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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 5


Quite independently of what goes before or after, this chapter opens with a parable, and is thought to have some points of contrast with the preceding prophecy, especially in intensified touches upon vices therein noticed. This would seem to suggest the probable similarity of date, and some similarity of historical facts, in both.

The parable in Isaiah 5:1-7 is marked by great aptness and propriety. And it is instructive to trace present oriental lines in vineyard cultivation. Van Lennep, in his Bible Lands, says: “The process of planting a vineyard and guarding it with a wall or hedge, may be described as follows: The ground having been selected and traced, a ditch is dug along the outside, three or four feet in width and two in depth, the earth being piled upon its inner edge. Into this pile stout poles are set about four feet in height, and branches are twisted and woven in among them, making a thick and solid fence. A vineyard is cultivated for successive centuries, but the vines must be occasionally changed, and at such a time the ground lies fallow for several years. The Hebrews left their vineyards untilled every seventh year, as well as every fiftieth, or jubilee, year. Leviticus 25:4-5; Leviticus 25:11. In process of time, many wild plants, briers, and some few shrubs and trees, spring up and grow within the shadow of the hedge, and, fed by moisture collected in the ditch, make the enclosure more solid and capable of resisting incursions from man or beast. Still the husbandman is obliged, from time to time, to examine all parts of the hedge and close up any gap or breach made by foxes, jackals, hares, badgers, and still more diminutive hedgehogs. It is only when the vineyard proves unproductive, or the grapes become in quality hopelessly bad, that the proprietor neglects the hedge, and allows it to fall to pieces, so that even the wild boar may come and join in its destruction.”

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Verses 1-2

1, 2. Now will I sing Rather, Let me sing. The singing was in the form of chanting. Such was probably the mode of the delivery of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning this “vineyard” the Jewish Church.

To my… beloved In honour of my beloved, Jehovah, Israel’s manifested deity.

Vineyard The vineyard symbolizes Jehovah’s people the tribes of Israel.

Fruitful hill Literally, on the horn of the son of oil; that is, a high and very fat and fragile ridge.

He fenced it Girded the holy land with isolating limits, and separated Israel from the nations with isolating institutions and laws.

Gathered out the stones A necessary work in preparing for a “vineyard.” The expression symbolizes the casting out the idolatrous tribes that encumbered the land.

Planted… choicest vine The noble stock of Abraham.

Tower in… midst Vineyards and gardens required to be watched, and towers and booths, the former especially, in established vineyards were erected. These terms signify watchful protection: they may also denote the moral influence of the temple and its worship in Jerusalem.

Winepress A press was a necessary equipment to a rich vineyard. The expressed juice of the grape is here symbolical of the refreshing spiritual strength derived from the worship of Jehovah.

He looked He expected, awaited, a good crop; symbolic of a fruitful religious character. But wild grapes only appeared; a bad fruitage, emblematic of bad men, bad principles, base idolatry.

Verses 3-7

3-7. So far the parable is left unexplained to the prophet’s hearers. And to them the appeal is, “What is to be done?” Then the explanation begins, but still in a parable. The inquirer answers his own questions.

Will take away… hedge thereof An Eastern “hedge” is composed of thorny plants, which, densely placed in rows around a ground, forms a strong protection against intruders.

The answer in Isaiah 5:4 is in bitter irony. It implies that more would be done if possible, but from the rebellious conduct of Israel that is impossible. It is also God’s divine self-justification. He had done all the best vintner could do for the vineyard, but it would be obstinately bad. Waste and desolation will now ensue, and tempests and war shall at times sweep over it with fury. Rains will be withheld, and famines and general depopulation will follow. In plain words, this “vineyard” of the Lord of the prophet’s “beloved” is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant.

Thence follows the announcement of a series of disciplinary woes, with an enumeration of the popular vices that cause them.

Verse 8

First woe upon great land monopoly, Isaiah 5:8-10.

8. Join house to house… field to field The building of long city blocks, and forming immense estates, by monopolizing landholders.

No place Between the vast landed estates the small farmer was crowded out, “no place” being left for him, and he was turned adrift or reduced to serfdom. Tendencies to such concentration of estates in the hands of great landlords arise in times of great prosperity both in England and America.

Alone… earth Or, rather, land. The great feudal mansions would dot the whole of Judea, each in solitary grandeur. For a similar picture in the Roman empire consult our note on James 5:6. Micah 2:2 contemporaneously with Isaiah confirms his description. The woe on this landed aristocracy was decay and desolation.]

