Isaiah 5 – The Vineyard of the LORD
A. The parable of the vineyard.
“For exquisite beauty of language and consummate skill in effective communication, this parable is virtually peerless. One difficulty of a literary masterpiece is that a would-be translator who is not the literary equal of the author faces an impossible task…. It is in fact an outstanding example of the way the inspiring Spirit employed human language to convey the divine message.” (G.W. Grogan)
1. (1-2) The unproductive vineyard
Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:
My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.
a. Now let me sing: The story is about a vineyard that had many advantages. It belonged to a loving person (my Well-beloved). It was planted on a very fruitful hill. The ground was carefully prepared (dug it up and cleared out its stones). It was planted with good stock (planted it with the choicest vine). It was protected (a tower in its midst). Provision was made for the fruit to be processed (made a winepress in it).
i. “No possession is dearer to a man than a vineyard, and there is none that demands more constant and persevering toil. Not only, therefore, does the Lord declare that we are his beloved inheritance, but at the same time points out his care and anxiety about us.” (Calvin)
ii. “I have been thinking of the advantages of my own position towards the Lord, and lamenting with great shamefacedness that I am not bringing forth such fruit to him as my position demands. Considering our privileges, advantages, and opportunities, I fear that many of us have need to feel great searchings of the heart.” (Spurgeon)
b. He expected it to bring forth good grapes: This is not surprising, considering all the advantages the vineyard had. What else would be expected? But instead it brought forth wild grapes.
i. Wild grapes: “We are dealing here with something worse than unfruitfulness. The New Testament also speaks of a faith that brings forth fruit, but the fruit is dead works, which pollute the air like a cadaver. The wolfsbane, or wild vine (2 Kings 4:39), does bear beautiful berries, but they are bitter, foul-smelling and poisonous in nature. This is a precise description of the self-willed and false religion of the unfaithful covenant people.” (Bultema)
ii. Clarke on wild grapes: “Poisonous berries…not merely useless, unprofitable grapes, such as wild grapes; but grapes offensive to the smell, noxious, poisonous.”
iii. Wild grapes means that the vineyard produced just what you would expect it to produce if nothing had been done to it. All the love, care, time, work, and investment had no result.
2. (3-4) God asks Jerusalem and Judah to consider the story of the vineyard.
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?”
a. Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard: The question is simple. Who is to blame for the harvest of only wild grapes? Is it the fault of the owner of the vineyard, or is it the fault of the vineyard itself?
i. We know, and they knew, that farming is a matter of cause and effect. Literally, one could never “blame” a vineyard for lack of production. But in the LORD’s vineyard, the will of man is a factor.
b. What more could have been done to My vineyard: In the story, there was nothing left undone by the owner of the vineyard. He did all he could do. In the same way, God cannot be blamed at all for the wild grapes Israel brought forth. God did all He could do, apart from making men robots, acting apart from or against their wills.
i. The fault lies with man, not God. “It will be seen then…that every soul of man had the chance of becoming a fruitful vineyard; and if it became the reverse, it was due to no failure in either the wisdom or grace of God.” (Meyer)
ii. “O you that profess to be his people, what more could Christ have done for you? What more could the Holy Spirit have done? What richer promises, what wiser precepts, what kinder providences, what more gracious patience?” (Spurgeon)
c. Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? It is possible for God to do a work in His people, but for His people to receive that work in vain. Paul warned, we then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1)
i. Of course, a literal vineyard doesn’t “do” anything. But we, as God’s vineyard, are called to work with the grace of God, so that grace is not received in vain. Grace isn’t given because of any works, past, present or promised; yet it is given to encourage work, not to say work is unnecessary. God doesn’t want us to receive His grace and become passive. Paul knew that God gives His grace, we work hard, and the work of God is done.
ii. Jesus used this same image in His parable of the wicked tenants and the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46).
iii. “Has it been so with us? Have we rewarded the Well-beloved thus ungratefully for all his pains? Have we given him hardness of heart, instead of repentance; unbelief, instead of faith; indifference, instead of love; idleness, instead of holy industry; impurity, instead of holiness?” (Spurgeon)
3. (5-7) God’s judgment on the unproductive vineyard.
