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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 5

 

 

Verse 1

Isaiah 5:1. Now will I sing, &c. — Bishop Lowth translates this clause, “Let me sing now a song to my beloved; a song of loves concerning his vineyard.” This is the exordium, a kind of title placed before the song; which song he records, as Moses did his, that it might be a witness for God, and against Israel. The beloved, to whom the prophet addresses the song, is the Lord of the vineyard, as appears by the latter clause of the verse, namely, God, or his Messiah, whom the prophet loved and served, and for whose glory, eclipsed by the barrenness of the vineyard, he was greatly concerned: a song of my beloved — Not devised by me, but inspired by God, which, therefore, it behooveth you to lay deeply to heart: touching his vineyard — The house of Israel, (Isaiah 5:7,) or his church among the Israelites, often, and very properly, called a vineyard, because of God’s singular regard to it, and care and cultivation of it; his delight in it, and expectation of good fruit from it. My beloved hath, &c. — Hebrew, לידידי היה כרם, my beloved hath had a vineyard, namely, for many ages, with which he hath long taken great pains, and on which he hath bestowed much culture; in a very fruitful hill — Hebrew, on a horn, the son of oil, “an expression,” says Bishop Lowth, “highly descriptive and poetical.” According to Kimchi the prophet gives the land of Israel this appellation because of its height and fertility. Accordingly, the bishop renders the phrase, on a high and fruitful hill, observing, that “the parts of animals are, by an easy metaphor, applied to parts of the earth, both in common and poetical language. A promontory is called a cape, or head; the Turks call it a nose; a ridge of rocks, a back, (‘dorsum immane mari summo, a huge back in the deep sea;’ Virg.) Thus a horn is a proper and obvious image for a mountain, or mountainous country.” Hills are places most commodious for vines, and the hills of Canaan being very fertile, the phrase, son of oil, is added to express that circumstance, both because oil includes the idea of fatness, and because oil-olive was one of the most valued productions of that land. Indeed the word horn also is frequently used in Scripture as an emblem of plenty, their wealth consisting very much in their herds, as well as flocks.


Verse 2

Isaiah 5:2. And he fenced it — In this verse the prophet, carrying on the allegory, proceeds to express, in parabolical language, the singular favours which God had bestowed on the Jewish nation, and the peculiar care which he had taken of them. He separated them from other nations, took them into covenant with himself, gave them a variety of laws and ordinances respecting his worship and service, and became, in an especial manner, their protector and governor. Thus he fenced his vineyard; Hebrew, יעזקהו, circumsepsit eam, hedged it round on all sides. In removing the heathen nations, and destroying all the forms of their idolatrous worship, forbidding all idolatry, and all intimate friendship and intermarriages with idolaters, and by giving them plain and ample directions for their whole conduct, lest they should fall by error or mistake, he gathered out the stones thereof — Which otherwise might have marred the land, (2 Kings 3:19,) and injured the vines. In other words, he removed all the hinderances of fruitfulness. In that he formed his church of the posterity of those wise, holy, and faithful men, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and purged and reformed the nation in the wilderness before he established them in Canaan, he might truly be said to plant his vineyard with the choicest vine — Or, as the Hebrew is, the vine of Sorek, alluding to a valley between Ascalon and Gaza, running up eastward into the tribe of Judah, and famous for the best vines, and the richest vineyards. And he built a tower in the midst of it — As edifices, termed towers by the Jews, were erected in vineyards, containing, as Bishop Lowth supposes, “all the offices and implements, and the whole apparatus necessary for the culture of them, and the making of wine;” and, doubtless, also serving for the accommodation and defence of the labourers; and as places of pleasure for the owners of the vineyards; so God provided his church with a most commodious and magnificent temple, furnished with all conveniences for every part of that worship and service which he required his people to perform to him, and affording every requisite accommodation for the residence, support, and comfort of the priests and Levites, while ministering in holy things, and employed in cultivating God’s mystical vineyard; and where he, the Lord of the vineyard, might be peculiarly present, as the protector and consolation of his people, their refuge and strength, and very present help in times of trouble or danger. Thus the Chaldee paraphrast: “I have constituted them the plant of a choice vine, and built my sanctuary in the midst of them.” So also Jerome interprets the clause. He also made a wine-press therein — Hebrew, וגם יקב חצב, which Bishop Lowth properly translates, “And he hewed out also a lake therein;” observing that the word יקבmeans, not the wine-press itself, or calcatorium, (the vessel or place where the grapes were stamped, or trod for the wine, which is expressed by another word,) but “what the Romans called lacus, the lake; the large open place or vessel, which, by a conduit, or spout, received the must (or new wine) from the wine-press.” This place, he thinks, in very hot countries, it was necessary, or very convenient, to have under ground, or in a cave hewed out of the side of a rock, “for coolness; that the heat might not cause too great a fermentation, and sour the must.” Now this lake, made to contain the new wine, may here signify the great altar, made to receive the sacrifices and oblations, as the fruits of the spiritual vineyard. And he looked that it should bring forth grapes — Real, genuine fruit, true, substantial piety and virtue, or godliness and righteousness; and it brought forth wild grapes — Or, rather, poisonous berries, as Bishop Lowth translates באשׁים, the word here used, which does not signify “merely useless, unprofitable grapes, such as wild grapes; but grapes offensive to the smell, noxious, poisonous;” such as those mentioned 2 Kings 4:39-41. For, according to the force and intent of the allegory, “To good grapes ought to be opposed fruit of a dangerous and pernicious quality; as, in the explication of it, to judgment is opposed tyranny, and to righteousness oppression.” See an elegant paraphrase of this part of the parable, Jeremiah 2:21.


