Isaiah 5:8-17 Link to LXE
Matthew’s Format Similar to Isaiah’s
Stories, such as parables, tend to tone down emotions, don’t you think? In the parable of the vineyard, Isaiah 5:1-7 LXE, it’s plain that God is not pleased with his people. Yet, the story, at least to my ear, rings on the intellectual, mind-only, side. The symbolism within the parable causes God’s anger to appear somewhat abstract. But counteracting this muted effect, immediately, the very next word of the next verse undoes that. “Woe!” verse 8 begins. A naming of specific sins follows this outcry. There is no mistaking what God intends from this point to the end of the chapter.
The Gospel of Matthew follows the format Isaiah uses. In chapters 21 and 22, Jesus tells two parables denouncing the Pharisees, who were the hypocritical religious leaders in Jesus’s day. The reader readily perceives Jesus’s displeasure. But when he shouts out seven times in Matthew 23, “Woe to you!” his speech shocks the reader by its blasts of power. In six of the seven woes, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” In these words, Jesus names the object of his scorn very specifically, just as Isaiah does in Chapter 5.
Next, compare Jesus’s statement in Matthew 23:33 with Isaiah 5:14. Matthew 23 and Isaiah 5 are very similar.
Isaiah 5:14 Therefore <1> hell has enlarged its desire and opened its mouth without ceasing: and her glorious and great, and her rich and her pestilent men shall go down into it. (LXE) <1> hades
Matthew 23:33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (ESV)
God’s Anger Is Strong
My personal response to God’s anger expressed against his own people in both Isaiah and Matthew is to break into tears. It is such a tragic outcome that did not have to be. The parable of the vineyard with which Isaiah 5 opens speaks of the good intentions in God’s heart in planting his vineyard. Jesus further speaks in Matthew 23:34-35 of God’s heart of patience and pity. God expressed his love by sending prophet after prophet to Israel (1). Isaiah is one of those prophets. He falls chronologically approximately half way between King David and King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian who accomplished the final phase of Judah’s exile. God’s heart is ever towards his people, encouraging them to repent and be saved.
The First Two “Woes!”
When a Pharisee, who was an expert in the Law, asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, Jesus replied by naming two commandments. For the second he said, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'” (Matthew 22:39 NET). That we love our neighbors is extremely important to God.
1. The first woe in Isaiah 5:8 describes a people who avariciously crowd out their neighbors from a livelihood upon the land. God in Septuagint Isaiah asks an interesting question in this verse, “Will ye dwell alone upon the land?” In other words, Do you think yourselves so special and important that you want to be the only ones who matter? Don’t you care anything at all for other people? You think it’s right to squeeze them off the land, so that only you can make a living?
Verses 9 and 10, though not introduced with a “therefore,” describe the consequence of their sin: desolation and extreme poverty (2).
2. Septuagint Isaiah 5:11-12 names the second woe: debauchery combined with no reverence nor even interest in the Lord and his works.
NOTICE: Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38 names love for God as the first and great commandment. Yet Isaiah lists failure to love neighbors as the first woe. Failure to love God is the second woe. Does this mean the Bible is contradicting itself? No! It means that God “practices what he preaches.” When God sent his Son Jesus to the cross for all humankind, he was placing love for others above his love for himself. This is what John 3:16 teaches. I should do the same.
The word “Therefore” introduces the consequences of this sin (Isaiah 5:13). The verse describes the captivity.
And if captivity is not enough, there are also a “multitude of dead bodies, because of hunger and of thirst for water.” These words describe death by slow starvation and dehydration, as by a long siege preceding the captivity.
Verse 14 (about hell opening its mouth) we quoted above in relation to the words of Christ in the New Testament. The verse opens with the second “Therefore.”
The entire section of Isaiah 5:13-17 describes the humbling of everyone during this time of captivity, especially the proud rich. Only God will be exalted. The farmland that once belonged to the wealthy becomes a waste place (3).
To Be Continued
1 Note that in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, God finally sent his Son (Matthew 23:37f). We know it was God’s love that caused him to send the long string of prophets to warn Israel of their coming condemnation. John 3:16 informs us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” (ESV). The same motive of love animated God to send the prophets before his Son.
2 Today we might describe it as an enormous, enduring stock market crash.
3 Within the section Isaiah 5:11-17, verse 17 is perhaps the most difficult. We know this because the English Septuagint (LXE), ESV, NET, NIV, and KJV all give a slightly different reading. Some have greater variations than others. A general consensus might be that the former occupants of the land will be devastated, the farms will be abandoned, yet there will remain some poorer people still living there as nomads.