“The Song of the Vineyard”
The Song of the Vineyard is a traditional song of the wine harvest that Isaiah draws upon to describe God’s relationship with His people. Because Israel was basically an agrarian people who lived by the harvest cycles, this song reminded them that the God who authored the seasons of the year is not an arbitrary or capricious God, but is instead one who is consistent in His provisions and ever faithful to His promises.
The first part of the song (Isaiah 5:1-6) speaks to the manner in which God shows His commitment to the flourishing of His people. “Digging” and “planting” are terms that speak to God’s desire to do whatever is necessary to create a good future for those who commit their ways to Him. But God’s expectation is that His vineyard produces, and when it doesn’t, God is most definitely not pleased with the results.
The second part of the song (Isaiah 5:8-23) addresses the specifics of God’s displeasure. God does not turn a deaf ear to the social injustices that characterize the people’s dealings with one another. Throughout this section there is a recurring phrase, “Woe,” that suggests lamentation and grave disappointment. People attain property rights at the expense of others. People dull their senses through excessive merriment.People persist in their rebellion and skepticism. People bear false witness and do not speak the truth.People act self-righteously and refuse to own up to their injustice. Finally, people spurn justice for self-gain and sell one another out. It is not a pretty part of the song, but it is a part that, like a mirror, is necessary to confront the nation with its unseemly side.
The third part of the song (Isaiah 5:24-30) warns the people of what will take place as a consequence of their injustices. God will send a foreign nation, one “far away” (Isaiah 5:26), the Assyrians, who will serve as an instrument of God’s justice in the hopes that Israel will return to Him. The might of their power (Isaiah 5:27-30) should be enough to cause the people to return to God, but unfortunately, their rebellion and self confidence are so great that they will refuse to do so until it is too late.
This song is therefore poignant in its message that God does not will the destruction of His people. Rather,He wills their flourishing and has committed Himself to it. But when people choose to go their own way,what recourse does God have but to allow them to experience the full measure of their transgression, until they come to the place where they return to Him? Only then can God do the work in their hearts that transforms them into the nation He always wanted them to be.
We can learn from Israel’s mistakes. God will not tolerate a proud heart. He will allow us to experience the full measure of our spiritual arrogance. But when we turn in faith to Him as He has turned to us in Jesus, we experience forgiveness for our sin and the promise of His abiding presence that enables us to grow into the people, through Jesus, that even now God is redeeming us to be. What new verses might God want to do in your life this day as you claim His promises through your faith in Jesus?
Isaiah 5:1-30 (ESV):
Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
but behold, an outcry!
8 Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone
in the midst of the land.
9 The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
“Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
as wine inflames them!
12 They have lyre and harp,
tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
or see the work of his hands.
13 Therefore my people go into exile
for lack of knowledge;
their honored men go hungry,
and their multitude is parched with thirst.
14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite
and opened its mouth beyond measure,
and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down,
her revelers and he who exults in her.
15 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
16 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
17 Then shall the lambs graze as in their pasture,
and nomads shall eat among the ruins of the rich.
18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood,
who draw sin as with cart ropes,
19 who say: “Let him be quick,
let him speed his work
that we may see it;
let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near,
and let it come, that we may know it!”
20 Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight!
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine,
and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
and deprive the innocent of his right!
24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,
and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,
so their root will be as rottenness,
and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them,
and the mountains quaked;
and their corpses were as refuse
in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.
26 He will raise a signal for nations far away,
and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come!
27 None is weary, none stumbles,
none slumbers or sleeps,
not a waistband is loose,
not a sandal strap broken;
28 their arrows are sharp,
all their bows bent,
their horses' hoofs seem like flint,
and their wheels like the whirlwind.
29 Their roaring is like a lion,
like young lions they roar;
they growl and seize their prey;
they carry it off, and none can rescue.
30 They will growl over it on that day,
like the growling of the sea.
And if one looks to the land,
behold, darkness and distress;
and the light is darkened by its clouds.