September 17, 2020
In Isaiah’s "Song of the Beloved’s Vineyard” (Isa 5), we hear the prophet-as-poet, singing images to evoke a broken heart that would lead God’s people to repentance. God’s people have lost all direction and lost hope, but God sends a prophet and will make a promise to renew their hope.
As we studied Isaiah 1 in our Grow Groups on Sunday, we heard the prophet-as-prosecutor, offering the opening argument in the covenant lawsuit that God brought against his people for their idolatry, immorality, and injustice.
But in Isaiah 5, we hear the prophet-as-poet, singing powerful, emotional images to evoke a broken heart ready to return to God. Isaiah sings the song of his Beloved’s carefully tended vineyard:
“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
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? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isa 5:1–7)
God had done everything for the people he loved. He rescued and redeemed them from slavery. He gave them the Law to show them how to live in freedom. He provided a home for them in a land long-promised to them. He protected and provided in every needful way.
And yet the result wasn’t sweet fruit from the vine. What he got was sour grapes. God gave his people everything they needed and more than they deserved. This should have produced justice to mirror how God had liberated them, but the people gave a bumper crop of bloodshed, violence, and oppression instead. God wanted to see righteousness and fairness and kindness, but all he could hear were the cries of those abused, objectified by his people’s selfish sin.
Later in v. 18, Isaiah describes the people as so impatient to sin that they resort to piling their wickedness up on carts so that they can drag it around with heavy ropes in order to be selfish more efficiently. They taunt God, begging him to prove he is what he says he is, that he really is powerful enough to judge their sin (v. 19).
So Isaiah sounds the warning in v. 20:
“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!” (Isa 5:20)
Even if the people wanted to return back to God, they hardly know in what direction to look anymore. They’ve called wrong “right” for so long that they wouldn’t even be able to follow a map if you handed it to them. It’s like when someone is suddenly buried in an avalanche and they are so disoriented and discombobulated by the experience that they begin to dig down deeper into the snow because they can’t even tell which way is up, which direction leads to safety and resuce.
What hope can there be when you see the world upside-down?
On your own, not much hope at all.
And so God’s judgment comes, and Isaiah describes in v. 30 the horror of the approaching army that will be the instrument of God’s wrath: “…if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and distress; and the light [of the sun] is darkened by its clouds.” (Isa 5:30b) Even the sun is now a source of darkness.
This is awfully dark, virtually hopeless. Like Adam and Eve before, Israel is exiled from a garden, from God’s own vineyard. They’re left to languish in a land of death. They’re shut out from entering God’s presence, cut off from the blessing of his life. Without light, it’s like God never made the world to begin with.
What is there left to do? What hope is there for a new light to dawn to restore and renew God’s people and his relationship with them?
The very next line of Isaiah’s book begins to open up that answer to us. Isaiah 6:1 says, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”
There’s hope when God sends a prophet to call his people to repentance and when he promises to come himself as the one who will serve his people and bear their sins.
Isaiah has already shared with us at the start of ch. 2 the hope we can anticipate when God comes to redeem his people: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, And many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem….O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isa 2:2–3, 5)
There will come a day when the nations won’t swarm and besiege Jerusalem to discipline God’s people. Instead, they will flock to Jerusalem to learn God’s ways, to be taught God’s law, former enemies to be joined to God’s people in peace as fellow worshipers of the one true God.
But this all starts with Isaiah’s dramatic call to become God’s prophet recorded in ch. 6, and that’s what we’ll go deep to discover this Sunday in our Grow Groups. On Zoom or in the room, we’ll see you then.