Isaiah 5. A Vineyard For the Beloved.
Key Notes: King of the Day: Uzziah. The vineyard theme in the Bible. My Beloved. Seven woes in a palindrome. The antidotes.
Our King of the day:
Uzziah was 16 when he became king. (791–740BC). His prophet was Zechariah (not the writer of the book of Zechariah). He was victorious against Philistines, Arabs, Meunites, and Ammonites. He was prosperous, with farms, herds and vineyards. His army had more than 300,000 fighting men, well supplied. He became famous. Then he became proud. He went into the temple to burn incense as a priest. The priests opposed him and drove him out of the temple. He became a leper at once and lived out his days in quarantine with his son Jotham as coregent. IIChron.26.
Of Judah's eight good kings, each had a failing, usually due to pride. In David's case indolence and lust were his undoing. Uzziah's sin was presumption.
Chapter 5 begins lyrically and ends ominously. It is divided into three parts:
5:1–7 The parable of the vineyard.
5:8–23 Seven woes on the men of the vineyard.
5:24–30 The threat of invasion.
5:1–2 Isaiah sings a song for His Beloved who planted a vineyard in an ideal location, prepared the soil, chose vines carefully, and put up the necessary structures: watch-tower, wine-vat, hedge and wall.
5:3–4 He asks his audience what more could be expected of an owner working on a project. But why did it yield rotten grapes? There is no answer.
5:5–6 The owner will remove its defenses and let the vineyard go to waste.
5:7 The owner is the Lord of Hosts. Israel and Judah are the planting. Justice and righteousness were the expected fruit but bloodshed and outcry were the ruinous result.
5:8–23 There are six woes spoken, but the seventh (5:23) is implied and fits the picture.
•Woe to those who develop huge estates, so big that neighbors are too far away to be seen. God will see to the ruin of these estates and the land will eventually yield only a tenth of its value.
Comment: Lev.25:28 says that the land belongs to God and could only be rented on the basis of calculated production for periods up to 49 years. On the 50th year (Jubilee) land was to revert to the traditional owners. This was a crucial piece of land "reform". There were to be no landless peasants for more than one generation. We do not know if the Jubilee law was ever honored in practice. Plainly it was not being obeyed in Isaiah's time. A widening gap between rich and poor was inevitable.
•Woe to those who party with much wine on the feast-days. Mixed drinks are even more potent ( perhaps other drugs added.)
The feasts (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, Yom Kippur, etc.) were religious festivals to remind Israel of the way God had led and preserved them in the past. Drunkenness at the feasts was a affront to God who should have been honored.
For want of knowledge (of the Law) Israel would go into exile, dying of hunger and thirst. The grave will open its mouth wide and swallow the nobles and the masses of Jerusalem. Mankind will be humbled. The Holy God will be shown to be holy. Sheep will graze among the ruins of the city.
*Woe to those who drag cart-loads of sin behind them, while daring God to show His purposes.
IIPet.3:3,4 says scoffers in the last days will say "Where is the promise of His Coming"?
Ezek.12:22 quotes a popular proverb: "The days grow long, and every vision comes to naught."
Rom.3:4 speaks of presuming on God's forbearance and patience.
•Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. This is not a common concept in Scripture and implies a total loss of morality. (See Mal.2:17)
•Woe to the conceited. Prov.3:7 warns us not to be wise in our own eyes.
•Woe to the binge drinkers. Prov.23:29–35 describes the folly of the alcoholic.
•Woe to those who accept bribes and pervert justice. A gift has great power.
"A bribe is a magic stone in the eyes of those who give it; wherever they turn, they prosper." (Prov.17:8)
"A gift opens doors; it gives access to the great" (Prov.18:16)
"A gift in secret averts anger; a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath." (Prov. 21:14)
But the Law forbids bribery:
"You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right." (Ex.23:8)
"Fire consumes the tents of bribery." (Job15:34)
5:24–30 Since Israel has rejected the Law and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel, God's wrath is kindled. He will signal the army of a far-away nation, terribly efficient warriors (Assyrians), that will come like a roaring lion, bringing darkness and distress.
"My Beloved" is the name Isaiah uses for JHWH Sabaoth, the LORD of Hosts. It is a unique expression outside of the Song of Songs. The Holy Spirit enables us to call Him "Abba". (Rom.8:15,16). My Beloved is an intimate step up from that.
The vineyard parable was later repeated by Isaiah with a good outcome. (Isa.27:2–6). Asaph wrote a beautiful psalm describing Israel as a vine, growing luxuriously and then ravaged. (Psa.80). Christ taught the parable many years later, focusing on the keepers of the vineyard who excluded the Owner's servants and eventually killed the Owner's Son. (Lk.20:9–18). When he said that God would destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others the people said "God forbid." The scribes and chief priests knew that he had told this parable against them. (Lk.20:19). The same lessons have to be learned over and over.
In John 15, Jesus used the vine metaphor in a different way: He is the vine, and we are fruitful when we abide in Him. Could failing to abide in Him be the secret to Israel's failure to yield good fruit?
Seven woes were upon Israel for:
a. accumulating land to the exclusion of the poor
b. feasts that ignored God
c. spiritual cynicism
d. reversed moral standards
f. heavy drinking
g. perverting justice for money.
These seven woes suggest a palindrome. We know that
Isaiah uses the literary figure commonly.
a. and g. describe greed, the outer shell of injustice, excusable immorality.
b. and f. address feasting and drinking which permit escape from faithfulness.
c. and e. describe the autonomous ego which defines its own morality.
d. is the core: moral anarchy--amorality.
The palindrome appears to show us four layers of the darkened heart. Note that the prophet does not list the grosser sins: idols, sexual promiscuity, murder, theft, child sacrifice, and cruelty. He focuses on the subtler sins of the soul.
The palindrome also suggests antidotes:
a. and g. We must become responsible stewards of God's gifts
b. and f. "Do not be drunk with wine which is debauchery but be filled with the Spirit". (Eph.5:18).
c. and e. We know God's word and are subject to it.
d. We receive from God a new core, a new heart.