Isaiah 5:8
Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field until there is no room and you dwell alone in the land.
A Prophet's WoesAlexander MaclarenIsaiah 5:8
The Covetous Spirit, and its JudgmentR. Tuck Isaiah 5:8
A Woe on MonopolistsIsaiah 5:8-10
Covetous Persons AreG. S. Bowes.Isaiah 5:8-10
Folly of CovetousnessLaw's Serious CallIsaiah 5:8-10
Greed Pauperises the SoulR. W. Emerson.Isaiah 5:8-10
Hebrew Land LawsF. Sessions.Isaiah 5:8-10
Land GrabbingF. Sessions.Isaiah 5:8-10
Land LawsF. Sessions.Isaiah 5:8-10
NemesisSir E. Strachey, Bart.Isaiah 5:8-10
The Character and the Doom of CovetousnessW. Clarkson Isaiah 5:8-10
The Land QuestionAmory H. Bradford, D. D.Isaiah 5:8-10
The Mosaic LegislationSir E. Strachey, Bart.Isaiah 5:8-10
The Selfish LandownerSir E. Strachey, Bart.Isaiah 5:8-10
Unpatriotic MonopoliesC. Knight's EnglandIsaiah 5:8-10
Woe to the CovetousE. Johnson Isaiah 5:8-10

To understand this passage we should bear in mind the truths connected with real property as a condition of national well-being.

I. THE INSTITUTION OF LANDED PROPERTY IN ISRAEL. According to the Law, each of the twelve tribes was to have its landed possessions, and each particular household was to have its definite portion of the land belonging to the tribe; and this was to be an inalienable heritage. Among an agricultural people it is most necessary that each family should thus have a fixed foothold on the land, a home, a center of toil and acquisition; and that thus its members should be firmly bound to their native land and to their fellow-countrymen. In a conquered land, again, it was equitable that the fields should be divided among those who took part in the burdens of war, and who desired to cultivate the conquered land in peace. In many passages of the Law we find the impress of this institution of real property. In the year of jubilee every man was to be restored to his patrimony (Leviticus 25:13). The land was never to be sold, because in fact it belonged to Jehovah (ver. 23), and the people were but his stewards. In the interesting case of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-11), who had died in the desert, we find it laid down that the children, or nearest relatives of one who had died without coming into his portion, were to possess it in his stead. Again, the men of Reuben and of Gad refused to go to war until every man of them had received his inheritance (Numbers 32:16, sqq.). And Moses agreed to their conditions. In the same book we read the direction, "Ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance" (Numbers 33:54). The land, it will be seen, was considered as in tenure from Jehovah himself, the only landlord. And how attached an Israelite would become to his ancestral estate, is seen from the story of Naboth, who will not give up his even for a better one, and at the king's request (1 Kings 21:3, sqq.; 2 Kings 9:10, 25, sqq.). The virtues of patriotism struck deep root in this relation to the soil of Palestine. These facts help us to understand the moral and national evils springing from selfish greed, which threatened this institution of property, of which the prophet here complains.

II. THE VICE OF COVETOUSNESS. The root of the vice is a thorough-going selfishness. The rich men use the means at their command unjustly to absorb the land into their own possession. The result must be the hopeless misery and degradation of the mass of the people. An instructive parallel to the state of things described by the prophet is to be found in the history of Sparta, at the time of the great lawgiver, Lycurgus. Plutarch tells us that the disorders which he found existing in the state arose in great measure from the gross inequality of property, and from the long avarice and rapacity of the rich, who had thus added house to house and field to field. The lawgiver, therefore, redistributed the whole territory of Sparta. In Roman letters we-read allusions to the habit of forming latifundia, or "broad farms," with its unsocial consequences. "How far," indignantly exclaims Seneca, "will ye extend the bounds of your possessions; not content to circumscribe the area of your estates by the sowing of provinces? The broad acres own one lord; the people crowd into a narrow field. The courses of bright streams flow through private estates; great rivers, bounds of great nations, from the source to the mouth, all are yours. And this is nothing unless you have girdled your broad farms with seas; unless across the Hadriatic, the Ionian, and the AEgean your bailiff reigns; unless islands, domiciles of great dukes, are reckoned amongst the commonest of things. Shall there be no lake over which the roofs of your villas hang not? no stream whose banks are not covered by your buildings?" (Ep. 88.). In his beautiful 'Deserted Village,' Goldsmith says -

"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay." Too well we know what inappeasable discontent and seeming incurable misery has been begotten in Ireland of past selfishness and injustice of the few. Surely it is the part of every patriotic Christian man to forward all legislation which throws open God's land to tillage, and breaks up selfish monopolies.


