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The unholy city

The grave is licking its chops in anticipation of Jerusalem, this delicious morsel. Her great and lowly will be swallowed up, with all her drunken crowds… But the LORD Almighty is exalted by his justice. The holiness of God is displayed by his righteousness. — Isaiah 5:1416

Jerusalem is rarely out of the news. We have become familiar with pictures of ambulances and fire trucks at the scene of bombings and of roadblocks. We see cabinet members shirt-sleeved and chain smoking, sitting and discussing obstinate problems, and diplomats scurrying in and out of the King David Hotel.

More than 2,700 years ago, Isaiah wrote about Jerusalem. Even then the city was of great interest to the known world. More significantly, it was the focus of God’s attention.

God did not like what He saw there. In fact He predicted “destruction” for the city and its inhabitants. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were engaging in egregious business abuses, particularly in real estate (Isaiah 5:8). They were also a partying community given over to hedonistic lifestyles (5:11-12). They were so captivated by their own sin that they failed to see how far they had fallen, and they mocked God for not intervening in their lives (5:18-19).

Public morality had been stood on its head, and private morality had been restructured to fit each person’s tastes (5:20). The inhabitants of Jerusalem considered themselves clever enough to outsmart God. In reality, many of them were living in alcoholic confusion (5:21-22). And Jehovah had chosen this city as the place to make Himself known to His special people, in order that they might spread their knowledge of God from the beautiful city to all the nations of the world (see Psalm 48).

But God had seen enough of Jerusalem’s revelry, and He was ready to deal severely with His beloved city and her people. He had no alternative! God is “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:19), and His holiness had to be demonstrated and recognized. But how?

Isaiah knew the answer. He wrote, “The Lord Almighty is exalted by his justice. The holiness of God is displayed by his righteousness” (5:16). “Holiness” means “separateness” or “set-apartness.” Alec Motyer, in his commentary on Isaiah, says holiness means “belonging to another [the divine] order of things.” What sets God apart from humanity is His moral purity, His righteousness.

But this righteousness has to be displayed. It is displayed through God’s justice in dealing with humanity. So God had to deal with Jerusalem. His own holiness, righteousness, and justice demanded it.

These are solemn words for any city-dweller to ponder! While in the countryside men may still be reminded of the God of nature and revere Him, in the concrete jungles of the city God can be lost in the clamor and the glamour. So men frequently live divorced from Him and married to their sin.

For further study: Isaiah 5:8-25

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.