Verse 3-4

Isaiah 5:3-4. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, &c. — God is here introduced as calling upon the guilty themselves to pass sentence, or judgment, in the case, and leaving it to them; because, without downright madness, they could do no other than condemn themselves; who, when they had received so many benefits from God, had been so ungrateful to him. What could have been done, &c. — What work is there belonging to the office of an owner or keeper of a vineyard, which I have neglected? Wherefore — brought it forth wild grapes — How unworthy a conduct and inexcusable a crime is it, that you not only have been unfruitful in good works, but have brought forth, in abundance, the fruits of wickedness!

Who can read these words without being moved at the justness as well as the tenderness of the reproach; which is equally applicable now to professing Christians in general, as it was to the Jews at that time? What is it that God has not done for us? What good thing has he withheld from us? How many invaluable blessings has he bestowed upon us in our creation and preservation! And how many still more inestimable in our redemption!

What more could have been done for us than he has done? Wherefore then, when he looketh for grapes, does he only find wild grapes, or rather poisonous berries? When he looketh for a tribute of grateful praise, does he find ingratitude, forgetfulness of his mercies, and disobedience to his commands?


Verse 5-6

Isaiah 5:5-6. And now I will tell you, &c. — He graciously warns them beforehand, that they may have space and encouragement to repent, and so to prevent the threatened miseries. I will take away the hedge thereof, &c. — I will withdraw my presence and protection from you, and give you up into the hands of your enemies. I will lay it waste — It shall be overrun by heathen and infidels, and shall no longer bear the form of a vineyard. It shall not be pruned nor digged — Vine-dressers used to dig up and open the earth about the roots of the vines. The meaning is, I will remove my ministers, who have used great care and diligence to make you fruitful: but there shall come up briers and thorns — I will give you up to your own wicked lusts. I will also command the clouds — I will deprive you of all my blessings.


Verse 7

Isaiah 5:7. For the vineyard, &c. — Or rather, Now the vineyard, as Dr. Waterland renders it: here we have the interpretation of the preceding parable in general. In the subsequent verses the prophet enters into particulars. This general interpretation is fully verified by the history of the Jewish people, especially in the time of our Lord and his apostles: and the men of Judah his pleasant plant — In whom God formerly delighted; and he looked for judgment — Both the administration of justice by magistrates, and justice in the dealings of the people with one another: but behold oppression — From the powerful upon their inferiors; and for righteousness — For equity, mercy, and benevolence; but behold a cry — From the oppressed, crying to men for help, and to God for vengeance. “The paronomasia, or play on the words, in the Hebrew, in this place, is very remarkable; mispat, mispach; zedakah, zeakah. There are many examples of it in the other prophets; but Isaiah seems peculiarly fond of it. The rabbins esteem it a great beauty: their term for it is, elegance of language.” — Bishop Lowth.


Verses 8-10

Isaiah 5:8-10. Wo unto them, &c. — The unfolding of the parable, after the general key in the preceding verse, comprehends two things, according to the argument of the parable; the crimes of this ungrateful people, and the punishment decreed to their crimes. That join house to house — That add new purchases of houses and lands to their former possessions. Not that this was in itself absolutely unlawful, but because they did it from an inordinate desire of riches, and with the injury of their brethren. That they may be placed alone — That they alone may be the lords and owners, and all others only their tenants and servants. Thus, “the first crime condemned is avarice and rapacity; which is strongly described in this verse, and which prevailed remarkably among the Jews. Its punishment, even the desolation of those houses which they coveted, and the devastation of those fields which they obtained so rapaciously, is set forth in the two following verses.” See Vitringa. In mine ears, said the Lord — That is, It was revealed in mine ears: or, I heard God speak what I am now about to utter. Of a truth many houses shall be desolate — “In vain are ye so intent upon joining house to house, and field to field; your houses shall be left uninhabited, and your fields shall become desolate and barren: so that a vineyard of ten acres shall produce but one bath (not eight gallons) of wine, and the husbandman shall reap but a tenth part of the seed which he has sown.” — Bishop Lowth. Thus it is predicted that a fruitful land should be made barren for their wickedness, according to God’s threatening, (Psalms 107:34,) and they would have as little comfort in their lands as in their houses.


Verse 11-12

Isaiah 5:11-12. Wo unto them, that rise up early, &c. — Here we find another vice reproved, namely, that of luxury, or intemperance; whose companion and daughter is Inattention to the works of God, whose child, also, is Ignorance; see Isaiah 5:13; that rise up early to follow strong drink — As husbandmen and tradesmen rise early to follow their employments; as if they were afraid of losing time from that which is the greatest misspending of time and the most sinful abuse of it. That continue until night — Spending the whole day at their cups; till wine inflame them — Inflame their lusts and passions: for chambering and wantonness, on the one hand, and contentions and wounds without cause, on the other, generally follow upon rioting, and drunkenness, Romans 13:13; Proverbs 23:29. And the harp, and the viol, &c., are in their feasts — Musical instruments of all sorts must accompany their wine, that every sense may be gratified to the utmost, and their pleasures rendered more exquisite. But they regard not the work of the Lord — What God hath lately done, and is yet doing, and about to do, among them; his grievous judgments, partly inflicted, and partly threatened, which require another course of life, even to give themselves to fasting and prayer, and to reform their manners, that so they might remove the calamities which, now afflicted them, and prevent those which were approaching.


Verse 13-14

Isaiah 5:13-14. Therefore the people are gone into captivity — The prophet may refer to those carried captive in the time of Ahaz: see on Isaiah 2:20. Or his words may be rendered, the people go into, &c.; that is, shall certainly and shortly go, speaking of the approaching judgments as if they were already come. Because they have no knowledge — No serious consideration of God’s works, and of their own duty and danger. And their honourable men are famished — Who thought themselves quite out of the reach of famine. Therefore hell hath enlarged herself — The grave, or the place of torment to which certainly the souls of such persons must descend; and opened her mouth without measure —

To receive those vast numbers which die by this famine, or otherwise, as is here implied. The prophet is thought to allude “to the form of the ancient sepulchres, which were subterraneous caverns hollowed out of a rock, the mouth of which was generally closed by a great stone. The prosopopœia is extremely fine and expressive, and the image is fraught with the most tremendous horror.” And their glory, &c. — Their nobles, or honourable men, as they are called, Isaiah 5:13, being distinguished, both here and there, from the multitude; and their pomp — Which shall die with them; and he that rejoiceth — That spendeth all his days in mirth and jollity, and casteth away all cares and fears; shall descend into it — Not only into the grave, but into hell. Bishop Lowth’s translation of this verse is peculiarly striking:

“Therefore Hades hath enlarged his appetite; And hath stretched open his mouth without measure: And down go her nobility, and her populace, And her busy throng, and all that exult in her.”

“These verses,” (13 and 14,) he justly observes, “have a reference to the two preceding. They that indulged in feasting and drinking, shall perish with hunger and thirst: and Hades” (the invisible world, hell prepared to receive these sinners that live and die in sin) “shall indulge his appetite as much as they had done, and devour them all. The image is strong and expressive in the highest degree. Habakkuk uses the same image with great force, chap. 2:5. But in Isaiah, Hades is introduced, to much greater advantage, in person; and placed before our eyes as a ravenous monster, opening wide his unmeasurable jaws, and swallowing them all together.”


