Ever had a verse just jump off the page? We’re not currently in the housing market, but live in a part of the world where house prices have escalated greatly in some areas. It’s also a time when many are converting existing houses into what are termed monster homes. Does the Bible speak to buying a new dwelling? I realized I was rushing past this too quickly and needed to slow down and consider it more carefully.
Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. ~Isaiah 5:8
So what’s being said here? BibleHub.com offers many different commentaries on this verse.
Here is a woe to those who set their hearts on the wealth of the world. Not that it is sinful for those who have a house and a field to purchase another; but the fault is, that they never know when they have enough. Covetousness is idolatry; and while many envy the prosperous, wretched man, the Lord denounces awful woes upon him. How applicable to many among us! God has many ways to empty the most populous cities. Those who set their hearts upon the world, will justly be disappointed.
Not that this was in itself absolutely unlawful, but because they did it from an inordinate desire of riches, and with the injury of their brethren. … That they alone may be the lords and owners, and all others only their tenants and servants. Thus, “the first crime condemned is avarice and rapacity; which is strongly described in this verse, and which prevailed remarkably among the Jews. Its punishment, even the desolation of those houses which they coveted, and the devastation of those fields which they obtained so rapaciously, is set forth in the two following verses.”
Pett’s Bible Commentary begins with this summary:
The first woe is on those who have bought up or seized by force the fields of the people, so as to form for themselves large estates, actions which will finally bring desolation on them.
and then continues in great depth:
The picture here is of the man of influence and wealth taking over surrounding land by fair means or foul, and adding it to his own, and then turning his house into a Great House by adding buildings (compare Micah 2:2; Micah 2:4; Micah 2:9). As a result, instead of enjoying covenant fellowship with his close neighbours he dwells in solitary splendour, for all his one-time neighbours have been expelled. They would then have had to become servants or even bondmen. Their ‘glory’ has been taken away for ever (Micah 2:9).
This was directly contrary to what Israel was all about. When the land was originally allocated as God’s gift to His people (Leviticus 25:2) the intention was that each man should have his own piece of land in perpetuity. All were to be free men. And although the land may have to be mortgaged in hard times, always in the end it was to revert to its original owner. (See Leviticus 25:13; Leviticus 25:23-24; Numbers 27:1-11; Numbers 36:1-12; Ruth 4:1-4). But now unreasonable influence, unfair means and dishonest pressure were being exerted by powerful men to acquire and permanently possess such land, and permanently subject their fellow Israelites to servitude. God’s covenant was being overturned, and His people degraded. And we need not doubt that the fifty year rule was being set aside. God’s will was being thwarted.
The gradual accumulation of wealth is never in itself condemned, unless it interferes with a man’s responsiveness to God. But doing so at the expense of others and especially when it was in direct disobedience to God’s will, is constantly condemned.
God’s concern about this is a reminder that God watches over all men’s business dealings, whether corrupt or just purely greedy, and will call men to account for them. It will be no good in that day saying, ‘it was business’. God will reply, ‘no, it was gross iniquity’.
‘In my ears, the ears of Yahweh of hosts, of a truth, many houses will be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.’ ‘In my ears’ may refer back to Isaiah 5:7 bringing out again that the cries of the oppressed reach His ears. Or it may refer to the very cry of the fields at the mistreatment of their owners (compare Genesis 4:10) as reaching His ears. Either way the cries of distress reach His ears, and they are the ears of Yahweh of hosts. (The Hebrew is literally, ‘In my ears Yahweh of hosts’). Thus the great and fair houses that have resulted will assuredly be desolated, their inhabitants removed, their widespread fields yielding but a pittance. As they have done to others, so will be done to them.
‘For ten acres of vineyard will yield one bath, and a homer of seed will yield but an ephah.’ An ‘acre’ was literally ‘a yoke’, the amount that could be ploughed by a yoke of oxen in one day. Thus ten such large areas will produce only one bath (about twenty seven litres or six gallons). We are possibly to see in this that the expectation was that one acre would normally produce a bath. An ephah is a dry measure and is the tenth part of a homer (Exodus 16:36). Thus again what is sown produces only one tenth. Thus all activity in the fields will only produce a small proportion of what should have been produced.
We’ll stop there; but you might want to go deeper with this.
They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance.
Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin!
Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.