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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 5

Verses 1-7


In this chapter we have three sections:
1. The LORD and the failed vineyard of Israel (Isaiah 5:1-Judges :);
2. a sixfold woe over the people and their leaders (Isaiah 5:8-:);
3. the judgments of the LORD on the people (Isaiah 5:24-Amos :).

The Vineyard Song

Isaiah, in whom the Spirit of Christ speaks, now uses a new way to speak to Israel, namely through a song. It is a song in which he sings the love of the LORD for His people (Isaiah 5:1). He wants to sing for his Well-beloved, the LORD. He is like the friend of the Bridegroom who rejoices over the Bridegroom (John 3:29-Amos :). The LORD is the object of his song.

It is a love song, just like Song of Songs, and is about a vineyard (cf. Song of Solomon 2:15). However, the identity of those involved remains covered. Isaiah does not mention any names. Nathan also uses this veiled way of telling a narrative in the history he tells David (2 Samuel 12:1-Numbers :). It is not said who the “well-beloved” and “beloved” is and who the “vineyard” is. This holds the attention of the listeners. As the song progresses, their indignation about the vineyard increases until at the end of the section, in Isaiah 5:7, the true identity of the Beloved and of the vineyard is revealed as a bolt from the blue.

In the song we are moved to a courtroom (Isaiah 5:3-Numbers :; cf. Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 3:14-Ezra :), where the song becomes an indictment because of the lack of response to the love and patience of the Beloved. The song ends with leaving the figurative description to identify the house of Israel – for that is the vineyard – as the object of God’s anger (Isaiah 5:5-Judges :).

Isaiah sings about what the Well-beloved – that is, as we know, the LORD – has done for His people. In the picture of the vineyard he sings Israel, as God saw the people at the beginning of their history in the promised land. The vineyard stood on a “fertile hill”, so on fertile ground (Deuteronomy 8:7-1 Samuel :), which is the land of Canaan.

Then it says: “He dug it all around, removed its stones.” This means that He drove the heathen peoples with their idols out of the land. By the “choicest vine” with which He planted him are meant the Israelites (Jeremiah 2:21; Psalms 80:8-1 Samuel :; Hosea 10:1). Furthermore, He built “a tower” in the middle of it, which refers to the central city of Jerusalem that He built to establish His Name there (Proverbs 18:10). That tower was also a watchtower where the priests lived who had to guard against the intrusion of wrong influences.

The “wine vat” that He hewed out of it, can be recognized in the temple. There the people would bring Him the fruit of the land, the sacrifices, in order to express their worship and praise by the working of His Spirit. He was looking forward to that glorious result after all the work He had put into it. The end of the song, however, is an anticlimax. Instead of the good grapes He could expect from all His efforts, the vine produced worthless grapes.

After Isaiah sang in his song the detailed description of the efforts of the LORD for an optimal result, we suddenly are into a courtroom (Isaiah 5:3). The LORD Himself speaks now, a speech that goes through to Isaiah 5:7. He asks “the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Judah” in a trial to judge between Him and His vineyard. He asks them for a judgment, by which He forces them to let the situation take its proper effect on themselves.

He is the Prosecutor, Who at the same time defends Himself by asking them what they think He could have done more than He did (Isaiah 5:4). Were His expectations too high by expecting good grapes after taking so much care of them, while it only produced worthless grapes? To ask the question is to answer it.

The way in which the LORD addresses these people is remarkable. He poses as someone who has a complaint against the vineyard and asks for their judgment. As if they as righteous judges were able to judge! But the men of Judah are the plants themselves. In a subtle way the LORD actually asks for a willingness to judge themselves. Instead of making an accusation, their judgment is asked for, by which the love, which is the source of this approach, hopes for willingness to self-examination. But there is no answer.

We hear how God wonders out loud whether the vineyard bears the fruit He could expect after all He has done to it. This is a principle that can be generally applied, not only to the Jews, but also to the church and to each individual. If the church has received more than the Jews, God has the right to expect the church to produce more for Him. If someone claims to know the glory of Christ, then He may expect his life to correspond to that. That is the true fruit for which the believer is on earth.

