THE PERVASIVE, CORRUPTING IMPACT OF SIN LEAVES SOCIETY DEVOID OF TRUTH, JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
What does society look like when it is devoid of truth? When instead of justice and righteousness, one finds only the pervasive, corrupting influence of sin and wickedness? The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of just such a society which would be judged by the upcoming Babylonian Captivity. God’s Holy City Jerusalem is pictured as so depraved and corrupt that any man who takes a stand against wickedness puts himself at grave risk. The sad thing for us today is how relevant we find such a passage in the 21st century here in our own country.
This passage begins by addressing the blame shifting that sinners love to engage in – The problem can’t be with us; it must be with God. Fortunately the passage concludes with genuine confession of sin and the embracing of the guilt and consequences of such wickedness. That will lay the foundation for the coming of the Redeemer to Zion in the second half of chapter 59. But before we can appreciate deliverance we must first come to grips with the depths of our depravity.
THE PERVASIVE, CORRUPTING IMPACT OF SIN LEAVES SOCIETY DEVOID OF TRUTH, JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
This passage presents a well-developed theology of sin. We will examine the effects of sin on both individuals and on society:
I. in terms of SIN’S CULPABILITY AND CONDEMNATION
II. in terms of SIN’S CONSEQUENCES AND CONFESSION
I. (:1-8) SIN’S CULPABILITY AND CONDEMNATION
A. (:1-3) Culpability for Sin Lies With Us . . . Not With God
1. (:1) Don’t Blame God
a. Inability Not the Reason – No Lack of Power
“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not so short that it cannot save;”
Is. 50:2 – symbol of God’s sovereign power that cannot be stopped by anyone; references to the outstretched hand of God
b. Insensitivity Not the Reason – No Lack of Perception and Compassion
“Neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.”
Is. 58:9 Lord hearing and answering the cries of His people in mercy and compassion; more than just physically hearing the sound waves
Prov. 15:29 “The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.”
If the Lord had promised such a glorious future for the nation of Israel, why does it seem like the Lord has turned his back to them?
Blame shifting is popular with sinners; don’t want to own the guilt and corresponding condemnation
Parunak: the hand is the organ of action; the ear is the organ of perceiving speech
Constable: The people were complaining that God was not answering their prayers
(cf. 58:1-3). Isaiah assured them that His silence was not due to His inability to help them (a shortened hand) or to His disinterest in them (an insensitive ear).
2. (:2) Blame Your Own Sins
“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear.”
By way of emphasis, at the beginning of each of these 2 lines, “your iniquities” / “your sins”
There must be accepting of the blame for sin and guilt
Oswalt: The phrase “separation between” used in v. 2 elsewhere occurs only in Gen 1:6: just as the firmament separated the waters above from the waters below, preventing any commingling, so iniquity and sins prevent any intercourse between God and His people.
Motyer: Sin first opens a gulf (separated) and then creates a divine alienation (hidden his face)
Great verse for gospel tracts – explaining concept of Alienation; why is Reconciliation necessary?
(cf. Gen. 3:6, 16; Jer. 5:2-6; Hab.1:13; 1 John 1:6).
3. (:3) Blame the Pervasiveness of Your Depravity
a. Wicked Deeds – Violence and Malice
“For your hands are defiled with blood,
And your fingers with iniquity;”
In vs. 3-7 note the various parts of the body indicted for their participation in sin; Rom. 6-8 – don’t allow the members of your body to continue to practice sin
Blood = damage done to others
b. Wicked Words – Lies and Deception
“Your lips have spoken falsehood,
Your tongue mutters wickedness.”
Pro 6:16-19 “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth
wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”
Look at the Pervasiveness of sin highlighted here:
– One rotten apple spoils the barrel
– A little leaven leavens the whole lump
– Sin is like a cancer that spreads through the body on its mission of death
B. (:4-8) Condemnation for Sin Derives From a Description of Sin’s Pervasive, Corrupting Impact
1. (:4) 2 Metaphors – Perversion of Positive Venues
a. Metaphor from Courts
“No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly.”
They trust in confusion, and speak lies;”
Where should we expect to see truth upheld ?? Certainly in our court system
But Isaiah finds nothing but corruption in that hallowed venue. There is no pursuit of the truth but only a contest between adversaries who will use any means possible to win a judgment that will benefit themselves.
[Illustration: My brother-in-law couldn’t stomach practicing law]
This is not Perry Mason, where the innocent prevail and the guilty are discovered and held accountable.
You can more easily understand what Isaiah is saying when you have a neighbor who serves you with legal papers and is willing to lie and fabricate arguments to gain some meaningless small strip of property.
