The Book of Isaiah
FIVE WOES UPON THE WICKED
Text: ISAIAH 5:8-24
1. I have entitled tonight’s message, “Five Woes Upon the Wicked.” Actually six woes are mentioned here, but since the second and sixth are similar I have combined them.
2. These woes were pronounced upon Israel, and let me emphasize that God has already judged them for the sins enumerated here in Isaiah chapter 5.
3. However, the application can be made for the United States of America today. It is a fact that God has been banished from the government schools; He has been banished from the courtroom; He has been banished from politics; and He has been banished from the media.
4. It is obvious that when God has been removed, the devil takes over. This is God’s judgment upon a nation that has turned its back on Him. It happened to the nation Israel and it is happening here in America today.
I. THE FIRST WOE: BECAUSE OF THEIR COVETOUSNESS AND GREED (ISA. 5:8).
1. Covetousness has always been a problem (cf. Ex. 20:17; Col. 3:5).
2. There is nothing wrong with working hard. In fact, God expects us to be industrious. But the people of Israel were becoming greedy land-grabbers who joined (added) house to house, and field to field (5:8).
3. They were taking advantage of the poor. The prophet Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, condemns them for this also (cf. Mic. 2:2).
4. They were living in selfish isolation while the poor had no place to live. And so God judged them for this (Isa. 5:8, 9).
5. The judgment was pronounced on those who selfishly seek to accumulate houses and lands for themselves, showing no consideration for the poor and needy.
6. The punishment threatened was famine, war, and desolation, with ten acres of vineyard yielding only one bath (about eight gallons of wine according to Scofield), and an homer of seed yielding only an ephah (less than 1/10 of what it normally would produce).
7. In other words, the captivity would leave many houses empty, and the land would yield very little because of the famine which would decimate the crop.
8. Let me apply this to our situation today. In a few weeks the Christmas season will be upon us. But for too many people, Christmas is nothing but a time for covetousness, greed, and mindless materialism – it has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of our Lord.
9. Christ has been kicked out of Christmas. Stores now have “holiday sales” and sell “holiday trees” and the sales people are told to say, “Happy Holidays” to their customers.
10. Most of the so-called “holiday” TV shows and stories and songs have very little or nothing to do with the birth of Christ.
II. THE SECOND WOE: DRINKING AND REVELRY (5:11, 12, 22, 23).
1. If mindless materialism is the biggest sin today in America, then drinking must be a close #2.
2. Mayor Bloomberg is always harping about the dangers of tobacco (and that is OK with me), but he says nothing about the dangers of booze. And yet booze is far more dangerous and destructive.
3. This is such a serious sin that two woes are pronounced upon it (5:11, 22).
4. It is such a serious sin that it resulted in God punishing them with captivity (5:13).
5. It is such a serious sin that those who indulge in it are thrown into hell (5:11-14; cf. I Cor. 6:9, 10).
6. Some people are so enslaved to alcohol that they even “rise up early in the morning” to start drinking (5:11; cf. Prov. 23:29-35).
7. Then they proceed to drink all day, to “continue until night, till wine inflame them!” (5:11).
8. Please note that word “inflame.” Wine inflames the drunkard, and burns away his brain cells, and burns away his good manners, and burns way his morals and his health and his decency and his ambition, till he is nothing but a burnt-out wreck.
9. Then after the devil has destroyed him, he stumbles off into hell (5:14). Then the drunkard is really inflamed!
10. In I Corinthians 6:9, 10, drunkards are listed with fornicators and idolaters and adulterers and homosexuals and thieves as people who shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven.
11. Some might object and say, “Pastor, you are too rough on the drinking crowd.” Is that so? Tell that to the mother who had her little child ran over and killed by a drunk driver! Tell that to a wife who has been beaten by a drunken husband, who spends his paycheck on booze, who is always hanging around the tavern like a bum!
12. All drinkers care about is fun and games, parties and revelry. They “regard not the work of the Lord” (Isa. 5:12). They are have no time for God. “The work of the Lord” means nothing to them.
13. They disregard the Lord’s Day, and they avoid church. Perhaps I should clarify that statement: they avoid good, Bible-preaching churches. They are quite comfortable in the RCC or some dead liberal church.
14. Drunkards do not read the Bible. Drinking has deadened all spiritual perception; it has hardened the conscience. They are what the apostle Paul refers to as “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (II Tim. 3:4).
15. Because they regard not the work of the Lord, nor the operation of His hands, God shall destroy them (Isa. 5:12; cf. Psalm 28:5; 9:17).