The Prosecutor then announces what He is going to do with His vineyard (Isaiah 5:5). Preceded by a solemn “so now” He announces the verdict of His worthless vineyard. After all, a vineyard that does not produce fruit is completely worthless. The only thing for which a vine is useful is to bear fruit. Its wood is without fruit too worthless to be suitable for anything but firewood (Ezekiel 15:2-Deuteronomy :).

The Prosecutor will also carry out the verdict himself. His retaliation for their rebellion is imminent and inevitable. He will take away their protection, “his hedge”, so that they become a prey for the nations. As a result, the land will be consumed. He will “break down its wall” so that the enemy can enter and trample them.

He will lay the whole land “waste” (Isaiah 5:6). He will do this so thoroughly that it will not be “pruned” or “hoed,” which means that there will be no activity to bear fruit. Thus, instead of delicious fruit, the land will produce only “briars and thorns”, the symbols of sin (Genesis 3:18).

In Isaiah 5:6 the listeners suddenly hear that the vine grower, the beloved one who speaks of his vineyard, “will charge the clouds to rain no rain on it” (cf. Deuteronomy 11:17). Until now they have listened to the song without thinking that the beloved or the vineyard represent certain persons. But now they hear something amazing, something that makes them suspicious. They hear the vineyard owner say that he will “charge the clouds to rain no rain on it”. Surely only the LORD can say such a thing, isn’t it? How would a man charge the clouds to do something? Surely only God can do that, isn’t it? And indeed, so it is.

This is the time for the explanation of figurative speaking (Isaiah 5:7). The Prosecutor suddenly confronts the house of Israel with the fact that they are the vineyard of the previous verses and that He, the LORD, is the Well-loved over Whom the song is about. It seems as if we hear Nathan say to David, after he has told his parable: “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). The Prosecutor is not Isaiah, but the LORD Himself!

In short, the vineyard is Israel, the joy of the LORD and the work of His hands to His glorification (Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3). The joy He wanted to find in His people also has to do with His love for them. They are “His delightful plant”. He chose them from all nations to be His people, the special object of His love. That is why He took so much care of them. But instead of finding justice and righteousness that He expects as a fruit, He finds oppression and violence. That is why the judgment on Israel can no longer be averted.

Isaiah 5:7 in Hebrew is a beautiful wordplay: mispatmispach which can be translated with “good governance” – “blood governance” and: tsedakahtseakah which can be translated “law observance” – “law oppression” (= crying of oppressed persons). Just as these words, at least, in Hebrew resemble each other, so in a certain sense the worthless grapes resemble the good grapes. In the same way the evildoers look like religious people, whereas in reality they are full of iniquity (cf. Matthew 23:28).

The lesson of this section is clear. It is possible to routinely perform religious acts, to live outwardly in conformity with Scripture, while the true dedication of the heart to Christ is lacking. The first love is gone and with it the true spiritual power. This opens the door to ever coarser forms of evil. The Lord stands at the door and He knocks (Revelation 3:20). He is waiting for an answer from everyone who truly desires to have fellowship with Him in truth, in accordance with His will and way.

The vineyard is destroyed, but not forever. Later we find the promise that the vineyard will be restored (Isaiah 27:2-Joshua :). That will happen in the end time. It does not mean that until that time God is without vineyard and without fruit from the vineyard.

First of all, the Lord Jesus has taken the place of the failing Israel as the true vine. He says of Himself: “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). His life was all joy before God. He is the true ‘delightful plant’ of God, because in Him God finds all His delight.

Secondly, the Lord Jesus shows in a parable that the vineyard, the kingdom of God, will be connected with another people, Christianity (Matthew 21:33-John :). In Christianity, everyone who is connected to the true vine, Christ, bears fruit for God (John 15:2; John 15:8).

Verses 8-10

The First Woe

The resemblance of the vineyard is followed by a sixfold “woe” over the “worthless” grapes (cf. Isaiah 5:2) produced by the people. In it God pleads against the people and shows them their sins, their ‘worthless grapes’, in detail. We also see this order in the Gospel according to Matthew. First the Lord Jesus tells a parable of a vineyard (Matthew 21:33-Mark :). A little further, He pronounces a sevenfold woe on the leaders of the people (Matthew 23:13-Zephaniah :).

