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Isaiah 5:8-30

Disaster is Coming

5:8 Those who accumulate houses are as good as dead, 1 

those who also accumulate landed property 2 

until there is no land left, 3 

and you are the only landowners remaining within the land. 4 

5:9 The Lord who commands armies told me this: 5 

“Many houses will certainly become desolate,

large, impressive houses will have no one living in them. 6 

5:10 Indeed, a large vineyard 7  will produce just a few gallons, 8 

and enough seed to yield several bushels 9  will produce less than a bushel.” 10 

5:11 Those who get up early to drink beer are as good as dead, 11 

those who keep drinking long after dark

until they are intoxicated with wine. 12 

5:12 They have stringed instruments, 13  tambourines, flutes,

and wine at their parties.

So they do not recognize what the Lord is doing,

they do not perceive what he is bringing about. 14 

5:13 Therefore my 15  people will be deported 16 

because of their lack of understanding.

Their 17  leaders will have nothing to eat, 18 

their 19  masses will have nothing to drink. 20 

5:14 So Death 21  will open up its throat,

and open wide its mouth; 22 

Zion’s dignitaries and masses will descend into it,

including those who revel and celebrate within her. 23 

5:15 Men will be humiliated,

they will be brought low;

the proud will be brought low. 24 

5:16 The Lord who commands armies will be exalted 25  when he punishes, 26 

the sovereign God’s authority will be recognized when he judges. 27 

5:17 Lambs 28  will graze as if in their pastures,

amid the ruins the rich sojourners will graze. 29 

5:18 Those who pull evil along using cords of emptiness are as good as dead, 30 

who pull sin as with cart ropes. 31 

5:19 They say, “Let him hurry, let him act quickly, 32 

so we can see;

let the plan of the Holy One of Israel 33  take shape 34  and come to pass,

then we will know it!”

5:20 Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, 35 

who turn darkness into light and light into darkness,

who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. 36 

5:21 Those who think they are wise are as good as dead, 37 

those who think they possess understanding. 38 

5:22 Those who are champions 39  at drinking wine are as good as dead, 40 

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. 41 

5:24 Therefore, as flaming fire 42  devours straw,

and dry grass disintegrates in the flames,

so their root will rot,

and their flower will blow away like dust. 43 

For they have rejected the law of the Lord who commands armies,

they have spurned the commands 44  of the Holy One of Israel. 45 

5:25 So the Lord is furious 46  with his people;

he lifts 47  his hand and strikes them.

The mountains shake,

and corpses lie like manure 48  in the middle of the streets.

Despite all this, his anger does not subside,

and his hand is ready to strike again. 49 

5:26 He lifts a signal flag for a distant nation, 50 

he whistles for it to come from the far regions of the earth.

Look, they 51  come quickly and swiftly.

5:27 None tire or stumble,

they don’t stop to nap or sleep.

They don’t loosen their belts,

or unstrap their sandals to rest. 52 

5:28 Their arrows are sharpened,

and all their bows are prepared. 53 

The hooves of their horses are hard as flint, 54 

and their chariot wheels are like a windstorm. 55 

5:29 Their roar is like a lion’s;

they roar like young lions.

They growl and seize their prey;

they drag it away and no one can come to the rescue.

5:30 At that time 56  they will growl over their prey, 57 

it will sound like sea waves crashing against rocks. 58 

One will look out over the land and see the darkness of disaster,

clouds will turn the light into darkness. 59 

1 tn Heb “Woe [to] those who make a house touch a house.” The exclamation הוֹי (hoy, “woe, ah”) was used in funeral laments (see 1 Kgs 13:30; Jer 22:18; 34:5) and carries the connotation of death.

2 tn Heb “[who] bring a field near a field.”

sn This verse does not condemn real estate endeavors per se, but refers to the way in which the rich bureaucrats of Judah accumulated property by exploiting the poor, in violation of the covenantal principle that the land belonged to God and that every family was to have its own portion of land. See the note at 1:23.

3 tn Heb “until the end of the place”; NASB “until there is no more room.”

4 tn Heb “and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.”

5 tn Heb “in my ears, the Lord who commands armies [traditionally, the Lord of hosts].”

6 tn Heb “great and good [houses], without a resident.”

7 tn Heb “a ten-yoke vineyard.” The Hebrew term צֶמֶד (tsemed, “yoke”) is here a unit of square measure. Apparently a ten-yoke vineyard covered the same amount of land it would take ten teams of oxen to plow in a certain period of time. The exact size is unknown.

8 tn Heb “one bath.” A bath was a liquid measure. Estimates of its modern equivalent range from approximately six to twelve gallons.

9 tn Heb “a homer.” A homer was a dry measure, the exact size of which is debated. Cf. NCV “ten bushels”; CEV “five bushels.”

