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C. The analogy of wild grapes ch. 5
This is the third and last of Isaiah’s introductory oracles. The first one (ch. 1) introduced the book as a whole by presenting major themes with which the prophet proceeded to deal in chapters 2-66. The second, chiastic one (chs. 2-4), presented the tension between what God intended Israel to be, and what she had become. This third prophetic sermon (ch. 5) was a clever presentation of the present condition of Israel in Isaiah’s day and its consequences. It starts out deceptively as a casual song, transforms into a courtroom drama, and ends with pure condemnation. Isaiah lured his listeners into hearing him with a sweet song and then proceeded to burn them with fiery preaching.
Isaiah offered to sing a song for his good friend about his friend’s "vineyard," a figure for one’s bride (cf. Song of Solomon 1:6; Song of Solomon 8:12). Actually, this song contains a harsh message about another person and His "vineyard," namely: Yahweh and Israel. Isaiah painted a picture of a man cultivating his relationship with his wife, only to have her turn out to be disappointing. But, as would shortly become clear, he was really describing God’s careful preparation of Israel to bring forth spiritual fruit. The man double-fenced his vineyard and built a watchtower and a wine vat (storage tank) in it, indicating that He intended it to satisfy Him for a long time. Yet all His work was for naught; His finest vines (Heb. sorek) disappointed Him. Ezekiel observed that if a vine does not produce fruit, it is good for nothing (Ezekiel 15:2-5; cf. John 15:6).
1. The song of the vineyard 5:1-7
Isaiah, like a folk singer, sang a parable about a vineyard that compared Israel to a vineyard that Yahweh had planted and from which He legitimately expected to receive fruit. One cannot help but wonder if this passage lay behind Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches in John 15:1-6. The prophet’s original audience did not realize what this song was about at first. It started out sounding like a happy wedding song, but it turned out to be a funeral dirge announcing Israel’s death. This chiastic "song" is only the first part of Isaiah’s unified message in this chapter. His song flowed into a sermon. This is the first of several songs in Isaiah (cf. chs. 12, 35; Isaiah 54:1-10; et al.).
"In a way similar to Nathan’s, when he used a story to get King David to condemn his own action (2 Samuel 12:1-7), so Isaiah sets his hearers up to judge themselves . . ." [Note: Oswalt, p. 151.]
Isaiah next appealed to his audience, the people of Jerusalem and Judah, speaking for his well-beloved (God). He asked them for their opinion. What more could he have done to ensure a good crop? Why did his vines produce worthless (sour) grapes? In view of what the owner had done (Isaiah 5:1-2), the answers would have to be: "You could have done nothing more than you did," and: "The grapes were the cause of the disappointment, not you."
The well-beloved explained what he would do to his disappointing vineyard. He would stop protecting it and abandon it to the elements and to its enemies. He would invest no more labor on it and would even stop providing it with the nourishment it needed to flourish. Furthermore, he would assist in its destruction. This sounded like another Hosea and Gomer story (Hosea 1-3).
Isaiah now shocked his audience by identifying the characters in his parable by name. His well-beloved and the owner of the vineyard was Yahweh of Hosts, not some unnamed friend; the vineyard was Israel, not his friend’s wife (cf. Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 3:14; Psalms 80:8-18; Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 12:10; Ezekiel 15:6-8; Hosea 10:1; Matthew 21:33-44); and the Judahites were the individual plants in this unresponsive vineyard.
"Before the fall of Samaria in 722 BC the house of Israel meant either the whole divided nation or its northern component. The prophets did not countenance the division, and whether specifically called to prophesy to north or south they tended to embrace the whole in their ministry (cf. Amos 3:1). Isaiah thus addresses the whole nation and then narrows his vision to the specially privileged men of Judah . . ." [Note: Motyer, p. 69.]
