The house of Israel (Judah) was the LORD’s vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7). The nation was to bring forth good grapes, but instead it brought forth wild grapes (Isaiah 5:2). It is in this context, six woes are pronounced. Let’s notice…
1. “Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place…” (Isaiah 5:8-10).
Materialism may be in view. The focus seems to be on possessions. Jesus taught, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
Greed is in view. Homer Hailey comments, “Woe unto the rich landowners who buy up or otherwise acquire the land of the less fortunate until the original owners are crowded out” (Homer Hailey, Isaiah, p. 65). Micah spoke of those who “covet fields and take them by violence, also houses, and seize them. So they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance” (Micah 2:2).
Disregard for God’s law may be in view. The land acquired was to be returned on the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25). Some believe that this was not occurring (ESV Study Bible, NIV Study Bible).
2. “Woe to these who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them! The harp and the strings, the tambourine and flute, and wine are in their feasts; but they do not regard the work of the LORD, nor consider the operation of His hands” (Isaiah 5:11-17).
Hedonism and mixed-up priorities are in view. They lived for their own pleasure from morning to night. They did not think about God or His will. The book of Hosea says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6 cf. Isaiah 5:13). They loved pleasure more than God (2 Timothy 3:4).
This is still a problem. Even in wholesome pursuits, one must not lose sight of proper priorities. Some become so focused on the cares, riches, and pleasures of life that they fail to be spiritually fruitful (Luke 8:14).
3. “Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if with cart ropes; that say, ‘Let Him make speed and hasten His work that we may see it…’” (Isaiah 5:18-19).
False teaching is in view. The people are seen as animals pulling sin around. What is it that hooked them to this cart of sin? The answer is “cords of vanity” (NKJV) or “cords of falsehood” (ESV). Some believe that this refers to idolatry (cf. same word Psalm 24:4; Jeremiah 18:15). Others believe that it refers to the empty promises of false teachers (cf. Isaiah 30:10; Same word Ezekiel 12:24; 13:6; Lamentations 2:14).
Disrespect is in view. They challenged God to bring on the punishment (Isaiah 5:19 cf. Jeremiah 7:15; 2 Peter 3:3-4). All should remember, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
4. “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).
Mixed up values are in view They did not view things as God did (cf. Micah 3:2). Franklin Camp pointed out, ” It was not to Assyria or Babylon that Isaiah directed these words, it was to Judah. Sin overlooked, ignored, practiced, leads to the inability to distinguish between righteousness and evil. The lack of love for truth and righteousness leads one to believe a lie and to think it is truth.” (Franklin Camp, Principles and Perils of Leadership, p. 45).
God makes distinctions. God made many distinctions in creation itself: (1) God and creation; (2) night and day; (3) land and water; (4) God and mankind; (5) mankind and animal; (6) man and woman; (7) parents and child; (8) good and evil (cf. Dennis Prager, Deuteronomy, p. 77, 337).
It is not enough to make distinctions. Man must learn to make distinctions based on the word of God. We are to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). We are to be able to “discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). We are instructed “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). We must learn to distinguish things as God does.
5. “ Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21).
Pride and ignorance are in view. Some cannot be taught. They think that they know everything. Franklin Camp remarked, “There is nothing wrong with academic learning that knows its limitations, but when ‘wise men’ presume to know things that contradict divine revelation, they have become too smart” (Franklin Camp, p. 46).
We should remember where true wisdom is found. “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 cf. Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33).
6. “Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink, who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man!” (Isaiah 5:22-25).
Justice is in view. These men perverted justice for money (Isaiah 5:23; 10:1-2 cf. Amos 5:12; Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 27:25). Instead of being mighty for good, they were mighty for other things, even sinful things. [They may even have been lionized by some for these things. Franklin Camp remarked, “The morality of a nation and the morality of the church may be measured by looking at its heroes.” (Franklin Camp, p. 47)]
God cares about how we treat others (cf. Matthew 7:12; 25:31-46). Let us, as Jesus, go about doing good (cf. Acts 10:38).