Isaiah 5: A Vineyard of Woes
We should view Isa. 1–5 as introducing discussion themes for the rest of Isaiah’s book, with chap. 6 being the prophet’s commission as God’s spokesman. We should also view chap. 2–4 as his Last Days introduction. Recall the bookends: 21–4 spoke of establishing the Mountain of Yahweh’s House and 42–6 spoke of the Branch’s activity—in the Last Days. It’s as though Isaiah said, “Here’s what I’m going to be talking about in the rest of my book; the things God will do making Jerusalem new in the Last Days.”
Isaiah’s Vineyard Song
We’ll begin with Isaiah extolling God’s in song in 51–2:
Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced worthless ones.
Notice the precautions and care Yahweh gave to His beloved vineyard. God made key choices: a fertile hill, well-dug ground, a choice vine, a watchtower and a wine vat. God didn’t plant His vine in a rugged place or out in a desert where it could barely grow; but on a fertile hill. Additionally, He prepared the vineyard well. He dug the ground, removed all its stones, so roots would go deep and firm, absorbing plenty of nutrient-rich moisture from the soil. Then He took, not just any old scrap vine like one might buy from a discount nursery. No, this was a grade A vine, the choicest vine. (From Psalm 80 we learn that Yahweh brought this choice vine out of Egypt, cleared a place for it and planted it for Himself.) He also built a tower in order to guard this precious new planting. Finally. He hewed a wine vat. Yahweh expected production.
He did everything possible to make it productive. How disappointed He must have been to find so much worthlessness in His select vineyard! What follows in vv. 3–6 confirms this suspicion:
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between Me and My vineyard.
What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?
So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed,
But briars and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.
This forms the basis for Jesus’ condemnation of the vineyard-keepers in Matt. 2133–41. “I will lay it waste,” was Jesus’ sentence against the corrupt vineyard of Judah in His days.
Now let’s read vs. 7:
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’s vineyard wasn’t a literal cultivated field; it was the house of Israel. We know from verse 4 that He expected grapes; but He only found worthless ones. But they weren’t literal grapes; they were attitudes and actions. Compare vs. 4 to vs. 7. In vs. 4 He looked for good grapes; in vs. 7 He looked for justice and He looked for righteousness. In both verse He looked for the same crop: the good grapes of justice and righteousness. This was the “fruit” of Yahweh’s vineyard.
God was looking for attitudes from His people; an attitude of justice and one of righteousness. Succinctly, “justice” corresponded to upright ethics of commerce and of the court system; “righteousness” corresponded to mercy shown to the downcast and indigent. Instead, Yahweh found bloodshed and a cry of distress. He was very displeased and distressed with His vineyard. This called for curative action in order that His vineyard might bear pleasing fruit.
Compare that to Jesus’ parable from Matt. 2133–41:
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
Jesus based this parable on Isaiah 5: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.” It’s clear: Jesus intended this parable to be His application of Isaiah 5 to the Last Days situation of His audience. As He told this parable, those Jews around Him understood what He was talking about. Their minds immediately went to Isaiah 5. They knew exactly what He was saying. Verse 44 says that they wanted to kill Him for what He said.
Jesus enhanced the story. He brought it up to date. God, the vineyard owner, rented it, Zion, out to vine- growers and went on a journey. (Matthew had already introduced the idea of harvest in chapter 3. John used two images, “His winnowing fork is in his hand,” and “The ax is already at the root.” It was harvest time when Jesus spoke. Matthew’s readers understood what He said here.) So harvest time loomed. He sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive produce from His Vineyard. Those vine-growers took His slaves; beat one, killed another, stoned a third. So He sent even more slaves than originally. They treated them with the same contempt. Lastly, He sent his Son saying, “They will respect my Son.” But when they saw Him they said, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and seize the inheritance.” And they did. They expelled Him from His vineyard, killed Him and expected to continue “running” it. Jesus suffered outside the accepted circle of that society (see Heb. 13).
Jesus asked: “What must the just vineyard-owner do at His coming? What will He do to those vine- growers?” Interestingly, they got it right: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers.” Thus, Jesus said in verse 43, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you.” In this He identified the vineyard as the kingdom of God. The Jews role as caretakers was to be taken away from them and given to another set of caretakers. They would produce its fruit; just as Yahweh wanted in Isaiah 5, as He has always wanted.
On this thought look also at John 151–8.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
When they heard this, is it possible that the disciples would think of any passage other than Isaiah 5? Wasn’t the “true vine” that same “choice vine?” God planted His vineyard with the choicest vine; Jesus said, “I am the true vine, My Father is the vine dresser.” Jesus made the connection. He was the vine and they needed to be active through Him in order to produce the fruit which that vineyard was expected to produce. More to come. Be sure to read Don K. Preston’s book The Last Days Identified, for more on Isaiah.