Unwise Substitutions

Written by Leland Ping on Dec 01, 2015


The Old Testament includes countless statements of timeless wisdom and incredible advice. In the work of the prophet Isaiah one finds many such statements including one made early in the prophet’s lengthy work. In Isaiah 5:20, he says:

“Woe to those who call evil good,
and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

In some versions, the verb “substitute” is used in place of the word “put” and with such a word choice we are made abundantly clear that God grows very angry with people who choose to make such unwise substitutions.

The first of Isaiah’s three points is easily the most familiar. Oftentimes, those who set out to confuse good and evil do so in subtle ways. That is, it’s almost “common sense” to consider that a person who knows something to be wrong will quickly and without thought choose to become involved in it. Instead, Satan will work to convince us that something that we once thought was “wrong” really isn’t so bad when you don’t “go overboard.” Changing the pattern of New Testament worship to include a woman leading prayer isn’t “too bad” one might argue. Just having one drink doesn’t make me bad, one might say. But these poor choices are part and parcel of God’s warning about allowing ourselves to start believing that it’s okay to modify His plans or commands by interchanging right and wrong.

Secondly, Isaiah speaks of the difference of light and darkness. Throughout scripture, these two things have been used to show the opposing nature of good and evil. Light is powerful and it “outshines” all darkness, causing it to disappear. It’s a phenomena that only God could envision as part of His creation and it is a truly amazing thing to consider. A person’s ability to tell the difference between light and dark isn’t influenced in any way by his intelligence and so is the case with right and wrong—God gives us the ability to separate the two.

Finally, Isaiah condemns the substitution of things bitter for things sweet. Sin is made (by Satan) to look appealing. But after tasting it, one finds how bitter it is. Those who work iniquity do all they can to “sweeten” the unsatisfactory taste of sin. In this passage, the prophet wants to make it clear that it’s VERY unwise to make this substitution and confuse oneself or someone else.

The best thing for Christians to do is to see things like God. Instead of making unwise substitutions and foolish choices, it’s up to us to seek the truth, follow the truth, and teach that truth to others so that they too may be wise and obedient to our God.

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