Israel’s Woe—Judgments a “Future Shock”

Isaiah 5:12-16 

1. Woe against the drunkards who fare sumptuously and laugh now. “And harp and lyre, timbrel and flute, and wine shall be (at) their banquetings; and they do not regard (with pleasure) the work of Jehovah, neither have they respect to the product of His hands” (v. 12, Heb.). “They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ” (Job 21:12). The drunkards already mentioned are busy in their excess of riot with wine and exciting music as they celebrate their Terpsichorean and Bacchanalian gods. They make a sinful use of music. Amos complained of this: they “chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:5-6). To take music, which as a science is a gift of God, and pervert and pitch it to a screeching, blaring level of sound to drown out the voice of conscience is immoral. Such carousing goes on in the air. That tiny speck you see in the sky—perhaps it would never occur to you, but in this futuristic age it is both possible and probable that that jet is filled with scores of passengers who have chosen a flight on which the food, wine, music, magazines, movies, stewardesses and their mini-skirts are all French! They madly dance, sing their bawdy ballads and laugh now, but the day will come when they shall mourn. “The mirth of timbrels ceaseth, the noise of those who rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth. They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to those who drink it” (Isaiah 24:8-9). It was bad enough that they carried on such celebrations at times when they should have been warned by the Lord’s works of judgment. But worse, they continued getting drunk and playing with sex while judgments were actually threatening all” around. Well then! “because they regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operation of His hands, He shall destroy them, and not build them up” (Ps. 28:5). “In their joy and glory they had no sense for what was the most glorious of all, viz., the moving and working of God in history; so that they could not even discern the judgment which was in course of preparation at that very time.”—Delitzsch. On the contrary, Isaiah had a great sense of appreciation for this when he wrote, “For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 14:1). For more of God’s hand in history, see Isaiah 14:24, 27Isaiah 19:12, 17Isaiah 23:8, 9, 11, and especially this, “For I the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior, I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee, because thou art precious in My sight, thouwast honored, and I love thee; therefore will I give mankind for thee, and races for thy person” (Isaiah 43:3-4, transla. and emph., RCH). Out of the sinful nation God has a remnant according to the election of grace. 

2. These drunkards spewed out of the land.“Therefore My people are carried away captive without knowledge; and their (his) glory is men of hunger, and their crowd (of drunks) dry (from) thirst” (v. 13; Heb.). Rich gourmets would starve and the drinking set would die of thirst. Eating and drinking in this opulent age goes on in the manner of pagan gluttony. Then the senses are dulled, leaving men without understanding and threatened with hunger and thirst. Luther put it, “They will pay for their drunkenness with thirst.” When they do suffer that enervating judgment, they never know what hits them. They go into captivity without knowledge. Their land would be invaded by the enemy, and a hostile nation would carry them away. As with all captive nations today, their exile would be a divine judgment, a punishment for sin, as it was for Israel and the other nations. But here it is “My people” who go into exile under the blast of judgment. Why is this? They were “without knowledge” (Rom. 1:31a; Rom. 3:11a). How were they God’s people, without knowledge? Through sin, the sin of languishing in their wretched ignorance of the working of the Lord in providences, judgments, and manifestations of His righteous wrath. The wicked cannot see, and “My people,” sadly enough, cannot rightly interpret the signs of the times. For they despise instruction and hate to be reformed. We suffer every time we do not allow ourselves to be taught by the Word of God. But it is the worst form of lack of knowledge when people do not know the Lord, do not know His person, work, office, grace, and salvation; worse still when introduced to Him they reject Him. But in the case of Israel, their lack of knowledge was their own choice; they would not have any knowledge of God, so that theirs was an affected ignorance. They did not want to know the Messiah (of chapter 53), nor any of the clear, irrefutable evidence of His being that prophesied Messiah. 

They had been brought so far down that “their glory was men of hunger.” Like the great tribes of American Indians, their mighty warriors, hunters, and red men nobility, became pitiful remnants of a decimated people starved on reservations by the U.S. government, and turned into shivering, shriveled, famished old men, dying of hunger. But though it is easy to flick off the story of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee with a wave of the hand, we are not far from a like situation. For the government is becoming more and more antichristian, and fast getting to the point of Revelation 11 and Revelation 13:17, when it will turn against the church to starve and exterminate it. 

