Are you getting discouraged by how Isaiah and his Beloved described conditions in Israel? Does it trouble you how closely our culture parallels that of Isaiah’s Israel? Key things to keep in forefront of mind:
1. God is Sovereign over all.
2. God is just but he is also good.
3. God is committed to preserving a remnant, his people, the church.
4. God is merciful, ready to forgive all who turn to him in repentance.
The prophet and Beloved both declared in general terms the problem with Judah and Jerusalem – planted, cultivated, expected good fruit, got “stinkberries” instead. Now Isaiah makes it perfectly clear what those “stinkberries” were, by contrast what good fruit the Beloved expected. In keeping with vineyard metaphor, if Beloved had returned to vineyard and found good grapes, promised uprooting/judgment would not have happened. Similar is true of any people/culture – if God threatens judgment and people repent (think Nineveh) he will bless instead of destroy.
But to our text and the bad fruit:
A. bad fruit
Gal. 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such things [there] is no law.
1. greed instead of kindness v.8
discontented, pursuing stuff without regard for others; not satisfied with God’s provision. It’s not the having of material things, it’s the attitude. Possessions and net worth define person; possessions and accumulation of wealth provide satisfaction (in theory) – the world’s view of where things fit in a person’s life. God’s view: our relationship to him defines who we are; he is who gives satisfaction. Pursuing things puts them in the place where God belongs.
2. indulgence instead of self-control v.11-12
indulging the senses, living from one “rush” to the next. Maybe live for party scene – video games (Doom) – extreme sports – gambling in its various forms – food to excess, not necessarily quantity but variety. Pursuit of pleasure without restraint is driving force; what makes it wrong – that kind of pursuit should be devoted to God. When it is – result is self-discipline, God and self both in proper places and order.
3. unbelief instead of faithfulness v.18-19
a scoffing ridiculing sort of unbelief. So committed to pursuing sinful ways and ideas they’re pictured as harnessed to them. Deep down conscience tells them actions and attitudes are wrong but, determined to do it anyway. Taunt: “If there really is a God and he doesn’t like me doing this, then strike me dead. Hmmm, no lightning, oh well.” Not just crude, badly mannered folks; “intellectuals” also. Same mindset, modern vocal atheists, look at all the evil/hardship/war/weather in the world; can’t be a God, if there were he’d be smarter than that.
4. perversion of truth and morality instead of purity v.20
turning God’s standard of truth and morals on its head. Redefining right and wrong to match personal standards. Claiming since mankind is evolving, standards need to evolve with him (so the US Supreme Court). That may be what it says, not what it really means. Calling right to murder pre-born freedom of choice. Same-sex marriage an alternate lifestyle. That’s your interpretation. It’s not ok for me but if it works for you, all right; besides, who am I to say…?
“Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven.” Ps. 119:89 God said what he meant and meant what he said! “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phil. 4:8
5. self-sufficiency instead of godly dependency v.21
confident in own abilities to take care of themselves and family. It was tough but… Beat the odds so far, got the system figured out, I’ll make out either way. Fail to acknowledge all they had came ultimately from God – dependent on him for breath, rain, employment, protection. Expected others to show appreciation to them, failed to do as much to God; instead gave credit to self.
6. perversion of justice instead of goodness v.22-23
those who by virtue of office or employment expected to protect the righteous and punish the wicked do just the opposite. Protect evildoers for a consideration, in so doing bring harm to righteous. Can be physical, emotional or financial harm; represents injustice on both sides. Could be the crooked big city cop on mob payroll, government determined to prevent church from constructing or using building.
B. frustrating results
In spite of Judah and Jerusalem’s most valiant efforts to have it their own way, Isaiah makes it plain God will have the last word. In fact, he says (v.9) “the Lord of hosts is in his ears. …what Isaiah means is that the Lord is at the moment revealing to him His word. God is in his ears, and what Isaiah speaks, he hears from God.” E. J. Young In every area of life God would frustrate his people as they tried to do it their own way and encourage them to turn to him.
1. pitiful production and poverty, not wealth v.9-10
despite attempts at wealth-building, will come to little or nothing. Rental property will stand vacant, especially prime properties, producing no income. Private properties standing vacant, previously occupied by those who built or bought according to desire and beyond means or need. Farm production – 1 bushel of seed from 10 bushels planted; quick route to starvation.
2. slavery and destruction, not freedom v.13-14
expecting freedom from need, unnecessary confinement within God’s rules. Instead of finding freedom outside God’s way of doing things, find themselves in slavery in foreign country. Would have little they could call their own, little by way of freedom. And that’s for the ones who survive. Mortality due to war and hardship would tax the grave’s ability to swallow them all – “Therefore Sheol enlarges its throat and opens wide its enormous jaws” HCSB
3. humiliation, not advancement v.15-17
Every attempt to advance own cause without regard for God would lead to humiliation and ruin for them, glory for God. Men had scoffed at idea of God and consequences for sin – God in fact long-suffering, patient, but will not sit idly by forever. He will act to bring about justice, it will involve punishing evildoers and rewarding righteous. That he is acting justly will be recognized and acknowledged, God will be exalted.
4. shattered expectations, not satisfaction v.24
Rather than providing pleasure and satisfaction, all they had tried to acquire and store up would go up in smoke, blow away on the wind. Brought on themselves – chose to reject God’s law, despise God’s word treating it with contempt. It’s old-fashioned, outdated, just doesn’t grab me; we need something relevant.
C. hard consequences v.25-30
“But wait, there’s more!”
1. how great God’s anger, how great their sin v.25
2. God’s sovereign governance is inescapable, his resources unlimited v.26-30
a. fearsome when considering our sinfulness
Proper understanding of God always leads to wonder – why am I so blessed, why am I still alive, what future can I possibly have? If God ever gave us what we deserved, look out!
b. comforting when remembering God’s character
God is just but also gracious and merciful. He’s promised forgiveness in return for repentance and confession. He can justly forgive because the Lord Jesus paid the penalty in full for sins of his people.
Does Israel’s situation of Isaiah’s day sound too much like today? Can you put names or faces beside each kind of stinkberry? Your own for some of them? Is the light darkened by the clouds of sin, rejection of God and his ways? Two thousand years ago shepherds saw a great light in the darkened sky and heard a message of great joy for all people. We, too, have heard that same message and, like the shepherds, have the same opportunity. The truth of the Gospel message – “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” was just what God’s ancient people needed to hear and respond to.
That same message is what our families, friends, and neighbors need to hear and respond to in our day. More stuff won’t satisfy greed; more time to play will not satisfy the appetites of pleasure. More knowledge will not cure unbelief or truth-twisting; more laws and courts and judges won’t reduce injustice. More government programs at national, state or local levels will not bring peace and joy to hurting families.
What needs to change is the heart, the will, of those who are far from God. People of all ages and stations in life need to turn to the only One who can truly help and satisfy. Of all places in the world in which to live, God has placed us where there is the greatest freedom to proclaim the truth of salvation in Christ Jesus to all who will hear. The light of the Son must break through the clouds, illuminate a people living in darkness of sin and self. May we be like the shepherds and make it widely known what we know of hope and joy and a future through faith in the Lord Jesus.