They trust in desolation; tohu; nothingness
Oswalt: Justice does not exist to hold all persons up to the same fair standard. Rather, the legal system exists so that the strong and the clever can twist it to their own purposes. The result is exactly as the prophet says: chaos and emptiness.
Constable: Justice was not coming out of the courts, but legal maneuvering and loopholes had taken the place of straightforward decisions. The people were using and abusing the legal system for their own ends rather than allowing it to sit in judgment on their actions. They were trying to confuse the issues and lie their way out of their responsibilities. Instead of conceiving the truth that would issue in righteousness, they were conceiving mischief that would bear iniquity (cf. Job 15:35; James 1:15). [Also Ps. 7:14]
Look at how easily people lie today; prevalent in business as well as in the legal system
Business loves to post their core values of integrity and honesty on their corporate walls; but expediency usually rules when it comes to making a profit. It is the rare salesman who does not resort to lies to look good in front of their customers.
Jer. 9:3-9 “They bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me”
b. Metaphor from Conception [should be another positive venue]
“They conceive mischief,
and bring forth iniquity.”
What consumes their thinking and their planning?
The psalmist says that the wicked lie awake at night to concoct more devious schemes and to plan ways to pursue sin.
Beall: Though the normal result of conception is life, here “conception” leads to evil and death–everything is turned upside down!
2. (:5-6a) 2 Illustrations – Poisonous Creatures Linked to Death and Destruction
a. (:5) Serpent Eggs
“They hatch adders’ eggs . . .
He who eats of their eggs dies,
And from that which is crushed a snake breaks forth.”
b. (:6a) Spider Webs
“and weave the spider’s web . . .
Their webs will not become clothing,
Nor will they cover themselves with their works;”
Constable: Instead of receiving nourishment from the eggs, the eggs either poison or, if hatched, fatally attack the eater. Instead of receiving warmth from the beautifully woven web, the web fails to clothe and instead entangles its wearer. This was because the work the people expended to secure food and clothing was self-centered. People even resorted to physical violence to get what they wanted for themselves. Such a society promises much but delivers little, and what it does deliver turns around and kills it.
Beall: Thus, what may at first appear as good sources of the basic necessities of life, food and clothing, to those who are unsuspecting, will ultimately end in destruction and uselessness; and even those who hatch the plans do not seem to be able to control the outcome or escape from the ultimate destruction unleashed by their evil plans.
3. (:6b-8) 2 Body Parts – Instruments of Unrighteousness, Violence and Destruction
“Their works are works of iniquity,
And an act of violence is in their hands.”
Oswalt: The whole person of the body politic is implicated in the crimes that are taking place.
“Their feet run to evil,
And they hasten to shed innocent blood;”
c. Thoughts [not technically a body part]
“Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
Devastation and destruction are in their highways.”
Young: Their thoughts (i.e. the intentions, plans, devices) are born in iniquity, lead to iniquity, and are themselves of iniquitous nature. Were one to walk upon their paths he would find only wasting and ruin.
Transitions nicely to the next point where the emphasis is on highways, tracks, paths
4. (:8) 2 Summary Judgments
a. No Pursuit of Peace or Justice
“They do not know the way of peace,
And there is no justice in their tracks;”
b. Dedicated to Perversion Rather Than Peace
“They have made their paths crooked;
Whoever treads on them does not know peace.”
Motyer: Refusing God’s “rule of law”, they have made a tangled mess of their lives and the responsibility is wholly theirs. . . the future holds no prospect of peace (peace with God, harmonious society, personal fulfillment) because the road cannot lead there.
II. (:9-15a) SIN’S CONSEQUENCES AND CONFESSION
A. (:9-11) Consequences of Sinful Behavior – Lamentation Over Sin’s Consequences
1. (:9) No Justice or Light
a. (:9a) No Justice
“Therefore, justice is far from us,
And righteousness does not overtake us;”
Parunak: The shift in pronouns in v. 9 marks an interesting turn. Up to this point, the prophet has been speaking for God, first calling the people’s attention to their sin (“you”), then describing their behavior (“they”). Now he turns around, takes his place with the wicked, and leads them in a prayer of confession.
Motyer: The first person plural indicates that there are those who have come to repentance. The secret work of divine enabling (57:19a) and the effect of the preaching of God’s law (58:1-14) has brought them to the place where they are prepared to confess the darkness (9), helplessness (10), bitterness (11ab), hopelessness (11cd) and personal guiltiness (12-13) of sin.
b. (:9b) No Light
“We hope for light, but behold, darkness;
For brightness, but we walk in gloom.”