16. I was saved out of a background of heavy drinking. I grew up around it. I believe the best and safest way to go is total abstinence. Young people: do not take the first sip of this vile poison – it could destroy you. And it is a bad testimony for a Christian to drink (5:22, 23; cf. Pro. 20:1; Hab. 2:15, 16).
17. In Shakespeare’s play, Othello, Cassio says, “O thou invisible
III. THE THIRD WOE: DEFYING GOD AND PROVOKING HIS WRATH (5:18).
1. Some sinners are very obstinate. God keeps trying to warn them but they keep on sinning. They keep on defying God – they “draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were a cart rope” (5:18).
2. This description is both poetic and sarcastic. The obstinate sinner is pictured as a beast of burden pulling his heavy wagon of sin.
3. What makes matters worse is that these shameless slaves to sin have the effrontery, the audacity, to taunt God. They say, “Let Him make speed, and hasten His work, that we may see it” (5:19).
4. These same kind of taunts were repeated at the cross. Remember those that passed by the cross taunted our Lord and said, “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt. 27:39-40).
5. “Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save” (27:41, 42).
6. Matthew 27:44 says, “The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in His teeth.” Thank God, one of the thieves repented and got right with God and was saved.
7. Unsaved friend: what about you?
8. This crass and obstinate unbelief continues today. It is a mark of the last days (II Peter 3:3-5).
IV. THE FOURTH WOE: CALLING EVIL GOOD, AND GOOD EVIL (5:20).
1. This fourth woe is against those who attempt to destroy God’s standards of right and wrong by substituting their own twisted and perverted standards.
2. It is amazing to me that as I study this passage in Isaiah, written over 2,700 years ago, it sounds like it was written yesterday!
3. Certainly if you read the newspapers or popular magazines, or watch TV, you must have noticed that a growing segment of our population considers evil good, and good evil.
4. For example, if you consider homosexuality normal and something that should be promoted and encouraged, then many today would say that you are “good.”
5. But if you happen to consider homosexuality disgusting and vile, abnormal and sinful, then you are considered “evil.” They have even invented new words to promote this perverted way of thinking. Today sodomites are no longer homos or perverts, they are “gays.” Today, those opposed to this wickedness are no longer normal, decent people, but “homophobes,” dangerous enemies of the state.
6. Through the media, popular TV shows, Hollywood movies, the public schools, and corrupt politicians, the multitudes have been brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is good, and those who oppose it are evil!
7. This devilish confusion is not new. God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for doing what is now prominently displayed on TV and in the movies.
8. God does not want us to obliterate the clear moral distinctions between good and evil (cf. Prov. 17:15).
9. Wicked Christ-rejecting sinners are spiritually blind. They stumble around in the darkness; they “put darkness for light, and light for darkness…” (5:20).
10. The Word of God is sweet but they despise God’s Word (Ps. 19:10; 119:103). They have “put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (5:20).
11. Unsaved friend: salvation is sweet, but sin is bitter. God’s forgiveness from sin is sweet, but God’s punishment for sin is bitter.
V. THE FIFTH WOE: UPON CONCEIT AND ARROGANCE (5:21).
1. I have talked to people about the Lord and have had them say to me: “Oh, if I were simple-minded like you, I might believe the Bible – but I am too intelligent for that, I am too brilliant, I am an intellectual, etc.”
2. Listen, getting college degrees is good, but you better make sure you have your BA – “Born Again.”
3. God says: “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent (clever) in their own sight!” (5:21).
4. God says: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22).
5. We are surrounded on every hand by these conceited and arrogant fools!
6. Someone said that conceit is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.
7. This world is full of arrogant blowhards, who cannot be told anything. They think they know everything; they have all the answers.
8. God condemns this worldly way of thinking. Proverbs 3:7 says, “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil” (cf. Rom. 12:3, 16).
1. Before concluding tonight’s message, I would like to draw your attention to Isaiah 5:13 – “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge…”
2. Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
3. We face the same problem here in America today.
4. Last year, the Weekly Standard, a conservative secular magazine, published an article entitled, “Bible Illiteracy in America” (May 23, 2005). The article was written by a professor of computer science at Yale University named David Gelernter (who was critically injured by a letter-bomb sent from the crazy “Unabomber” back in 1993).
5. Dr. Gelernter’s article was based on a report recently issued by the Bible Literacy Project suggesting that young Americans know very little about the Bible. What bothered Dr. Gelernter (and should bother us as well) is that a good number of Americans don’t see why teenagers should know anything at all about the Bible.
