Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–19

Isaiah 5:22-23   Link to LXE

The Sixth and Final Woe

22 Woe to the strong [ones] of you that drink wine, and the mighty [ones] that mingle strong drink: 23 who justify the ungodly for rewards, and take away the righteousness of the righteous.

Isaiah names two divisions of society in verse 22. First is the leisure class, the class which holds the power. Second are the less powerful, those who focus on living an upright life. God through Isaiah condemns the first group by announcing, “Woe!” The second group are already suffering because of the unjust treatment the first, more powerful group, deals them.

Text Notes

The theme of alcoholic drink may cause the reader to conclude that these two verses are repeating Isaiah5:11-12. How do the two passages compare?

1. Both passages specify two alcoholic beverages.

  • In verse 11, the first is “strong drink,” most likely made of grain, possibly beer.
  • The second drink in verse 11 is “wine.” These distinctions are made in both the Septuagint and the Masoretic.
  • Verse 22 also names two alcoholic beverages, but in reverse order. The first in both Greek and Hebrew is “wine,” while the second is “strong drink.”
  • The “strong drink” in verse 22 is “mingled,” or mixed, perhaps much like mixed cocktails today.
  • The “strong drink” in verse 11 might be beer, since the word indicates it was made of grain.
  • The “strong drink” in verse 22 most likely is not beer, since the drinkers “mingled,” or “mixed,” it.

2. In verse 11, no class of people was specified. In the second passage, however, the drinkers are classified as those positioned to accept “rewards,” or “gifts,” for the purpose of their pronouncing judgments against others. This places them in a class that wields power.

3. The sin in the first passage was living one’s life with no concern for God (see The Second Woe.) The sin in this post’s passage is ignoring God and harming others.

What Charges Does God through Isaiah Bring?

The NET Bible translator’s note for Isaiah 5:22 is worth quoting in full:

The language used here is quite sarcastic and paves the way for the shocking description of the enemy army in vv. 25–30. The rich leaders of Judah are nothing but “party animals” who are totally incapable of withstanding real warriors.

The Septuagint Bible uses two words in verse 22: “strong ones,” and “mighty ones.” The first of the Greek words indicates physical strength and prowess. The first group indicates an upper class of fighting men. The second indicates social prowess. The second group are royalty, princes, and officers with great authority.

Recall that we learned from verse 20 of the upside-down moral quality of Israel’s sin (see Devotional 17). Verses 22-23 also present the backward depravity of the nation at this time. Both the “strong ones” and the “mighty ones” play important roles in the successful functioning of any nation. The task of the strong warriors is to protect the nation. The task of the mighty rulers is to govern well.

The Military’s Top Brass

Soldiers and their commanders should maintain levels of personal and physical discipline and conditioning. Such discipline will prepare them to fend off enemy attack at all times. God will be sending powerful, well conditioned enemies, Isaiah prophesies in 5:26-30. But the high-ranking military of Israel were spending their time amusing themselves with drink. They would not be ready.

The Executive Branch

The second group Isaiah names in verse 22, the “mighty ones” are the princes, rulers, and officials whose task is to keep the nation running smoothly and justly. Their drunkenness and self-serving has turned this aspect of governance upside-down as well.

God blessed Israel with a legal system that was a jewel in Israel’s crown (Deuteronomy 4:8). His mandates were clear. When Israel obeyed the religious and civil precepts of God, God blessed them. When they disobeyed, their prosperity declined. God rewards righteousness (Psalm 18:24) and punishes wickedness (Isaiah 13:11).

The ruling class in Isaiah 5:22 had chosen to serve themselves by seeking their own rewards. They scorned the rewards of righteousness that come from God. This scorn took two forms:

  • First, they declared miscreants innocent in exchange for bribes (vs 23a).
  • Second, they declared the “good” people guilty (vs 23b).

God’s Anger Erupts

Isaiah 5:24-30 closes this chapter with a sequence of three well developed consequences that each begin with the word, “Therefore.”

Please stay tuned…


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