Isaiah spoke of God’s anger, but he began with God’s deep sorrow, with a Hebrew word, הוֺי | hôy, that is translated as ah!, alas!, ha!, ho!, O!, woe! It is meant as a cry of pain, and of lament. So, instead of hearing each of these indictments as an angry pointed finger, let us listen to them as a grief-stricken parent might say them, devastated over the effects of sin in their child.

  1. First sorrow: the people’s abuse of their wealth.
  2. Second sorrow: hedonism.
  3. Third sorrow: lack of repentance
  4. Fourth sorrow: degeneracy
  5. Fifth sorrow: self-focused pride
  6. Sixth sorrow: corrupt government

Prophetic Warning

Sin had not yet reached the point of critical mass when Isaiah was delivering this sermon. It would be another one hundred years and more before God’s judgment would come, years of noticeable decline for Judah as they continued to ignore their prophets and disregard God’s word.

To the Choice Vine

You and I need to pay close attention to that, because remember, these sermons were not directed towards people who had never heard of God, or did not know God. These sermons were especially for God’s own people, the choice vine that God had lovingly planted in the very fertile hillside of the Promised Land.

These were the people who had been given the Lord’s covenant, and God’s law, who had the scriptures and temple worship. They were a religious people, regularly in the temple performing rituals, observing the feasts, and keeping the altar of prayer incense burning night and day.


Assurbanipal op jacht | Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=611824

To the Blessed and Beloved

The people of Judah were still enjoying all the abundance, freedom, protection, and wealth the Lord had promised them, as God’s people. If Isaiah had not been making them feel uncomfortable with all his oracles of sin and doom, they would have been content believing everything could stay exactly as it was. They could continue to be self-centered in their life pursuits, visit God on the Sabbath for a bit, then carry on in their self-serving ways.

Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism

Today, we have coined a term for this type of theology: Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism[1]

  1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

There are aspects of Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism which have truth in them. But there is also much that strays from the center of truth.

It is certain the people of Isaiah’s day felt they were for the most part good people. God’s blessing and their own religiosity seemed to make that secure. But by habitually compromising with true righteousness, with the character and values of God, the people had lost sight of what good meant. They now called evil good.

Injustice Met With God’s Justice

God’s last cry of pain was over corrupt government meting out injustice. Therefore, Isaiah said, now God’s true justice would be coming.

Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,
    and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,
so their root will become rotten,
    and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the instruction of the Lord of hosts,
    and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 5:24 (NRSV)

When God’s judgment came, it would be like one of those wild fires sweeping over a field, and the grass and flowers instantly disappear in flames. Even the roots are burned up, and the blossoms turned into puffs of ash.

By Internet Archive Book Images – https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14595690427/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41873088

Earthquake

First, Isaiah described a terrible earthquake, with many dead. The people would have recalled a similar earthquake that had occurred during Uzziah’s reign. That memory should have sobered them up.

Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
    and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them;
    the mountains quaked,
and their corpses were like refuse
    in the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 5:25 (NRSV)

Invasion

Next would come a terrible invasion that could not be stopped. The Lord would raise God’s signal and armies at the ready would come from nations far away.

[God] will raise a signal for a nation far away,
    and whistle for a people at the ends of the earth;
Here they come, swiftly, speedily!

Isaiah 5:26 (NRSV)

It would be an unstoppable army, frightening in how prepared they were, not a strap or belt out of place, relentless, untiring, every weapon sharpened and poised, every vehicle shining and in perfect working order. The sound of their approach would be like a din, as paralyzing as a lion’s roar is to its prey.

Black Hunting Mural of King Ashurbanipal (668-631 BC), British Museum. | جِدارية صَيد الأسود للمَلك أَشُورْ بَانِيبَال (668-631) ق.م، المُتحف البِريطاني. by Husham Ahmed; By Mohmmd Abd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=116415699

No Time To Prepare

There would be no time to prepare and no barrier to protect them—remember that the hedge would have first been taken away.

There would be no early alarm system, the watchtower having already been trampled.

Their roaring is like a lion,
    like young lions they roar;
they growl and seize their prey,
    they carry it off, and no one can rescue.

Isaiah 5:29 (RSV)

It might be hard for you and me to imagine this, we feel so safe embedded in our enormous, wealthy, mighty country. But the people of Isaiah’s day felt safe too, or they would have responded with national repentance, just as Nineveh had repented when Jonah preached to them, and in response God had spared them.

Exile

After the invasion there would be exile, and

[The invading armies] will roar over it on that day,
    like the roaring of the sea.
And if one look to the land—
    only darkness and distress;
and the light grows dark with clouds.

Isaiah 5:30 (NRSV)

Israelites Carried Captive, illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible | By publishers of the 1890 Holman Bible – http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/1890holmanbible/bw/israelitescarriedcaptive.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6744346
God gives ample warning before God’s justice arrives

It may seem strange to us today, to consider Isaiah’s prophetic warning having anything to do with modern nations and governments. After all, this ancient oracle was God’s word to a people God had called and covenanted with in a way the Lord had not ever done before, nor seems to have done since. The Hebrew people are unique, the nation of Israel, and even the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah had peculiar and distinctive relationships with God that no other people can claim.

So how do we understand these prophecies for ourselves now? What makes them relevant?

At least one way is to remember that God’s character remains the same, God’s righteousness, God’s sense of justice and goodness have not changed. We who have pledged faith with God, who have entered into the better covenant that Christ offers, also have a peculiar and distinctive relationship with God.

It is right for us to seek God’s righteousness, and to take care in deeming what is right and good in God’s eyes, and to take care in what we reject in God’s name as darkness and evil.


[1] This term was coined nearly twenty years ago by two researchers who were studying the religious and spiritual lives of then teenagers in America, the generation that is now known as the Millennials. They collected their research into a book entitled Soul Searching.


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