There are tough words in the Bible we may not always want to hear. In a letter to ‘Christianity Today’ (June 2014) someone wrote: ”The marketing that’s plaguing much of the evangelical church isn’t working. We need to tell the truth: Following Jesus will cost you everything, life will still be hard, you’ll need to find your identity in Christ alone and die to yourself daily – but living for him is so worth it.” The people Isaiah was preaching to had an unteachable spirit. They didn’t want to hear his sermons (9, 10). They told him not to speak to them like children.
Verses 1-4 are about Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom. It was a beautiful and prosperous city. Its inhabitants were proud of it. But the people of Samaria had a major drink problem (and that was especially true of the leaders, who were setting an appalling example: verses 7, 8). So this ”glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley’’ had become a ”fading flower” (1, 4) That happens to people who drink too much. They wilt like cut flowers. Places and people get ruined in a haze of dissipation. ”…shabby and washed out and seedy – Tipsy, sloppy-fat, beer-bellied parodies of a proud and handsome past.” The Message. An excessive use of alcohol lies at the back of many (if not most) social evils. We see again how pride goes before a fall. They were so proud of their lovely capital. But this city, weakened by much sin, would be easy pickings for the Assyrians (4). Taking Samaria would be as simple as plucking a ripe fig from a tree. (See also the reference to God’s use of the Assyrian army in verse 2). ”Samaria, the party hat on Israel’s head, will be knocked off with one blow. It will disappear quicker than a piece of meat tossed to a dog.” The Message. Too much drink lays people low (1b). This happens physically, but in other ways too. In these more liberal days in the church, we need to ensure that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the opposite direction. Wine is a gift of God to be enjoyed and used wisely. But drunkenness is expressly forbidden in the Bible (Deut.21:18-21; Prov.20:1; 23:20, 21, 29-35). Leaders in particular need to be careful about their example, and ensure that their liberty doesn’t destroy a weaker brother. Some may still find good grounds to be total abstainers, even though strictly speaking they don’t have to be. We must respect that. If we insist on living too close to the ‘border’ with the world, we may find that we all too easily slip over it.
What an appalling picture Isaiah paints in (7, 8): ”These also, the priest and prophet, stagger from drink, weaving, falling-down drunks, Besotted with wine and whiskey, can’t see straight, can’t talk sense. Every table is covered in vomit. They live in vomit.” The Message. Look at the language. The problem isn’t whether a leader (or follower) takes a drink, but whether he consumes such a quantity that he (or she) becomes ”befuddled” and they stagger and stumble out of control. When people come to their spiritual leaders for instruction they need a different Spirit to be controlling their speech and behaviour. A Japanese proverb says: ”First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.” I like the words of a man who had been a drunkard. He said: ”I have no problem believing Jesus turned water into wine, for He turned beer into furniture in my house.”
God wants our confidence to be in Him, and not in our ‘Samarias’, our beautiful man-made objects of pride (5, 6). What people are seeking through getting drunk etc is really to be found in God alone. He will be ”the beautiful crown on the head of what’s left of his people…” The Message. Even in the middle of a prophecy about judgment, God spoke blessing promises to the remnant who would come through this ‘furnace’ of testing. Here are things we can take encouragement from too. ”He will be a spirit of judgment,…when you will be in judgment. Submit your judgment to Him, that He may think through your mind or direct you to a just conclusion.” F.B.Meyer: Great verses through the Bible, p.279. It is also good to know that in Him we will find strength as we seek to ”turn back the battle at the gate.”
Prayer: Lord let me always find my true satisfaction in you and never turn to the ‘fading’ substitutes this world offers.
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