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. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. 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. Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily! Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal strap is broken. Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hooves seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue. In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds. – Isaiah 5:20-30
I took an “eddying out” day yesterday, partly because we are beginning a new term and partly because I am finding Isaiah downright confusing. Perhaps it is because of the mixing of past, present, and future in the passages. I am not sure. But I am back on the water today so here goes.
This passage follows the description of God’s disappointment with the “bad fruit” that the nation of Israel is bearing. The intervening passages are a list of “woes and judgments” describing in some detail ways that people are failing to faithfully follow and pursue God and the consequences that can be expected. Things like “people will be brought low and everyone humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled.”
The “woes” fall especially on those who would turn God’s ways upside down – “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.” This warning seems particularly applicable to the current American culture. We seem to be very confused about good and evil, light and dark.
Yet despite all these grievances God still stands with his hand upraised and “whistles for those at the ends of the earth”. I have to say this is an odd word picture — God putting two fingers in his mouth and letting out a powerful whistle to get our attention. I suppose it is no more strange than the way God chose to the settle the matter.
Those who respond to God’s call will have power. “In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea”. The sea can be really loud, resounding seas. I was recently at a place on the Oregon Coast called Devil’s churn. I could feel the low-pitched booming of the ocean in the depths of my body as the waves met the immovable rock at the shore.
The end of this passage is a little confusing. The faithful will be responding to God’s call with power, I get that, but I am not sure who their “prey” is meant to be – “they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue”. Perhaps this is a mixture of spiritual and earthly events. A spiritual battle combined with an earthly battle? I am not sure.
I think this dual meaning is consistent with the final sentence “And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds”. The land will be a dark place both spiritually and physically. The life-giving sun (Son) will even be hidden behind clouds.
In many ways this could describe many places in the world today. The Son of God is often hidden by clouds of misunderstanding and darkness. People who have not even investigated the person of Jesus are willing to take other people’s word and reject Him.
Prayer: God help us to heed your call and share both your power and light with those who need to meet your Son.