Be sure to read the first of Rod’s articles on Isaiah 5 here.
Woes on the Useless Vineyard —
Return to Isaiah 57:
For the vineyard of Yahweh of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
Yahweh said: “My vineyard has only worthless grapes.” He looked to His delightful plant for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard a cry of distress. “Fruit” (worthless grapes, v. 2) is a metaphor for attitudes. Yahweh looked for fruit (v. 2); He looked for justice and righteousness (v. 7). But attitudes always translate into action: so He found murder and oppression.
A series of woes follows in 58–23. “Woe” expresses Isaiah’s horror over what is about to happen. If I were to inadvertently walk over an in-ground yellow-jacket nest, you might say, “Oh no” (which is equivalent to “woe”). You didn’t cause the stinging. But knowing what was about to happen you said, “Oh no.” In the same way, Yahweh saw and announced why His curses were about to fall on Israel.
In this six woes section we see the bitter, useless fruit of that society. He identified their specific, horrible characteristics and traits. Their degradation proved that the nation was producing bad grapes. He was willing to tear down the fence and let the wild beasts come through and ravage his vineyard. They had deteriorated and become worthless.
Pick up the reading in 526:
He will also lift up a standard to the distant nation,
And will whistle for it from the ends of the earth;
And behold, it will come with speed swiftly.
Lifting up a standard is a key phrase in Isaiah. A standard was a flag, banner or insignia. It was lifted up on a pole. Protruding high into the air, it was easy for the troops following to see where the leader was and where they were going. In this case, Yahweh himself threatened to raise a standard for a far-off nation. He threatened to whistle for it from the ends of the earth. It might appear that the Assyrian, whom we will see in chapter 10, was coming against the northern tribes (and spreading into Judah) on a ravaging mission of his own desires. Never-the-less, it was God. He said, “I’m the one calling for them. I lift up the standard, I whistle for them.” Thus, even such a powerful nation as Assyria was merely a tool for Yahweh!
Finally, examine vs. 30:
And it will growl over it in that day like the roaring of the sea.
If one looks to the land, behold, there is darkness and distress;
Even the light is darkened by its clouds.
In this reading “it” occurs twice. The first refers to the Assyrian army; who would growl. The second “it” refers to the vineyard, whose “hedge” and “wall” Yahweh threatened to remove (v. 5). “In that day” refers to when Yahweh gave His vineyard over to beasts (both literally, and figuratively in Assyria).
Notice the roaring of the sea and darkness and distress on the land. There are vivid images in this text. As the Assyrian troops invaded this vineyard, their horses’ hoofs would kick up dust and the devastation of burning which they left behind would fill the air with smoke. These combined to darken the sky. That was the physical image. However, there was also the emotional image of the gloom that prevailed over their spirits. It was a dark day. This is a fascinating aspect of the Hebrew writings: they can give a powerful physical image, while expecting one to see the emotional or spiritual image, as well.
There’s yet a third and more significant aspect of this image: The spiritual darkness that overshadowed the land. Call it an extended national darkness that overwhelmed Yahweh’s people for centuries. We’ll discuss this in more detail at the end of chapter 8. Yahweh left His people in a spiritual darkness which He would not lift until Messiah came.
It’s also interesting that Assyria was to come like the roaring of the sea. So frequently in the Old Covenant (carried, of course into the New) is the image of the sea representing the turbulent society of the gentile world. Thus, in this passage, the gentile “sea” was going to invade the land: Palestine, or Israel. It would engulf Yahweh’s people in darkness as a result. Darkness enveloped the land from Assyria through Rome. (Here’s a comforting note, though. According to Revelation 211, when Yahweh lifted the darkness by bringing in the New Heaven and New Earth, the sea was no more!). More coming, so stay tuned! Be sure to read Don K. Preston’s The Last Days Identified, for more on Isaiah.