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What does it mean to call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20)?

call evil good and good evil

In Isaiah 5:8–30, the prophet pronounces “woes” or judgments on Judah for their wicked behavior. Judah had produced the “bad fruit” of unrighteousness, as illustrated in the song of the vineyard (verses 4–7). Their wickedness even led them to proclaim sinful things as good, which is why Isaiah exclaims, “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” (verse 20). Light and darkness are opposites, which adds to the gravity of the men of Judah calling evil “good.”

A major problem in Judah during Isaiah’s time was widespread drunkenness. People would wake up early in the morning to drink alcohol and continue long into the night (Isaiah 5:11). Instead of respecting “the deeds of the Lord,” they reveled in their sin and drunkenness (verses 11–12). They did not see their sin as wickedness; rather, they called their evil “good.”

A world in rebellion against God will have a skewed perspective and embrace a topsy-turvy morality. There are many people today who still call evil “good” and good “evil,” as they promote behaviors that the Bible specifically calls sinful. The celebration of homosexuality and the defense of abortion on demand are usually accompanied by a mockery of those who value life and promote traditional marriage. Evil is being called “good,” and good is slandered as “evil.”

Apart from God, our value system will always become jumbled. We will begin to confuse sweetness and bitterness, light and darkness, and good and evil. We will label biblical morality as “intolerant” and “oppressive.” We will take offense at the truth that Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6). “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:20).

Calling good “evil” and evil “good” is a sure sign of spiritual wickedness at work: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul warns that the intensity of the spiritual battle will increase: “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Timothy 3:1–5).

Cutting through the confusion over right and wrong and enlightening spiritually darkened minds is the Bible: “I gain understanding from your precepts. . . . Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:104–105). In their fallen condition, humans cannot accurately determine what is right and wrong. Only God can give definitive answers on good and evil. The Bible is “God-breathed,” the only certain source in providing guidance to mankind (2 Timothy 3:16).

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Questions about Isaiah

What does it mean to call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20)?
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This page last updated: January 11, 2023