1. Its folly is exposed. One would think, from their conduct, that these grasping men desired to dwell alone amidst a waste! But, as the old agricultural poet of Greece says, "The man who frames ills against another frames them against himself, and ill counsel turns out worst for him who devised it. The all-seeing eye of Zeus looks upon these things, and they escape him not" (Hesiod, 'Works and Days,' 265, 266). Judgment gets the better of injustice when it comes to the final issue, and the fool who suffers from his avarice knows it to his cost. Like a wronged woman, she passes through the city, bewailing the manners of the people, clothed in mist; for men see not her approach, and know not that she is the cause of their calamities, who have driven her forth by her unjust deeds. Those, continues the poet, who do right by the strangers and the natives of the land - their city flourishes, the people blossom therein; and peace, the nourisher of youths, prevails through the land. To them far-seeing Zeus appoints no bitter war; famine and curse are unknown. The earth produces abundance, the trees drop fruit and honey, the fleeces are heavy on the sheep; and mothers bear a noble offspring. But often a whole city suffers from an evil man, who is a sinner and devises haughty plans. Pestilence and famine come from the hands of the Supreme upon men; the houses are thinned and the people perish (ibid., 55. 217, etc.). These are close analogies to the great thoughts of our prophet.

2. The appropriate punishment. Those who have grasped at more than their right will find the coveted good dwindling in their hands, or, like a Dead Sea fruit, turning to ashes on their lips. One bucket only will be obtained from the "yoke" of vineyard; one bushel of corn from a quarter's seed. Thus may we find in nature a profound Scripture, a record and a testimony of Divine law not to be gainsaid. In this day of science perhaps we fix our thought too exclusively on the dependence of man on Nature. There is another side of truth equally important - the dependence of Nature on man. In moral energy, in compliance with the laws of right, we become more and more the masters of Nature, and she smiles back upon us with an aspect of recognition and blessing. In the sloth of our spirit and its corruption from truth we can no longer win the sympathy of the earth; and her groaning aspect reflects and represents a guilty decline of the soul These troths are general; only experience can teach where and how they must be modified in their application. - J.

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field.
Selfishness, or the making self the centre to which all things are to tend, is the great sin in all ages and peoples. As soon as national institutions have awakened the sense of personality and the feeling of self-respect, the desire of accumulating wealth grows with them. And in no form is it more liable to abuse than in connection with the possession of land. Men desire, by an almost universal instinct, to possess property in land, with its healthy occupations and interests, so varied and multiplied by the living powers of nature, and with its important political and social rights which grow up with the duties which are specially connected with it; for this kind of property demands the fulfilment of more, and more obvious duties than any other, while it confers corresponding rights and powers by bringing a man into more complete personal relationship with his neighbours than is possible in the crowd of cities and the whirl of city trades. Yet, since the land cannot be increased in quantity, its possession by one man is the exclusion of another, and the Hebrew laws endeavoured to meet this difficulty by special provisions, the breach or evasion of which the prophet now denounces in his first "woe" on the selfish landowner. He who can join house to house and lay field to field when he knows, and long has known, face to face, the very man, wife and child whom he has dispossessed, and can drive out by his own simple act his fellow men to be desolate in their poverty, in order that he may be alone in his riches, may expect a punishment proportioned to his crime.

(Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

The prophet heard, ringing in his ears, the declaration of Jehovah, the King of the land, that the great and fair palaces should become as desolate as the peasants and yeomen's cottages which had made place for them — the vineyard of ten acres yield but eight gallons of wine, and the cornfield shall give back but a tenth part of the seed sown in it.

(Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

Moses directed as equal a division of the land as possible, in the first instance, among the 600,000 families who originally formed the nation; and provided against the permanent alienation of any estate by giving a right of repurchase to the seller and his relations, and of repossession without purchase at the Jubilee.

(Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

In the Channel Islands the acreage to be owned by one individual is limited. In Norway the law provides that the heirs of anyone who has parted with his property may buy that property back at sale price within a term of five years.

(F. Sessions.)

The Hebrew legislation further prevented the exhaustion of the soil and the fruit trees, by enforcing fallow and rest during every seventh year. The offerings of first fruits really constituted a kind of land tax, payable to Jehovah as Over-Lord, and tending to prevent the conversion of folk land into "thane's land," or king's land. The legislation placed Jehovah's tenants under a poor law, which compelled cultivators to leave the gleanings of the crops, and all that the fallows of the seventh year Sabbaths produced spontaneously in those prolific fields, for the support of the needy. By the limitations of the right of private ownership, — a right that was not denied, and was frequently exercised, — every man was taught his responsibilities to his fellows. The theory was, as someone has written: "Brotherhood in the enjoyment of a Father's bounty."