So Israel as a nation had come to hate the light and love darkness, which means they despised God’s law, and went on stumbling without knowledge. Therefore, it was the Lord’s purpose to destroy the kingdom. God would come against them “that forsake the Lord, that forget My holy mountain (kingdom) . . . therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall bow down to the slaughter, because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spoke, ye did not hear, but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that in which I delighted not. Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, Behold, My servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry; behold, My servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty; behold, My servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed; behold, My servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shah wail for vexation of spirit. And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto My chosen; for the Lord God shall slay thee, and call His servants by another name” (Isa. 65:11-15). 

3. They are cast down to hell. “Therefore Sheol enlarges her self (soul) and opens her mouth to no limit (illimitably) and (into it) shall descend her (Jerusalem’s) splendor, (together with) her multitude, her tumult and the one rejoicing in her” (v. 14, Heb.). The captivity will come, and with it, siege, hunger, and thirst with a great mortality rate. The titanic seamonster, Sheol, Death, shall rush at the famishing shoals with wide opened jaws to gorge itself on all swept into its maw. The cemeteries do not make up the bulging belly of the Sheolic monster, for there will not be enough of them to accommodate all the bodies going down to Tophet. Sheol never says, Enough! (Prov. 30:5, 16Num. 16:30-33). 

Sheol is the Hebrew word used to express the idea of the grave. “The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up” (I Sam. 2:6). “Like sheep, they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them, and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning, and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for He shall receive me” (Ps. 49:14-15). “I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hos. 13:14). 

Sheol also means hell, as the context will show. “A fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell” (Deut. 32:22). “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17). “Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold onhell” (Prov. 5:5). “Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, then will I bring them down” (Amos 9:2). Sheol then is the earthly place in the dust which holds the bodies of men and the deathly place which holds the souls of the wicked. 

“Her splendor” refers to the nobles of Jerusalem, their civic rulers, ecclesiastics and society’s rich. “Her multitude” applies to the common people. “Her tumult” means the noisy ones (like the “tumultuous ones” ofJer. 48:45; but see Isa. 24:6-12) who sing, dance, roar, and create a continual din at their parties. Then they who made a god of their belly (Luke 16:25Phil. 3:19) go down to the belly of hell. But then, “had not victory been swallowed up by death? So it might have seemed; but God, who carries out His plan, would so work that one day, inasmuch as from Judah the Lord had sprung, the triumphant message of salvation might be proclaimed. ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ I Cor. 15:54b” (Prof. E. J. Young). 

4. Man abased; God exalted. What God purposes and intends by these woes and the punishment of death already described is accomplished effectually and patently in the humiliating of man and the exalting of God. “And the little man (common man) shall be brought down, and the big man shall be humbled; and the eyes of the exalted (self-exalted, i.e., arrogant) ones will be humiliated. But Jehovah Tsebhaoth will be exalted by judgment (justice, right!), and the (true) God, the Holy One, shall be made holy (sanctified) by righteousness” (w. 15-l 6, Heb.). (See remarks on 2:9). The big man will be brought down by death to nothing, and the little man who is already nothing, will be by death made less than nothing. In the judgment, the eyes of the arrogant will be downcast. The rich with their wealth gone shall suffer miserable famishing. Now all boasting is also gone. How the Pharisees boasted that they were children of Abraham, were free men, never in bondage, were righteous, and so not as other men! In that day they will be brought down in humiliating judgment, while God will be exalted in holiness and in righteousness. Holiness is not a mere action of God, but an attribute of His being. The God means the only and true God. The God the Holy One means God is absolutely and exclusively holy. Holy is His name. The seraphim call Him by that name, saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! Holiness is that attribute of God’s essential nature “according to which He eternally wills, seeks and is consecrated to himself as the only good.” 

The wicked, whether little men or big men, must know and will know that God is God. The world must know and will know that God is a holy God. They will know His holiness and hatred of sin. They will learn to know this, either as repenting Nineveh did, or as condemned Jericho did. Either way, the Lord will be exalted and sanctified in justice and righteousness.