6. Dr. Gelernter starts out by stating that regardless of one’s religious perspective, one “must acknowledge that the Bible has been a creative force without parallel in history.”
7. By the way, I do not think that Dr. Gelernter is a Christian. I believe he is Jewish. Here are some other statements and quotes from his very interesting and informative article:
· The King James Bible, says Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, “has influenced our literature more deeply than any other book – more deeply even than all the writings of Shakespeare – far more deeply.”
· The poet and painter William Blake calls the Old and New Testaments “the Great Codes of Art.”
· Referring to Abraham Lincoln, Gelernter writes, “America's foremost prophet offers his culminating vision in the second inaugural address – ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right . . .’”
· Lincoln's speech “reads like a supplement to the Bible,” writes the historian William Wolf, with its “fourteen references to God, four direct quotations from Genesis, Psalms, and Matthew, and other allusions to scriptural teaching.”
· “The best gift God has given to man,” Lincoln called the Bible. “But for it we could not know right from wrong.”
· President Ronald Reagan called America “a great shining city on a hill,” three-and-a-half centuries after John Winthrop (sailing for Boston in 1630) anticipated a new community that would be "as a City upon a Hill” – invoking the famous verse in Matthew, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14). Which harks back in turn to the prophets (Isaiah 2:2-3, Micah 4:2) and the book of Proverbs (4:18).
· John Livingstone Lowe called the King James Bible “the noblest monument of English prose” (1936); George Saintsbury called it “probably the greatest prose work in any language” (1887).
· Dr. Gelernter: “Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation’s Founders so sure they were onto something big? America today is the most powerful nation on earth, most powerful in all history – and a model the whole world imitates. What made them so sure?--the settlers and colonists, the Founding Fathers and all the generations that intervened before America emerged as a world power in the 20th century? What made them so certain that America would become a light of the world, the shining city on a hill? What made John Adams say, in 1765, “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence”? What made Abraham Lincoln call America (in 1862, in the middle of a ruinous civil war) “the last, best hope of earth”?
· Dr. Gelernter answers these important questions: “One thing above all made them true prophets. They read the Bible. Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own…The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.”
· “Evidently young Americans don’t know much about the Bible (or anything else, come to think of it; that’s another story). But let’s not kid ourselves – this problem will be hard to attack. It’s clear that any public school that teaches about America must teach about the Bible, from outside. But teaching the Bible from inside (reading Scripture, not just about Scripture) is trickier. You don't have to believe in the mythical “wall of separation” between church and state – which the Bill of Rights never mentions and had no intention of erecting—to understand that Americans don’t want their public schools teaching Christianity or Judaism.”
· “America was born in a passionate spiritual explosion. The explosion was created and fueled by the Bible.”
· “The invention of printing in the mid-15th century, and the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th – whose central idea was that Scripture and not human theological doctrine must be decisive for Christianity – created an English Bible-reading craze. The masses were hungry for literature, and religion was the hottest topic on the agenda.”
· “But translating the Bible into English was no mere literary act. It was a controversial theological declaration. Religious reformers saw the English Bible as nothing less than a direct connection between ordinary Christian believers and the Lord. Putting the Scripture into English was sacred work; some were willing to die for it. They were opposed by such Roman Catholic stalwarts as Sir Thomas More, who expressed a widely held view when he proclaimed it ‘pestilential heresy’ to think that "we should believe nothing but plain Scripture.’”
· “The English Bible as we know it begins with John Wycliffe's work in the late 14th century. Wycliffe preached the primacy of the Bible and founded the Lollards’ movement, which in many ways harks forward to the Protestant Reformation. When he died in 1384, Wycliffe's English Bible was nearly complete. But his translation was banned in 1408, and the Lollards (who had become revolutionaries of a sort) were brutally suppressed. Many were burnt alive with Bibles hung around their necks.”
· “In the early 16th century the next great English translator, William Tyndale, announced to a learned theologian that ‘ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the scripture than thou dost.’ Tyndale was inspired by Luther and dedicated to the task of producing an up-to-date English Bible. The English church denounced him; he fled to the continent. He was declared a heretic nonetheless, arrested near Brussels, and executed in 1536.”
· “Henry VIII banned Tyndale's translation for its alleged Protestant tendencies, but promised the nation a religiously acceptable English Bible. Meanwhile he brought Protestantism to England in his own idiosyncratic way. From Henry's time onward, the English Bible was an established fact of English life. In his exhaustive analysis (1941), Charles Butterworth ranks Tyndale's the early version that contributed most to the King James Bible. The Geneva Bible ranks a close second. It was published in 1560, two years into the reign of Queen Elizabeth.”
