He Lifts Up a Banner for the Distant Nations

5: 26-30

    DIG: What will be the climactic judgment they have to face? What are these invaders like? How will this prophecy be fulfilled by Assyria during Isaiah’s lifetime (see Second Kings 18:17-24) and later by Babylon (see Second Kings 25:1-7)?

    REFLECT: What lessons from war do you think the LORD wants you to learn? Does the woeful reality of this chapter make you hunger all the more for the hopeful vision of 2:1-4? Why is it that some people never appreciate the good news of peace without first hearing the bad news of war?

    Earlier, Isaiah had described the wild grapes of the vineyard (5:8-25), and pointed to Judah's coming destruction in 5:13-17 and 24-25. Now he makes that allusion explicit in a powerful piece of poetry. Wild animals are called and now come to trample the vineyard. For those who mocked Isaiah and asked for God to hurry His work, Isaiah now assures them that God’s plan will come much more suddenly than they could ever imagine. He does not reveal who the destroyer will be here; that will come later. For him, the point was to indicate the imminent, irresistible destruction that was to come.

    Here the prophet introduces the theme that will be expanded later, especially in 10:5-34. The Gentile nations are but an instrument in the LORD’s hands. This is how the judgment will come: ADONAI lifts up a banner for the distant Gentile nations as a signal for war, He whistles for those at the ends of the earth as they rise and move toward their target. Here Egypt, Assyria and Babylon come swiftly and speedily (5:26)! A common custom in the east is that of calling the attention of anyone in the street by a significant hiss or whistle. In the prophecy of Zechariah, God says concerning the children of Ephraim: I will hiss or signal for them and gather them in . . . (Zechariah 10:8). Here there is doubtless a reference to the same custom of calling attention by a hiss or whistle.16

    A rapid and remorseless attack of the enemy army would be at hand. Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one of them slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal thong is broken (5:27). There would be no stragglers, stumbling or sleepiness. No one would be half-prepared, with broken sandals or equipment.

    Next Isaiah describes the speed of their attack. The cynical request that God hurry up in 5:19 finds their wishes fulfilled here. The enemy's weapons are prepared, with arrows sharpened and bows already strung, ready for action. Their horses’ hooves are hard as flint, so they will not break down on the journey, and the chariot wheels are turning so fast that they blur like a whirlwind (5:28).

    Pictures of the irresistible predator and inescapable storm complete Isaiah’s prophecy of doom. Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions in their prime strength. The doubling here points to the wide-range of the attack. Isra'el would be facing every possible kind of predator. They growl as they seize their pray and carry it off with no one to rescue them. In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. The end result will be that if anyone looked at the Land, they would see nothing but darkness and distress; even the light will be darkened by the clouds (5:29-30). No matter where they look, everything was black. The devastation would be complete. Like the lion, once the invader has seized its prey and begins to drag it off, there will be no one to deliver Y'hudah from its mouth.

    To get a comprehensive picture of the vineyard motif we need to put the elements of five passages together. In the first element, in Psalm 80:8-11, ADONAI took a vine out of Egypt and planted it in the Land.

    In the second element, in Isaiah 5:1-7, God looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. Because it produced sour grapes, it became desolate. Jeremiah 2:21 says the same thing. In Isaiah 12:10-11, the ones ultimately responsible for bringing desolation on the vineyard are clearly the shepherds or leaders of Judah. In Hosea 10:1-3, the LORD says that the vine was productive, but only in producing bad fruit. In this case, the wild grapes are a symbol of idolatry. Therefore, no matter what YHVH did for the plant, the end result was always bad fruit.

    The third element of this motif is found in Matthew 21:33-45, and there are also some elements in Jeremiah 12:10-11. The Jewish leadership is responsible for the desolation of the vineyard. Just like Jeremiah said, the shepherds of Judah, the ones responsible for the destruction of the vineyard, were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They had rejected the Landowner’s servants, or the prophets, and now they were going to reject His Son. Wicked tenants controlled the vine. The key emphasis in the prophets and the Gospels is that the Jewish leadership is responsible for leading the nation astray.

    The fourth element, in Psalm 80:12-19, is that ultimately the vine will seek justice and help from ADONAI. In verse 17 of that same Psalm, the specific One that they are asking for is the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God. In other words, the vine will request the return of Messiah.

    And that will lead to the fifth element in Isaiah 27:2-6, when the vineyard seeks God’s help and returns to Him in the millennial Kingdom (see my commentary on Revelation Ev - The Basis for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ). At that point the vine will produce good fruit. The vine and the vineyard are motifs that ADONAI uses for Isra'el.


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