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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 5:18-21

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, November 15, 2007

18 Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit,
   and wickedness as with cart ropes,
   19 to those who say, “Let God hurry,
   let him hasten his work
   so we may see it.
   Let it approach,
   let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come,
   so we may know it.”

This third woe is about blasphemy. The words are almost a shadow of the scorn shouted at Jesus while he was on the cross. These are people who dare God to act: “Let’s see if God will do anything.” The image of “drawing sin along with cords of deceit” is of people who are no longer being deceived by the devil, but who are actually packing him into the back seat of their car and taking him out for a drive. It’s not that they’re being misled; they’re out looking for sin, and they’re spitting at God while they’re doing it.

As they peel off into the distance yelling “God had better hurry!” Isaiah mutters after them, “Come, Lord Jesus.” The Last Day will come, and their judgment will come along with it.

20 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.

The fourth woe is about a different kind of blasphemy—it’s about rewriting the truth. It’s tempting to think that this is only about changing the moral code (which would be bad enough). But the underlying sin is about taking one thing God has said and turning it around into meaning exactly the opposite.

This passage reflects the thoughts and words of people who think Christianity is a threat to society. When a culture (like ours) begins to threaten people who stand up for the truth, that culture is in trouble. But what am I saying? Every culture does that. Every people does that. Every person does that. This is our sinful nature at its ugliest, when a sin is pointed out in our lives, the Old Adam wants to lash out and strike like a Diamondback Rattler at the finger doing the pointing.

And when we’ve done that, we have fallen into Isaiah’s fifth woe:

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (NIV)

This woe takes the inverted opinion of truth in the fourth woe and applies it to ourselves: believing that we are wise or clever when we are really foolish in God’s sight. We have fallen into the trap of thinking that what is evil is really good. Ultimately, we warp our own consciences into thinking that our sins are not sins at all. If it continues long enough, we can even be led to believe as the Mormons do that the Fall of Man was a fall “up,” and that sinfulness is good and healthy and progressive for a person.

All of these are interconnected, and they lead from one to the next. Once we set out on a sinful path, unless we are checked by God’s law and led to repentance by the Holy Spirit, we can quickly turn everything God has said upside down.

That’s why our constant focus needs to be on the cross of Jesus Christ. We are not going to stop sinning in our lifetime. We are not going to stop being sinful. The temptations don’t get easier and easier to fight off as we get older. It’s true that in general, temptations change, but they only change by becoming more and more numerous. But forgiveness is there in Jesus. In his word we find strength, and we are guided in our living.

Peter gives us some guidance for today: “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:1-3). The goodness of the Lord is his forgiveness and his mercy. The pure spiritual milk is the gospel that brings the message of that forgiveness. And the gospel of forgiveness is our motivation for ridding ourselves of the sins and temptations in our lives.

Toss sin out of the back seat. And let Jesus drive.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.