustration of the Vineyard: The Vineyard's Destruction

"And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" (Isaiah 5:3-4)

The evidence was in. The Israelites could not blame God for their lack of good fruit. Verse four asks two rhetorical questions. These questions are designed to provoke thought on the part of the reader. The first question asks, "What more could I have done?" The answer is, "Nothing." Israel's issue did not stem from some inadequacy in God's provision. Israel's problem found its root in "an evil heart of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12)."

The second question asks, "Why did it produce wild grapes when I was looking for good grapes?" The answer is, "There is no viable reason." Such a result is against the laws of nature. When a man plants good seed, he expects good fruit. Israel did not do that of which even inanimate objects are capable. Such questions should have brought the listener to shame and repentance, but as Scripture bears out, Israel refused to be admonished.

"And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." (Isaiah 5:5-6)

Because the vineyard was useless, God promised to destroy it. The first wave of this destruction came through the army of the Assyrians. Tiglathpileser, Sargon and Sennacherib all invaded and pillaged northern Israel, finally destroying Samaria in 722 BC. Sometime in or near 701 BC, Sennacherib made his way south toward Jerusalem, invading numerous cities in Judah. Were it not for the Lord's deliverance, Jerusalem itself would have fallen to the Assyrians.

The second wave of destruction prophesied in this passage came through the various invasions of the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah three times, finally destroying Jerusalem in 586 BC on account of Zedekiah's rebellion.