Staggering Backward

Isaiah gives us a good description of what it is like to be ruled by those who have been struck with a judicial stupor. He also describes what it is like when a people are liberated from that rule. “The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful” (Is. 32:5).

Our modern usage of the word liberal in a political sense makes this verse funny, but at the same time, the verse is talking about the grasping and venal who have managed to apply to themselves a thin veneer of compassion — and that is exactly what modern liberalism is. The verse drives around the double switchback. At first you think it is being used as a pun — as if someone seriously applied Ecc. 10:2 to our modern political labels. “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.”

But we do live in a time when the envious are praised for their generosity, and the greedy for their altruism. If someone seeks to keep his own money, he is called greedy, and if someone else tries to confiscate the money of another, he is called generous. This is, of course, a photo negative of what God calls it, and Isaiah elsewhere calls down a woe on those who call evil good and good evil (Is. 5:20).

We are currently being governed by the drunkards of Ephraim (Is. 28:1). Not only are they staggering drunk on the wine of their pretended power, but they are also proud, wearing their insolence like a crown. They taunt Isaiah, as though his word were nothing but a little sing-songy catechism. They represent him as teaching “line on line, precept on precept.” This is not how God is teaching us to learn the Bible — this is how the drunkards of Ephraim mockingly represent it. They are singing Jesus Loves Me back at Isaiah through their noses.


Very well then, Isaiah says. That is how it will be for you.

But the word of the Lord was unto them
Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; Line upon line, line upon line; Here a little, and there a little; That they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (Is. 28:13).

And the ears of those who hear of it will tingle.

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