If colors can confuse the substance, resemblance can strike without a blush and mislead us into thinking that something is something else, or that a specific device is useless or unsatisfactory. Hence a person might criticize a banana for being tasteless, unaware he is eating a plantain, or reject the efficiency of an umbrella because a parasol didn’t keep him dry.
The incidents resulting from similarities can oscillate from amusing to frustrating, producing on their way entertainment or disaster. No wonder God exhorts us to not lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5). For if Jacob used a counterfeit to deceive Isaac, and Tamar beguiled Judah through semblance, the devil can surely get the best of us unless a greater than ourselves intervenes on our behalf. Discernment belongs to Him and He has the authority to give it to whom He will or take it away (Job 12:20).
A Destructive Assumption
Of all deceptions caused by similitudes, self-deception is the most popular. To make others believe we are what we are not by acting in a suggestive way is bad enough, but to believe we are what we are not, because we behave as those who are, is more destructive than moth and rust combined. And if a person thinks he is untouchable he is, of all people, the most susceptible to be affected by the pharisaic virus, a virus that usually penetrates beyond the skull, affecting the brain and our sense of judgment.
In Isaiah chapter five God compares Israel to a vineyard He had planted on a very fruitful hill. The soil had been prepared, the choicest vine planted, and a tower built in its midst as a symbol of God’s vigilance over it. At last, a winepress was made. As we read at the end of verse two, He expected the vineyard to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes.
We read in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John that God expects us to bear fruit. But which kind of fruit? In Luke 6:44 it is written: “men don’t gather grapes from a bramble bush.” Hence we could conclude that as long as we produce grapes everything is fine. But God says it is not that simple. And it is not that simple because there are grapes and grapes. Not every fruit proceeding from a vine is pleasing to God. In Isaiah chapter five the catch resides in the similarities between wild grapes and good grapes. And here, certainly, the resemblances are highly misleading.
The same is happening in our churches. The similarities between mere evangelicalism and true Christianity are so numerous, and at times so subtle, that the two can be confounded at the point of disorientation. Both adherents can go to the same church, sing the same hymns, pray the same prayers, put money in the same basket, and get baptized in the same water, yet their destination can be poles apart. But if resemblances can hoodwink us, they don’t generate any problem for God.
Wild Grapes and Good Grapes
The similarities between wild grapes and good grapes have to do primarily with sight. No wonder the prophet Isaiah affirms that Jesus was not going to judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears (Isaiah 11:3). The Pharisees for instance appeared righteous outwardly, but were full of uncleanness inside (Matthew 23:27). Consequently as important as visual perception might be, it cannot function adequately on its own. It must be assisted by other means of discernment. And since reality is both material and spiritual, spiritual discernment is needed to distinguish one spiritual actuality from another (1 Corinthians 2:14).
If we return to the wild grape and the good grape the main difference between them has to do with their taste. One is sour, the other sweet. The former proceeds from the wild, the latter from the Vinedresser’s care. While the first grew in its untamed freedom, the second matured in subjection, under the merciful hand of wisdom and grace. Hence one is pleasing to God, the other is not.
Listen to what God says about His vineyard: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help” (Isaiah 5:7).
Now it could be contended that while there are similarities between good grapes and wild grapes, there are no such resemblances between justice and oppression, or righteousness and a cry for help (tyranny, see James 5:4). Yet God maintains that religious camouflage is so pervasive and efficient that oppression can be mistaken for justice, and tyranny for righteousness.
In Isaiah 5:7 justice and righteousness stand for good grapes while oppression and tyranny stand for wild grapes. In Hebrew there is a meaningful play of words. The word translated as “justice” is מִשְׁפָּט mishpat, and the word translated as “oppression” is מִשְׂפָּח mispach. Both are highly similar. Nevertheless their meaning is exceedingly different. The same is to be applied to “righteousness” and “a cry”. The former is from the word צְדָקָה tsĕdaqah, the latter from the word צְעָקָה tsa`aqah. The resemblance is striking.
There are several lessons one can learn here. The first is that it is possible for a person to deceive himself by justifying something wrong or canonizing a sinful practice. Unfortunately what has been done is being done, and fishes are being converted into lions.
Those Who Know
Another effect of such maquillage is that some people are led to believe that a Christian has the taste of a rotten apple, or that saints are no better than pagans. The sad thing about it is that presently little can be done to eradicate the deception. Whether we like it or not, at the present, tares and wheat share the same field (Matthew 13:29), and sheep and goats sit on the same bench (Matthew 25:32). But let us not be fooled by religious maquillage or evangelical coloring. Let us eat butter and honey so we may be able to discern between what is of God and what is not (Isaiah 7:15).
All considered, it boils down to this: “If anyone wills do His will, he shall know…” (John 7:170).
So, what about those who don’t know? You will see them taking a parasol on a rainy day and getting scared by the roaring of a fish. As for those who know better, watchfulness is imperative. After all, Joshua got deceived by the Gibeonites because he walked by sight for a time (Joshua 9:3–15). May God help us to learn from Him so we may avoid similar traps.