A Worthless Vineyard (Isaiah 5)

Isaiah 5:1-30; 1, 7

I will sing about the one I love, a song about my loved one's vineyard: The one I love had a vineyard on a very fertile hill" (Isa 5:1, HCSB). "The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress" (Isa 5:7, NIV). [Alternate titles: The Vineyard of the Lord Destroyed; Judah's Sins Condemned; When Grace is Exhausted]

  1. Despite Your Failures, Let's Meet and Talk (Isaiah 1).
  2. The Ideal and The Reality (Isaiah 2-4).

Theme: Despite God's people producing bad stinky fruit resulting in utter darkness, God sings a love song to them.

From the heights of hope and glory to the depths of awful and painful reality. Isaiah lives with the tension between what will be and what is; between the glorious destiny which beckons Israel (2:2-4; 4:2-6) and the awful reality of its present condition (2:5-4:1). It is a tension which ultimately only the Lord can resolve. As in Isa 2:5-6, once again we plunge from the heights (4:2-6) to the depths as the prophet returns to the thankless task of exposing the sins of his fellows and warning of judgment to come in Isaiah 5.

Start with a song. But it will not be easy for Isaiah to gain a hearing for such an unpleasant message. So he presents himself as a minstrel and beguiles his unsuspecting audience with a song (5:1-7). It is a striking example of just how creative and skilful the prophets could be in communicating their message (gospel preachers take note!). Isaiah 5 may be divided into three parts:
  1. The song of the vineyard (1-7).
  2. Bad, stinky fruit (8-25).
  3. The vineyard ravaged (26-30).
I. The Song of the Vineyard (5:1-7)

Isaiah's song is a love song and a parable. Before long, his entranced listeners find themselves face to face with its hard-hitting message. The one Isaiah loves (his "beloved") is the Lord, and Israel (here represented by Judah) is the Lord's vineyard. Love for God is an important dimension of OT piety, as both Moses and the Psalms testify (Dt 6:5; Ps 42:1; 116:1). Isaiah loved the Lord passionately. So he could identify so closely with both the outrage and the grief that the Lord felt at the willful sinfulness of the nation. In spite of all the patient care he has lavished upon it (Isa 5:2), it has produced only worthless wild stinky grapes or fruit (Isa 5:4). Though God made every provision for his people to be a blessing to the world as he has promised (Gen 12:1-3), the result was horrific. Would God not be fully justified, then, in removing its protective wall and abandoning his vineyard (Isa 5:5-6)? Isa 5:7b shows that God's high expectations of his people were fair. The song concludes by forcefully expressing the demand for social justice as a basic covenant obligation: "He looked for justice but saw injustice, for righteousness, but heard cries of wretchedness" (Isa 5:7b, HCSB).

The song is in four parts:
  1. 5:1-2 are an introduction to catch the attention of the audience and set the scene.
  2. 5:3-4. The Lord himself speaks and asks the audience for a verdict.
  3. 5:5-6. The Lord, as owner of the vineyard, announces his own decision.
  4. 5:7. Isaiah the prophet speaks in his own voice and makes a specific application to Israel.
II. Bad Stinky Fruit (5:8-25)

This part as a whole is structured by the word "Woe" and "Therefore." There are six "woes" (8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22) which lament the bitter fruits of Israel's character, and four "therefores" (13, 14, 24, 25), which anticipate the harvest of inescapable consequences. Woe introduces the denunciations of particular sins. Therefore introduces the judgments which either have been or will be visited on the offenders. This is a passage of powerful denunciation, but also of deep pathos, for the cry of "Woe" is capable of expressing both. Isaiah is no self-righteous, detached observer. The final woe he pronounces on himself (Isa 6:5). The six woes of this passage specify the "bad fruit" in the song (Isa 5:2, 4). The list is damning:
  1. Greedy real estate expansion and land-grabbing (Isa 5:8). This expresses the corrupting power of riches (1 Tim 6:9-10).
  2. Drunken partying and debauchery (Isa 5:11-12). They are marked by a visceral refusal to think.
  3. Arrogant defiance of God while sinning and deceiving others (Isa 5:18-19). They are daring God to punish them.
  4. Self-justifying sophistry by regarding negative values positively and positive values negatively (Isa 5:20). They are so blinded in their moral judgment that their evaluations of good and evil are the exact opposite of God's true perspective (Mt 12:24; Jn 8:44; 2 Th 2:11).
  5. Conceit based on their groundless high estimation of themselves (Isa 5:21).
  6. Perversion of justice by acquitting the guilty and convicting the innocent (Isa 5:22-23).
In contrast to all this stands the God of justice and righteousness (Isa 5:16).

III. The Vineyard Ravaged (5:26-30)

God is sovereign over history. The destroyer of the Lord's vineyard is to be a foreign invader. He is to come at the Lord's express command (Isa 5:26). Their armies on the move, swift, disciplined, equipped and ruthless, inspired terror (Isa 5:27-30). With frightening realism Isaiah describes the approach of invading military forces. [The invader is not named here, but is almost certainly Assyria.] But the message of Isaiah and other 8th century prophets was that it was the Lord, not these nations, who called the tune. Isaiah was absolutely certain of the Lord's sovereignty over history. He was using the nations to accomplish his purposes and would continue to do so. It is a theme that will be developed more fully as the book proceeds.

Having rejected the light of the Lord that was offered to them (Isa 2:5), Judah and Jerusalem find that the light they chose turns to darkness (Isa 5:30). Because they have refused God's grace (Isa 5:4), his wrath engulfs them. The rest of Isaiah reveals that God's purpose of grace is still greater than his disciplinary wrath.