· “No greater moral change ever passed over a nation than passed over England during the years which parted the middle of the reign of Elizabeth,” writes the historian John Richard Green in a famous passage (1874). “England became the people of a book, and that book was the Bible.”
· “Religious reformers, inspired by continental Protestants as well as the Bible itself, became dissatisfied with the Church of England--which was closely associated with the monarchy. They found it too popish, too fancy-shmancy, insufficiently ‘purified’; too removed from the Bible. They wanted a biblical Christianity.”
· “The Geneva Bible became and remained the Puritans' favorite. It had marginal notes that Puritans liked – but King James and the Church of England deemed them obnoxious. The notes were anti-monarchy and pro-republic – ‘untrue, seditious, and savouring too much of dangerous and traitorous conceits,’ the king said. Under his sponsorship a new Bible was prepared (without interpretive notes) by 47 of the best scholars in the land. The King James Version appeared in 1611 – intended merely as a modest improvement over previous translations. But it happened to be a literary masterpiece of stupendous proportions. Purely on artistic grounds it ranks with Homer, Dante, Shakespeare – Western literature’s greatest achievements. In terms of influence and importance, it flattens the other three.”
· “We aren’t discussing a merely ‘popular’ or ‘influential’ book. We are talking revolution. In 16th and 17th-century Britain, the English Bible was capable of affecting the first thoughts people had on waking, their last thoughts before sleeping, their dreams, and their nightmares. British homes were decorated biblically – with Bible quotations or pictures painted or papered on the walls or printed on cloth wall-hangings. British life grew and flourished on a biblical trellis. Centuries later, Quiller-Couch wrote of the Bible in Britain that ‘it is in everything we see, hear, feel, because it is in us, in our blood.’”
· Dr. Gelernter continues up through the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the Puritan Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell as “Lord Protector,” the restoration of the Stuart kings, and their final booting-out in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He writes, “When the smoke cleared, Britain was transformed: Parliament’s power had been established forever; absolute monarchy had been permanently rejected.”
· “John Locke is often described as the most important philosophical influence on the American revolution. Locke believed in a ‘social contract’ in which citizens swap some freedom for a civilized life: Everyone's freedom is curtailed, and everyone benefits. The results are civil society and the state. Locke relied heavily on the Bible. For Locke, writes Richard Ashcraft (1987), ‘the Bible was the primary source for any endeavor to supply a 'historical' account of man's existence.’”
· Dr. Gelernter refers to the Bible's influence on British poets such as John Milton and William Blake.
· “America's earliest settlers came in search of religious freedom, to escape religious persecution – vitally important facts that Americans tend increasingly to forget. A new arrival who joined the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1623 ‘blessed God for the opportunity of freedom and liberty to enjoy the ordinances of God in purity among His people.’”
· “America was a haven for devoutly religious dissidents. It is a perfect reflection of the nation's origins that the very first freedom in the Bill of Rights – Article one, part one--should be religious freedom. ‘Separation of church and state’ was a means to an end, not an end in itself. The idea that the Bill of Rights would one day be traduced into a broom to sweep religion out of the public square like so much dried mud off the boots of careless children would have left the Founders of this nation (my guess is) trembling in rage. We owe it to them in simple gratitude to see that the Bill of Rights is not—is never—used as a weapon against religion.”
· “You cannot understand the literature and experience of 17th-century American Puritans unless you know the Bible. The Pilgrim father William Bradford reports in his famous journal, for example, that his people had no choice but to camp near their landing-place on the Massachusetts mainland. There was no reason to think they could do better elsewhere; after all they could not, ‘as it were, go up to the top of Pisgah to view from this wilderness a more goodly country.’ Bradford saw no need to explain that he was referring to Moses gazing at the Promised Land from atop Mount Pisgah before his death (Deuteronomy 34:1). To 17th-century readers, the reference would have been obvious.”
· “Secularists don't see it that way; but the Bible's penetration into the farthest corners of the known world is simple fact. Most contemporary philosophers and culture critics are barely aware of these things, don't see the pattern behind them, can't tell us what the pattern means, and (for the most part) don’t care.”
8. It is tragic that secularists have succeeded in keeping the Bible out of the schools. But we cannot blame them for taking it out of the homes and churches.
9. Christians have no one to blame but themselves for that.