In rapid sequence, Isaiah already fired off four “Woe” statements without a break (Isaiah 5:18-23). Now, the text switches to consequences. He uses three statements beginning with the word, “Therefore.” It’s important when reading these to remember that God addresses his own people, the house of Israel.
1. A rapid dehydration, desiccating, scattering (Isaiah 5:24)
2. God himself strikes them (Isaiah 5:25)
3. God summons a foreign nation to attack and overcome them (Isaiah 5:26-30)
The structure of the text indicates that the consequences apply as a whole to all four “Woe” statements. In other words, there is not a one to one correspondence between the actions of the Israelites specified in the prior passage and God’s punishment. All the consequences apply to all the woes.
The First Consequence
Typically, in ancient Mediterranean agriculture, such as the Canaanites and later the Israelites practiced on their land, farmers burned the stubble after harvest and before planting a new crop. Unfortunately, the wind carried away some nutrients, such as nitrogen and water. Farmers then turned under the ashes, whose remaining nutrients fertilized the ground (1).
The words Isaiah uses in verse 24 indicate that God places no redemptive value upon his people. The text does not say that they will be turned into stubble, but that they are already stubble. Neither does the text actually say that God will burn the stubble. The end result is the same, however, since desiccation is already their condition. The text says that their root shall be as though it is thoroughly dried out. Their flower shall go up as dust. Flowers usually produce seeds for a new crop, but Israel bears no seeds. Their flowers are like dust that disperses. In other words, Israel’s destruction will be complete. Nothing remains to salvage. There is not even some small gain that results from this great loss.
Note: Jeremiah was a kingdom prophet who followed Isaiah by some fifty years. He did prophesy directly that the Chaldeans (Babylonians) would burn Jerusalem (Jeremiah 32:29; 37:8; 38:18, 23).
Verse 24 also summarizes the origin, or cause, of these dire consequences. “For they rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and insulted the word of the Holy One of Israel.” God bestows his word with extraordinary honor. To reject the Almighty Lord’s law and to insult his word is a great sin with great consequences.
Their rejection of God’s word didn’t take the form of not being able to perfectly keep it. The lexical meaning of the words is outright rejection–purposefully choosing not to follow it–and “despising” it. The language evokes images of spitting on God. Psalm 19 clearly states the great value of God’s word.
Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (ESV)
Those who purposefully, consciously, and persistently reject God’s decrees, God will reject.
The Second Consequence
The second consequence is even more graphic than the first. In verse 25, the text states bluntly, “The Lord of hosts was greatly angered against his people, and he reached forth his hand upon them, and smote them:”
The prior “therefore” may have been the natural consequence of disobeying God’s law. It results in the spiritual desiccation of individuals and the nation. That is, the excesses of sin destroy the sinner. However, in this verse, the Lord himself strikes his people.
The verse doesn’t specify what kind of “smiting” the Lord accomplishes. Perhaps he sent a plague or other form of lethal evil. The text doesn’t say. The main point is that the Lord himself did it. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a natural consequence.
The result of the Lord’s striking them was that the “mountains were troubled.” Some texts indicate that the “mountains quaked,” as in an earthquake. How can mountains experience an earthquake as a result of God punishing people? Perhaps there was a physical earthquake, but the entire passage is poetic-literal. By this I mean that the effects were real. Isaiah was predicting real destruction that was really going to happen. But the language he uses is highly poetic. The poetry helps the original recipients of the prophecies and readers of all ages to realize the intense emotion Isaiah wishes to portray. God isn’t just angry. He is so angry that even the mountains are shaking.
Quaking mountains are also highly symbolic in prophetic biblical literature. Passages in which mountains shake, or tremble, are Jeremiah 4:24, Habakkuk 3:10, Isaiah 64:3, and possibly Revelation 6:16. In some of these passages (Habakkuk and Revelation), the mountains might symbolize mighty people.
Next, Isaiah says (LXE, Brenton), “Their carcases [spelling as in text] were as dung in the midst of the way.” (“manure,” rather than “dung,” NET) The article cited above and in the footnote reveals that ancient near eastern farmers would gather up the human and animal waste to use as fertilizer. The article states, “They carried all the manure of Jerusalem from the city by the Dung gate to the gardens outside.” (Semple, 131, see reference in footnote.) Isaiah 5:25 states that “their carcases were as dung in the midst of the way.” I question whether animal waste lying in the streets was also gathered as fertilizer. Bottom line, the dead bodies of the Israelites were not honored with proper burial, but were treated like dung to be avoided.
