Enduring Ethics – Woe and Whoa!

woe 1Woe!  Is there any ethical wiggle room in that word?  Don’t think so.

I would say the word means “bad news” about 100% of the time.  Revisionists have their way with many genres of literature.  History, for example, can be rewritten based upon the perspectives of those pushing today’s academic pens.  And Biblical interpretation is certainly not exempt.  The church finds itself in the midst of ethical conversations that were unthinkable 50 years ago.

But here’s where I kind of like “woe” – it doesn’t allow for much of that.  Woe means woe – it means something’s wrong on a major scale in God’s view.  And odds are if it was wrong then, it’s likely wrong now.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of 6 major ethical misses that earned God’s “woe” (an “F” in heavenly ethics class).  These were the things that brought down a nation – not just any nation, but the one of God’s own making.  Now if these ethical evils brought down the nation God made, how disastrous might they be for our time, our nation, and our city?

Here’s the list, straight from Isaiah 5:8-30.  God says “Woe to you who are…

  • Property Grabbers (“Woe to you who add house to house…”) – those who enrich themselves by disregarding the sacred right of land inheritance (Lev. 25:14-17, Micah 2:1-2).  Because of them there is no room left for people of ordinary means to own a house and land.
  • Party Animals (“Woe to those who rise early for drinking…”) – those who have become alcoholics, shown by their need for “beer” early in the morning.  They party through the day and into the night until they’re totally hammered, showing no time for God’s deeds and no regard for his work.
  • Parading Shamelessly (“Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit...”) – those who are openly proud and brazen over that which they should be ashamed of, openly defying the Lord with parade floats of sin so heavy that they have to use cart ropes to drag them along.
  • Repeal Morality (“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…”) – those who reverse moral distinctions.  These are folks who have become so seared in their depravity that they consider sin to be perfectly normal and good to be the evil.  These are the sophists of any age, who have found a clever word game for proving black is white and white is black.
  • Pump Themselves Up (“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes…”) – those who put their own ideas on a pedestal and now imagine they know more than past wisdom, being highly enlightened above God’s revelation, his prophet’s warnings and his promised judgment.
  • Prostitute Justice (“Woe to those who acquit the guilty…”) – those who have sold their responsibilities in social leadership to buy that which feeds their base habits.  This is the judge or policeman who has an addiction and takes a bribe to support it.  Justice goes hungry while social leaders feed their cravings.

Seen any of that stuff around today?

One writer described Israel in the 6th century BC as “a false, government-aided prosperity encouraging a corrupt luxury accompanied by oppression of the poor and a sensual, immoral, heathenish religion”  Now that does sound familiar.

When crime, sensuality, and greed are ascendant, it’s hard to imagine justice ever being done.


Justice did come to the nation that God told “woe” – big time.  Consider Amos 4:1-2 in light of the bas-relief from Nineveh showing the conquest of Lachish.  In it captive Jews are being led before King Sennacherib of Assyria by ropes attached to giant fish hooks put through their jaws.

Before God says “woe” on our time, we need to cry “whoa!” to any part we play in such.


On the First Day of Christmas (Making Sense of the Season)

We’ve all been there – holding a Christmas present that someone gave that, frankly, confuses us.  We don’t quite understand what they were thinking or why they spent their money on us the way they did.  It’s awkward.  It’s even more awkward for the one doing the giving.

The entire holiday season is a bit like that – everyone running around as if Pavlov rang his bell and we are obligated (like his dog) by the very forces of nature to engage in spending, debt acquisition, charity, travel, and religious activity, all the while wondering “why?”

We are trying to respond to so many messages at this time of year.  The end result for many is exhaustion and depression.  That’s too bad, because the central message simple and costs you nothing.  Here it is: 

  • Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11)

But it begs the question – do you need saving?  Maybe we’ve outgrown it.  I think not.

The Bible tells an old story – the story of us and how from earliest days we’ve needed saving from something ancient, simple and catastrophic.

In Genesis 3:1-19 we find people in a perfect place with very few restrictions; paradise with only two rules.  Well that was two too many. God’s directions were refused and the following consequences immediately ensued: shame, defensive posturing, hiding, fear of God, accusations toward loved ones, and a curse on creation.  The very next chapter it gets worse.

In Genesis 4:4-24 we see that once the seed of sin is planted, the harvest quickly gets out of hand producing murder, lies, cries of injustice, polygamy, unrestrained violence and more.  By Genesis six, matters are so bad starting over is the only workable solution.  This thing called sin wreaked havoc on God’s perfect creation in six short chapters.

And so we learn that man working on the honor system doesn’t work.  Well, what about passing some laws?

God did that.  Exodus and the balance of the Old Testament tell that story – one often misunderstood.  Some see the Ten Commandments as ways to please God and fix people.  But the problem with law is that it’s given after the problem.  Laws aren’t given for a nonexistent crisis.  Laws are passed because there is a problem.  At best, their function is to manage behavior.  And if the behavior simply cannot be changed, or we run out of prison space to hold all the offenders, another path is selected – make what was illegal yesterday legal today.  Viola!  Problem disappears… (unfortunately the behavior and the fruit remain).

God gave the law, according to the New Testament, to lead us to grace; to lead us to understand that the ancient thing inside each of us, named sin, could not be controlled by legal restrictions.  What Jeremiah anticipated is affirmed in Galatians 5:23-25.  The fix has to come inside.  It can’t be legislated and it can’t be mandated.  People can only change from the inside out.

That change happens as people permeated by sin, guilty by the standards of law, come to the cross of Christ and find forgiveness, acceptance, love and a changed heart.  One of my favorite stories of how this works is in Luke 23:26-43.

We’re not doing well managing our own behavior – and we don’t even manage by God’s standard!  I found this recently…

Since the start of 2000, Congress has created at least 452 new crimes. So the total number of Federal crimes as of the end of 2007 exceeds 4,450. Ninety-one of the 452 were contained in new laws that created 279 new crimes, and the remaining were contained in amendments to existing laws.  The total of 452 new crimes breaks down by year as follows: 65 for 2000; 28 for 2001; 82 for 2002; 51 for 2003; 48 for 2004; 13 for 2005; 145 for 2006; 20 for 2007… (and it goes on)

It would appear we do need saving.  So a savior was born to us…. to save us from our sin.  Now that is good news… for all people!  And especially for you and me.