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Isaiah 5:20-23

Context

5:20 Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, 1 

who turn darkness into light and light into darkness,

who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. 2 

5:21 Those who think they are wise are as good as dead, 3 

those who think they possess understanding. 4 

5:22 Those who are champions 5  at drinking wine are as good as dead, 6 

who display great courage when mixing strong drinks.

5:23 They pronounce the guilty innocent for a payoff,

they ignore the just cause of the innocent. 7 

1 tn Heb “Woe [to] those who call.” See the note at v. 8.

2 sn In this verse the prophet denounces the perversion of moral standards. Darkness and bitterness are metaphors for evil; light and sweetness symbolize uprightness.

3 tn Heb “Woe [to] the wise in their own eyes.” See the note at v. 8.

4 tn Heb “[who] before their faces are understanding.”

sn Verses 18-21 contain three “woe-sayings” that are purely accusatory and have no formal announcement of judgment attached (as in the “woe-sayings” recorded in vv. 8-17). While this lack of symmetry is odd, it has a clear rhetorical purpose. Having established a pattern in vv. 8-17, the prophet deviates from it in vv. 18-21 to grab his audience’s attention. By placing the “woes” in rapid succession and heaping up the accusatory elements, he highlights the people’s guilt and introduces an element of tension and anticipation. One is reasonably certain that judgment will come, and when it does, it will be devastating. This anticipated devastation is described in frightening detail after the sixth and final woe (see vv. 22-30).

5 tn The language used here is quite sarcastic and paves the way for the shocking description of the enemy army in vv. 25-30. The rich leaders of Judah are nothing but “party animals” who are totally incapable of withstanding real warriors.

6 tn Heb “Woe [to]….” See the note at v. 8.

7 tn Heb “and the just cause of the innocent ones they turn aside from him.”

sn In vv. 22-23 the prophet returns to themes with which he opened his speech. The accusatory elements of vv. 8, 11-12, 18-23 are arranged in a chiastic manner: (A) social injustice (8), (B) carousing (11-12a), (C) spiritual insensitivity (12b) // (C') spiritual insensitivity (18-21), (B') carousing (22), (A') social injustice (23).



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