“And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
a. I will take away its hedge: All the owner of the vineyard must do is stop providing special protection to the vineyard, and it shall be burned…it shall be trampled down.
i. In a limited sense, God has given the responsibility of “taking away hedges” to the church. When a Christian is stubbornly unrepentant, it may be the job of the church to “turn them over” to Satan, so they will feel the pain of their sin and repent (1 Timothy 1:20; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5). The church does this by putting such ones outside the spiritual protection found among God’s people.
b. I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug: The vineyard will receive nothing from the LORD. The vineyard resisted and protested the “pruning” and “digging” and “watering” the owner did. So now, the owner says, “Fine. No more pruning or digging or watering. You will see for yourself if that is better.”
i. Many discouraged children of God wish the LORD would stop pruning, stop digging, stop watering. Those things may be hard, but it is even worse when the LORD stops doing them.
c. He looked for justice, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help: The prophet plays on words here. In the Hebrew, he wrote “He looked for mishpat, but behold mispat; for tsedaqua, but behold tseaqua.”
B. Woe to the nation ripe for judgment.
1. (8-10) Woe to the land barons.
Woe to those who join house to house;
They add field to field,
Till there is no place
Where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!
In my hearing the LORD of hosts said,
“Truly, many houses shall be desolate,
Great and beautiful ones, without inhabitant.
For ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath,
And a homer of seed shall yield one ephah.”
a. Woe to those who join house to house: The picture is of greedy real estate buying and development.
i. “For it cannot be condemned as a thing in itself wrong, if a man add field to field and house to house; but he looked at the disposition of mind, which cannot at all be satisfied, when it is once inflamed by the desire of gain. Accordingly, he describes the feelings of those who never have enough, and whom no wealth can satisfy.” (Calvin)
ii. “Covetous persons are of the dragon’s temper, who, they say, is so thirsty, that no water can quench his thirst. Covetousness is a dry drunkenness, saith one, an insatiable dropsy, and like hell itself.” (Trapp)
b. Many houses shall be desolate, great and beautiful ones, without inhabitant: In judgment, their real estate deals will not be successful, and they will have many vacant and unsold houses.
i. “When men are covetous after the things of this world, God has a way of making them to be filled with disappointment and with bitterness.” (Spurgeon)
2. (11-17) Woe to those who party endlessly and celebrate everything but God.
Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
That they may follow intoxicating drink;
Who continue until night, till wine inflames them!
The harp and the strings,
The tambourine and flute,
And wine are in their feasts;
But they do not regard the work of the LORD,
Nor consider the operation of His hands.
Therefore my people have gone into captivity,
Because they have no knowledge;
Their honorable men are famished,
And their multitude dried up with thirst.
Therefore Sheol has enlarged itself
And opened its mouth beyond measure;
Their glory and their multitude and their pomp,
And he who is jubilant, shall descend into it.
People shall be brought down,
Each man shall be humbled,
And the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.
But the LORD of hosts shall be exalted in judgment,
And God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness.
Then the lambs shall feed in their pasture,
And in the waste places of the fat ones strangers shall eat.
a. Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink: The picture is of those who “work hard” to party and endlessly celebrate. Their lives are filled with substance abuse and music – but they do not regard the work of the LORD, nor consider the operation of His hands.
i. What is wrong with the party life and the addiction to entertainment? Simply put, God is forgotten. Though men may claim to remember Him in some way, they do not regard the work of the LORD, nor consider the operation of His hands. Anyone who really does regard the work of the LORD, and really does consider the operation of His hands, will live as if God is real and as if there is much more to life than partying and entertainment.
b. Therefore My people have gone into captivity: Those who forget about God because of their partying and entertainment will be judged by a captivity that will end the laughs (he who is jubilant, shall descend into it), exalt the LORD (the LORD of hosts shall be exalted in judgment), and reward the meek (the lambs shall feed in their pasture).
3. (18-21) Woe to those who confuse moral issues, who think that they know better than God does.
Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity,
And sin as if with a cart rope;
That say, “Let Him make speed and hasten His work,
That we may see it;
And let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come,
That we may know it.”
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!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
And prudent in their own sight!
a. Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity: They pull their sin to themselves with ropes of emptiness!
i. “They flatter themselves by imagining that what is sin is not sin, or by some excuse or idle pretence they lessen its enormity. These, then, are cords, wicked ropes, by which they draw iniquity.” (Calvin)
ii. “That are not only drawn to sin by the allurements of the world, or by the persuasions of wicked men, being surprised and overtaken by sin, as sometimes good men are…but are active and industrious in drawing sin to themselves, or themselves to sin; that greedily and steadily pursue sin, and the occasions of it, and are not at rest until they have overtaken it; that sin wilfully, and resolvedly, and industriously.” (Poole)
iii. “With vain and deceitful arguments and pretences, whereby sinners generally draw themselves to sin.” (Poole)
b. Let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, that we may know it: In saying these empty words, they showed their arrogant contempt of the LORD. It is as if they said, “Go ahead, God. We are ready for your judgment.”
