BEWARE of the DANGERS of MATERIAL PROSPERITY: “Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land! In my hearing the Lord of hosts said, ‘Truly, many houses shall be desolate, great and beautiful ones, without inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield one ephah.’” (Isaiah 5:8-10)
Isaiah chapter 5 starts with a prophetic parable concerning the nation of Israel, which is depicted as God’s vineyard. As a vinedresser, God had labored hard in order to see good grapes from the vine during the harvest time, but unfortunately it had produced wild grapes that could not be consumed (vv. 1-2). This parable was later spoken in greater detail and clarity by Jesus Christ in Matt. 21:33–46. God did so much for the nation of Israel but the people were ungrateful as they took their blessings for granted and used them selfishly to satisfy their carnal nature. Instead of serving the Lord, they served themselves, and the result was that they became a corrupt nation that God was totally displeased with!
Through His servant Isaiah, God pronounced six “accusations” or “woes” that specified the sins of the “wild grapes” people of Israel (vv. 2, 4). These six specific accusations epitomized the sins of the people of Israel, and consisted of the following: (1) covetousness, greed and self-indulgence (vv. 8, 10) as they loved possessions more than people; (2) debauchery and drunken revelry (vv. 11–13) as they pursued after pleasure more than God; (3) rebellion and vanity (vv. 18, 19) as they chose to mock rather than submit to God; (4) immorality (v. 20) as they loved evil more than good; (5) inordinate pride (v. 21) as they thought that they were wiser than God; and (6) perverted justice (vv. 22-23) as they cared only for themselves and ignored the rights of others. As a result of these six perversions, God would later invoke the service of a foreign nation to invade, devastate, and carry them away as captives.
At the top of the list were God’s accusations against the covetous and greedy landowners who tried to corner the real estate market until there was an acute shortage of houses and land in Israel. By foreclosing mortgages, these wealthy landowners acquired all the adjoining land property to form huge estates. These vicious land grabbers would then dwell in solitary splendor as they aimed to control all of the choice land of Israel. God gave the land to His people, which were not to “be sold permanently” for the land belonged to God (Lev. 25:23) as an inheritance to all His people (Num. 27:7–11). The land had been allotted to specific families by patrimony (Num. 33:54), and was the basis of their livelihood. Deprived of their ancestral lands, many citizens of Israel had now become slaves of their former family inheritance.
However, God’s judgment would result in many houses remaining empty, and the land would now yield only fractional harvests. The grapevines growing on five acres of land will yield only a meager five gallons of wine. Ten bushels of seed will produce only one bushel of grain. The produce of the land would be extremely pitiful due to divine judgment (see Deut. 28:38, 39). While invaders destroyed the mansions, God initiated the drought, and brought His judgments!
Today, let us beware of the dangers of material prosperity as worldly success can bring changes for the worse in both our values and behavior. We can accumulate houses and lands, but lose our ethical integrity in the following ways: resort to unethical practices in order to increase our gains (1:23; 5:20, 23); turn away from caring the poor, orphans and widows (1:23; 3:14–15); heap up material things for ourselves far beyond our immediate needs (2:7; 3:18–24; 5:8); worship our own accomplishments (2:8; 5:21); and start abusing people (3:15).