Bible Studies
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Monday, 08 November 2004

The prophet Isaiah had much to say concerning poverty, oppression and injustice.  His writings are as current today as then, and speak loudly against world poverty and injustice today.


By Jim Jordal

If you read this column regularly, you probably are aware that I believe the Old Testament is relevant to modern times because it was written for our learning and comfort (Rom. 15:4), and as an example and admonition to persons living in the end times (I Cor. 10:11). With this in mind, let’s spend a little time with what God said through the prophet Isaiah (chp.5) concerning the sins of Judah then, and by extension the sins of America today.

"Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land…" (5:8). During Old Testament times the economic foundation of the family consisted in the lands owned and tilled or pastured. That’s why every 50 years was the year of Jubilee, during which all lands reverted to their original owners or their families. The purpose was to protect family welfare and ensure against poverty. The sin mentioned by Isaiah occurred when greedy land speculators used various legal strategies to seize the lands of the poor, depriving them of their economic base and creating from these small holdings vast estates of wealth and privilege. Today, the sin would be the agglomeration of wealth and power through proliferation of multi-national corporations, acquisitions, mergers and the unique confluence of military, political, and economic power that President Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to as the "military-industrial complex." Please understand, there is nothing inherently wrong with efficiency and even bigness. What is wrong is when this accumulation of power serves to impoverish those unable to help themselves, or sometimes to even understand what is happening to them.

"Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them….But they do not regard the work of the Lord, nor consider the operation of His hands" (5:11-12). Then, as now, the sin lay in seeking escape and personal pleasure through use of intoxicating beverages and various hallucinogenic drugs. People living in this manner selfishly insulate themselves from concern for others and for God, thereby falling into a form of idolatry. They become immune to human suffering and to the works of the Lord, since their own needs and pleasures come first. Thus, they deliberately disregard the teachings of Jesus concerning love for God and for one’s neighbors.

"Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if with a cart rope…" (5:18-19). Isaiah here refers to the sin of people who aid and support evil practices with lies and half-truths, defying both God and His prophet by their insolent behavior. They ridiculed Isaiah’s prophecies of woe upon the land, preferring to believe that their evil deeds would remain unpunished. Today, it’s much the same, with people using psychological, legal, and seemingly logical defenses to rationalize behaviors forbidden by God. The general philosophy seems to be "If it feels good, then it must be good." Thus, we exalt mere human feeling to be the highest pinnacle of human good.

"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." (5:20). Here Isaiah condemns the national reversal of values troubling his nation at that time. Good was called evil, and evil good. Today, we have moral relativism, which essentially says that we have no business determining what is moral for anyone else. If it works for them, it must be good for them. By extension, then, we have the pervasive belief that all religions are equally good paths to God, since all have some elements of "good" within them, and since all "work" for some people.

"Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight." (5:21). Isaiah speaks here of the universal human sin of pride, arrogance, and the exaltation of the human mind above the word and will of God. Today, as then, we find persons learned in the ways of the world casting doubt upon most of Scripture, with the result that many Christians find themselves assailed by doubt and disbelief on every hand, even within their own churches.

"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!" (5:22-23). Isaiah points in this case to debauched judges who denied justice to righteous persons. Today we have politicians beholden to special interest groups for their campaign funds, with the result that favoritism and worse corrupts the legislative process, denying equity to those most in need of justice. If there is one message in the Bible beyond the necessity to love God and our neighbors, it is that God demands righteousness, justice, mercy, and truth upon this earth, and will send back His Son to accomplish these benefits in His earthly kingdom.

What has changed between the time of Isaiah and the present? Not much! The sin is still the same, but what we now have is better technology so that the poor and helpless can better be denied their God-given rights to life, liberty, and justice.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1978, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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