Although we live in a very beautiful country filled with amazing cultural diversity and many good things, we also live in a country that faces huge challenges. There is a growing, rich elite that seems unconcerned for the poor. There is growing poverty because of poor education and lack of resources. When listening to the news we are confronted with corruption, lack of accountability, cronyism and poor service delivery.
The prophet Isaiah
Isaiah’s world was not much different and God’s message through Isaiah is for us today. Isaiah was a prophet in the Old Testament, who lived in Jerusalem, and related to the people a message from God. According to Isaiah 1:1 the vision is addressed to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. But the vision is not just for them, because 1:2 says “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken…” Isaiah’s message is for all countries, all generations, all peoples, all the inhabitants of the earth, whether you are religious or non-religious, Christian or Muslim. In chapter 5 Isaiah pronounces God’s judgment on the world in the form of six woes. This is God’s message for the us.
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. (v8)
The Promised Land in the Old Testament was a gift from God. The land was allocated to families and it was very important that the land stayed in the family’s name. But by Isaiah’s time a new, rich, elite class emerged, who were buying up all the land. Instead of serving those under their care, the new land-owners evicted the poor from their homes and fields, as they became intoxicated with money, materialism and power. They built themselves huge mansions, owned many wine-farms and platinum mines, bought private game reserves, ate sushi off models in bikinis, owned fancy holiday houses all over the country, and kept adding house to house and field to field. All this while the poor had no homes and no proper toilets.
There is nothing wrong with owning land or being a property developer, but the question is, what drives you? Is it to help others, develop the country and create business for the benefit of all? Or is it greed, power and materialism, even to the point of exploiting and abusing others?
Isaiah says woe to you. The judgment of God is coming and soon your houses will stand empty
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… (v11-12)
The problem is not alcohol, but that these people run after their drink. They can’t wait to get to the pub, the next party, or the next rave. They can’t wait for the weekend to get to the nightclub, or the beer, or the heroine. They party like there’s no tomorrow, but (v12) “they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD or the work of his hands.” Let me say that living for yourself can look quite innocent; you don’t have to be sitting at the pub till 2am every morning or living from one party to another. You can live for Tupperware parties and run after strong tea. In other words, your home is your idol, you’re constantly tidying, renovating, shopping and repainting. Or can live for your children. We must be careful here because children are a gift from God and God calls us to care deeply for our children, but we are called to run after God, not our children. Our lives should revolve around Jesus, lest our children grow up thinking they are God and need to be worshipped. We can run after many things: alcohol, parties, heroin, cars, career, children, or other women.
Isaiah says woe to you. Judgment is coming.
Woe to those …who say, “Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so that we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so that we may know it.” (v18-19)
These people deny God’s judgment. They say things like, “Don’t be stupid, God wont judge the world. Things just carry on. You really think God’s going to actually come here and judge? What have you been smoking?!”
Isaiah says woe to you.
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. (v20)
Isaiah condemns his city for their warped ethics. Darkness and light, refer to public ethics, that’s plain for all to see. Bitter and sweet, refer to private ethics, that perhaps only you know about; your private decisions, choices and sins.
Ultimately God determines if something is good or evil. If God says it’s evil it’s evil. If God says it’s good it’s good. God calls the killing of children evil, we may call it pro-choice. God calls homosexuality sin, we may call it a lifestyle. God calls pre-marital sex immorality, we may call it fun. God views pornography as soul-destroying, we may view it as harmless fun to spice up our sex life.
Isaiah says woe to you.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (v21)
Up to now you might think you’re ok. You are a good person, you’re against abortion, you don’t sleep with your girlfriend, you give to a charity and more importantly, you don’t eat sushi off models. You think you’ve got it sorted, you’ve got a plan for your live, a strategy for the future, you’ve determined how you will live and what you stand for.
Isaiah says woe to you. You’re wise in your own eyes. You’re treating yourself as God. You’re deciding what’s right and wrong. You’re acting exactly like Adam and Eve.
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. (v22-23)
Isaiah is speaking to provincial officials who agree to supply text books to schools, but spend the money on new cars; to property developers who built shoddy RDP houses and take taxpayers’ money and go on holiday; to debt counselors who actually prolong the life of your debt so they can earn more commission; to those who deny justice for a juicy kickback; to artisans who want to be paid cash so that they don’t have to declare all their income; and to their clients who agree to pay cash. Instead of being heroes of justice and integrity, they are heroes at mixing drinks.
Woe to you. God’s judgment is coming. There will come a day when we all stand before God and you will have to give and account and it will not go well with you. Woe to you.
Escaping the wrath of God
The question Isaiah answers is: How can anyone then be saved and escape the judgment of God?
We will see in Isaiah (in later blogs) that God himself will provide a way. God will raise up a servant who will be crushed for our sins and pierced for iniquities (Isaiah 53). This servant will bear the judgment and wrath of God for us. He will suffer and die and then be exalted. Isaiah points us to Jesus and reminds us of the gospel. The gospel is that Jesus died to rescue us from the coming wrath of God.
Paul the follower of Jesus describes the gospel:
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
The gospel is not that God has a wonderful plan for your life, or that God wants to improve your marriage, or that God wants a Christian government, or even that we should be generous to the poor. The gospel is that Jesus died to rescue you from God’s wrath. That meets your most urgent and important need.
Of course, as a Christian, God has a purpose for you, you will probably have a better marriage, you’ll probably vote for better leaders and be more generous; but those good things are not the gospel. The gospel is that the wrath of God fell on Jesus, so that it need not fall on you.