As the LORD continues to speak to the nation of Israel through his prophet, Isaiah, we come to the fifth and sixth chapters where we find an amazing juxtaposition. Six “woes” charge forth from the mouth of God to a wicked people. Judgment has come, blessings have become for them curses, and the blazing light of God’s glory has exposed every dark corner. But then comes another “woe” uttered by another. And it’s the seventh woe that makes all the difference.
Allow me to briefly summarize the first six judgments upon the people.
The first woe is for a people who “join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room…” The prosperity of the nation did not lead to greater wealth in terms of community. They forgot why God had prospered them in the first place. Now this great tree that should have given fruit for the nations and shelter for the world could not even support itself. Everything dried up. All that would be left is empty estates and meager harvests.
The second woe is for the people who I mentioned in the previous post. These people “rise early in the morning (sounds good so far) that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them!” Here we have a nation that works really hard at entertainment and self-indulgence. No accusations of laziness here. They know what they want and seek hard after it from morning till night.
The third woe comes to those who do not merely fall into sin or give way to strong desires in a moment of weakness; no, these people cart their sin around with them wherever they go. They “draw iniquity with cords of falsehood” and “draw sin as with cart ropes.” They do not see sin as their master but as a servant at their beck and call. And what are they doing with their sin in tow? They are calling for the LORD to prove His worth. Prove to us that you are a better servant to our desires than these carts on wickedness behind us.
The fourth woe…um…I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Let me just state it to you. It pretty much speaks for itself. If there ever was a tagline for our own nation, this would be a good one. “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!
The fifth woe seems to build on the previous. It speaks to those who are “wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight.” The pride of a fool is deadly. Whenever you mix foolishness with arrogance, there will always be a big mess.
The sixth woe has some similarities to the second, except this woe reaches to the upper levels of the society. These are not simply your average Joe or Jane seeking after personal pleasures. These are the “heroes” and “valiant men” of the nation. They are “heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink.” The corruption goes all the way to the top. Instead of judges who pursue justice, they acquit the guilty for a bribe. Instead of rulers who defend the innocent, they deprive the innocent of his right. In the name of justice and compassion, they fill their pockets with goodies and their bellies with every indulgence.
But the seventh woe makes all the difference. As we move from these terrible pronouncements, the next image we encounter is Isaiah’s vision of the LORD in all His terrible and awesome holiness. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…” Isaiah gets a glimpse of unadulterated reality. As the angels proclaim, the whole earth is full of his glory. And what is the result? By lifting his eyes to the vision of the LORD, the veil on his own heart is lifted. It is Isaiah who utters the seventh woe.
“And I said, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!'”
The first six woes speak of judgment that leads to calamity and destruction. The seventh woe speaks of judgment that leads to glory and blessing.
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.'”