In our study of Isaiah chapter five, we look at the example of an unproductive vineyard and righteous judgment.
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
Isaiah begins this parable by describing all of the work that was put into this new vineyard. The site for the vineyard was good as he says it was on a fertile hillside and the owner had cleared the land to provide a suitable place for the vines to grow. He planted the finest of vines so that there should be no reason why they would not grow and produce the best of fruit. He protected the vineyard with a watchtower and prepared for the harvest by digging a winepress into the ground. Finally, he looked for the harvest of quality grapes but instead found only bad fruit.
'Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?'
Isaiah calls for the people of Jerusalem and Judah to judge the situation. Basically, he is asking them if it is not right for the owner of the vineyard to expect a good quantity and quality of fruit based on the work and materials used in the construction. The owner has kept up his end but the vineyard has not produced. So, who is at fault?
Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.
Continuing with his parable, Isaiah describes the intended judgment on the non-productive vineyard. He explains that all support and protection for the vineyard will be removed.
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Now, Isaiah reveals the purpose of his parable which is for God's people to see and understand what they are doing and its consequences. Isaiah puts the people of Judah into the story as the vineyard that did not produce even though it was given every opportunity. The hope is that the people will see what they have done (not producing any good fruit) and repent. This very same call goes out to the "church" of today. God does care about the quantity of the fruit (people in the pews) but he also cares about the quality of the fruit (are they disciples or just pew sitters?). As individual Christians, we also need to examine ourselves and check the quantity and quality of our fruit.
Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.
Now that Isaiah has presented the case against the people, he begins to proclaim the judgment. In this verse, the image is of a people who have built up houses so much that there is no longer a place for grapevines in the vineyard. God (the vine) has been pushed out. Today, many of us (including the local "churches") are doing the same thing and do not realize it. We push God out of our daily walk because we do not have enough time to pray and listen to him or to serve him. Once or twice each week, we may allow God some time for "worship" but our lives are too crowded for a daily walk. As Isaiah said "Woe to you...".
The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: 'Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine, a homer of seed only an ephah of grain.'
The houses that the people put their hopes in will be empty. Isaiah is speaking to the people of Israel about 700 years before Christ but this is so appropriate for our world today. In recent years, people all over the world put their hope in a big fancy home and then the financial system collapsed and many people are without hope. There are many "great houses" today that are "desolate" and "without occupants". The once productive vineyard will only produce a tiny amount of wine and the seed a tiny amount of grain. This is true today in many parts of the world as there are many suffering from hunger.
Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands.
Now, the focus shifts to the party crowd as Isaiah tells them that woe (trouble) is on the way. We may ask ourselves why this particular sin is singled out in this passage. The last part may give us the answer as it says that they have "no respect for the work of his hands". You see, God doesn't want people to get drunk and party because that doesn't honor him and God has made each of us for a higher purpose than that.
Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst. Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. So man will be brought low and mankind humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled.
The people have turned their backs on the Lord and decided to do what they wanted instead of following God's rules. The scene is much the same as most parents have with their teenage children at some point. The children decide they don't want to follow the rules in the home and want to go live someplace else. That is what "exile" is in this passage. God has basically said that, since the people will not follow his rules, they will be sent to live someplace else where they will learn what it is like to live under an earthly ruler instead of having God, who loves them, as ruler and king. Their arrogance in thinking they know better than God will lead them to the grave.
But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.
Even after disciplining his people, God will be lifted up as everyone will know that it is righteous justice. The people deserved what they got. God will show himself to be holy because he removes the sinful people from his presence. Just as it has always been, God does not tolerate sin in his presence. We, as Christians, do not have to face his righteous justice because Jesus did so in our place on the cross.
Then sheep will graze as in their own pasture; lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich.
After the sinful people have been exiled and God is exalted, there will be peace. Sheep and lambs are left in the land. We, as Christians, are described as sheep and lambs all throughout the New Testament and this verse is an illustration for us of God's righteous judgment. With Jesus as our shepherd, we get to remain in the land and have a right relationship with God.
Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, 'Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it.'
The picture here is of someone drawing out strands of fibers to make a rope. The woe comes to those who mix good cords with bad to make an inferior rope. The rope looks good on the outside but it is not strong like it should be with multiple good cords. When the rope is used under stress, it will break. It is also a picture of the "Christian" who says and does the proper things when at a "church" but there has been no change in their heart and acceptance of Jesus Christ. When they meet the Judge on that day, Jesus will say that he never knew them and they will be cast away.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
In the previous passage the woe was for those who try to mix a little bit of God with a little bit of sin. In this verse, the woe is for those who completely abandon God's word and do not even acknowledge the sin. They are rebellious and trust in their own wisdom which is foolishness when compared to the wisdom of God.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.
This woe is for those who think they know it all. We all know of people like this who think they are so smart. In this case it is talking about how men have turned away from the teachings of God and thought that their ways were superior. We are told that all wisdom comes from God and when men forget that and become proud of what they know, they will be humbled. We need to remember that "We see pieces, God sees the whole plan!"
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks,
This may seem odd for this part of the Bible but some people back in those days probably had a problem with alcohol. Today, the concept of "heroes at drinking wine" is probably easier to understand as we have all seen the drinking games and parties that occur at colleges and even at high schools. Isaiah tells the people here that they will suffer the consequences.
who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.
The next woe is for those who are corrupt in their judgments. As long as men have been in positions of power, there have been corrupt men but this verse can remind us that God will take care of them.
Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.
The picture here is of plants that wither, dry up and die. The plants have rejected their water and so they are doomed to die. The same is true for the people that have been mentioned. They have rejected their water (the word of God) and so will wither and die.
Therefore the Lord's anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.
You often hear people say that a loving God would not send people to hell. Well, this verse demonstrates the justice that is delivered by a jealous God. His people wanted to do things their own way and trust in themselves. Therefore, God is punishing them as he burns with anger. God loves all people but he does demand that we recognise him as God.
He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily!
Because of the disobedience of his people, God sends out a call to the rest of the nations. God's judgement will be carried out by these nations that he calls.
Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal thong is broken.
These verses describe a people that God is using and it is obvious that it is God that is in control. God is the only one that could give them the strength and as they are used for his judgment it will be obvious that God is behind it.
Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses' hoofs seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. Their roar is like that of a lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue.
Isaiah describes how the people that God has chosen as an instrument of his judgement are prepared. Like a lion after it has seized its prey, there is no rescue for those who have turned their back on God.
In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, he will see darkness and distress; even the light will be darkened by the clouds.
Isaiah tells of the day that God uses the nations to bring judgement on his people. It also describes the day that Jesus was crucified for our sins as, on that day, it became dark in the middle of the day. Even as God was bringing judgement on his people as Isaiah described, he already had a plan to reconcile all people to him. That, my friends, is how awesome God is!