The Song of the Vineyard

5: 1-7

    DIG: If you were a gardener with an annual crop, how long would it take you to give up on that plot of land if it wasn’t producing? What is the purpose of God’s asking the people to judge for themselves what He should do to the vineyard? What are some of the ways the LORD Almighty (CJB) had cultivated and cared for Judah, the garden of His delight? What is one chief quality ADONAI expects to see in His people (1:17)? How is the fruit that has grown different from what He expected?

    REFLECT: How would you feel about singing a love song about the adultery of your spouse? In effect, this is what the LORD is doing here. If you had been a victim of adultery, how would you react? When have you been wronged and wanted justice? What is the difference between justice and vengeance? Is it wrong to want justice? As believers, who should deliver the justice and who should deliver the vengeance? If you were listening to Isaiah’s song, what would you expect to be the next stanza after this verse? What are some of the “fruits” people use today to evaluate how “spiritual” a person is? How do these compare with what God looks for in spiritual growth (Matthew 21:33-44; John 15:1-3; Galatians 5:22-23)? How would you assess the “fruit” in your own life: (a) just budding? (b) still premature? (c) developing on schedule? (d) ripe for enjoyment? or (e) diseased?

    Chapter 5 is the third major section of the book and brings the introductory oracles to a close. If Chapter 1 introduces the book as a whole, and Chapters 2 through 4 expose the enormous conflict between what Judah was called to be and what, in fact, she had become, then Chapter 5 brings us back to the reality of what her condition was at the moment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Whatever happened in the future, however redemption for the righteous of the TaNaKh might occur, the plain fact was that present sin must somehow be dealt with. Something had to give. The rabbis teach that the parable of the vineyard, by means of its imagery, enables the prophet to subtly and effectively bring home to the people God’s mercy and kindness towards them, which they repaid by ingratitude and disobedience. As a result, terrible consequences are threatened. This parable of the vineyard sets the stage for the rest of the chapter.

    These first two verses comprise the song of the vineyard. As previously stated, the vineyard motif was a familiar one to Y'hudah. Isaiah declared: I will sing for the One I love a song about His vineyard: My loved One had a vineyard on a fertile hillside (5:1).The word I refers to Isaiah himself, the One I love refers to God, and His vineyard refers to all of Isra'el, but specifically to Judah. He had this vineyard planted on a very fertile hillside, literally, a horn the son of fatness, which is an allusion to the fertility of both the northern kingdom of Isra'el and the southern kingdom of Y'hudah. The soil in which it was planted should have produced the choicest vines and fruit. All seemed to be going well.

    Isaiah is called the Prince of Prophets not merely because he saw ADONAI high and lifted up (6:11), but also because he learned that El Elyon, God most High (Genesis 14:18-22; Psalms 57:3 and 78:35; Dani'el 3:26, 4:2, 5:18 and 21; Luke 1:32), also lives with the contrite and lowly in spirit (57:15). Such a God could be truly loved. In light of this, the fact that Judah could reject the One that Isaiah loved would only make her all the more guilty in his eyes (2:9).

    Nothing was left undone to guarantee a bountiful crop. The LORD had great expectations of His vineyard. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower, not a temporary hut, in it and cut out a wine vat as well. Once the vines were planted, then there would be an interval of two years before the grapes would be produced. During that time of waiting and anticipation, the wall could be strengthened, the watchtower built, and the facilities for pressing and gathering the juice completed. These facilities usually consisted to two vats cut out of the hillside, one above the other and connected by a shallow trough. The upper one would be used for pressing the grapes and the lower one as a settling basin for the juice that had run down the trough from the winepress.

    Isaiah emphasized the farmer’s prior commitment. He had done all the backbreaking work in expectation of receiving a good crop. Then He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit (5:2). The LORD took special care of this vineyard. He dug it up and cleared it of stones (which in all of Isra'el is no small task). He built a tower to protect it from any thieves. ADONAI was sure it would produce good grapes that, in time, would produce good wine. But instead of good grapes, He got only bad fruit. The result was bitter, both in fact and in spirit, for the grapes were worthless. The word bad here really means stinking. He got stinking fruit. As a result, this song communicates no message of hope. In fact, divine grace had been exhausted.