Verses 15-17

Isaiah 5:15-17. And the mean man, &c. — All of them, both high and low, shall be brought to destruction. But the Lord shall be exalted in judgment — By the execution of his just judgment upon his incorrigible enemies. And God that is holy shall be sanctified — Shall appear to be a holy God; in righteousness — That is, by displaying his righteousness, or executing his righteous judgments. Then, &c. — When God shall have finished that work of judgment upon the ungodly, he will extend mercy to the remainder; the lambs — The poor and harmless people, who shall be left in the land, when the rich are carried into captivity, as it happened 2 Kings 25:12; shall feed after their manner — Or, without restraint, as Bishop Lowth renders it. And the waste places of the fat ones — The lands left by their owners, the rich and great men, who were either slain or carried into captivity; shall strangers eat — The poor Israelites who were left in the land to be vine-dressers and husbandmen, who are called strangers, because they were so in reference to that land, not being the proper owners of it, nor related to them. Vitringa is of opinion that this verse “refers to the first disciples of Jesus Christ, who, seeing and deploring the destruction of the Jews, should rest safely under the protection of God; while, according to the next clause, the Gentiles should be brought into the communion of the church, and rejoice in those benefits, prerogatives, and privileges, whereof the carnal, rich, and luxurious Jews were deprived.” See John 10:16.


Verse 18-19

Isaiah 5:18-19. Wo unto them that draw iniquity — That are not only drawn to sin by the allurements of the world, or by the persuasions of wicked men, but are active and industrious in drawing sin to themselves, or themselves to sin: with cords of vanity — Or, of lying, as the word שׁואfrequently signifies; that is, with vain and deceitful arguments and pretences, whereby sinners generally draw themselves to sin, such as, That God does not regard human affairs; that many of the greatest sinners often go unpunished; that we see no proofs of the divine interposition, &c. See 2 Peter 3:3-4. And sin with a cart-rope — With all their might, as beasts that draw carts with ropes. That say, Let him make speed — Namely, God, in whose name thou and other prophets are always reproving and threatening us; and hasten his work, that we may see it — He only thinks to affright us, as if we were fools or children, with bugbears, or pretended evils: he either cannot, or will not, do us any harm. This was the plain language of their actions; they lived as if they were of this opinion. And let the counsel of the Holy One draw nigh — What you have declared to be his counsel, with regard to our going into captivity, and which, you say, his holiness obliges him to execute: they scornfully repeat the title of Holy One, usually given by the prophets to God. And come, that we may know it — We cannot believe that it will ever happen unless we see it with our eyes. Thus, “by a long progression in iniquity, and a continued accumulation of sin, men arrive at length to the highest degree of wickedness; bidding open defiance to God, and scoffing at his threatened judgments;” to which they cannot be persuaded to give any credit till they find them executed upon them.


Verse 20

Isaiah 5:20. Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil — That endeavour to confound both the names and the natures of virtue and vice, of piety and impiety; commend and applaud what is evil, and disparage and discountenance what is good; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, &c. — Ignorance and error, for knowledge and truth: in other words, who subvert, or pervert, all the great principles of truth, wisdom, and of righteousness. A most corrupt condition of a church and state is that indeed, “in which men, accustomed to vices, begin, with the things themselves, to lose also the names of them, and to draw a veil, as it were, over their impieties, by sanctifying their crimes with the names of virtues.” This reproof of the prophet supposes, that the difference between good and evil, sin and holiness, is as self-evident as that between the most contrary qualities which we are informed of by the report of our senses: and that the advantage which light hath above darkness does not shine out with a brighter evidence than the pre-eminence which virtue hath above vice, righteousness above unrighteousness. See Lowth.


Verse 21

Isaiah 5:21. Wo unto them that are wise in their own eyes — Who, being puffed up with a high opinion of their own wisdom, despise the counsels and instructions of Jehovah by his prophets, and prefer their own vain imaginations before the decisions of infinite wisdom.


Verse 24

Isaiah 5:24. Therefore as the fire, &c. — “The latter part of the parabolic song, contained in Isaiah 5:6, begins here to be more fully explained; and, to the end of the chapter, we have an account of that total destruction of the republic, which was to be brought upon it by a people most skilful in war, and coming from a very distant country.” The greatness and impelling cause of this threatened destruction are explained in this and the following verse: the instruments of it, a fierce and warlike people, are described Isaiah 5:26-29. And the consequence of it, the trouble and desperation of those that remained from this slaughter, Isaiah 5:30. See Vitringa. Their root shall be as rottenness — They shall be like a tree, which not only withers in its branches, but dies and rots at the roots, and therefore is past all hopes of recovery. That is, they shall be destroyed, both root and branch, and that as certainly and irresistibly as fire devours the stubble on which it kindles, and the flame consumes the chaff which it touches. Their blossom shall go up as dust — Shall vanish as the dust, which is blown away with every wind, or shall be resolved into dust, and yield no fruit; because they have cast away the law of the Lord, &c. — Have cast off all obedience to it, and treated it with contempt.