The first woe of Isaiah is about greed and greediness (Isaiah 5:8; cf. Isaiah 57:17; Micah 2:2). We recognize this ‘worthless grape’ in the unbridled materialism of our days. It is the urge for always more. If necessary, others are robbed of their possessions. The picture is selfishness in its highest form, someone who has surrounded himself with everything he wants and lets no one else share in it. This goes against God’s commandments not to steal and not to covet (Exodus 20:15; Exodus 20:17), by which He protects the private property of the members of His people. It is the property He has entrusted to each member.

Those who are guilty of this greed violate the LORD’s ordinance (Numbers 36:7; 1 Kings 21:1-Leviticus :), for the land always remains the property of the LORD (Leviticus 25:23). They do not think of returning the property to the original owner in the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:10; Leviticus 25:13). Had they done so, they would have received rich fruit (Leviticus 25:18-Psalms :).

The LORD has communicated the judgment on this dealing to Isaiah in his ears, which means to him personally. He has been told that the LORD will see to it that they will not benefit from their greed (cf. Haggai 1:6; Haggai 1:9). Their beautiful houses will be destroyed and life will disappear from them because the occupants will perish (Isaiah 5:9). A house can still be so beautiful, but when life is gone from it, it is dead.

Also the land will barely yield anything (Isaiah 5:10). A vineyard of “ten acres” will yield only between twenty and forty-five liters of wine – a bath is presumably between twenty and forty-five liters. And a homer of seed – a homer is presumably between two hundred and four hundred and fifty liters – will yield only an ephah – an ephah is presumably between twenty and forty-five liters. This means that the sown seed will yield only ten percent or less.

To this we can apply the saying: ill-gotten gains never benefit anyone. The lesson is: if we forget that everything we have belongs to Christ and appropriate it to ourselves, spiritual dryness and lack will strike us (cf. Psalms 106:15).

Verses 11-17

The Second Woe

The second woe (Isaiah 5:11) is about the hedonists, people addicted to pleasure, the “lovers of pleasure” (2 Timothy 3:4). They see life as a great feast and drink themselves full of intoxicating “strong drink”, which in those days was made from fermented dates, honey, and barley. Such a life is worthless, it can be compared to worthless grapes. There is nothing in their lives in which God can find joy. On the contrary, He is disgusted by it. People who live like that are addicted to that way of life. Someone who wakes up in the morning and as first of his action reach for the bottle is certainly addicted to alcohol (cf. Ecclesiastes 10:16; Acts 2:13-Ezra :). If you are intoxicated, you at least forget the nasty things in life. It is like opium.

Inside, inwardly, intoxicated and outside surrounded and stunned by noise is the ‘ideal’ situation to ensure that they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD, that they have no interest in them (Isaiah 5:12; cf. Amos 6:4-Deuteronomy :). They do not “consider the work of His hands”. They are completely blind for what the LORD does.

Today we see how people are completely absorbed in alcohol and drugs, in heavy metal and death metal music that makes them insensitive to any signal that warns them of the deadly consequences. As a result, they sink lower than animals that instinctively still make good choices (Isaiah 1:3). It must be clear to us that these things can also be found among those who call themselves Christians. The use of strong drink and drugs is not just a practice of the world around us, but occurs extensively among Christian youth.

This lack of understanding of the LORD’s deeds, this lack of knowledge of Him, becomes fatal to them (Isaiah 5:13; Hosea 4:6). As a result, they do not realize that they will go into exile. The high-income elite will “famish”. The “multitude”, the wicked ‘ordinary’ population, will die of thirst.

They will meet the skinny reaper, with his throat wide open and his mouth wide open like a greedy monster is ready to devour them (Isaiah 5:14). Without them noticing it, the nobility and the average human being are howling and hopping exuberantly to that all and everyone devouring monster. In this way they descend dancing and swinging down into the endless black hole.

Then it’s over and done with all that cheering and hopping. Of all the pride of both the common man and the man of prestige nothing remains. They both bend their knees under judgment. The common man, like the important man, has lived only for himself and was not inferior to the important man. Both have had their eyes open to everything in pride, except for the LORD. Their eyes will have been abased forever (Isaiah 5:15).

