When Evil is Called Good and Good is Called Evil

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”  Isaiah 5:20

I was thinking about what to write for this week in light of the inauguration that just took place and in light of what is going on within the culture (and world for that matter).  The above verse is what came to mind.  And then I went back and read the entire chapter and context that this verse is from and I couldn’t help but think of the parallels between ancient Israel and America today.  Although let me say right from the beginning, I am not one who believes America is the “New Israel” or that America has some special covenant with God.  America has certainly been exalted by God, for His own Sovereign purposes, but like any other nation, judgment will not come because of breaking some “special covenant” that God made with America but because of sin and rebellion against Him and His Word, and unbelief in Christ as the true King (read Psalm 2).  And we certainly have many things against us from our own holocaust and slaughter of millions of the most helpless and vulnerable among us (babies in the womb), to idolatry (obsession with sports, self, money, fame, etc…), to immorality of every kind (read Romans 1:18-32), to rejection and pushing aside of God’s Word, commands and truth and faith in, and obedience to, the Lord Jesus Christ.

But when I went back and read Isaiah 5 I was struck with the similarities of ancient Israel and modern-day America and so I want to write about it in this blog.

First of all, the chapter begins with God “singing” about His “loved one” and how He had lovingly provided for her and worked hard to do everything He could to prepare her to bear fruit (verses 1-2).  But the fruit she bore was only bad (verse 2).  In verses 3-4 the Israelites are asked “what more could have been done for this vineyard?”  And then in verses 5-6 we hear the one who did all this for this vineyard saying that He will destroy this vineyard and not provide what it needs to bear fruit any longer.  (By the way Jesus told similar parables, borrowing from this very passage in Mark 12:1-11, Luke 13:6-9).  We are then told in verse 7 that this “vineyard” is specifically Israel and the men of Judah the garden of His delight.  And then we are told at the end of verse 7 this: “And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”

Following this are 6 pronouncements of “woes” (great sorrow, distress, judgment) that will come upon those spoken of in those categories.

1.   Greedy, selfish, materialistic, abusive:

Isaiah 5:8 “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.”

This is describing those who are never satisfied and have to have more, even if it means taking the land and homes of others through cheating them, robbing from them, taking advantage of them etc.

James 5:1-6 warns of this lifestyle this way:  “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”

The prophet Amos put in this way in Amos 6:1-7 “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.  Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.”

2.   Pleasure seeking, overindulging drunkards:

Isaiah 5:11-12 “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands.” 

This is speaking of those who live for their own pleasure, rather than seeking to know and please the Lord.  They consider only their desires and not the works of the Lord or word of the Lord.

Isaiah 5:13 follows that by saying this to begin: “Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding…”

The prophets often bemoan this truth and warn of the consequences of lacking true understanding/knowledge/acknowledging God and His works and word:

Hosea 4:6 “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”

Hosea 5:4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.”

3. Those who use deceit to hide/justify their sin and scoff and mock at God’s judgment:

Isaiah 5:18-19 “Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, “Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it.”

This is speaking of those who walk in sin and wickedness, using deceit to cover it up/justify it.  And then along with this they “dare God” to bring judgment on them, mocking and scoffing that He won’t act.

4.  Those who twist the truth:

Isaiah 5:20 “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

Is this not what is taking place in America today?  What is good is spoken of as evil and what is evil is spoken of as good.  “Alternative lifestyles” are applauded and celebrated though scripture condemns those lifestyles as sinful.  Laws are being passed to legalize that which is wrong, evil, selfish and immoral and laws are being passed to censor that which is good and right.

         5. Prideful:

Isaiah 5:21 “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.”

Does that even need further clarification to understand and see all around us?  Along these same lines is the problem seen in Israel during the time of the Judges:

Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. (or some translations say “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”).

6.       Unjust:

Isaiah 5:22-23 “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.” 

One commentary (Bible Exposition Commentary) summed these up this way:

  • Covetousness
  • Drunkenness
  • Carelessness
  • Deception
  • Pride
  • Injustice

Can you not see these 6 things rampant in our culture (and world)?  These were the six things specifically highlighted that resulted in the pronouncement of six “woe” judgments on the nation of Israel.

Now.  We can see the reality of these six things around us; but can we see any of them in our own hearts and lives?  We want to be people characterized by the following instead of the above:

1.  Generosity and selflessness.

Matthew 16:24-28  “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

2.  Soberness; being self-controlled and filled with the Spirit.

Ephesians 5:15-18 “Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

1 Peter 4:7 “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”

3. Fear of the Lord.

Proverbs 1:7  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Proverbs 19:23  “The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”

4. Integrity, honesty.

Psalm 24:3-6 “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.  He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior.  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.”

5. Humility.

Isaiah 66:2 “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

Proverbs 15:33 “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom,  and humility comes before honor.”

6. Doing justly, pursuing justice, showing mercy.

As the prophet Micah put it years ago in Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Are these realities in our lives or do we need to do some serious repenting before the Lord?

James 4:7-10 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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