Six Woes on a Decadent Nation (Part 1)

Six Woes on a Decadent Nation (Part 1)

A friend recently pointed me to Isaiah 5:8-23, and I read it over and over, stunned at its imagery and prescience. Though directed at God’s people Israel on the eve of their destruction (see 5:24 and following), it is a fitting message to any society on the downward slope of moral decline.

Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, Until there is no more room,
So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land!
In my ears the LORD of hosts has sworn,

“Surely, many houses shall become desolate,
Even great and fine ones, without occupants...” (5:8-10).

Isaiah saw greedy accumulation at the expense of others. It’s one thing to be successful; it’s another to oppress others in pursuit of nothing more than a bigger portfolio. Israel’s wealthy became powerful enough to buy up all the land and homes in town, until the regular families were unable to live except in the boondocks (NLT says, “until everyone is evicted”). Israel’s national GDP looked good on paper, but the middle and lower classes were not able to participate in the bounty; the rising tide lifted only a few big boats.

Today, many news outlets are reporting worrisome trends in our own society, as the rich get richer and the poor struggle to buy groceries and rent studio apartments. Historically, this portends ruin. God warned Israel that the rich cannot insulate themselves forever from the rot they cause around them, and those majestic compounds would soon echo with emptiness.

Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!
Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine;

But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD,
Nor do they consider the work of His hands.
Therefore, My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge... (11-17)

A little fun and relaxation after a long day’s work, a joyful meal with one’s family and friends, a regular period of time off, are part of God’s plan for work-weary human beings. But Isaiah saw leisure that replaces godliness.

I believe it was Gordon Dahl who said, “We Americans worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” When leisure becomes the pursuit, society’s priorities have gotten out of whack. When people play from morning until evening, there is no thought to productivity or contribution. The pursuit of God will soon be cast aside, too.

Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood,
And sin as if with cart ropes;
Who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; And let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near
And come to pass, that we may know it!” (18-19).

Isaiah saw lies used to introduce immorality. Those who have rejected God, who insist that God prove Himself on their own selfish terms or else they refuse to serve Him (which wouldn’t produce obedience even if God deigned to provide it) are not content to merely scoff in private disbelief. They gain control of the mouthpieces of media, and victimize a gullible population, promoting sin through untruth. Isaiah imagines the lie as the rope used to haul iniquity into the public square.

“Gender fluidity” is one modern example of an unscientific lie used to destroy a generation of children and families. When people stop listening to God’s truth, they are susceptible to anything. We must teach our children to have a healthy skepticism of politicians, experts, entertainers, and media personalities.

When such woeful things predominate in society, God’s judgment is surely near! This should cause us to rethink our true loyalties, to remember that the church is the only true “Christian nation,” that our mission is to spread the news of the gospel, to save people from Satan’s clutches, and to provide a hope for a future with God.

We will finish our look at these societal trends that produce woe in verses 20-23, next week.

–John Guzzetta