10 tn Heb “an ephah.” An ephah was a dry measure; there were ten ephahs in a homer. So this verse envisions major crop failure, where only one-tenth of the anticipated harvest is realized.

11 tn Heb “Woe [to] those who arise early in the morning, [who] chase beer.”

12 tn Heb “[who] delay until dark, [until] wine enflames them.”

sn This verse does not condemn drinking per se, but refers to the carousing lifestyle of the rich bureaucrats, made possible by wealth taken from the poor. Their carousing is not the fundamental problem, but a disgusting symptom of the real disease – their social injustice.

13 tn Two types of stringed instruments are specifically mentioned in the Hebrew text, the כִּנּוֹר (kinnor, “zither”) and נֶבֶל (nevel, “harp”).

14 tn Heb “the work of the Lord they do not look at, and the work of his hands they do not see.” God’s “work” can sometimes be his creative deeds, but in this context it is the judgment that he is planning to bring upon his people (cf. vv. 19, 26; 10:12; 28:21).

15 sn It is not certain if the prophet or the Lord is speaking at this point.

16 tn The suffixed (perfect) form of the verb is used; in this way the coming event is described for rhetorical effect as occurring or as already completed.

17 tn The third masculine singular suffix refers back to “my people.”

18 tn Heb “Their glory will be men of hunger.” כָּבוֹד (kavod, “glory”) is in opposition to הָמוֹן (hamon, “masses”) and refers here to the rich and prominent members of the nation. Some prefer to repoint מְתֵי (mÿtey, “men of”) as מִתֵי (mitey, “dead ones of”).

19 tn The third masculine singular suffix refers back to “my people.”

20 tn Heb “and their masses will be parched [by] thirst.”

21 tn Heb “Sheol” (so ASV, NASB, NRSV); the underworld, the land of the dead, according to the OT world view. Cf. NAB “the nether world”; TEV, CEV “the world of the dead”; NLT “the grave.”

22 tn Heb “so Sheol will make wide its throat, and open its mouth without limit.”

sn Death is portrayed in both the OT (Prov 1:12; Hab 2:5) and Canaanite myth as voraciously swallowing up its prey. In the myths Death is portrayed as having “a lip to the earth, a lip to the heavens … and a tongue to the stars.” (G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 69, text 5 ii 2-3.) Death describes his own appetite as follows: “But my appetite is the appetite of lions in the waste…If it is in very truth my desire to consume ‘clay’ [a reference to his human victims], then in truth by the handfuls I must eat it, whether my seven portions [indicating fullness and completeness] are already in the bowl or whether Nahar [the god of the river responsible for ferrying victims from the land of the living to the land of the dead] has to mix the cup.” (Driver, 68-69, text 5 i 14-22).

23 tn Heb “and her splendor and her masses will go down, and her tumult and the one who exults in her.” The antecedent of the four feminine singular pronominal suffixes used in v. 14b is unclear. The likely referent is personified Zion/Jerusalem (see 3:25-26; 4:4-5).

24 tn Heb “men are brought down, men are brought low, the eyes of pride are brought low.”

25 tn Or “elevated”; TEV “the Lord Almighty shows his greatness.”

26 tn Heb “by judgment/justice.” When God justly punishes the evildoers denounced in the preceding verses, he will be recognized as a mighty warrior.

27 tn Heb “The holy God will be set apart by fairness.” In this context God’s holiness is his sovereign royal authority, which implies a commitment to justice (see the note on the phrase “the sovereign king of Israel” in 1:4). When God judges evildoers as they deserve, his sovereignty will be acknowledged.

sn The appearance of מִשְׁפָט (mishpat, “justice”) and צְדָקָה (tsÿdaqah, “fairness”) here is rhetorically significant, when one recalls v. 7. There God denounces his people for failing to produce a society where “justice” and “fairness” are valued and maintained. God will judge his people for their failure, taking “justice” and “fairness” into his own hands.

28 tn Or “young rams”; NIV, NCV “sheep”; NLT “flocks.”

29 tc The Hebrew text reads literally, “and ruins, fatlings, resident aliens, will eat.” This part of the verse has occasioned various suggestions of emendation. The parallelism is tighter if the second line refers to animals grazing. The translation, “amid the ruins the fatlings and young sheep graze,” assumes an emendation of “resident aliens” (גָּרִים, garim) to “young goats/sheep” (גְּדַיִם, gÿdayim) – confusion of dalet and resh is quite common – and understands “fatlings” and “young sheep” taken as a compound subject or as in apposition as the subject of the verb. However, no emendations are necessary if the above translation is correct. The meaning of מֵחִים (mekhim) has a significant impact on one’s textual decision and translation. The noun can refer to a sacrificial (“fat”) animal as it does in its only other occurrence (Ps 66:15). However, it could signify the rich of the earth (“the fat ones of the earth”; Ps 22:29 [MT 30]) using a different word for “fatness” (דָּשֶׁן, dashen). If so, it serves a figurative reference to the rich. Consequently, the above translation coheres with the first half of the verse. Just as the sheep are out of place grazing in these places (“as in their pasture”), the sojourners would not have expected to have the chance to eat in these locations. Both animals and itinerant foreigners would eat in places not normal for them.

sn The image completes the picture begun in v. 14 and adds to the irony. When judgment comes, Sheol will eat up the sinners who frequent the feasts; then the banqueting halls will lie in ruins and only sheep will eat there.

