ISAIAH, Part 2

A vineyard in Greece

Isaiah 5:1—7

Chapter 5 of Isaiah completes the prophet’s address which he began back in chapter 2. The first seven verses of chapter 5 are known as “the Song of the Vineyard.” In the original language, it is unquestionably one of the most beautiful songs in Scriptures. It has no rival. The Song of the Vineyard is more than a mere song; it’s more like a symphony that cannot be translated adequately into English.

The “vineyard” in Isaiah’s Song represents the House of Israel (verse 7). Interestingly, the botanical world is a favorite metaphor for Israel throughout the Bible. For example, Israel is also represented by the fig tree.

In simple terms, Isaiah is declaring the soon-coming fall of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, to the Assyrians and the eventual captivity of Judah into the Babylonian Empire. In Matthew, Jesus was illustrating that God had graciously given the Jews a second chance to “get it right” after their 70 year Babylonian captivity. But, as Jesus’ parable taught, the nation failed a second time.

1. The work, verses 1, 2a

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein…

You can’t help but think of the folk singer of the ’60’s as we begin reading Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. We can almost see him sitting on rock, strumming what passed for a guitar in his day, singing the song God had given him.

The opening verses contain a brief but near-perfect summary or outline of Israel’s history. Let’s look at it like that:

  1. The “fruitful hill” refers to the Promised Land, the land God had given His people in His Covenant with them. The land was perfect in every way; there was not a single thing wrong with soil. God had prepared a land especially for His covenant people that suited them right down to the soles of their feet.

  2. Fenced it” in is a picturesque way to describe one of the greatest blessings that comes from a relationship with God: divine protection. God promised that He would fight for Israel. When He brought them up out of Israel, He went before them, literally clearing the way for them to get into the Promise Land, and once there, the promise of protection continued.

  3. Gathered out the stones” suggests that God cleared all obstacles in from of His people as the settled in Canaan. These obstacles included many things, including the godless pagans and their heathen idols.

  4. God furthermore “built a tower,” that is, He established His presence in their midst. He built a Temple where His people could come and worship Him and learn from Him.

  5. The “winepress” speaks of the altar, specifically, the Altar of Sacrifice.

So, God took the nation of Israel out of Egypt and placed them in the Promised Land. He gave them everything they needed to be successful in every way; materially and spiritually. God expected His people to produce the fruits of righteousness. When we consider the conditions in which He placed His people, how could they not?

2. The sad result, verse 2b

…and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.

Complete, utter failure is what happened. Despite having all the advantages, the people failed miserably. What a sharp contrast between the care and concern of the Caretaker of the vineyard and its failure to produce the proper fruit.

But this so typical of how all of God’s people treat God; it is typical of what God has done for us as individuals and as a nation, and how we have treated Him in return. Like the Hebrews before us, we have been led by the Holy Spirit from the bondage of sin and spiritual darkness and planted beside the fruitful hill of Calvary.

When we as Christians claim love for and allegiance to God but live in the flesh, chasing our own desires and fulfilling our own wills instead of caring about what God wants for us, we are like those “wild grapes.” Wild grapes are really “sour grapes” and they are nothing better than weeds and they in no way please God.

God has engineered the conditions of our new lives so that we ought to be producing perfect grapes all the time!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

Given that, if a Christian is producing “sour grapes,” then he is producing something completely unnatural for a Christian to produce. It’s not normal for a born again believer to live unrighteously. Given all that was done for Christians on the Cross, we have a moral responsibility to produce the good fruit God expects us to, just as Israel had the same responsibility.

3. The challenge, verses 3, 4

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?

Summoning the citizens of Jerusalem, God asked them to judge between Him and Israel. In other words, God is wanting to hear their complaints about Him; there must be something wrong with what He has done on their behalf for them to rebel against Him so blatantly. What more could God have done? Could He have shown more mercy and compassion? God is wanting to hear from their own mouths what they think He has done so wrong as to make them so rebellious.

These two verses are full of pathos, indeed. God’s best elicited only the people’s worst. So God issued a challenge.

4. The future, verses 5, 6

And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

This is judgement of the most terrible kind. From Plaintiff to Judge, God now renders His inescapable judgement.

Think about the practicality of such a judgement. Why would a vineyard owner continue to work a field that produced only weeds and rotten grapes? There is no point to it. To expend time, energy, and resources on such an unprofitable vineyard makes absolutely no sense. God, the great cosmic vineyard owner made the only practical decision open to Him: He has no choice but to abandon such a worthless field.

But there would be more that just a walking away involved. Consider how actively God’s judgement would be on Israel:

  • God would take away all protection and the vineyard, Israel, would henceforth face disintegration and degradation;
  • God would withdraw His blessings;
  • God would become the enemy.

Desolation came upon Israel, and eventually Judah, because His divine protection was taken away and His gifts withheld and because He actively campaigned against them. There is no other way to interpret verse 6:

I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

That is what judgement is all about. Can you imagine what life would be like for you if all of a sudden God became your enemy? Not just a passive enemy, but one who actively worked against you? Because of their constant, relentless rebellion, God did just to Israel, and eventually to Judah. In Israel’s day it was a prophecy. In ours, it’s history.

Just what were the “wild grapes” that made God so angry? The rest of the chapter lists them. Let’s see if we have the same produce as Israel had.

  • Coventousness, verses 8—10. The rich defrauded the poor, seizing their land and making it their own.

  • Drunkenness, verses 11—17. While God does not require total abstinence from alcohol, He does warn against drunkenness. Apparently, the Israelites were so addicted to alcohol that they began drinking in the morning and kept going until late in the evening. Isaiah’s words here are very descriptive: the eaters will themselves become the eaten.

  • Carelessness, verses 18, 19. The Living Bible says it like this: “They even mock the Holy One of Israel and dare the Lord to punish them (verse 19).

  • Deception, verse 20. Moral standards had been reworked with new definitions of sin; people were using God’s vocabulary but not His dictionary. This kind of “double-speak”made it easy to lie, cheat, and justify sin. Psalm 12:2 is a powerful verse in this regard: Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.

  • Pride, verse 21. Instead of seeking God for help, they sought help from one another and made decisions based on their wisdom. Sounds a lot like Romans 1:22, Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.

  • Injustice, verses 22—25. Those who were supposed to enforcing the law used their positions of authority to pervert the law.

God’s hand was poised for judgment. He would summon the mighty Assyrian army and use it extract that judgment. The Northern Kingdom of Israel would be utterly destroyed. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, would be punished sternly but eventually, a century later, go into captivity to Babylon. If the people would not repent, only judgment remained.

The more we read Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard, the more uncomfortable we get. Of course, we are not Israel, nor are we Judah. But if God’s people of the past could not escape His judgment, what does that say to us? While we are living in the age of grace, Christians who are no better than God’s people of the past; producing sour, indigestible grapes, will most certainly not escape God’s scrutiny.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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