(When I taught my two year long Bible study on Isaiah, I used The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell to give me a starting point and rough outline of the material covered in the chapters. In this article, when you read the phrase “my commentary”, I am referring to this volume.)
Read Isaiah 5:15-16. Here we have a couplet of verses that compare and contrast each other:
Arrogant man is humbled
Holy God is exalted
What I found interesting was that God is exalted by his justice, for bringing judgment to Judah. Isaiah describes God as holy, just, and righteous. Could God by holy (or righteous) if He didn’t judge Judah? Numerous times in the past God has deferred judgment, but in the end all have to make an accounting ‘” either you try (and fail) to make an accounting based on your own deed or you have Someone else stand in for you.
In this particular case, God could have waited to judge Judah until the guilty individuals died, but then what happens to the next generation? Or the next? Or our generation? They (and us) would assume that 1) what Judah did was OK and/or 2) God didn’t care and/or 3) God wouldn’t or couldn’t call people to account for their actions.
So what happens to Judah here is an example for later generations, providing them with a chance and a reason to repent and become right with God. Perhaps even some in the midst of this judgment did repent before it was too late.
Read Isaiah 5:17. This verse may first appear confusing. Sheep? Lambs? These animals are often used to refer to Godly followers (Christians in the NT) ‘” is Isaiah saying that a “remnant” will return? Actually in this case, it doesn’t appear so; the sheep appear to be literally “sheep”, the animals.
My Bible has a note saying that in some versions they substitute “lambs will feed” with “strangers will eat” among the ruins of the rich. This appears to be referring back to verse 9 which talks about the abandoned mansions and estates of the wealthy. These will be left for the flocks of strangers (non-Jews) to graze. Think of the Arabs today, who now own a good portion of the land which once belonged to Israel & Judah. When Judah was taken into exile, others would have come in and occupied the land.
Read Isaiah 5:18-19. This is the third woe. When I read these verses I was reminded of Marley’s Ghost from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. [page 22, 26]
The people described here in Isaiah are so laden down with sin that they drag it behind them, like they are pulling a cart. They scoff and mock at Isaiah, and through him, at God. “Let God hurry — Let it approach.” Their use of “The Holy One of Israel” is actually a symbol of mockery, for this was one of Isaiah’s favorite titles for God.
I do not think that these people realize the heavy weight of sin they are dragging around with them, just like Scrooge was unaware of the chains (like Marley’s) he carried. Secondly I don’t think these people really expect God to ever come and punish them. They are like the scoffers in 2 Peter 3:3-4.
We do not see a specific judgment listed for this woe, but I think it is implied. They are going to get what they are “asking for”, with their scoffing and mockery.
Read Isaiah 5:20. This is the fourth woe. These three couplets describe the same kind of people, those that are morally corrupt: that “flip-flop” good and evil. The first couplet talks about their speech “call evil good and good evil.” They put fair sounding names on evil or gloss over evil deeds all together.
You aren’t cowardly, you are cautious.
You aren’t cheap, you are thrifty.
You aren’t wasteful, you are generous.
You aren’t a liar, you are a creative speaker.
You aren’t an adulterer, you are in love.
They also mislabel what is good and make it sound evil.
You aren’t humble and meek, you are a pushover.
You aren’t sincere, you are rude.
You aren’t sexually pure, you are a prude.
You aren’t standing by your convictions, you are intolerant and judgmental.
You aren’t a good steward of your money, you’re cheap.
You aren’t a generous giver to charity, you’re an easy mark.
The next two couplets appear to deal more with their actions, since Isaiah uses “put” instead of “call.” “Light” is often used to symbolize “good” and “darkness” to symbolize “evil.” “Bitter” and “sweet” are used rarely in the Scriptures in the context of moral values. I think the closest I could find was James 3:9-12.
Salt water is often described as being “bitter” and fresh water is sometimes described as “sweet.” Here James is saying our mouth demonstrates what is in our hearts. If it is “salty” (or bitter) it shows evil, if it is “fresh” (or sweet) it shows purity and goodness.
The fourth woe of Isaiah, therefore, is against those who intentionally chose to do evil saying that it is good and refuse to do good, saying it is evil. Two modern days examples I could think of were:
— those who support abortion rights saying it is an “evil” to limit a woman’s right to choose (calling an evil good and a good evil)
— those who refuse to teach their children about the Bible or take them to church because they don’t want to “force” their beliefs on their children; they should be allowed to make their own decisions (calling a good evil and an evil good)
The judgment for these will be, in part, the utter shock of the ultimate wake up call when they face God and they see their actions in God’s light. Their good will “flip” and become evil and what they thought they were abstaining from because they thought it was “evil”, they will discover was actually the good.
H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (editors). The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah