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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 5

 

 

Verses 1-7

Isaiah 5:1-7. The Parable of the Thankless Vineyard.—Isaiah probably at a vintage festival, when Judæans from the country (Isaiah 5:3), as well as the inhabitants of Jerusalem, are present, comes forward as a minstrel. He sings this song of his friend's vineyard in light popular measure, making it attractive with beautiful plays upon words. He skilfully heightens the interest of his hearers, and by concealing the true nature of the vineyard he wins from them a mental self-condemnation. Then he throws off the mask and points the moral in a sentence made unforgettable by a pair of splendid assonances. The date is quite uncertain, but it may belong to the same period as Isaiah 2:6 to Isaiah 4:1

The minstrel sings of his Beloved. He had chosen for his vineyard the most suitable situation. It was on a hill for the sake of the sunny exposure, and as the soil was very fertile, it had the best position that nature could offer. He lavished also every care on its culture. He dug it up, for ploughing was impossible on the steep hillside, and cleared the ground of stones. Then he planted the soil thus prepared with choice vines. In anticipation of an abundant vintage he built a tower, not a mere watchman's hut (Isaiah 1:8), and hewed a vat (mg.) out of the solid limestone, into which the juice might run from the wine-press. He also planted a hedge and built a wall (Isaiah 5:5) round the vineyard. But when he came to gather the grapes he found only wild grapes. The poet now speaks in the person of his friend, and invites the judgment of the hearers on his own conduct and that of the vineyard. The people are silent: only one answer is possible to the question, Where does the blame lie? But they wait to see what fate is reserved for such ingratitude. The rhythm becomes heavier to reflect the darkening mood of the speaker as the doom is pronounced. The hedge is removed, the wall broken, and the wild beasts and cattle, no longer kept at bay, press in and ravage the vineyard. And the owner abandons it, untilled, unpruned, to thorns and brambles nay more, he promotes its ruin by bidding the clouds pour no rain upon it. Does the poet then disclose in these words the identity of the owner, since it is Yahweh alone who can command the clouds to withhold their rain? Not necessarily, for David could in his elegy lay a similar ban on the mountains of Gilboa (2 Samuel 1:21). Only in the closing verse is the well-kept secret revealed, that Yahweh is the Beloved and Judah His thankless vineyard. It comes with a crash that reminds us of Nathan's "Thou art the man!" And it is expressed in words which his hearers cannot forget. The assonances cannot be tolerably reproduced in English: "He looked for mishpat and behold mispah, for tsedaqah and behold tse‘aqah." The meaning of the word rendered "oppression" is uncertain; it is generally translated "bloodshed." The "cry" is the cry of the oppressed.

Isaiah 5:1. The text is uncertain, but has not been satisfactorily emended.


Verses 8-24

Isaiah 5:8-24. A Series of Denunciations on Various Offenders.—This section contains a collection of "Woes," originally independent and even now not woven into a single symmetrical address. Whether they come from different periods of Isaiah's ministry is not so clear; no confidence can be felt in the attempts to date them. The text has not been very well preserved.

Isaiah 5:8-10. Woe to the grasping land-holders who drive the old possessors from their ancestral homesteads that they may have large estates all to themselves. Soon there will be a loneliness they will not desire, the solitude of desolation, and their lands will yield a harvest far less than the seed. With their land the dispossessed would lose their civil rights, to which the Hebrews hung tenaciously, as we see from the story of Naboth (1 Kings 21).

Isaiah 5:9. Read, "therefore the Lord of hosts hath sworn in mine ears."

Isaiah 5:10. acres: literally "yokes," a yoke being "as much as two strong oxen could plough from morn till night."—a bath: a liquid measure equivalent to an ephah of dry measure, about nine gallons of wine, a very small vintage from so large a vineyard. Since an ephah was the tenth part of a homer (Ezekiel 45:11), the harvest amounts to only a tenth of the seed.

Isaiah 5:11-17. In this section Isaiah 5:15 f. is probably a marginal quotation of Isaiah 2:11 made from memory. Isaiah 5:14 foretells utter destruction, a prophecy of humiliation is out of place; the woe is on revellers, these verses are a denunciation of pride. Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 5:17 also do not properly follow Isaiah 5:13, which has announced the penalty; they seem to be the conclusion of another woe; in which a city had been denounced to which the pronoun "her," incorrectly rendered "their," must refer. Isaiah 5:11-13 is a Woe on the drunkards and revellers, who practise the disgraceful habit (Ecclesiastes 10:16 f., Acts 2:15) of drinking in the morning, and leave God out of their calculations. Blind to the signs of His working, they perish by captivity and famine. Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 5:17 describe how the city, presumably Jerusalem, is swallowed by Sheol, the insatiable underworld (Proverbs 30:16, Habakkuk 2:5), depicted as a monster distending its mouth to devour her. Then the lambs pasture on its site, and the ruined mansions are the camping ground of nomads

Isaiah 5:13. Read, "Their honourable men are exhausted (mezeh) with famine."

Isaiah 5:17. We need a parallel to "lambs" in the second clause; read either, "and the waste places shall fatlings eat": or "and the waste places shall kids (gedaim) eat." In the first clause we should perhaps read "feed in their desert place."

Isaiah 5:18-24. Woe to the scoffing free-thinkers who believe the Day of Yahweh will never come, and challenge God to do His worst. As beasts are yoked to a cart, so they yoke themselves to sin with strong cords of flippant frivolity, and drag with sin the punishment which comes in its train. Woe to the sophists who pervert the radical moral distinctions. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, i.e. the smart, self-satisfied politicians, who flout the counsel given by Yahweh through His prophet. Woe to the drunkards, heroes not for the fray but the debauch, with the strong head of the hard drinker. Not content with ordinary wine, they mix spices with it to enhance its flavour and increase its strength. Woe to those who take bribes to acquit the guilty and condemn the innocent. They shall be like stubble consumed by the flame and a plant with rotting root and blossom turned to dust. Isaiah 5:23 does not follow naturally on Isaiah 5:22.


Verses 25-30

Isaiah 5:25-30. The Last Stroke.—It is generally agreed that this belongs to Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4, each strophe of which closes with the same refrain as Isaiah 5:25. Unhappily, except for this closing verse, the strophe of which Isaiah 5:25 is the conclusion has been lost, unless indeed Isaiah 5:25, apart from the refrain, is an addition. There is no refrain at the end of Isaiah 5:26 ff., so this will form the close of the poem. After each stroke of Yahweh's wrath a fresh judgment has been announced; now the final stroke is predicted in a magnificent picture of the irresistible attack of a foe from the ends of the earth. Yahweh's last blow is struck, and His arm is no longer stretched out to smite. As in Amos the foe is not named, and thus the impression is heightened, but Assyria is intended. It is Ephraim's God who lifts the standard to summon the enemy and hisses (Isaiah 7:18) for them. They come unresting, unwearied, in perfect military array, the hoofs of the horses hard like flint, their chariots swift as the whirlwind. The foe utters, as he advances, a loud roar like that of the lioness or young lion as they seek their prey, then the low growl as he pounces on it and carries it away.

Isaiah 5:26. nations: read "nation" (LXX).

Isaiah 5:28. The ancients did not shoe their horses, so their hoofs needed to be hard as flint to go over the hilly and rocky country of Palestine.

Isaiah 5:30. The text is corrupt, the meaning uncertain, the probability that the verse is a late insertion considerable, the problem too complicated to be discussed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Isaiah 5:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/isaiah-5.html. 1919.


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Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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