God will enforce recognition of His attributes and rights (Philippians 2:9-1 Kings :). The downfall of the arrogant man is the result of the judgment of “the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 5:16). He will be exalted by the exercise of the judgment, which sharply contrasts with the humiliation of man. This sharp contrast also exists between the unholy behavior of man and the holiness of God, Who is emphasized here as “the holy God”. His holiness is expressed in the maintenance of His righteousness.

Righteousness and holiness are the characteristics of the new man, who “has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24). As a result, the believer who belongs to the church is able to do righteousness in the midst of evil. While he is surrounded by evil, he can live in holiness, which means separated to God.

When the people are gone into exile, shepherds of foreign nations will let their sheep graze in the deserted land as if it were their own (Isaiah 5:17). Foreigners will feast on what God intended for His own people, but which His people have feasted on themselves in unbridled greed. After the judgment, they leave everything behind and strangers will eat it. This is literally fulfilled by the Arabs who lived there for centuries, while Jerusalem was in the hands of islamic peoples.

Verses 18-19

The Third Woe

The third woe is pronounced on the next ‘worthless grape’ and that is on those who are addicted to iniquity. With lying tricks they commit iniquity (Isaiah 5:18). It is not without sarcasm that Isaiah depicts animals carrying a burden. The burden of iniquity lies high on the cart of sin which these people drag with ropes. The underlying idea is that the act of committing small iniquities, “cords of falsehood”, will gradually lead to coarser iniquities, “sin as if with cart ropes”. They believe that they control their sinful activities. But it is the other way around: “He will be held with the cords of his sin” (Proverbs 5:22).

While, as slaves to sin, they plod toward judgment, they are challenging God (Isaiah 5:19). With pruning language they defy Him to put His warnings into action: ‘If you are there, show yourself, do something!’ This is the height of audacity and blasphemy (cf. Matthew 27:42; 2 Peter 3:2-Leviticus :; Ecclesiastes 8:11; Jeremiah 17:15). They don’t hesitate to abuse and scorn the Name of “the Holy One of Israel”, the Name Isaiah always uses to make God’s holiness stand out in the face of the unholiness of the people. It shows their hardening, which Isaiah must seal in the next chapter (Isaiah 6:9-2 Samuel :).

Verse 20

The Fourth Woe

In this verse Isaiah points to the fourth ‘worthless grape’: turning moral principles upside down. About this comes the fourth woe. Knowingly and willingly they turn values and norms upside down. They reverse everything God has said. What God calls evil, they call good and vice versa. That is an abomination for the LORD (Proverbs 17:15). They do the same with darkness and light and with bitter and sweet. False teachings are presented as truth and the truth is made out to be a lie.

This is highly topical in our days. Gays have to be able to get married and marriage as such is presented as a squeezing yoke. Abortion, i.e. murder in the womb, must be possible, but the death penalty – which God prescribes in case of murder – is abolished as murder and inhumane. It is the foolish reversal of things by man without God.

First comes the negative, to which they assign a positive meaning. The consequence cannot be other than that they change the positive into something negative. We see this strongly with the Pharisees who attribute the work of the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit to Beelzebub (Mark 3:22-Joel :).

“It is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God” (Jeremiah 2:19), but they say it is good. They imitate the devil who told Eve that it was not evil, but good to eat from the forbidden tree. Asaph says: ”The nearness of God is my good” (Psalms 73:28), but they say it is evil. In everything they deliberately contradict the precepts and the revealed will of the LORD. Not only do they declare His will invalid, but they twist it and knowingly go against it. This is one of the characteristics of the end time (Romans 1:32).

Verse 21

The Fifth Woe

The fifth woe strikes the pride and complacency of those who are wise in their own eyes (cf. Proverbs 3:7). This too is such a ‘worthless grape’. Someone who reverses values finds himself wise and his own opinion clever. Someone who boasts of his own wisdom and intellect, produces a stench that cannot be tolerated. This attitude stems from the attitude we see under the two previous woes. It is an attempt at self-justification, which leads to the searing of the conscience.

