Ah, Alas

In the old police drama “Barretta,” Barretta would often say, “If you can’t do the time don’t do the crime.” What a sage that Barretta was. And how many shows have we watched or books have we read where a character says, “I can’t go back to prison.” And don’t we want to shout, “Then why are you doing something illegal?” I mean right? I’m not talking about the wrongly accused here. Well, my good sire, there is a simple solution to your dilemma: Don’t break any laws. Now imagine that there is this group of powerful and wealthy people who oppress the weak; the vulnerable. Instead of breaking the laws they are writing them; and they are writing them to their advantage. When God speaks judgment into their awareness, will they shake their fists and shout out “UNFAIR!” Irony leaps about crazily.

Isaiah 10:1-4 is the fourth and final strophe of the oracle that began in 9:8. It begins with a woe. The word “woe” is an interjection expressing dissatisfaction and pain. It could be translated “ah, alas, ha, woe.” This woe is pronounced on those who cut decrees of sorrow or wickedness. You can see them, can’t you? They have the authority to execute all manner of laws that are designed to oppress and cause sorrow. They are always writing up writings of trouble or mischief. Ah, alas, this seems all too familiar. Laws being cut that benefit the cutter and takes advantage of the poor. They turn aside justice from the weak, the poor, the thin. In any given society laws should protect the most vulnerable. This would be especially true of the northern kingdom of the Jews. God’s laws made provisions for the poor. But they have turned aside his justice and cut their own, benefitting themselves to the detriment of the weak, laws. They tear away judgment from the poor of God’s people. They do this so that the widows may become their prey. Widows, who should have been able to fall on the justice of God’s laws, are being torn and ripped apart. Orphans are being plundered. Widows and orphans are often mentioned together to represent the most vulnerable of any society. They represent those whom God wanted protected.

Ah, alas a day of visitation is coming. Yahweh is coming for a visit, but not in a sit down to a cup of coffee kind of visitation. What will they do? Well, the reality is they really can’t do anything. This visitation is from God. They may wield the power and authority in their country, but that is nothing in comparison to God’s power and authority. What will they do when devastation and ruin comes at them from afar? This will be Assyria, but, in reality, it is God visiting them with punishment. To whom will they flee? Aram will not be able to help. Their power will be of no avail. They refused to trust in God and now it is too late to take refuge in him. And where will they abandon their abundance? It will not serve them. It cannot save them. They had clamored after it to the demise of the weak and vulnerable, but now it is just something else that they cannot take with them.

Nothing remains except to bow down among the captives. Did they think that because they were the leaders; because they had the power and money; that they could escape the coming tide of devastation? Either they will be marched away as a captive or they will fall along with those who are slain. And again, their wealth cannot help them. The Assyrians will not take a bribe. Nor will they show compassion. Ah, alas, it could have been different. If they had trusted in God; if they had shown a little compassion themselves; if they hadn’t lined their coffers with money stolen from the most vulnerable of people; they could have been spared this humiliation. Ah, alas, in all of this God’s anger does not turn away and his hand is still stretched out against them. Israel will fall. They have oppressed and flaunted their power over the vulnerable. They will fall because they refused to trust in God; to accept his plan. Ah, alas, they will fall.

If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. There is a simple message here. God does not want to visit us with devastation. But he will if our actions warrant it. God wants us to take refuge in him; to trust in him; to walk in his will. And he will, if our attitude warrants it. Once again we come face to face with a proverbial saying that runs like a thread throughout the Bible: if you exalt yourself, God will humble you; if you humble yourself God will exalt you. Israel had exalted itself to the point that it became okay to prey on the vulnerable. God is going to humble them. They have crossed a threshold of rebellion. They have done the crime and now they were going to have to do the time. This is justice. Put your trust in God.