Summary: Israel is pictured as a vineyard. God looks for the fruit of righteousness but finds only injustice. God promises a faithful king who will judge with righteousness.
Isaiah 5:1-7, 11:2-5 “Following the King”
The texts that we have before us today may seem rather divergent. In chapter five, God is pictured as a gardener—a vine dresser—and the Southern Kingdom of Judah as wild grapes. In the second passage, chapter eleven, we have the promise of the coming Messiah—the perfect king. As I read these passages several times, the musical, “My Fair Lady” came to mind. The musical is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion.” (Pygmalion is a term from Greek mythology. It is the name of a king who made a female figure out of ivory that was brought to life for him by Aphrodite.) In the musical, Eliza Doolittle—a cockney girl who is a little rough around the edges is shaped into a fine lady by Professor Henry Higgins.
For me, this musical is a visual description of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are taken from the vineyard of life as wild grapes. The Spirit of God then comes upon us as the Spirit did with the sprout from Jesse’s stump in chapter eleven and begins the Spirit’s work within us.
The Prophet Isaiah is a contemporary of Hosea. You might recall that the lesson for last Sunday was from Hosea. Hosea proclaimed God’s word in the Northern Kingdom, while Isaiah’s ministry was in the Southern Kingdom.
The Lord has worked long and hard in God’s vineyard. The land is cleared and the soil is tilled. Tenderly grape vines are planted, tended, watered and nourished. A protective hedge is raised around the vineyard to protect it. Everything is in place for an abundant harvest and exceptional wine. Something happens, though, and the vineyard produces wild grapes. The harvest is ruined.
The problem that Isaiah finds in the Southern Kingdom is the same as Hosea found in the Northern Kingdom. The people are estranged from the Lord. Some of the people have started to worship idols and false gods. The idea of loving the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength is foreign to them. Others continue to worship the Lord at the temple and go through religious rituals, but they don’t allow their religion to affect their daily lives. These people are wrapped up in themselves. They live unjust and uncaring lives as they ignore the poor and needy.
Isaiah declares God’s judgment upon the people. Still there is a hint of hope.
It is easy to see ourselves in the people of the Southern Kingdom. Certainly we have gone our own ways and declared our independence. We are constantly tempted to follow the false gods and idols of this world. Even though we hear Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me,” we get wrapped up in ourselves and ignore the needs of others.
The Lord doesn’t allow us to stay in this condition. As the Christian cliché goes, “God accepts us where we are at, but God doesn’t allow us to stay there.”
THE SPIRIT COMES
Chapter eleven describes the perfect king—the Messiah. The king will be a sprout from the root of Jesse. In other words he will be a descendent of King David and fulfillment of God’s promise that David’s family would rule. Christians have always understood that this passage was realized in the person of Jesus. As disciples of Jesus Christ, who continue Jesus’ ministry, these words apply to us, also.
The Spirit descends upon the person and gives him the characteristics that will make him a righteous, benevolent king. This sprout of Jesse doesn’t have these qualities in and of himself. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are the gifts of wisdom and understanding, council and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. We might note that these are the words of blessing that are put upon the newly baptized and those who are affirming their baptism.
The transformation process from wild grapes to Spirit enthused is long and sometimes painful.
• The Spirit might lead us to step out of our comfort zone—to walk new paths and learn new things.
• Our attitude towards groups may be changed when we meet and become acquainted with one or two members of those groups and the groups become people e.g. Muslims, gays and lesbians, undocumented immigrants.
• The Spirit might convict us of the harmful effects that our words and attitudes have upon others and might convince us that change is needed.
CARRYING OUT THE MINISTRY
The changes that occur in the king and in the followers of the king, allow transformation to take place in the world. No longer are words and actions based on outward appearances. Our first impressions of others, especially those who are different from ourselves, usually stress the differences. Seeing beyond outward appearances allows us to recognize similarities. Similarities facilitate the building of relationships.