Isaiah 5:20

‘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!’
(Isaiah 5:20)

The overarching truth here is that there’s a correct definition of what’s good, light and sweet, compared with what’s evil, dark and bitter, and it’s possible to get this wrong, which is a woeful path to be on. So we must take care, and examine ourselves, calibrating our moral and spiritual compasses against God’s word, so that we’re not led astray.

First the ‘good’(Psalm 34:8 & Romans 12:2, etc.), ‘light’(Isaiah 2:5, Psalm 119:105, Matthew 4:16, John 8:12 & 2 Corinthians 4:6, etc.) and ‘sweet’(Ezekiel 3:3ff., cf. Psalm 19:10 & 1 Peter 2:3, etc.). Some helpful lists in scripture that outline the ‘light… fruit… goodness… and truth… pleasing to the Lord’(Ephesians 5:8-10) mention ‘kindness… humility… love… and… peace’(Colossians 3:12-15) alongside ‘patience… gentleness, and self-control’(Galatians 5:22-23), etc.

The same passages provide contrasting lists to define what’s evil, dark and bitter. These include ‘covetousness… malice… shameful speaking’(Colossians 3:5-8), ‘sexual immorality… hatred… drunkenness… and things like these’(Galatians 5:19-21). In this passage from Isaiah we see ‘Woe’(Isaiah 5:8,11,18,20,21&22) pronounced against some similar things.

It’s important to note though that the underlying problem is always with the ‘“heart”’(Matthew 15:19) and the root cause lurks even deeper – in venomous lies ultimately from ‘Satan, the deceiver’(Revelation 12:9). These can infiltrate our hearts to cause ‘blinded… minds’(2 Corinthians 4:4), i.e. a ‘darkened… understanding… because of the hardening of… hearts’(Ephesians 4:18). Fallen mankind is the poisoned consequence, ‘foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another’(Titus 3:3) – evil, dark and bitter in heart.

Bizarrely, we can even become deceived into thinking this is desirable, i.e. ‘call evil good’, parts of it at least, and so ‘walk in the ways of darkness… rejoice to do evil, and delight in the perverseness of evil’(Proverbs 2:13-14). From this compromised position further moral and spiritual disease can set in. The apostle Paul describes this affliction perfectly: those ‘who suppress the truth… heart… darkened… fools… who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… changed the natural function into that which is against nature… doing what is inappropriate… filled with… sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, malice… hateful to God… arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil things… approve of those who practice them’(Romans 1:18-32) – our world!

We should note the boastful pride in that, and hatred towards God. This marks a significant progression in the condition, not simply calling ‘evil good’ but brazenly calling ‘good evil… light… darkness… and sweet… bitter!’, even persecuting those who advocate for the goodness of God. Jesus pointed out that ‘“evil hates the light”’(John 3:20) and warned His disciples that if ‘“they persecuted me, they will… persecute you”’(John 15:20). Paul taught the same: ‘all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived’(2 Timothy 3:12-13).

The imposters Paul refers to are the ‘deceitful workers’(2 Corinthians 11:13) who can beguile whole churches, and who would ‘“lead astray, if possible”’(Matthew 24:24) even the true people of God. Such deceivers often cloak themselves with graceful sweet words, like ‘love… peace… gentleness’(Galatians 5:22-23), whilst twisting ‘the grace of our God into indecency’(Jude 1:4). This should not surprise us, since ‘even Satan masquerades as an angel of light’(2 Corinthians 11:14). So we must beware and ‘stand’(Ephesians 6:11ff.) firm.

The darkest depths of judgement are ‘reserved’(Jude 1:13) for those who advocate such lies, alongside the more general ‘Woe’ for truth-rejecters that Isaiah mentions here, which he expands on a few verses later: ‘as… fire devours… stubble, and as… dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root shall be… and their blossom shall go up as dust, because they have rejected… and despised the word of the Holy One… Yahweh’s anger burns’(Isaiah 5:24-25). Their terminal destination is to ‘“drink… of the wrath of God… in the cup of His anger… with fire and… smoke… forever and ever”’(Revelation 14:10-11).

Yet there’s hope. Even the worst amongst us can be delivered ‘from the way of evil… from… perverse things’(Proverbs 2:12ff.), to ‘taste and see… good’(Psalm 34:8) aright. Even a ‘chief’(1 Timothy 1:15) sinner can turn ‘from darkness to light… from the power of Satan to God’(Acts 26:(9)-18) through the gift of a new ‘“‘heart to know’”’(Jeremiah 24:7) God rightly, i.e. a ‘renewed… mind’(Ephesians 4:23ff.) with spiritual ‘eyes… enlightened’(Ephesians 1:18) by ‘“‘“a new… Spirit”’”’(Ezekiel 36:26-27) within, enabled to perceive the ‘great light’(Isaiah 9:2, cf. Matthew 4:16ff.) that Isaiah saw so clearly from afar.

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