2. (:10) No Hope
a. (:10a) No Vision or Escape
“We grope along the wall like blind men,
We grope like those who have no eyes;”
Deut. 28:27-29 describes the consequences of disobedience
“The Lord will smite you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors and with the scab and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed. The Lord will smite you with madness and with blindness and with bewilderment of heart; and you will grope at noon, as the blind man gropes in darkness, and you will not prosper in your ways; but you shall only be oppressed and robbed continually, with none to save you.”
b. (:10b) No Stability or Vitality
“We stumble at midday as in the twilight,
Among those who are vigorous we are like dead men.”
Constable: All the parallel descriptions in this verse stress the hopelessness and vulnerability of the Israelites due to their natural blindness to God’s ways (cf. 6:10; 8:16-17; 42:7; Deut. 28:29).
Young: Isaiah depicts the plight of the sinners, ever seeking an escape from their condition and only falling deeper therein (cf. Rom. 7:14)
3. (:11) No Joy or Justice
a. (:11a) No Joy
“All of us growl like bears,
And moan sadly like doves;”
Frustrated, angry bears
Sad, mournful doves
b. (:11b) No Justice or Salvation
“We hope for justice, but there is none,
For salvation, but it is far from us.”
Constable: They could not even articulate their grief but simply growled and moaned like angry bears and pitiful doves (cf. Mark 7:34; John 11:38; Rom. 8:22-23). This lament closes as it began, with an admission that justice and salvation were far from God’s people.
Review: movement from Culpability to Condemnation to Consequences and now finishing with Confession
B. (:12-15a) Confession of Sinful Behavior and Corresponding Depravity of Society
1. (:12) The Testimony of Our Transgressions and Sins
“For our transgressions are multiplied before Thee,
And our sins testify against us;
For our transgressions are with us,
And we know our iniquities:”
Started off with blame shifting as if the problem could be blamed on God; but here the prophet identifies with the sins of the nation and offers up genuine confession of sin
Young: This personification of the sins presents them as accusers against those who have brought them into being.
You can’t run away and hide from your sin; you can’t escape the testimony they will offer up on judgment day; the tape doesn’t lie – just rewind and play the tape
2. (:13) The Traitorous Nature of Our Transgressions and Sins
“Transgressing and denying the LORD,
And turning away from our God,
Speaking oppression and revolt,
Conceiving in and uttering from the heart lying words.”
3. (:14-15) The Travesty Caused By Our Transgressions and Sins
a. (:14) Society Devoid of Justice, Righteousness, Truth and Honesty
“And justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away;
For truth has stumbled in the street, and uprightness cannot enter.”
“travesty” = perversion, corruption, distortion; everything is reversed and upside down
Things are not as they should be in society
4 Foundational Virtues of any Society:
Borgman: Deut. 16:19-20 Justice is important to God; 24:17 – these 3 categories of people generally despised and poor and helpless; 27:19; Ps. 37:28 “For the Lord loves justice”
Mic. 6:8 What does God require: “to do justice”
Righteousness = to be in conformity to what God says is good and right; God is righteous (cf. the Psalms); God loves righteousness
Personification of each of these virtues – truth stumbles; foundational to justice and righteousness; truth doesn’t matter anymore
Uprightness — Honesty, equity in your dealings with others – willing to swear to his own heart; if you are looking out for self you will not value this virtue
b. (:15) Snare Awaits Any Who Would Stand Against Evil
“Yes, truth is lacking;
And he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey.”
According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without lying at least once. [all kinds of shocking statistics]
We live in a society that almost rejects the validity of propositional truth; 64% of people say no such thing as absolute truth
The postmodern aversion to truth is well expressed by Allan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind:
The danger…is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to [teaching]. Openness – and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and the various ways of life and kinds of human beings – is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think that you are right at all.
Someone has said that we have now moved from the conviction that everyone has a right to his own opinions, to the notion that every opinion is equally right! – because there is no such thing as absolute truth / In the postmodern worldview, people become their own authority and accept only what they personally experience.
Constable: Where truth is lacking, as it was in Isaiah’s society, the person who turns aside from evil to do good makes himself a prey to others who take advantage of him. This is the final irony of many ironies in this pericope. It corresponds to the earlier expressions of bad conditions resulting from iniquity (cf. vv. 4, 7-8). Isaiah was not advocating this type of behavior. He was saying that unless God intervenes for His people, this type of behavior is all that they can expect.
So if someone ever tries to persuade you that your sin is just something personal that won’t harm someone else, remember this portrait of a depraved society from the book of Isaiah. Truth had better matter – because truth is foundational to the key virtues of any society – Justice, Righteousness and Integrity.