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Monday, June 9, 2014

Isaiah 5: The Parable of the Vineyard

Isaiah 5: The Parable of the Vineyard

Isaiah sings. His beloved had a vineyard, planted with vines, provided with a watchtower. But the vineyard yielded only wild grapes. Now the Beloved takes up the song: Why did my vineyard yield only wild grapes? He plans to destroy his vineyard, trampling the vines, commanding the rain to withhold its rain.

The vineyard is the nation of Israel. God had made the nation his people and he had looked for justice and righteous, but got only bloodshed and outcry. Through Isaiah God pronounces judgement upon his people. Their haughty affluence would become desolate. Their disregard of the LORD will bring them into exile, hunger, thirst and death. God will exalt himself as holy when the land is broken and empty. Those who are wise in their own eyes, those who treasure their lies and wickedness, those who reject the law of the LORD and despise his holiness will be struck by the LORD's anger. Invaders from far away will lay siege and bring dark distress to the land.

Verses 1-7: God rejects his vineyard.

Isaiah asks the reader to imagine the nation of Israel as a vineyard planted by the LORD. The vineyard has been well provided and carefully tended, but it yields wild grapes, completely useless. In anger the LORD tramples the vineyard, making it a dry wasteland of weeds.

Isaiah 5:1-2 (ESV) Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 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.

There evidently grew a type of plant which had the appearance of grapes, yet was poisonous.

Isaiah's parable describes the LORD's desire to make of Israel a chosen people, rich and beautiful in his sight. Yet their hearts had become full of the stink of poison.

Long before Isaiah, Moses was inspired to use a similar reference to describe Israel's future apostasy and faithlessness:

Deuteronomy 32:32-33 (ESV) For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter; their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps.

The LORD had provided everything the people had needed. There was nothing lacking or poorly done in order for them to thrive spiritually and physically. Why had their lives fallen so short from God's desire? Through Isaiah, God answers that question in an earlier chapter:

Isaiah 3:8 (ESV) For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence.

In consequence of their sin, the LORD ruins the vineyard.

Isaiah 5:5-6 (ESV) 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. 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.

In verse seven, the LORD intended the nation of Israel to be a pillar of justice and righteousness, but they disregarded their God. Notice Isaiah's play on words:

A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. ("Parable" is from Greek "parabole", placing side by side.) Isaiah plainly connects the story of the vineyard with the history of Israel.

What do you think?

Verses 8-23: God Brings Condemnation

Isaiah condemns sin that demonstrates the people's disregard and ignorance of the LORD. For their sin the LORD decrees upon them exile, suffering and death.

Isaiah describes six instances of woe:

  • Accumulation of houses and fields (verse 8)
  • Addiction to alcohol (verse 11)
  • Adoration of iniquity and falsehood (verse 18)
  • Alternating evil for good (verse 20)
  • Acting wise in one's own eyes (verse 21)
  • Adjudicating perversely (verse 23)

What do you think?

Look back over the six references to "woe". For each reason for woe, can you determine why they are a slap in God's face? How does each act of sin described here contradict an eternal, unchanging truth about God? What lies are being passed off as truth?

Verses 24-25: God Erupts In Anger.

The six woes in the previous section may be summed up by the condemnation found in verse 24:

Isaiah 5:24 (ESV) ...They have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

The LORD's anger erupts against the rebellious, ignorant, perverse hearts of the people.

Isaiah 5:25 (ESV) 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.

Amos was a prophet in north Israel, preaching at the same time as Isaiah. God appears to have also revealed to Amos the impending earthquake.

Amos 1:1 (ESV) The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

Uzziah and Jeroboam both reigned as kings in the years 792-793 BC.

Isaiah previously revealed the object or purpose of God's anger:

Isaiah 5:15-16 (ESV) Man is humbled, and each one is brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are brought low. But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.

Many people may point to a devestating earthquake as evidence of the lack of any divine Protector or Sovereign. Others may see the earthquake as proof of a harsh, unloving, self-serving divine Tyrant.

Over one hundred years after Uzziah and Jeroboam, after the predicted invasion and conquest by enemy nations, one of the last kings of Israel, Josiah, experienced the humility of being brought low through neglect of God's Word.

2 Kings 22:13 (ESV) Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.

The king pleaded for mercy and repented in tears, and God comforted him.

2 Kings 22:19 (ESV) Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD.

This was the objective of God in making the earth to quake. This was the purpose of God sending Isaiah and the other prophets to warn the people.

What do you think?

Verses 26-30: God Brings War

The earthquake was to serve as a warning of even greater wrath to come.

Isaiah 5:26 (ESV) 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!

"Whistling" is a reference to beekeeping. Bees were drawn out of thier hives by the sound of a flute, or hissing, or whistling (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

Later, Isaiah will reveal more detail regarding the invading armies.

Isaiah 7:18 (ESV) In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.

About seven centuries earlier, Moses had warned the Israelites of the same doom:

Deuteronomy 28:49-50 (ESV) The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.

The beginning of the end for Israel began in the days of Pekah and Hoshea, kings of Israel:

2 Kings 15:29 (ESV) In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.

2 Kings 17:6-7 (ESV) In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God.

The days of Pekah and Hoshea were from 752-722 BC, about 40 years after Isaiah's warning given to King Uzziah.

This section ends as if one were to be on a ship at sea, with the waves growling amid a terrible storm. The sailors look toward land, hoping for safe harbor and escape from the angry sea. But all they see is darkness and distress.

All of us have experienced dark, narrow places, and it's easy to relate to spiritual and emotional darkness and distress. Yet we know that God is sovereign. We know that God is good. If he allows dark, narrow circumstances to crowd and and cramp us, what is his purpose? What does he expect from us in the difficult times?

What do you think?

What does this passage teach us?

photo credit: bluestardrop - Andrea Mucelli via photopin cc