30 sn See the note at v. 8.

31 tc The Hebrew text reads literally, “Woe to those who pull evil with the ropes of emptiness, and, as [with] ropes of a cart, sin.” Though several textual details are unclear, the basic idea is apparent. The sinners are so attached to their sinful ways (compared here to a heavy load) that they strain to drag them along behind them. If שָׁוְא (shavÿ’, “emptiness”) is retained, it makes a further comment on their lifestyle, denouncing it as one that is devoid of what is right and destined to lead to nothing but destruction. Because “emptiness” does not form a very tight parallel with “cart” in the next line, some emend שָׁוְא to שֶׂה (she, “sheep”) and עֲגָלָה (’agalah, “cart”) to עֵגֶל (’egel, “calf”): “Those who pull evil along with a sheep halter are as good as dead who pull sin with a calf rope” (following the lead of the LXX and improving the internal parallelism of the verse). In this case, the verse pictures the sinners pulling sin along behind them as one pulls an animal with a halter. For a discussion of this view, see J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:163, n. 1. Nevertheless, this emendation is unnecessary. The above translation emphasizes the folly of the Israelites who hold on to their sin (and its punishment) even while they hope for divine intervention.

32 tn Heb “let his work hurry, let it hasten.” The pronoun “his” refers to God, as the parallel line makes clear. The reference to his “work” alludes back to v. 12, which refers to his ‘work” of judgment. With these words the people challenged the prophet’s warning of approaching judgment. They were in essence saying that they saw no evidence that God was about to work in such a way.

33 sn See the note on the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” in 1:4.

34 tn Heb “draw near” (so NASB); NRSV “hasten to fulfillment.”

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

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

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

38 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).

39 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.

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

41 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).

42 tn Heb “a tongue of fire” (so NASB), referring to a tongue-shaped flame.

43 sn They are compared to a flowering plant that withers quickly in a hot, arid climate.

44 tn Heb “the word.”

45 sn See the note on the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” in 1:4.

46 tn Heb “the anger of the Lord rages.”

47 tn Or “extends”; KJV, ASV “he hath stretched forth.”

48 tn Or “garbage” (NCV, CEV, NLT); NAB, NASB, NIV “refuse.”

49 tn Heb “in all this his anger is not turned, and still his hand is outstretched.”

50 tc The Hebrew text has literally, “for nations from a distance.” The following verses use singular forms to describe this nation, so the final mem (ם) on לְגּוֹיִם (lÿgoyim) may be enclitic or dittographic. In the latter case one could read לְגוֹי מֵרָחוֹק (lÿgoy merakhoq, “for a nation from a distance”; see Deut 28:49; Joel 3:8). Another possibility is to emend the text from לַגּוֹיִם מֵרָחוֹק (laggoyim merakhoq) to לְגוֹי מִמֶּרְחָק (lÿgoy mimmerkhaq, “for a nation from a distant place”) a phrase which occurs in Jer 5:15. In this case an error of misdivision has occurred in MT, the mem of the prefixed preposition being accidentally taken as a plural ending on the preceding word.

51 tn Heb “he.” Singular forms are used throughout vv. 26-30 to describe this nation, but for stylistic reasons the translation uses the plural for these collective singulars.

52 tn Heb “and the belt on his waist is not opened, and the thong of his sandals is not torn in two.”

53 tn Heb “bent” (so KJV, NAB, NASB, NRSV); NIV “are strung.”

54 tn Heb “regarded like flint.”

55 sn They are like a windstorm in their swift movement and in the way they kick up dust.

56 tn Or “in that day” (KJV).

57 tn Heb “over it”; the referent (the prey) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

58 tn Heb “like the growling of the sea.”

59 tn Heb “and one will gaze toward the land, and look, darkness of distress, and light will grow dark by its [the land’s?] clouds.”

sn The motif of light turning to darkness is ironic when compared to v. 20. There the sinners turn light (= moral/ethical good) to darkness (= moral/ethical evil). Now ironically the Lord will turn light (= the sinners’ sphere of existence and life) into darkness (= the judgment and death).

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