In the movie the Matrix, the one who ends up betraying Morpheus and everyone else, does so because he wants to be plugged back into the lie. The truth is too stark; too real. He knows that, in reality he will be in a pod and plugged into the Matrix; that he won’t really be walking around and working; that the food will not be real. But he doesn’t care. He wants to live the lie. Some people may be simply misled and that would be sad. But many are misled because they don’t like the truth. They want the lie. They are easily misled, not because they lack ability to comprehend, but because they lack a desire for the truth. And this can be true of a whole nation of people.
Israel’s reality is going to be harsh. Yahweh is going to cut off the head and the tail. Verse 15 makes it clear that the head and the tail represent leaders: respectable elders and prophets. Both the palm branch, which represents nobles, and the reed, which represents the lowly, will be cut off in a day. Remember Isaiah’s son Maher-shlal-hash-baz (“swift is the booty, speedy is the prey”)? The reality is stark and it will happen quickly. The head is the elder, the exalted man. The tail is the prophet, who teaches deception. A prophet was supposed to proclaim and interpret a word from God. But instead, these prophets are shooting arrows (the word means to display or point out) at deception; untruths that cannot sustain but can only disappoint. It sounds nice. Join forces with Aram and Philistia and shake off the shackles of Assyria. But God had been telling them that this was not his plan. They didn’t want to hear God’s plan.
So, you have a situation where those who are supposed to be making a straight path toward God are instead heading straight into error; into a wandering maze of overwhelming confusion. And then, you have those who are following these leaders right on into an engulfing pit of confusion. If the oracle ended here we might feel sympathy for these misled people; these too simple to figure out the true path individuals. But the oracle doesn’t end there. The master, Adonai, does not rejoice in the young men. He does not have compassion on the orphans or the widows. Okay, often in the Bible, widows and orphans are mentioned together to represent the most vulnerable in society; those whom God wants his people to protect and shelter. But here, God has no compassion for them. Well, what in the world God?
And then we are given the reason why God does not pity even the vulnerable of Israel. Every one of them, from the royal palm branch to the lowly reed, are godless, profane, irreligious. Every one of them is doing evil, harm, injury. They are not innocents who have been bamboozled. Every mouth is spewing senselessness or disgrace. The word can refer to sexual immorality. Again, instead of seeking God; instead of submitting to the Master; they are full of wickedness. The description of Israel here is similar to that of the people before the flood: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 NASB).
Because of this wholesale irreligiosity, God’s anger does not turn back and his hand is still stretched out. This is the refrain (cf. 9:12; 17; 21; 10:4). It is about discipline; and attempt to train their hearts to seek him. God desires repentance. Their rebellion stokes his anger and his hand is stretched out. They will be cut off, from the nobles to the lowly. It will happen. They have wandered further and further away from God; from his will. And they were not innocents led astray by those wily ol’ false prophets; those snakes. No, They chose the lie because they didn’t like God’s word.
There are things in the Bible that are difficult and uncomfortable. Skipping the uncomfortable parts of the Bible does not encourage growth. Changing them so that they are more palatable is just dangerous. The goal is not to dress God up so that he seems more manageable. We don’t manage God. He manages us. The goal is to humbly submit to his will. No matter how hard. No matter how much it doesn’t fit with our plans; our desires; our sense of right and wrong. My fear is that there are a whole lot of people who are stuck in a pod and plugged into the mainframe. And they know it and they choose it. Because the lie feels more comfortable. The lie encourages selfishness. The lie encourages arrogance. The lie encourages laziness. You just lie down and swallow down the non-offensive rhetoric. But let me say this. No matter how stark, the truth is the only path to freedom. Not the kind of freedom where you do what ever you want; not a selfish freedom. Nope. Freedom from the pod. A freedom to have a strong healthy relationship with God.