Verses 22-23

The Sixth Woe

The sixth woe comes over the leaders of the people. They too are totally ruined. They are now described as the lovers of wine, the men who boast of knowing how to prepare it (Isaiah 5:22). What they do also is worthless and stinks. With an undertone of sarcasm Isaiah compares these leaders with “heroes” and calls them “valiant men”.

It’s the boasters, the brawlers, people who are easily bribed, because they don’t follow any principles (Isaiah 5:23). Because of their misty gaze, they have no view of the law. They don’t take it so closely with the law and twist it when they can benefit from it. They are addicted to power and enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. We see this with all kinds of rulers throughout the centuries. We also see it in the false shepherds (Ezekiel 34:1-Joshua :) and in the characteristics of the antichrist (Zechariah 11:15-Esther :).

The spiritual counterpart of “being heroes in drinking wine” is being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This leads to a clear discernment between what is of God and what is not.

Verses 24-30

The Distant Nation

With a “therefore” and a “on this account” (Isaiah 5:24-Lamentations :) follows God’s irrevocable judgment. The vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-Judges :) turns out to be totally depraved. There is only one remedy: total judgment. The Divine judgment on all this is compared to a “tongue of fire” (Isaiah 5:24) which will lick up everything they boast about as if it were “stubble” and “dry grass”. In the same sense, “their root will become like rot” and will have no life force to make the fruit tree bear fruit above the ground. As a result, “their blossom”, their splendor and the promise of fruit, will “blow away as dust”. No fruit will emerge and there will be nothing left of what seemed to become a harvest.

This judgment will affect them because they have “rejected the law of the LORD of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel”. They have treated with contempt the law, the written word of the LORD, and the oral statements of the Holy One of Israel through His prophets. The title “the Holy One of Israel”, regularly mentioned by Isaiah, makes clear in a special way the enormous distance that exists between man’s sin and the holiness of God.

Their rejection of Him has ignited His anger (Isaiah 5:25). Because they have rejected Him, He will send a mighty enemy against them, His people. Because of that enemy, He stretches His hand against them to strike them down, that is to punish them. The thorny hedge and the walls of the vineyard are removed so that this enemy can come unhindered to destroy them, as it is said in Isaiah 5:5 in the song of the vineyard.

The marching through of this enemy – Assyria, prophetically the king of the North – will make the mountains quake. His attacks will make the streets look like refuse. And that is not the end of the judgments. The people will be beaten even more fiercely. Therefore, “His anger is not spent, but His hand is still stretched out” (Isaiah 5:25), an expression that describes the progress of God’s judgment (Isaiah 9:11; Isaiah 9:16Isaiah 9:20; Isaiah 10:4).

In Isaiah 5:26-Amos : follows a description of the invasion of the Assyrians. The description also refers to the invasion of the king of the North in the end time (Daniel 11:40). The LORD gives the starting signal for the advancement of the enemy. He lifts up a standard as a sign for the enemy to go to Jerusalem and fight as His army against His apostate people (Isaiah 5:26). What a change compared to the time when He was their “Banner” (Exodus 17:15)! Just as a beekeeper whistles his bees to himself, so the LORD will gather the enemy’s armies as His bees (Isaiah 7:18). They will come with speed swiftly.

It is a tireless army because it is provided with superhuman strength by the LORD (Isaiah 5:27). They have no need for sleep or rest. There is no indulgence. Material failure will not occur. What the LORD did to His people in the wilderness, He does here with the army He sends to His people (cf. Deuteronomy 8:4).

It is an army that is fully prepared for its task, with soldiers holding the weapons for immediate use (Isaiah 5:28). They proceed at lightning speed, without fear and without compassion. The army attacks like a lion, roars, grabs its prey, and drags it away (in captivity) without any possibility of escape, and without anyone being able to come to their aid (Isaiah 5:29).

The expression “in that day” shows that the events that were coming then will repeat themselves in the future and then lead to a final result. The “growl over it … like the roaring of the sea” is an indication for the advancing armies that take possession of the land like flooding waters (Isaiah 8:7; Daniel 9:26). For God’s people there will be only “darkness [and] distress” in that day, with no view of light (Isaiah 5:30). “For what purpose [will] the day of the LORD [be] to you? It [will be] darkness and not light” (Amos 5:18).

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 5". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.