When Good and Evil are Confused

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!” (v. 20).

- Isaiah 5:8-30

Over the past few days, we have looked at promises from the Lord that greatly encouraged the righteous remnant of Israel and Judah as the dreaded covenant curse of exile became more likely for God’s people in the eighth century BC (Isa. 2:1–5; 4:2–6). In Isaiah 5:8–30, however, the prophet again emphasizes the bad news of the Lord’s wrath, helping us understand why the people were being condemned.

We read several oracles of woe—warnings and promises of doom—that Isaiah pronounced upon the Judahites of his own day. He proclaimed woe upon those who “join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room” (v. 8). This appears to be a reference to the faithless wealthy elite who used every trick in the book to take property from the poor and defenseless. Some of them likely moved landmarks, the boundary markers or fences separating property, just a few inches at a time (Deut. 27:17; Hos. 5:2). In so doing, their property grew imperceptibly until it swallowed up the land of others. Others would have killed for land, just like Jezebel killed Naboth to give Ahab another vineyard (1 Kings 21:1–16). However it was done, the theft of land, while it led to temporary prosperity, would end with the emptiness of vast estates that were acquired by fraudulent and oppressive means (Isa. 5:9–10).

Isaiah also condemned those who were so enslaved to their amusements that they did “not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands” (vv. 11–12). The prophet did not forbid entertainment per se, but he condemned those who made amusement their god. This is a sober warning for us in our entertainment-driven society lest we, too, fritter our time away so that we do not consider God and His will.

The fundamental problem, however, that led to the aforementioned sins and all others mentioned in the chapter was the willingness of the people to embrace an inverted moral order. Instead of praising what Paul would later call honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent, the ancient Judahites viewed God’s law as evil and evil as just (v. 20). But when the hearts of men and women become so darkened that they openly revel in what is evil, the judgment of the Lord cannot be far behind. Those faithful people who live in such societies must plead with their neighbors to repent, for if people persist in approving of what is evil, the culture cannot survive.

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments on today’s passage: “If a woe is here pronounced even on private individuals, when they say of evil that it is good, and of good that it is evil, how much more on those who have been raised to any elevated, rank, and discharge a public office, whose duty it is to defend what is right and honorable!” Those who hold positions of leadership are tasked particularly with promoting what is right and good. God’s people must hold leaders accountable when they endorse evil.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 32:35–36
Leviticus 26:40–42

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