The good fruit God looked for was justice (the righting of wrongs; Heb. mishpat) and righteousness (right relationships; Heb. tsedaqah), but the bad fruit the vines produced was oppression (the inflicting of wrongs; Heb. mispakh) and violence (wrong relationships; Heb. tse’aqah; cf. Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3). Isaiah used paronomasia (a pun) to make his contrasts more forceful and memorable. Instead of mishpat God got mispakh, and instead of tsedaqah He received tse’aqah.
"The assonance would seem to point to the fact that the worthless grapes bore at least an outward resemblance to the good ones. In appearance at least the nation seemed to be the people of God." [Note: Young, 1:204.]
As the vineyard disappointed the Lord, so this song disappointed its original hearers. It proved to be confrontation, not entertainment.
The first quality that spoiled Israel’s fruit was greed, an example of which Isaiah detailed (cf. Micah 2:1). The Israelites were buying out their neighbors, as they had opportunity or made the opportunity, to increase their land holdings. The wealthier or smarter members of the community took advantage of their less fortunate brethren and so deprived them of their opportunity to live on land that God had given them (cf. Leviticus 25:23). The carpetbaggers who descended on the South following America’s Civil War similarly took advantage of many southerners whose farms had been decimated by invading northern troops. They bought up their land for a fraction of its worth and drove the former owners into destitute poverty.
Buying additional land is not wrong in itself, but when it involves abusing other people it becomes wrong. Isaiah was not decrying large farms or estates per se; he was condemning squeezing out the small man to make oneself more prosperous, secure, and admired. Those who did this in his day ended up isolated, rather than enjoying the fellowship of their brethren (cf. Matthew 16:25-26; Colossians 3:5).
God would judge this greed by causing the families of these isolated rich people to dwindle (Isaiah 5:9). Ironically, by the time a person has enough money to build a mansion he is often too old to enjoy it, his family has grown up and moved out, and his spouse may die soon because she is usually old too. God would judge the farmers by decreasing the productivity of their crops (Isaiah 5:10; cf. Deuteronomy 28:20-24; Psalms 106:15; Haggai 1:5-6). The land-hungry would become hungry. No matter how many acres a person may own, God still controls the weather. Agricultural productivity was one of God’s promised blessings under the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:11-12; cf. Isaiah 4:2).
Two initial woes 5:8-12
Sins of the upwardly mobile 5:8-17
This section identifies sins that marked the people among whom Isaiah lived-and their consequences. They are still very much with us.
2. The wildness of the grapes 5:8-25
Yahweh’s crop was worthless because it produced wild grapes that manifested six blights. The word "woe" (Heb. hoy), a term of lament and threat, introduces each one (cf. Amos 5:18; Amos 6:1; Revelation 8:13; Revelation 9:12).
"The word ’woe’ itself, appearing six times in the passage, does not just denounce our sins, it laments our sins. The same word is translated ’Ah!’ in Isaiah 1:4 and ’Alas!’ in 1 Kings 13:30. Remember that ’woe’ is the opposite of the word ’blessed’ (cf. Luke 6:20-26)." [Note: Ortlund, p. 66.]
"He [Isaiah] holds up six clusters of wild grapes, as it were, to illustrate what’s going wrong, six ways we resist the grace of God, six answers to the question ’Why?’ Each is presented with a ’Woe.’" [Note: Ibid., p. 68.]
Two double "therefore" sections break the laments into two groups by concluding them (Isaiah 5:13-14; Isaiah 5:24-25). The "woe" sections emphasize the crop produced, and the "therefore" sections the harvest (judgment) to come. In the "woes" there is a chiastic progression.
A The property motive (Isaiah 5:8-10)
B Self-indulgence (Isaiah 5:11-12)
C Sin pursued (Isaiah 5:18-19)
C’ Sin justified (Isaiah 5:20)
B’ Self-conceit (Isaiah 5:21)
A’ The money motive (Isaiah 5:22-23) [Note: Adapted from Motyer, p. 70. For a rhetorical critical study of the passage, see Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Structure, Style, and the Prophetic Message: An Analysis of Isaiah 5:8-30," Bibliotheca Sacra 143:569 (January-March 1986):46-60.]
