God chose Israel to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:1-2). He describes Israel as a vineyard in which He has highly invested (Isaiah 5:1-2).They have instead, ruined themselves for any usefulness, “What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?” (5:4); “He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry for help” (5:7). Therefore, God promises to dismantle them as a nation (5:5-6). It is into this cultural mess that Isaiah’s prophetic ministry begins.
Before the prophet Isaiah encounters the LORD in a majestic vision he addresses the decaying culture around him:
- Individual empire building – “Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place” (Isaiah 5:8).
- Excess and over-indulgence – “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them! The harps and the strings, the tambourine and flute, and wine are in their feasts; but they do not regard the works of the LORD, nor consider the operation of His hands” (5:11-12).
- Ridiculing God in the midst of flagrant sin – “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” (5:18-19).
- Loss of a moral compass – “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” (5:20).
- Arrogance – “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight” (5:21).
- Partying and corruption – “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” (5:22-23).
Moral decay thrive and fill the vacuum left when God’s people abandon His Word, “But they do not regard the work of the LORD or the operation of HIs hands (5:12); “Because they have no knowledge” (5:13); “Because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (5:24).
It is only after Isaiah encounters God, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (6:1),that he begins with the real problem—that of personal sin, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my yeas have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (6:5). Moral decay must be seen individually before it can be addressed communally.
Only after Isaiah encounters the LORD and experiences cleansing personally is he ready and equipped to address the issues in the culture around him, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live cola which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged” (6:7). On the basis of this cleansing, Isaiah proclaims judgment tinged with hope—hope in a coming Messiah Who will bring cleansing to the heart and then to the nations.
Beginning in chapter 10 Isaiah assesses the cultural brokenness of Israel and promises God’s judgment to the nations (10:1, 5; 17:12; 18:1; 24:16; 28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1; 45:9,10).
Isaiah demonstrates the need of the day in which we live:
No man or woman is prepared to address the decaying culture of the 21st century until he himself meets God in a life-transforming encounter—until he sees God, the Sovereign One, upon His heavenly throne.
No man or woman is prepared to confront sin in culture until they see the wretchedness of their own personal sin, they understand the cost to God to pardon sin (the death of His own Son), and they experience the manifold grace both of initial and continual cleansing.
Such people are then ready to address the sin in culture, not with a self-righteous attitude, but with humble boldness. We will not realize who we are until we see Who He Is. And, they will not see who He is until we experience Him anew.