Verses 9-10

9, 10. Many houses shall be desolate Without occupant, desolation dwelling there, because of the invasion invoked below, in Isaiah 5:26-30.

Great and fair Aristocratic though they be.

Ten acres An acre was a space of ground ploughed by a man with a yoke of oxen in one day, about three fourths of an English acre. Ten acres of vineyard, it is estimated, (Kay,) might be expected ordinarily to produce 32,000 pints of wine, or 500 baths, instead of which it is here said they shall produce but one.

A homer About ten bushels, enough to sow ten acres, but here only one bushel is promised. A bath was a liquid measure, in capacity one tenth of a “homer,” a dry measure. Ezekiel 45:11-14. God directly permits devastation like this as a punishment for these specified sins. Compare Leviticus 26:20 with Isaiah 24:7 and Joel 1:10-12.

Verses 11-12

Second woe on high-living and revelry, Isaiah 5:11-12.

In the train of the luxury of the times, drunkenness follows. The woe is deserved because (observe the particularity of the statement) appetite seeks gratification from early morn, through the day, and into night.

11, 12. Strong drink A drink of topers, ( שׁכר , shakar,) made from dates, grain, grapes, and whatever else will produce intoxication.

Till wine “Wine,” here, is from the word יינ , yayin, a term generic of this liquid, whether fermented or not; but here it is fermented and intoxicating, for the latter fact is specifically stated. “Strong drink” is also stated here to originate revelry, and music becomes in request.

The harp The same in kind that David used in chanting his odes. [For figure of the instrument and mode of handling see the next page.]

The viol This was of wood, made hollow, and overstrung. The original word, נבל , nebhel, is generic of the ancient guitar, four forms of which have been taken from the ruins of Egypt.

The tabret A kind of drum, perhaps with strings attached.

The pipe A flute or flageolet.

They regard not God is not in all their thoughts. They look not toward his work… the operation of his hands. These parallel words of course mean the same thing, namely, What God teaches men through nature, providence, and revelation; hence, these instructors being overlooked, God is compelled to teach them by a severer discipline by famine and captivity.

Verse 13

13. Therefore In consequence of the delinquencies that bring down both these woes.

My people Still His, (iii, 12,) but therefore all the more to be chastised. Amos 3:2.

No knowledge They were heedless of what the consequences must be. These they might have known, and ought to have known and heeded.

Their Literally, his; his people of honour, or honourable men, are men of starvation, famished from want of food and drink. This is clearly the sense. Hence, great mortality among them. Hence, too, the next therefore.

Verses 14-15

14, 15. Hell In the Hebrew, sheol, to which, in the New Testament, the corresponding term is hades. The term sheol never means the grave, but always the invisible domain of the dead, whether referring to souls, as usually, or to bodies. See Dr. Burr’s Excursus on Job 7:21. The famished multitudes are making sheol populous with newly departed ones. Hence, enlarged herself means “enlarged” her capacity; and without measure imports ambition for more extensive limits than are decreed to her. Their glory… multitude… pomp, etc. The pronoun “their” doubtless refers to Jerusalem, the fallen Zion, and the nouns belonging to it are the noisy, revelling inhabitants thereof. The common mass, mean… mighty… lofty, are seen tumbling daily into sheol together. Chap. 14, where see notes.

Verse 16

16. The pomp of defiant man is humbled. But the Lord of hosts, he who has at his service all holy ones and agencies, is exalted in judgment, that is, in the exercise of his justice. The future tenses of the Hebrew, here, imply that divine principles are eternally fixed and true. Sanctified in righteousness, namely, at the final restoration of Israel.

Verse 17

17. Then In the day when Jehovah is “sanctified” by Israel.

Lambs any body’s flocks (defined in the next parallel member of the verse) shall feed after their manner, that is, at their pleasure, (literally, at or according to their word,) over the fields of restored Israel. In other words, they shall feed as in their own pasture.

Strangers Nomadic tribes, Gentiles, the present Arabs, and any others who shall be their successors.

The “strangers” are allowed to eat only the waste places of the fat ones of God’s true Israel.

Third woe upon the energetic and defiant transgressors, 18, 19.

Verse 18

18. Draw iniquity [The truly muscular sinners, who put their pluck and power into the business of sin: so that they are like very stout pullers who draw the greatest cartloads with the strongest of ropes. Yet the cords that bind them to the huge loads of iniquity they carry are but cords of vanity, of infatuated folly.]