One writer saw saw six things the Lord hates in these sections: greed (Isaiah 5:8), hedonism (Isaiah 5:11-13), rebellion (Isaiah 5:18-19), immorality (Isaiah 5:20), pride (Isaiah 5:21), and injustice (Isaiah 5:22-23). [Note: Dyer, p. 531]
The second blight on the "grapes" was pleasure-seeking. In Isaiah’s day this vice manifested itself in drinking too much wine and strong drink, usually at a continuous round of parties (cf. Isaiah 22:13; Isaiah 28:1-8; Hosea 7:5; Joel 3:3; Amos 6:6). These people were "party animals" who paid no attention to the Lord or His works. Seeking pleasure is not wrong in itself unless it becomes too absorbing, as it had with many Israelites. Too much partying produces insensitivity to spiritual things.
"When the passion for pleasure has become uppermost in a person’s life, passion for God and his truth and his ways is squeezed out." [Note: Oswalt, p. 160.]
The result of driving other people off their land and living only for pleasure would be, ironically, that the Israelites would be driven off their land and enjoy little pleasure. Instead of more food and drink there would be famine and parched throats for all the people (cf. Isaiah 3:16-24). Each of the two double "therefore" sections contains a short description of the immediate consequences of the sins just mentioned (Isaiah 5:13; Isaiah 5:24), and then a longer description of the long-term results (Isaiah 5:14-17; Isaiah 5:24). Carousing would end in captivity.
The first explanation for the coming judgment 5:13-17
Instead of pleasure-seekers opening their throats to drink wine, Sheol (the place of the dead) would open her throat to drink down the pleasure-seekers. This divine punishment would befall all the people because they shared the pride that marked the property-hungry and the pleasure-mad (cf. Isaiah 2:9). The offenders’ actions showed that they really did not know Yahweh in any life-changing way; the knowledge of God had had no practical effect on the way they lived.
"The word sheol (an infinitive form, like pekod) signified primarily the irresistible and inexorable demand made upon every earthly thing; and then secondarily, in a local sense, the place of the abode of shades, to which everything on the surface of the earth is summoned; or essentially the divinely appointed curse which demands and swallows up everything upon the earth." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:172.]
In contrast to the humiliation of the Israelite proud, Yahweh of armies would enjoy exaltation because what characterizes Him is the opposite of what marked His people, namely: justice and righteousness.
"Righteousness is holiness expressed in moral principles; justice is the application of the principles of righteousness (cf. Isaiah 1:21)." [Note: Motyer, p. 72.]
This difference between God and His people is an aspect of His holiness (i.e., His moral purity; cf. Isaiah 6:3). When God’s people were humiliated and He would be exalted, innocent lambs and unknown strangers would enjoy the property that the proud sought to secure. The Israelites had once been the strangers in this land, but now other strangers would dispossess them. God does not delight in taking revenge, but He has committed Himself to remaining true to His covenant with Israel.
The Israelites were deliberately sinning. They had not innocently fallen into sin, but they were pursuing it willfully. Rather than fleeing from it, they were holding it close to themselves. Even worse, they were doing so in an attempt to bait God to respond. They believed that He would not punish them. Their ties with sin were like the cords that the people used to lead their animals and the cart ropes that were much stronger and harder to break.
Four additional woes 5:18-23
Sins of the cynically unbelieving 5:18-25
Isaiah proceeded to expose the attitude that resulted in the people not allowing their knowledge of God to affect the way they lived (cf. Isaiah 5:13). They thought that God would not act and that they knew what was better for themselves than He did. The prophet identified more "sour grapes" that issued from these attitudes.
The fourth bad product of the Israelite vineyard was perversity. The people were calling good what God called evil, and vice versa. For example, glorifying adultery and treating committed believers as dangerous radicals turns the truth on its head. They were mocking God’s ways publicly and privately. They refused to accept the standard of God’s revelation.