(F. Sessions.)

and "evictions may be new terms, but they are century-old sins.

(F. Sessions.)

is as old as history. The Hebrews were hardly out of the wilderness before laws were enacted to prevent the strong from getting more land than anyone ought to possess. The land laws of Moses occupy a large place in his legislation. The prevention of monopoly in land was clearly in the mind of the Hebrew lawgiver. In Isaiah's time the nation had recovered from poverty and grown rich, and the wealthy and ruling classes had begun to grasp the earth. They would have tried to fence in the air and pack the sunlight in barrels, if they could have done so. The spirit that would monopolise land would monopolise light if it could. Against this awful wrong the voice of the Lord rings its condemnation. Four things belong to man as man, and anyone who tries to prevent their being used for the service of humanity is a sinner against the universe and against God. Those four things are: the earth, the air, the water, and the light. Every man has a right to live, and no one can live as he ought without free access to earth, air, water, and light. Isaiah brought the people to this one point — this land belongs to God, and you are using it as if it were yours to do with as you please. And that is all that need be said today. The land, like the air, belongs to God; and if to God, then to humanity; and it is our business to find out, as all easily can if they will, how the great Owner of all the earth would have men use that which must be the home of all His creatures. Of one thing, however, we may be sure. He never intended that a few big lions should get possession of all the forests, so that there should be no comfortable places left for the rabbits, the sheep, and the cattle, except in holes in the ground; and He never intended that a few strong men should get possession of all the fertile, healthful, and beautiful ]portions of earth, so that the rest of humanity — the artists, the artisans, the literary men, and those who work with their hands — should be obliged to live in cellars and attics and hardly know what is meant by that great and dear word home.

(Amory H. Bradford, D. D.)

I. THE SIN. Their fault is —

1. That they are inordinate in their desires to enrich themselves, and make it their whole care and business to raise an estate, as if they had nothing to mind, nothing to seek, nothing to do in this world but that. They never know when they have enough, but the more they have the more they would have. They cannot enjoy what they have, nor do good with it, for contriving and studying to make it more. They must have variety of houses, a winter house and a summer house; and if another man's house or field lie convenient to theirs, as Naboth's vineyard to Ahab's, they must have that too, or they cannot be easy.

2. They are herein careless of others; nay, and injurious to them. They would live so as to let nobody live but themselves. They would swell so big as to fill all space and yet are still unsatisfied (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

II. THE PUNISHMENT. That which is threatened as the punishment of this sin is —

1. That the houses they were so fond of should be untenanted, should stand long empty, and so should yield them no rent, and go out of repair. Men's projects are often frustrated, and what they frame answers not the intention.

2. That the fields they were so fond of should be unfruitful.

( M. Henry.)

C. Knight's England.
In 1650, while Cromwell was prosecuting his campaign against Charles II in Scotland, he wrote the Speaker of the Parliament, urging the reformation of many abuses and added, "If there be anyone that makes many poor to make a few rich, that suits not a commonwealth."

(C. Knight's England.)

A farmer said "he should like to have all the land that joined his own." Bonaparte, who had the same appetite, endeavoured to make the Mediterranean a French lake. Czar Alexander was more expansive, and wished to call the Pacific "my ocean"; and the Americans were obliged to resist his attempts to make it a close sea. But if he had the earth for his pasture, and the sea for his pond, he would be a pauper still. He only is rich who owns the day.

(R. W. Emerson.)

like sponges, which greedily drink in water, but return very little, until they are squeezed. A covetous person wants what he has, as well as what he has not, because he is never satisfied with it.

(G. S. Bowes.)

Law's Serious Call.
If you should see a man that had a large pond of water yet living in continual thirst, not suffering himself to drink half a draught for fear of lessening his pond; if you should see him wasting his time and strength in fetching more water to his pond, always thirsty, yet always carrying a bucket of water in his hand, watching early and late to catch the drops of rain, gaping after every cloud, and running greedily into every mire and mud in hopes of water, and always studying how to make every ditch empty itself into the pond; if you should see him grow grey in these anxious labours, and at last end a careful thirsty life by falling into his own pond, would you not say that such a one was not only the author of his own disquiet, but was foolish enough to be reckoned among madmen? But foolish and absurd as this character is, it does not represent half the follies and absurd disquiets of the covetous man.

(Law's Serious Call.)

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