Posted by: stpowen | January 4, 2012

The Rejection and the Judgement of God- Part 2

Isaiah 5

The Rejection and the Judgement of God- Part 2.

Before we start, may I ask you, the reader, to inspect the chair or settee that you are sitting on?  Now, what would your reaction be if I told you to make your chair relevant?  I’m sure you would tell me that it already is relevant;  it is relevant to your posture and comfort.  If it wasn’t there you would be sitting on the floor.  There are people today telling us that we must somehow make the Bible relevant.  My reply is that this is quite impossible for the very good reason that it is already relevant.  As we consider Isaiah 5, I trust that we shall find that it is as up-to-date and relevant as tomorrow’s newspapers.  Indeed, like the rest of the Old Testament, it was actually written for our benefit (Rom 15:4).  Although its message is 1,500 years old, its first recipients were people very much like us.  They didn’t have microwave ovens, I-pads or solar panels, but their most urgent needs were very much like our own.  People don’t change.  They were sinners in Isaiah’s day and they are sinners now.  They needed God’s grace then and they need it now.  Isaiah’s message spoke to them in their sin and estrangement from God, and it speaks the same message to us today.

This article makes bleak and uncomfortable reading.  I make no apology for that.  If ever there was a time and a place that folk needed to hear God’s convicting voice, it is in Britain today.

Please read Isaiah 5.

Isaiah 5 has a very simple structure.  The first seven verses are the Song of the Vineyard– God’s complaint against His people.  In the central portion, verses 8-25, God gets specific, pronouncing six woes upon six particular sins.  Finally, in verses 26-30, we read of God’s righteous judgement upon His rebellious people.

 v1.  ‘Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:  my Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill.’

The chapter starts like a love song or a marriage song.  It tells the story of a man and his vineyard.  He chose a hill with the best soil.  He prepared the soil carefully and selected only the finest vines (v2); he also protected it by both a hedge and a wall (v5).  Having done all that, he was so confident of a good vintage that he built a permanent shelter (‘tower’) so that he could come and watch his beautiful vines growing.  He built a wine vat (not a wine press as in most Bibles) to store the grapes when they were harvested, and then he sat back and waited for his bumper crop of delicious grapes.  Instead he got a crop of sour, inedible grapes, or as the Hebrew eloquently puts it, stinkfruit.

Now Isaiah speaks in the person of his Beloved, and invites the opinion of the Israelites.  What more could He have done for His vineyard?  There is no fault in the husbandman; everything that could have been done to secure a good vintage has been done.  No blame can be attached to the Owner; the blame must lie elsewhere.

According to Ezekiel 15, a vine is either good for fruit or it’s good for nothing.  There’s nothing else you can do with it.  Its wood cannot be used for boat-building or furniture-making; there’s nothing else you can do with it but grow grapes.  Therefore the fruitfulness and the security of the vineyard hang together.   If it had brought forth good fruit, it would have been cherished and protected, but in the event,  ‘And now please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:  I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briars and thorns.  I will also command the clouds that they rain no more on it’ (vs5-6).  It puts one in mind of our Lord’s parable in Luke 13:6ff.  “Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none.  Cut it down!  Why does it use up the ground?”   

Then Isaiah drops his bombshell.  The vineyard represents Israel.  God had given the Israelites everything they needed to become the holy nation that He had designed them to be- their own land, the Law, kings and prophets to guide them, and He told them,   “Thus you shall…….tell the house of Israel:  ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore if you will obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me, above all people…….and you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’” (Exod 19:3-6).  Yet right from the time that the Israelites left Egypt, they had been in rebellion against God (Psalm 106:13ff).   ‘He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help’ (v7).   The longsuffering of God had borne with Israel for year after year, but by the time of Isaiah, His patience was running out, and He exclaimed, “How the faithful city has become a harlot!” (Isaiah 1:21).  Judgement was drawing near.

Now if we look upon all this as just a piece of history, then we shall utterly miss the point.  The Old Testament is written especially for us, for our guidance (Rom 15:4).Surely it cannot be too hard to compare the Israel of Isaiah’s time with the Britain of today?  Can we not look at this land and see that God has blessed it for us with a temperate climate, fertile soil, abundant natural resources?  He has given us His word, the Bible, a Reformed Church, raised up for us great men of God throughout the centuries.  Yet now He has looked for the good fruit of righteousness and found instead the ‘stinkfruit’ of immorality, abortion godlessness.  Maybe He is saying even now,  “I will take away its hedge and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.  I will lay it waste….”  No nation has ever been better treated by God than mine.  But now, how is she any better than Sodom or Gomorrah?

From verse 8, God moves from the general to the particular.  He pronounces six woes upon six sins of Israel:  materialism, self-indulgence, rebellion, perversion of equity, fleshly wisdom and injustice.  If we cannot see the parallel with Britain today, we must be blind indeed.

v8. ‘Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, until there is no place, where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!’