“… yet for all this his anger has not been turned away, but his hand is yet raised.”
How tragically horrible is this statement?
The Third and Final Consequence
The last consequence of Israel’s rejection of God and his word encompasses five verses, Isaiah 5:26-30. These verses describe powerful enemies from Gentile nations. God “whistles” for them from the end of the earth. In other words, their numbers are limitless.
Isaiah describes these pagan enemies as super-soldiers.
- They never get hungry nor tired (vs 27).
- They never nap nor sleep (vs 27).
- They never loosen their belts. In other words, they’re always dressed and ready to go. They’re always “on” (vs 27).
- Their shoelaces never break. Shoelaces are among the weakest part of a soldier’s ensemble. If even the shoelaces never break, then the rest of the outfit is always in good condition (vs 27).
- Their arrows are sharp, and their bows are bent. Here again, their weapons are always ready to kill (vs 28).
- Their horses’ hoofs are counted as solid rock. Even their horses never need care. Their horses don’t get sore feet that would cause them to require a rest or to be completely retired (vs 28).
- Their chariot wheels are as a storm. They are loud, frightful, fast, and excellent (vs 28).
- Their enemies rage like wild lions. Hungry cubs accompany them craving fresh food (vs 29).
- Their enemy shall seize them like a wild beast. He will carry them away to devour them. There will be no deliverer to help (vs 29).
- Their enemy will roar over them like the sound of an incoming tide of the ocean (vs 30).
- The people will look to the land (their nation, its leaders, their own soldiers, their heritage, their temple).
- “And behold… thick darkness in their perplexity.” (vs 30). Other texts read, “None can rescue.” They are past the point of meriting help. Their deliverer, God, the Lord of hosts, has abandoned them.
How do we apply this text today, especially as Christians? After all, Christians are secure in Christ, who always saves eternally. Yes. Nevertheless, “All Scripture is… profitable,” (2 Timothy 3:16). Four applications follow.
1. I just sat through a wonderful Zoom Bible study with my mentor/friend from Bible.org (SoneshinesJournal.com). We studied the book of Hebrews. The author writes warnings to the Jewish believers not to apostatize. The Apostle John also warns believers against those who apostatize, 1 John 2:18-19. Additionally, Paul speaks of a “rebellion,” or “apostasy” in 1 Thessalonians 2:3. Judas Iscariot was an apostate. Finally, many of the letters of the New Testament contain exhortations to “continue” in the faith and “not to give up.” There would not be these warnings if leaving the faith were not a possibility. Praying for one’s own and friends’ continued loyalty to Christ is an application of Isaiah’s warning.
2. A second application is prayer. I don’t know about you, but when I first read this chapter in Isaiah, my heart broke and I wept in grief to read the fate of God’s chosen people, his special people, Israel. Such empathy leads me to pray for them today. Praying for the conversion of Israel is a good thing.
3. Additionally, Isaiah 5 teaches us to heed the warnings of those who preach God’s true word. God’s anger against sin is real, because his holiness is real. But the freedom God gave humankind to choose life and light over death and darkness is also real. God does punish sin. But he also gives multiple warnings in advance. Isaiah 5 is a warning. It causes readers to see the outcome of a life of rejecting God and his precepts. Read correctly, it is an encouragement to everyone to repent of every sin.
God did destroy his Old Testament people, Israel, by the hands of the Babylonians. Those who were not destroyed were led captive, as Isaiah 5:29 states. In the New Testament, God’s wrath against sin fell upon his own Son, who willingly paid the price of painfully sacrificing his life for us. God’s offer of life in Christ still stands today, until death robs each person of further opportunity to turn to him. So, Isaiah 5 teaches us to love, worship, and give thanks to God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and most especially, God the Son. We do so because God’s Son bore the wrath of God’s judgment against sin.
4. So, inevitably, comes the question. If you haven’t yet turned to Christ, won’t you do so today? Just turn to him right now, speak to him, and offer him you allegiance, just like the thief upon the second cross (Luke 23:42). Christ will not turn you away.
1 Semple, Ellen Churchill. “Ancient Mediterranean Agriculture: Part II. Manuring and Seed Selection.” Agricultural History, vol. 2, no. 3, 1928, pp. 129–156, 130-131. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3739730. Accessed 23 Dec. 2020.