8 Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone
in the midst of the land.
9 The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
“Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
as wine inflames them!
12 They have lyre and harp,
tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
or see the work of his hands.
13 Therefore my people go into exile
for lack of knowledge;
their honored men go hungry,
and their multitude is parched with thirst.
14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite
and opened its mouth beyond measure,
and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down,
her revelers and he who exults in her.
15 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
16 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
17 Then shall the lambs graze as in their pasture,
and nomads shall eat among the ruins of the rich. – Isaiah 5:8-17 ESV
Judah, the vineyard planted by God in the fertile soil of Mount Zion, had failed to produce the kind of fruit God had expected. Instead of sweet grapes practically bursting with juice perfect for making the finest of wines, they had produced wild grapes, sour to the taste and unfit for anything except the fire. And that is exactly what Isaiah is trying to warn the people of Judah. God’s fire of judgment is about to fall on them for their unfaithfulness and lack of spiritual fruitfulness. Or, to put it another way, they had produced the wrong kind of fruit.
Now, Isaiah pronounces a series of woes against them. The word translated as “woe” is the Hebrew word, howy and it is an expression of exclamation that conveys pitty, sorrow, or lament. Isaiah is letting his readers know that what is headed their way will not be enjoyable or avoidable. The word, “woe” acts as an antonym to the word, “blessed.” Rather than enjoying the blessings of God that come as a result of obedience to His will, they were going to experience curses as a result of His judgment. And, long ago, God had provided them with ample warning that this would be their fate if they failed to remain faithful to Him.
“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.” – Deuteronomy 11:26-28 NLT
The first woe has to do with their insatiable greed. Enough was never enough. God had blessed them with land, but they lacked contentment, constantly desiring more. And the prophet, Micah, describes them as lying awake at night scheming of ways to take advantage of their neighbors and confiscate what rightfully belonged to them.
Woe to those who devise wickedness
and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
a man and his inheritance. – Micah 2:1-2 NET
God had made it perfectly clear that the land in which they lived belonged to Him and, as a result, they were to live in it like tenant farmers, caring for the land on God’s behalf.
“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.” – Leviticus 25:23 NLT
And God had ensured that each of the 12 tribes of Israel was allotted their own portion of land, to remain in their possession for as long as they lived in the land. If anyone was forced to sell his land our of necessity, the buyer was to allow them the right to buy it back.
“With every purchase of land you must grant the seller the right to buy it back. If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell some family land, then a close relative should buy it back for him. If there is no close relative to buy the land, but the person who sold it gets enough money to buy it back, he then has the right to redeem it from the one who bought it.” – Deuteronomy 25:24-27 NLT
But greed had gotten the best of them. One of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our love for others. When Jesus was asked which ones of God’s laws recorded by Moses was the most important, He had responded:
“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT
Yet, the people of Judah had exhibited a love for self that transcended their love for others and, ultimately, revealed their lack of love for God. They were unsatisfied with what God had given them and demanded more. And they were willing to do whatever it took to get what they wanted, even if it meant taking advantage of their own neighbors.
In their obsession to have more, they were actually sealing their fate and ensuring that they would never experience the joy they were seeking. Their larger estates would leave them isolated and alone. And they would learn the painful lesson that bigger is not always better. Because God warned them that their disobedience would bring His judgment.
“Many houses will stand deserted;
even beautiful mansions will be empty.
Ten acres of vineyard will not produce even six gallons of wine.
Ten baskets of seed will yield only one basket of grain.” – Isaiah 5:9-10 NLT
The greedy are never satisfied. Their appetite is insatiable because they attempt to meet their needs by seeking something other than God.
The second woe has to do with the love of pleasure. The people of Judah had become hedonistic in their outlook on life. They lived by the philosophy, “Eat, drink and be merry!” They lived to party and filled their days with the consumption of alcohol and the pursuit of pleasure. But Isaiah exposes the root problem: “they never think about the Lord or notice what he is doing” (Isaiah 5:12 NLT). Rather than looking to God to bring them joy and a sense of satisfaction with life, they were turning to physical pleasures.
And God predicts their fate: “Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 5:13 ESV). Their real problem was not drunkenness and partying, but a lack of knowledge of God. They didn’t understand that He was to be the sole source of their joy and the primary provider of pleasure in their lives. The apostle Paul would later describe his understanding of God’s role as his source of contentment and satisfaction.
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT
For the people of Judah, their search for satisfaction entailed more land and their quest for joy involved much wine. But they would never find what they were looking for. Instead they would experience poverty, hunger, thirst, and the humiliation of life as exiles in a foreign land.
But God would be perfectly just in His treatment of them. He would only be giving them what they deserved and what they had brought upon themselves.
But the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will be exalted by his justice.
The holiness of God will be displayed by his righteousness. – Isaiah 5:16 NLT
He had promised to bless them if they would only remain faithful to Him. And time and time again, He had proven Himself a God who keeps His word. They were blessed. They lived in a land that was abundantly fruitful and more than adequate to meet their needs. He had provided them with ample reasons to experience joy in life, but they had turned to pleasure, possessions, and even pagan gods in a vain attempt to discover what they could only find in God. And the Scriptures are filled with reminders of God’s faithfulness to satisfy every need that man might have.
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things. – Psalm 107:8-9 NLT
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring. – Isaiah 58:11 NLT
“Is anyone thirsty?
Come and drink—
even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
You will enjoy the finest food.” – Isaiah 55:1-2 NLT
God was more than enough. He was fully capable of meeting all their needs. But they had decided that bigger is better and the pursuit of pleasure is preferrable. Unlike Paul, they didn’t see godliness with contentment is great wealth (I Timothy 6:6).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.