The first woe (vs 8-10) is upon rampant materialism- those who set themselves to make money at all costs.  In Isaiah’s day there was not stock market, no internet, so wealth came through owning land and its production.  “Woe to you,” Says Isaiah, “Who grasp the land and houses of My people and rob them of their heritage.”  The land of Israel was regarded as belonging to God and was therefore not to be sold permanently but had to be returned to the original possessors at the Day of Jubilee (Lev 25:23-24).  That is why Naboth reacted so strongly to King Ahab’s offer to buy his vineyard.  “The LORD forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!” (1Kings 21:3).  So how shall be apply this to ourselves?  Woe to you who build business empires by paying starvation wages or by forcing your smaller competitors out of business.  Woe to you who buy holiday homes at inflated prices and then leave them empty ten months of the year, destroying the life of the village where you bought them.   Woe to you who seek wealth for its own sake rather than for the good you may do with it.   We might think of the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), or of Paul’s words to Timothy:  ‘Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy’  (1Tim 6:17).  And riches are uncertain .  Isaiah foretold a blight on property and farm prices (vs 9-10); the Lord is giving us the modern day equivalent- a depression i n trade, banking and currencies.  How much for relevant for our times is it possible to be?

Vs 11-12.  ‘Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, until wine inflames them!  The harp, 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.’

The second woe is on the self-indulgent.  Woe to you who party day and night and never give a thought to your Creator.  Woe to you falling down drunk outside the night-clubs on a Friday night.  Nothing in their world but the next drink, the next snort of cocaine or whatever.  Now I do not think it is possible to show that the Bible prohibits alcohol completely; nor does it condemn parties and celebrations.  Christians should be a happy and joyful people.  It is the devil who spreads  the myth that God’s people, ‘Scorn delights and live laborious days’ (1).  But the Bible does have a great deal to say about drunkenness.  The Christian shouldn’t have to get half-sloshed in order to have a good time.  Alcohol suppresses the higher functions of the brain and makes one suggestible to all sorts of undesirable temptations.  No wonder the Holy Spirit warns us , ‘Be sober (2), be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour’ (1Peter 5:8. cf. also Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35).  The moral dangers of alcoholism and drug abuse go hand in hand with the health hazards, as verse 14 tells us.  I am writing this just a few days after it has been revealed that cases of sclerosis have risen five-fold in the last twenty years or so.   Illnesses associated with drink or drugs, along with those related to sexual promiscuity are no respecters of person;.  Isaiah speaks of the ‘nobles’ and the ‘masses’ (v13, NIV).  Rich and poor, great and small, they must all face the God whom they have so blithely disregarded (vs 15-16).

‘The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave

Await alike the inevitable hour;

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.’  (Thomas Grey)

But those who are Christ’s (v17); those who are faithful to their spouses and moderate in their habits, need have no fear, for they are safe from both the temporal and eternal consequences of such behaviour, and one day they shall inherit the earth that the wicked have so abused (Matt 5:5).

vs 18-19.  ‘Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if with a cart rope; who say, “Let Him make speed and hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come that we may know it.”’

The third woe is open rebellion.  It is to those who deliberately sin with a high hand.  They have not accidently fallen into sin; they are actively and purposefully engaged in sin, dragging it along, as it were, with cart ropes, ‘worthless cords.’  These are the folk who scoff at “Victorian morality,” by which they mean the Ten Commandments of God.  They imagine that they are free, but in fact they are like beasts of burden, tied to their sins with cart ropes dragging them along behind them with  ‘worthless cords.’   Contrary to their beliefs, they are slaves of sin.  ‘Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey,  you are that one’s  slaves whom you obey, whether of sin, leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness.?’ (Rom 6:16).  All the fashionable talk of being ‘captain of my soul’ or doing things ‘my way,’ is so much whistling in the dark.  Bob Dylan had it right when he wrote what is really nothing else but a commentary on that very verse,

You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

But these people are brazen in their sin, daring God to punish them (v19). ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes’ (Rom 3:18).  Because God does not strike them down the very moment they sin, they suppose that He will never do so.  They are fools, of course.  The Apostle Peter tells us that, ‘The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgement’ (2 Peter 2:9).  The crowd in Jerusalem when our Lord was crucified had no fear of God.  “His blood be upon us and upon our children,” They cried (Matt 27:25). And of course, judgement did indeed come upon them, not at once, but in AD 70, more terribly than they could possibly have imagined.

Vs. 20-21.  ‘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 prudent in their own sight!’ 

The next woe is upon the perversion of morality.  It is for those who absolutely invert God’s principles of right and wrong.   We might think of Roy Jenkins, the famous English politician of the 1960s and ‘70s, who declared, “The permissive society is the civilized society.”  We might think of the disgusting  ‘Gay Pride’ marches in so many of our cities; we might think of the State-sponsored sex education lessons in which 13 and 14 year-old girls are told that they can decide when they’re old enough to have sex, and that it’s their right to have an abortion.  Right alongside this is the woe on those who think you can make up your own morality as you go along.  “If it feels good, do it!” “Well, what I think is this…..”  “Just be happy….”  “Just as long as you don’t hurt anyone else…..”  What madness!  As if you can sin in a vacuum!  What a bitter harvest- what ‘stinkfruit’- these philosophies have brought us!   Broken families, feral children, drug addiction, alcoholism, riots in the streets, prisons full to bursting,  A.I.D.S and other S.T.D.s becoming endemic and 200,000 unborn children killed by abortion each year.  ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;  being filled with all unrighteousness……who knowing the righteous judgement of God that those who practise such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practise them’ (Rom 1:28-29, 32.  Read the verses in between).

