Monday night, as part of our study, we read in Isaiah chapter 5, where the prophet pronounces a “woe” on those “who call evil good and good evil.” In his commentary on Isaiah, Alec Motyer has a particularly insightful section dealing with this passage (Isaiah 5:18-23). I found the application to our day especially helpful. (The commentary was published in 1993.)

Isaiah 5:18-19
Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, ​​And sin as if with a cart rope; ​​That say, “Let Him make speed and hasten His work, ​​That we may see it;​​ And let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, ​​That we may know it.”

The picture is of a beast harnessed to and dragging a cart with cords of deceit. By holding on to what is false they bind themselves in bondage to sin, and what starts as cords becomes cart ropes, unbreakable bondage. Sin and wickedness when used together point, respectively, to an inner start and to specific instances of sin. The progressive nature of sin (from cords to cart ropes) leads to the arrogance which demands that God prove Himself, the skepticism which doubts that He is active in the world and the blindness which cannot see Him at work.

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!

In sin’s next stage the moral code is reversed; sin becomes an accepted way of life. This happens in public morality (light and darkness are common to all) and to private morality (bitter and sweet are matters of private taste).

​Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

Where does it all start? With humankind’s insistence on autonomy. [As they see it,] both the wisdom that provides ruling principles for life and the cleverness (better ‘discernment’) that decides specific issues are their own unaided work.

​​Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, ​​Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink, ​​Who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man!

So what is life like on the basis of unaided human wisdom?

First, success is measured by the degree of self-satisfaction achieved and indulgence enjoyed. Heroes and champions is sarcastic use of terms of military honor, as if to say, ‘See, they have medals for it!’

Secondly, the safeguards of society, here the legal system, succumb to corruption.

All this sounds familiar, no?