Verse 25

Isaiah 5:25. Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled — This implies that, before the time of that final vengeance, concerning which the prophecy principally treats, God had afflicted, or, rather, would afflict and chastise this rebellious people, with the most grievous calamities: that those calamities should consume many, who, being slain in the wars, should be trod upon by their enemies, like the dung in the streets; most certain indications these of the divine justice and wrath, while they, unawakened by these chastisements, would not so much as attempt to appease the divine displeasure, but would provoke it still more by repeated crimes; till, at length, it should come upon them to the uttermost. — Vitringa. And the hills did tremble — A metaphorical and hyperbolical description of a grievous calamity, familiar to the prophets: see the margin. For all this, his anger is not turned away, &c. — This is not the end, as you vainly imagine, but, if you repent not, only the beginning of your sorrows, and an earnest of further miseries.


Verse 26

Isaiah 5:26. And he will lift up an ensign to the nations — To call them together for his service. Here that decree of the divine severity, which had been spoken of in general terms in Isaiah 5:24, is explained. God is shown to be the supreme general or leader of the people, which were to come from far to execute his vengeance; they were to assemble at his setting up his ensign as a signal; and at his hissing — A metaphor taken from the practice of persons keeping bees; who used to draw them out of their hives into the fields, and lead them back again, συρισμασι, by hissing, whistling, or some sounds of that kind; as Cyril, Theodoret, and Bochart have shown. The meaning is, that God would collect the people, like bees, by the slightest indication of his will, and bring them into Judea to execute his vengeance. — Bishop Lowth and Dodd. It is not expressed particularly from whence they should be brought, but only said in general, 1st, That they should come from far — Which may be applied, either to the Assyrians, spoken of under this same character, (Isaiah 10:3,) and who, not long after, invaded Judea, and did much mischief in it; or to the Chaldeans, even Babylon being called a far country, Isaiah 39:3. 2d, That they should come from the ends of the earth — An expression hardly applicable either to the Assyrians or Chaldeans, but which exactly agrees to the Romans, and which undoubtedly received its final and most perfect accomplishment in the destruction brought on the Jews by them. In saying, they shall come with speed swiftly, the prophet refers to Isaiah 5:19. As the scoffers had challenged God to make speed, and to hasten his work of vengeance, so now they are assured, that with speed, and swiftly, it shall come.


Verses 27-29

Isaiah 5:27-29. None, &c. — In these verses the prophet describes the quality of the forces which should come against Jerusalem; their vigour, activity, and diligence, Isaiah 5:27; their military expedition, readiness, skilfulness, and apparatus, Isaiah 5:28; their fortitude and undaunted courage, Isaiah 5:29; for all which particulars the Romans were remarkably eminent. — Dodd. None shall be weary — Though their march be long and tedious. As I have called them to this work, so I will assist them in it. None shall slumber nor sleep — They shall all be watchful and diligent to take all opportunities of executing my judgments. Nor the latchet, &c., be broken I will take all impediments out of their way. Whose arrows are sharp — Who are every way furnished and ready for my work, waiting only for my command. Their horses’ hoofs like flint — Because they shall not be broken or battered by the length or stoniness and ruggedness of the way. And their wheels like a whirlwind — For the swiftness of their march, and for the force and violence of their chariots in battle. They shall roar like young lions — Which signifies both their cruelty, and their eagerness to catch and devour the prey. They shall lay hold on the prey, &c. — These words do not agree to the Assyrians, for they were forced to retreat with great shame and loss, and the Jews were delivered from them: but they agree perfectly both to the Chaldeans and the Romans, both of whom carried the prey away safe, and none delivered it — That is, neither the Jews themselves, nor any of their confederates, to whose help they trusted.


Verse 30

Isaiah 5:30. And in that day, &c. — “Here Isaiah closes this prophecy, with a strong and eloquent description of the consequences of this calamity; setting forth, in the most emphatical terms, the utter confusion, blackness, and desperation of the miserable Jews.” See Isaiah 8:22. They shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea — Which is violent and frightful; and if one look, &c., behold, darkness and sorrow — Darkness, that is, sorrow: the latter word explains the former. Every thing looks black and dismal. And the light is darkened in the heavens thereof — When they look up to the heavens, as men in distress usually do, they see no light there. Their comforts are wholly eclipsed, and their hopes like the giving up of the ghost. It must be observed, that the Scriptures frequently express great calamities and changes, in states and churches, by the heavens being darkened, and the sun, moon, and stars withdrawing their light, or falling from heaven.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 5:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-5.html. 1857.


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Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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