Vs. 22-23.  ‘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!’

The final woe is upon rulers.  The translations do not really bring out the irony of the original.  Verse 22 might read,

‘Woe to those who are mighty- at drinking wine!

Woe to those who are heroes- at mixing drinks!’

This woe applies when those who are responsible for guiding the Nation not only fail to set a proper example but actually set a bad one.  King Solomon declared, ‘Woe to you, O Land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning’  (Eccl 10:16).  It doesn’t take much imagination to apply this to our own land in recent years.  We might think of ‘cash for honours,’ ‘cash for questions,’ parties on millionaires’ yachts, the fiddling of M.P.’s expenses and so forth, all while the nation was sinking into moral and economic disaster.   It’s all there; the bitter ‘stinkfruit’ that comes when a people and its leaders have turned away from God.

Verses 24 and 25 both begin, ‘Therefore…’   One thing leads to another.  Sin inevitably brings judgement.  ‘Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness and their blossom will ascend as dust;  because they have rejected the law of the LORD of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the LORD is aroused against His people;  He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them.’ 

We can see for ourselves the judgement that has come upon our land:  increasing violence, the hopelessness of economic depression and unemployment, and a war that drags on interminably without any sign of victory.  Yet there is a threat of worse to come.  ‘For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still’ (v25c).  Verses 26-30 refer to the coming invasion by the Babylonians, still a long way in the future when Isaiah wrote.  I often think of Jeremiah 5:6;  ‘A leopard will watch over their cities.’   To me, it speaks of the threat of terrorism; no one knows where they may strike next and pierce the thin veneer of peace and civilization.  God is not the author of evil, but  in the face of rebellion and apostasy  He does remove His hand of protection.  ‘I will take away its hedge and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down’ (v5).

Some readers may be saying, “I don’t like this sort of preaching.  Surely God is a God of love?  I can’t believe that He would ever stretch out His hand in judgement.”  I answer,  you can’t dine a la carte on the Bible.  You can’t pick the doctrines you feel comfy with and discard the rest.  If you reject the doctrine of the wrath and judgement of God, the whole Biblical doctrine of salvation goes with it.  Unless you understand the holiness of God and His hatred of sin, the death of Christ has no meaning.  ‘….Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ (Rom 3:25-26).  God cannot simply overlook sin; His justice does not allow it.  But at the cross He has condemned sin in Jesus Christ, and at the same time provided pardon for those who put their trust in His blood.   

  ‘’Til on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied-

For every sin on Him was laid;

Here in the death of Christ I live.’

‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1).  Christ has fulfilled the broken law on behalf of His people.  He has made the law honourable by obeying it in full, and He has satisfied God’s justice by paying its penalty in full.

So the question is, are you, the reader, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ today for the forgiveness of your sin?  If so, nothing ultimately can harm you.  You have passed from death to life.  Just as Noah and his family were safe inside the ark, so you are safe from the floods of God’s righteous anger against the world and its sin.  ‘Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves, as it were, for a little moment until the indignation is passed.  For behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the world for their iniquity’ (Isaiah 26:20f).

But if not, if you have never seen yourself as a sinner against God, and have never fled to Christ for safety, don’t let another day go by before you do.  ‘Behold the Judge is standing at the door!’ (James 5:9).  Go to Him now, and put your faith in Him and His shed blood which alone can save you.  He can wash you whiter than snow.  He can give you a robe of righteousness to cover all your sin.

‘Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness

Mu beauty are, my glorious dress.

’Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,

With joy shall I lift up my head.’

And what about us who are Christians today?  What can we do to stem the flood of wickedness in the land?  For there are two kinds of judgement that come from God.  There are remedial judgements, designed to bring us to repentance, but if these are ignored, then a final judgement will eventually follow.   We may feel that there is nothing we can do, and cry out with the Psalmist, ‘When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’  We also need to repent.  We need to repent for the sin of our land, and for our own weakness and coldness of heart.  ‘“Now therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  So rend your heart and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.  Who knows if He will turn and relent?’ (Joel 2:12-14).

There have been times like this before.  Early in the 18th Century was a time of drunkenness, depravity, crime and breakdown of family life, not too different from today.  Yet then God answered the prayers of His people, and the Great Awakening followed with tens of thousands turning to Christ.  ‘Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, and pity His people’ (Joel 2:18).  If we, His people, will pray and repent and respect His commandments, may we not see revival in our time?  Let us be the watchmen on the walls of this land (Isaiah 62:6), and give Him no rest until He turns and blesses Britain once again.  Let us also set an example in our conduct to those outside the church (1 Peter 3:15-16) and reach out to them with the Good News of Jesus Christ (Phil 2:15-16).

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