"Moral standards were destroyed by new definitions of sin (see Amos 5:7), people using God’s vocabulary but not His dictionary." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 17.]
Their fifth error was conceit. They thought they were wiser and cleverer than Yahweh.
Sixth, they had adopted corrupt values. They glorified the "macho man" who did things that appeared great but were nothing more than sophisticated childishness. The more a person could drink, the greater the people honored him. They thought it "smart" to profit from the misfortune of others, even though that ran counter to God’s will. Corrupt judges could do this easily (cf. Proverbs 17:15).
"There is a reason why people binge on escapism. They are medicating their despair." [Note: Ortlund, p. 72.]
The people had challenged God to act speedily (Isaiah 5:19), and Isaiah assured them that He would. God in judgment is seen as an external fire that would consume His people. He would also be to them as an internal disease that decimates a whole plant, from roots to shoots. The reason for judgment is the people’s rejection of mighty Yahweh’s revealed will (cf. Isaiah 5:12).
The second explanation for the coming judgment 5:24-25
The second double "therefores" (cf. Isaiah 5:13-14) announce God’s judgment for the sins mentioned in Isaiah 5:18-22, but also those identified since Isaiah 5:8. The condemnation is cumulative.
In fact, many judgments had already come against Judah in her history (cf. 2 Chronicles 28:5-6). God was removing the hedge and breaking down the wall around His vineyard (cf. Isaiah 5:5). Nevertheless the nation had not repented, so more judgment would come.
The Judahites had taunted God to act in judgment, and had concluded that because He had not destroyed them, He could not. The prophet now revealed that Yahweh, as sovereign not only over their nation but over all nations, was preparing to call a foreign power to punish them (e.g., Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia). All He had to do was raise a flag, as in battle to summon troops, or whistle and they would respond swiftly, even though they resided in a remote part of the earth. The Assyrian army prided itself on its maneuverability and quickness. [Note: Watts, p. 65.]
"The second figure is taken from a bee-master, who entices the bees, by hissing or whistling, to come out of their hives and settle on the ground." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:182.]
3. The coming destruction 5:26-30
The two brief sections explaining the reasons for Judah’s judgment (Isaiah 5:13-17; Isaiah 5:24-25) give way to fuller clarification of these reasons here. This section is the climax of Isaiah’s message in chapter 5.
Israel’s enemy was ready and prepared to do the Lord’s bidding. She would devour Judah as hungry lions consume their prey.
The enemy’s attack would be as irresistible as the pounding of waves on a shore. This may be one of many prophetic comparisons between the Gentile nations and the waters of the sea. Israel would find no hope by looking to the land for help because the clouds of God’s wrath would darken it and make it foreboding. Israel would find no help anywhere, not from the sea or from the land.
". . . when the predicted darkness had settled upon the land of Judah, this would not be the end; but there would still follow an alternation of anxiety and glimmerings of hope, until at last it had become altogether dark in the cloudy sky over all the land of Judah . . ." [Note: Ibid., p. 185.]
This prophecy looks at a judgment coming on Judah and Jerusalem that was not far away in time. Perhaps the Assyrian invasion of the land that took place at the end of the eighth century (in 701 B.C.) fulfilled it. Judah receded to a lower level from which she did not recover after this invasion. Perhaps it is also significant that the founding of Rome occurred about this time, since it was another power that God raised up to humble His people.
"Thus Isaiah ends his preface. The message of the first two sections (Isaiah 1:2-31; Isaiah 2:1 to Isaiah 4:6) is that human sin cannot ultimately frustrate God’s purposes and that, in God, mercy triumphs over wrath. But the third section (Isaiah 5:1-30) poses a shattering question: When the Lord has done all (Isaiah 5:4), must the darkness of divine wrath close in and the light flicker and fade? This was the day of crisis in which Isaiah ministered: a crisis for humankind, for the day of wrath has come and a crisis for God: can mercy be exhausted and defeated?" [Note: Motyer, p. 73.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany