When I look out at the world today, I see an increased focus on wealth. Now I’m not going to be naive here. I’m sure that focus has always been there. I think I’m just seeing it more clearly as I’ve grown older and hopefully, wiser. After all, for 30 pieces of silver, Christ was betrayed. For a simple bribe, the Great Wall of China was breached through an opened gate. Most folks would love to have enough money where they wouldn’t have to worry about money any more. But it seems like as folks get money, they want more money. That’s because as they get money, their tastes grow more expensive. I’ve caught myself doing this. I remember when spending $80 on two computer books I really, really needed for my job was considered a sacrifice. Just recently I purchased $80 in books for two books and didn’t even blink an eye. My earnings have increased as the first example was when I was still a lieutenant in the USAF and now is when I’ve risen pretty high up in my profession. And with that increase in earnings, my expectations have changed. The catch is to make sure that I don’t get consumed by them. If God were to decide to put me in a position where I was back making what I did in the military (or even less), where would my heart be? That’s a vexing question. I know what I want to answer. I want to answer that it wouldn’t matter, because only Christ matters. And that’s what my prayer is. Lord, let you be the passion and the true treasure of my life. Because I know gold is just pavement.
Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field,
Until there is no more room,
So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land!
In my ears the LORD of hosts has sworn, “Surely, many houses shall become desolate,
Even great and fine ones, without occupants.
“For ten acres of vineyard will yield only one bath of wine,
And a homer of seed will yield but an ephah of grain.”
Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink,
Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!
Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine;
But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD,
Nor do they consider the work of His hands.
– Isaiah 5:8-12, NASB
The warning given in these passages is another haunting one given our culture today. The first image here is of the person who builds and builds wealth. That person is building wealth to isolate himself or herself from others who are not wealthy. These people are hoarding wealth. They’re building wealth so as to set themselves apart. Our culture plays to that. Pay the premium ticket and you get to sit in special seating for the concert. Pay a bit more and you get first class on the aircraft. If you’re a high roller in Las Vegas you get different accommodations and different treatment from those who don’t have as much money to burn. Want all the latest safety features? Buy the newest model luxury car. You get the idea. Now I’m not saying having wealth is bad. But the focused pursuit of it is if that quest takes you away from God or takes your eyes off of what He is doing. The first part of the passage is all about wealth for the wrong reasons. And Isaiah says, “Woe!” Woe is a curse when you see it in the Bible. It’s a proclamation of disaster. And this passage tells us exactly how that happens. What was once considered easy money won’t produce. What was depended on to maintain a lifestyle will be gone. And all the trappings and structures of wealth will be abandoned, because they cannot be maintained. We’ve seen a bit of that these last few years. But it’s not just about wealth. It’s also about the pursuit of entertainment. That could be drinking and drugs. Or it could be music, or shows, or ballgames, or whatever. That’s what the next set of verses talk about. When one lives for the entertainment, there’s a problem. Those folks are also in trouble. Isaiah also proclaims “Woe!” over them.
But wealth in and of itself isn’t bad, right? Taking in a ballgame, that’s a sin? What about imbibing a bit of beverage? Even Christ did that. Is that a sin? The answer is that as isolated events they are not. God clearly reveals through Isaiah what the real problem is. It’s the fact that the pursuit of these things are taking the people’s eyes off of God. They aren’t paying attention to what God is doing. They aren’t thinking about God implementing His will. They aren’t seeing themselves as a part of it. Rather, they are set apart, and not in a good way, to selfishly pursue wealth or entertainment or both.
That’s the warning to us. Our eyes need to be on the deeds of the Lord and on the work of His hands. Our focus needs to be on God. The world offers plenty of distractions and wealth and entertainment are among its strongest. But we aren’t to get caught up in them. They don’t matter in the eternal viewpoint of how things really are. Only Christ does. He is our salvation. He is our redemption. He is our righteousness. No amount of money or singing or pitching skill can replace that. We know that in our heads. But that concept must reach and live in our hearts. For Israel/Judah, that wasn’t the case. And thus woe befell them. God doesn’t want that to be our fate. And that’s why He has provided this warning to us. He would rather us abide by the words in this simple song:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.