Today’s Passage: Isaiah 5
There are some things that it’s bad to be good at.
For example, it’s bad to be good at getting drunk. In today’s reading, Isaiah wishes woe upon those who get up early to start drinking and stay up late to drink some more. He laments, “Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; but they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor do they consider the work of His hands” (5:12). Later, he calls them “heroes in drinking wine” (5:22). They throw great parties with great music and great wine, but they’ve been working on their partying skills to the exclusion of their skills in God Appreciation. They’re too good at drinking.
It’s also bad to be good at lying. Isaiah has more woe for the expert liars of his day: “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes” (5:18). Imagine all the different evil deeds you could do as different-sized objects, with different weights. You load them up onto your evil cart, but some of them are too heavy to pull by yourself. So you get out the cart ropes of lying and prevaricating, hook ’em up, and with a little ingenuity you’re able to commit much bigger misdeeds than you could if you were limited to telling the truth. At their worst, these expert liars “call evil good, and good evil” (5:20), carrying their evil carts full of evil right past those who would bring them to justice, disguising the evils on their carts as goods. Isaiah observes, “[They] justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!” (5:23) They’re good at lying, and that’s bad.
However, God won’t be fooled. The chapter ends with a vision of judgment like fire, consuming the dry brush of Israel’s professional liars and expert drinkers. And even in the middle of bringing his woes against these masters of vice, Isaiah says, “So the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased” (5:15). If that sounds familiar, it’s because we saw it almost word-for-word in Isaiah 2:9. Bringing humility to the arrogant is turning out to be a theme in Isaiah. Israel may appear prosperous, with its fine wines and parties and cartloads of evil, but underneath the veneer of prosperity, they’re good at being good for nothing–and that’s never good.