22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!” (Isaiah 5:22-23)
The LORD’s first woe against the Nation of Judah in the 8th century B.C. was materialism. The second woe was directed towards drunkenness and devotion to pleasure while concurrently the people neglected the LORD’s work of judgment and redemption. The third woe was against those who ridicule and mock the LORD and His people; especially His prophet, Isaiah. The fourth woe concerned the reversal of morality. The fifth woe concerned those who were wise in their own opinion and not deriving wisdom from the LORD and His Word.
The sixth and final woe addresses injustice within the Nation of Judah’s court system. Unjust sentences were being handed down by drunk and bribed judges.
Isaiah does not identify the judges as heroes of justice but rather as heroes of drinking wine. To be a hero was to be strong and mighty. It was to be a champion. However, the strong and mighty champions of justice were instead drunks. They were consistently inebriated and intoxicated.
A similar statement is found in the latter portion of vs. 22. “Valiant men in mixing strong drink.” The word “valiant” means to be strong and efficient. The irony is that these judges were only strong and efficient in producing intoxicating beverages.
Not only were these judges personal behavior reprehensible, the professional ethics were even worse. They acquitted the guilty for a bribe. To acquit means to declare someone innocent of a crime. However, the acquittal was not upon the basis of irrefutable evidence but rather because the judge accepted a bribe. There was consistent quid pro quo rendering the judicial system a farce.
Additionally, because of financial favors being given for favorable judicial rulings, the innocent were denied justice. Justice was being turned aside.
John Calvin comments that, “We live that we may yield worship and obedience to God, and that we may render assistance to our neighbors. When men act so as not to maintain their strength, but to destroy it by trying how much food and wine the can bear, most certainly they are worse than beasts. He (Isaiah) also censures a corruption which at that time abounded in judgment-seats and points out the reason why there is not room or justice in these places. Namely, they (judges) are under the influence of gifts. For covetousness blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts all regard to what is good and just, even among those who would otherwise be disposed to follow what is right (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19).”
Dr. John Walvoord explains that, “Rather than being heroes and good government authorities, many leaders were known for their heavy drinking. They were ready to be bribed, not caring for the people they were ruling. They were more concerned for their own pleasure than for the rights of the innocent. Therefore they (those leaders) would be judged.”
Take time today to pray for those government leaders who seek to lead with integrity. Pray also for those who do not (Romans 13:1-7; I Timothy 2:1-3).
Soli deo Gloria!