Verse 19

19. Let him make speed In a tone of defiance they say, Let him come on.

And hasten his work His work of direful providence and threatened judgment.

That we may see it We are ready for him. When he does what he threatens, we will believe him.

Counsel The prophet’s predictions; evident from the words Holy One of Israel, which not they, but only the prophet, would use. In effect they say: “‘The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth.’ Ezekiel 12:22. We doubt their truth. Let him show his hand in these threatened woes. Only then can we believe you, his prophet.”

Verse 20

Fourth woe on the reversers of right and wrong, Isaiah 5:20.

It takes but little time for such sinners wholly to reverse and uproot all moral distinctions, hence another woe is pronounced upon such.

20. That call evil good Those who call “evil,” “good,” and “good,” “evil;” to whom right is to be shunned, and wrong to be preferred; to whom the truth is a lie, and a lie is the truth. The woe is on such for their villainous attempts utterly to deprave the moral principles of the people.

Verse 21

Fifth woe on the scornful self-conceit of errorists, Isaiah 5:21.

21. Wise… prudent Those who conceive they possess the highest wisdom as against God’s wisdom, (administrative wisdom,) thus upsetting ordained social, civil, and moral law. This picture is more vividly given in Romans 1:18; Romans 1:22-23.

Verses 22-23

Sixth woe on public dissoluteness, Isaiah 5:22-23.

Drunkards, too, again receive their woe; (see Isaiah 5:11;) where the people indulge in thoughtless, rollicking dissoluteness.

22, 23. Drink wine… strong drink Here the terrible evil is contemplated as affecting those intrusted with the administrative interests of the nation. How can magistrates with reeling brain and besotted soul adjudge the rights of the poor and the weak?

Verse 24

24. Therefore The general subject of destructive judgments is here resumed from Isaiah 5:14.

As the fire devoureth Very like the stubble and chaff by fire shall Judah’s glory disappear; root and branch it shall be burned up and pass off in air as smoke.

Verse 25

25. The declaration just made is virtually repeated here, probably as a backing to the closing refrain. The verbs of this verse are of the prophetic preterite for future; that is, the ideal standpoint is in the future, from which the prophet sees, in the past, wave after wave of divine judgment rapidly following each other over the nation.

For all this In all this, or notwithstanding all this, God shall inflict still other judgments. Though the blows be heavy, his anger, or ethical intuition, abates not, because his judgments do not, as intended, bring the people to repentance.

Leviticus 26:18; Leviticus 26:23; Leviticus 26:27. (See this dirge-like strain repeated in Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 9:17, and Isaiah 10:4.)

Verses 26-30

The foreign invaders summoned to execute judgment, Isaiah 5:26-30.

26-30. An ensign A signal to nations from afar Assyrians, Babylonians, Parthians, Scythians, perhaps, and finally Romans.

And will hiss This illustrates the preceding words, and is an allusion to the practice of Orientals in managing bees. They hiss or whistle (Zechariah 10:8) in calling swarms from and to their hives. So shall the called armies from afar be obedient and powerful in action and speed. From across the whole earth they shall come swiftly. Their pace shall be without weariness, without demand for sleep, without stumbling, without impeding loosened girdle or sandals. On they come, with arrows sharp, bows bent, hoofs of horses rock proof, and chariots of war flying. On they come, with shouts, as if for certain victory, and they snatch away their prey at a single bound no one resisting. All warring nations, from very early times, made large use of the horse, which to Israel was forbidden, in order to keep the nation religious and peaceful. But horses and mules came all at once into fashion in the reigns of David and Solomon. Horses, inured to rocky bridle paths, seldom fail of foot up and down mountain steeps. As anciently Israel and other world powers, so now Bedouins, Circassians, and Tartars, never shoe their horses, whose faint sense of feeling in their feet secures their surefootedness. The prey which these on-rushing armies are seeking is JUDAH; but it adds to the gloom of the prophecy that Judah is not mentioned. It seems hard for the prophet to let the word pass his lips.

30. In that day they shall roar In this description the transitions are spirited and beautiful. First, the change is from the enemy’s rapid movement to his roaring in expectation of speedy victory; and now, from his roaring as a lion to a roaring as the sea. “Israel is threatened by the raging sea, and, looking landward, sees it growing dark there, until, after being fluctuating, the darkness becomes total.” Alexander.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.