This text directly reflects the social situation of the eighth century B.C.E. referred to above ("The Eighth-Century Prophets" in Introductory Issues). Either legally or illegally, some have appropriated the land allotted to others. (Isaiah's contemporary Micah more clearly describes the appropriation as illegal--Micah 2:1-6.) Here the issue is not merely injustice, but access to the land that was God's gift to Israel, allotted to all the tribes when they settled in the territory of Canaan (Joshua 13:1-19:51). This was not just acreage; it was the land of promise that marked participation in the community and the covenant. To be robbed of the land was to be cut off from God's promises. In this text some buy up or steal land simply because they can, only to find themselves alone since others now have no place to live. Now they are without community as well.
The text demonstrates a common feature of the prophetic oracles of judgment: the punishment fits the crime, or, as some now say, what goes around comes around. The wealthy build many houses, but those houses will be empty; they seize land, but that land will prove unproductive; now they eat and drink lavishly, but they will find themselves hungry and thirsty. This judgment follows the Bible's sense of justice throughout: you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7). Evil acts have evil consequences--not so much because God delights in "getting" those who do bad things, but simply because they do.
8 Ah, you who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
and you are left to live alone
in the midst of the land!
9 The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah.*
11 Ah, you who rise early in the morning
in pursuit of strong drink,
who linger in the evening
to be inflamed by wine,
12 whose feasts consist of lyre and harp,
tambourine and flute and wine,
but who do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
or see the work of his hands!
13 Therefore my people go into exile without knowledge;
their nobles are dying of hunger,
and their multitude is parched with thirst.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011