Evangelist Billy Graham once preached: “Humanity has always been dexterous at confusing evil with good. That was Adam and Eve’s problem, and it is our problem today. If evil were not made to appear good, there would be no such thing as temptation. It is in their close similarity that the danger lies. . . . [But] God has not changed. His standards have not been lowered.”
To call evil good is moral and spiritual confusion, not in the sense of being ignorant or bewildered but in the sense of suppressing the truth (see Rom. 1:18–20). Today’s passage gives the final three of six woes pronounced on Israel for breaking their covenant with God. They stood condemned for calling evil good and suppressing the truth.
Those who refuse and deny the truth are like people who call light dark and dark light (v. 20). It seems ridiculous because it’s so clearly wrong! Evil is fundamentally irrational in this sense. To act as if things are that are not, or as if things are not that are, is absurd and to some extent carries its own judgment. It’s as if someone denied that gravity exists and then stepped off a cliff—their self-deception would have immediate consequences! Similarly, those who call light dark and dark light will inevitably suffer the consequences.
Such people are “wise in their own eyes” and thus guilty of pride (v. 21). Pride thinks it knows better than God, and it’s always dead wrong. The certain outcome for those who spurn the Lord and rebel against His Word is death, seen in images of burning, decaying, and blowing away (v. 24). For the nation of Israel, the consequence will be God’s judgment of conquest by a foreign nation, a day of “darkness and distress” (v. 30).
Israel’s sins included corruption and injustice. Jesus condemned the Pharisees of His day for practicing legalism but neglecting “justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). What might Isaiah and Jesus say about America and our churches? In what ways do we and should we help seek His justice for the voiceless and the vulnerable?