Sometimes, the Bible is quite gruesome. This isn’t done to glorify violence or grossness. Frequently, this is done to emphasize a point.
To me, one of the most disgusting passages in the Bible is Isaiah 28:8. It’s a picture of the moral decay of God’s people, but it is told with vivid detail. It would be one thing to say that the people were really bad. But that does not impress upon us just how bad they were in God’s sight. They were drunkards (Is. 28:1). Astonishingly, so were the priests and prophets (Is. 28:7). To accurately understand the depth of their wickedness, we get Isaiah 28:8. “For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place.” That sort of imagery goes way beyond telling us they were drunkards. It’s much grosser than just a straight forward statement.
To me, the Bible doesn’t get much grosser than that. In my experience there are two kinds of people. There are those who mildly prefer not to vomit, and then there are those who have such gut wrenching experiences that they would almost rather die than vomit—even the thought of getting sick makes them queasy. I fall into the latter category. And so, Isaiah 28:8 is a horrifyingly vivid picture that I’d just as well not imagine or think about. And isn’t that why God has included it? We are supposed to be disgusted at their behavior. We’re supposed to see them the way God saw them.
That is not the only time God uses vomit to graphically make His point.
Consider the imagery that God uses of foolish people who, instead of learning from their mistakes, keep doing the same foolish things over and over again. “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Prov. 26:11). We all do foolish things from time to time. But do we learn from those mistakes? If not, then we are extremely gross.
Proverbs 26:11 gets quoted in the New Testament. Here, the meaning is much clearer. It’s talking about more than just being foolish (which could include a wide range of subjects including sticking fingers in a power outlet). This time, it’s talking about sin (which, of course, is the ultimate foolish action). “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit’” (II Pet. 3:20-22a).
Sin is like vomit. That’s a repulsive image I can relate to, but it’s a truth I don’t internalize. If only I would see greed as vomit. If only filthy language and gossip were equally disgusting. If only lying and arrogance and every other sin was stomach-churningly repulsive to me. If that were the case, I don’t think Satan would have much success against me.
Whether we see sin this way or not, it’s what sin is. When we learn what God wants and go back to sin anyway, we are spiritually as gross as we can get. We are like dogs returning to the vomit and inexplicably thinking that what we previously could not keep down is now good to eat.