“Woe to those who were wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight… who acquit the guilty for a bribe and deny justice to the innocent” (Isaiah 5:21,23)
In the final woe that Isaiah pronounces upon Israel he reminds us that the power and perversion of sin is present, not only in the common people, but in the intellectual, political and social elites. Sin affects not only the criminals and outcasts of society, but it reaches into the hearts of kings, judges and business leaders – the rulers and professionals of a nation. It’s not just the “Average Joe” who is a sinner – it’s society’s best and brightest as well.
When Isaiah refers to those who are wise and clever, it seems that he is referring to people that pride themselves on their intelligence and superior intellects. And when he mentions those who, “acquit the guilty for a bribe and deny justice to the innocent,” it is clear that he is thinking about the judiciary. In other words, God condemns the privileged classes in this final woe. While they may congratulate themselves on their higher intelligence and status, Isaiah points out that sin has corrupted the very thing in which they love to boast – their intellectual capacity. True, they may have graduated with first class honours and university medals, but sin has rendered their best thoughts suspect and left them intellectually incapable of knowing right from wrong.
Isaiah’s observations are as true today as they were in 700 BC. In recent years we’ve seen prominent lawyers, judges and even a former Attorney General attempting to pervert the course of justice. We have had a corrupt chief magistrate, a Supreme Court judge involved in pedophilia, a senior prosecutor caught red handed with child pornography, barristers charged with fraud and even a High Court judge arraigned on the charge of attempting to influence a criminal trial. All of this is proof that even the brightest people are sinners and fall under the condemnation of God.
The problem is that we find it hard to grasp that someone can be highly intelligent, knowledgeable, and yet be a fool in God’s eyes. In a few months, Lisa Nowak, a decorated Captain in the US Navy will stand trial in Florida for attempted murder and kidnapping. Married with three children, holding several postgraduate degrees in science and space engineering, she was an astronaut on the space shuttle Discovery, yet this brilliant woman became involved in a love triangle and it is alleged she decided to kidnap and kill her rival. As brilliant as she was, it did not stop her sinning and that’s the point that Isaiah makes about everyone who claims to be wise in their own eyes.