i. “He either cannot or will not do us any harm: we do not fear him, let him do his worst; let him begin as soon as he pleaseth. Not that any of the Israelites were so impudent as to use these expressions; but this was the plain language of their actions; they lived as if they were of this opinion; their presumption and security showing their desperate contempt of God, and of all his judgments.” (Poole)
c. Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil: Using clever and deceptive words, they blur moral issues and excuse their sin. They look at their own evil and call it good, and they look at the good of others and call it evil. Isaiah is describing a deep state of moral confusion.
i. “They were the Nietzschians of that day with their Unwertung aller Werten, the devaluation of all values, the overturning of all values and basic concepts.” (Bultema)
d. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes: They were full of pride and rejected the wisdom and standards of God. “The Bible? It’s so judgmental. Judge not lest you be judged. It’s all how you interpret it. You have your interpretation and I have mine.” All this thinking exalts the wisdom of man over the word of God.
4. (22-23) Woe to the corrupt, who place greater value on drinking than on fairness and justice.
Woe to men mighty at drinking wine,
Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink,
Who justify the wicked for a bribe,
And take away justice from the righteous man!
a. Woe to the men mighty at drinking: These were men of accomplishment, of high achievement – in sin.
i. “The prophet inveigheth against this vice a second time, because it was grown so common. Drunkards also are a sottish kind of creatures, and had therefore more than need to be double dealt with…. Many of these sots take it for a great glory that they are mighty to drink wine.” (Trapp)
ii. “When one was commended to King Alphonsus for a great drinker, and able to bear it, he answered that that was a good praise in a sponge, but not in a prince.” (Trapp)
iii. “Nothing is more base or disgraceful than for a man to make trial of his strength in swallowing food or in guzzling wine, and this struggling with himself so as to cram down as much as his belly can hold. Such men keep no rule of life, and do not know why God gives them nourishment; for we eat and drink to support the body, and not to destroy it.” (Calvin)
b. Who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man: These are men who care only for their own pleasure and entertainment, and care nothing for others.
5. (24-30) The LORD promises a sure and complete judgment.
Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble,
And the flame consumes the chaff,
So their root will be as rottenness,
And their blossom will ascend like dust;
Because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts,
And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore the anger of the LORD is aroused against His people;
He has stretched out His hand against them
And stricken them,
And the hills trembled.
Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets.
For all this His anger is not turned away,
But His hand is stretched out still.
He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar,
And will whistle to them from the end of the earth;
Surely they shall come with speed, swiftly.
No one will be weary or stumble among them,
No one will slumber or sleep;
Nor will the belt on their loins be loosed,
Nor the strap of their sandals be broken;
Whose arrows are sharp,
And all their bows bent;
Their horses’ hooves will seem like flint,
And their wheels like a whirlwind.
Their roaring will be like a lion,
They will roar like young lions;
Yes, they will roar
And lay hold of the prey;
They will carry it away safely,
And no one will deliver.
In that day they will roar against them
Like the roaring of the sea.
And if one looks to the land,
Behold, darkness and sorrow;
And the light is darkened by the clouds.
a. As the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff: Stubble and chaff are both very flammable. God is warning of sudden, complete, and severe judgment.
b. Because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel: Every one of Judah’s sins could be traced back to a time of rejecting and despising what God says. Man’s opinion was far more important to them than God’s word.
c. He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar, and will whistle to them from the end of the earth: God will call foreign nations to come and invade Judah, making them instruments of His judgment upon them.
d. They shall come with speed, swiftly…. No one will be weary or stumble among them…Nor will the belt on their loins be loosed…Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent: The armies God would call against Judah would all business. They would be totally focused, prepared, and readied – while the strong men of Judah would use their strength for drinking contests! This would be a great mismatch, and a soft, drunk, and flabby Judah would certainly fall against such dedicated enemies.
i. If we will not be strong for our own sakes, or even for the sake of the LORD, should we not at least be strong for the sake of our enemies? If they are strong and focused against us, should we not be strong in the LORD, and focused on the LORD, to overcome such strong enemies?
e. Behold, darkness and sorrow; and the light is darkened by the clouds: This is a distressing place. Why would the LORD put Judah in such a place? Because He loves them. These words were harsh but merciful; yet these words were a slap in the face to prevent total and eternal destruction. The only question is, “Will we listen to God’s warning?”
i. “God’s woes are better than the devil’s welcomes.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org