The real irritating thing about the bearded guy who carries the sign, “Turn or Burn” is not the beard or the guy—it is the truth of the sign. As much as we may think the sign’s content is offensive, it is true. People must turn back to God or face judgment. Both testaments proclaim this message.
Our text immediately precedes the text from last week’s lesson (Isaiah’s call to service in chapter six). Isaiah 5 begins by portraying God as a lover singing to his beloved. [Sidebar: God’s judgment is always in the context of his love.] The love song likened his people to a beautiful vineyard that the Lord had made. But the irony of all ironies is that God came looking for fruit from his vineyard, and all he found was wild grapes (i.e. sinful people). Therefore God destroyed his vineyard (judged his people). In Isaiah 5:8 the judgments (in the form of “woes”) begin. Materialism, alcoholism, and pride are just a few of the sins mentioned. God’s people would be judged because they had rejected the knowledge of the Holy (vv. 13, 16).
The Sins of the People
Our text begins with an interjection intended to get the attention, “Woe.” It can be translated, “O” or “Alas.” We might say, “This is terrible.” It appears four times in this section. With each woe comes a specific sin. First was the sin of presumption (vv. 18, 19). Evidently Israel wanted God to save them, but they wanted salvation on their own terms. They wanted to continue in sin that grace might abound (Cf. Romans 6:1). They did not want to give up their lives of sin. This is what “sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes” means. They wanted to see God’s miraculous hand at work and his plans enacted, but they did not want to change their ways.
Second was the sin of perversion (Isaiah 5:20). Their values were upside down. Evil was called good and good evil. Darkness was substituted for light and light for darkness. Bitter was exchanged for sweet and sweet for bitter. These opposites indicate how twisted the thinking of God’s people had become. When the conscience is seared as with a hot iron it no longer works at all (1 Timothy 4:2).
Third was the sin of pride (Isaiah 5:21). “Wise in their own eyes” is a phrase consistently used in Scripture to indicate arrogance (Romans 1:22). They were clever(shrewd)in their own sight. They thought they had become too smart for God.
Fourth was the sin of injustice (Isaiah 5:22, 23). Israel’s leaders would deny justice to the innocent and acquit(the same root of the word for justice)the guilty for a bribe. What made matters worse was that this skewed version of justice was driven by alcoholism. The heroes (mighty men) became experts at drinking wine and mixing drinks. It is difficult to render fair judgments when the mind is cloudy.
The Anger of the Lord
The key phrases in this section are the Lord’s anger burns against his people and his anger is not turned away. The Hebrew word for anger is what the English word denotes. It means wrath and at times is translated as “nose” or “nostrils,” so it has some emotion in it. God’s anger is actually what gives passion to his justice. It keeps the world right side up. It is the black cloth underneath the diamond of God’s love. And while there is some truth to God hating the sin and yet loving the sinner, he always punishes sin in the sinner. He never punishes it abstractly.
Analogies and nations are used to describe God’s anger and to dispense God’s anger. At least four metaphors are used to describe God’s anger. His anger is fire licking up straw and dry grass. This caused any flower to be blown away like dust. His anger is a hand raised to strike people down. His anger is a mountain that is shaking. His anger is deadly, leaving dead bodies lying in the streets like trash.
God raised up nations to dispense his judgments. Wicked nations such as Assyria and Babylon (as well as many other nations mentioned in the book) were summoned by God to do his work. He would lift up their banner (signal or ensign). He whistled for them to come from the ends of the earth. These nations came like a well-oiled machine. They were fast, efficient, active, ready, battle-tested, and impressive. They also roared like a lion and growled like the sea (vv. 29. 30). The best way to avoid the burn is to turn.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.