    Isaiah had a very intimate relationship with God and so he refers to Him in affectionate terms. ADONAI revealed certain things to Isaiah that He did not reveal to any other prophet. Isaiah alone received the concept of the Trinity. He alone received the revelation of the virgin birth. Only Isaiah clearly received the revelation of Messiah’s coming death. In other words, he saw things that no other prophet was able to see.

    ADONAI said: Judge between Me and My Vineyard (5:3-6). Because of the bad fruit, the vineyard was to be judged. God called Judah to act as a judge between Himself and His vineyard (the people of Judah do not know that they are the vineyard yet; the LORD will tell them in 5:7), and then He makes His case. Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard (5:3). As Jesus will also describe His parable of the vineyard (see my commentary on the Life of Christ Iy – By What Authority Are You Doing These Things?), by making His hearers both judge and jury, He begins to maneuver them toward self-incrimination: What more could have been done for My vineyard than what I have done for it (5:4)? This sobering question is evidently one that no one can answer. If divine power, wisdom and responsibility have exhausted themselves – what hope can remain? The owner of the vineyard cannot ignore the disappointing results, and He will abandon it to ruin.

    Whatever might have been his hearers’ responses, Isaiah leaves little doubt as to what the Owner will do: Now I will tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard, the use of the Hebrew present implies an irrevocable decision and prompt action. ADONAI will not only abandon His worthless vineyard, He will also oversee its destruction. This is His decision: I will take away its hedge and it will be destroyed. A valued vineyard is protected against trespass by both a thorn-hedged fence and a more substantially constructed fence. The prophet hints at a pending invasion. He will leave the vines unprotected, saying: I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled by wild animals (5:5).

    If the fertile field can only produce wild grapes, then there would be no cultivation. It would become a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns would grow there. And to make sure that it remains a wasteland, He will command the clouds not to rain on it (5:6).

    The vineyard of ADONAI-Tzva'ot is seen next. Here the vineyard song comes to a climax. By this time his illustration in 5:1-2, had undoubtedly captured the attention of his hearers. The occasion may have been at the end of the grape season, but we don’t really know. But whenever it was, everyone who heard him could identify with the farmer’s hard work and anxious expectation. All would have felt stunned and disgusted over the bad, literally, stinking fruit (5:2). But then the tables were suddenly turned. Just as King David was stunned when the prophet Nathan said: You are the man (2 Sam 11:1-12:7a), Isaiah’s hearers must have been shocked to learn that they, in fact, were the stinking fruit!

    Isaiah prophesied: The vineyard of the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies is the house of Isra'el, and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight. The application comes here. In other words, Isra'el ends up condemning herself because God says, what I did for the vineyard I really did for you. And He looked for justice, but saw only oppression; for righteousness, but only cries of distress were heard (5:7). The good grapes that God looked for were the grapes of justice and righteousness, but instead He found only oppression and cries of distress.

    As mentioned earlier, Isaiah was a master of the Hebrew language and sometimes he changes one vowel pattern, or one letter of a similar sounding word, to get a completely different meaning. Here ADONAI uses Hebrew poetry to emphasize different contrasts: instead of justice (mishpat), He only saw bloodshed (mishpach); instead of righteousness (zed-daqa), He heard cries of distress (zed-aka). He plays with words like this throughout the book. But aside from the word plays, the somewhat subtle point Isaiah made was that because of the lack of fruit, judgment had to come.

    An expert storyteller doesn’t have to explain the punch line, and Isaiah didn’t explicitly mention the destruction of Judah. It didn’t not need to be, for once the connection between Judah and the vineyard had been made, the coming Babylonian invasion was inevitable.

    There is none like you, O LORD, among the gods of this world. There is nothing higher or greater than you in all the earth. May we confess with our mouths, and acknowledge before all people, that You alone are God.


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