Summary: God’s people Israel failed to keep God’s covenant, to obey him. As a result they were sent into exile for a short time to bring them to repentance, and then God brought them back again because he wasn’t finished with them yet.
How many of you are old enough to remember the music of the 50s and 60s. Do you remember how popular music changed from Doris Day and Perry Como to Elvis, Col Joye, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? But at the same time did you notice that although the music changed, the themes were fairly constant, the most common, of course, being love. Whether it was spooning in June under the moon or ’Sweet Sixteen’, ’Love me Tender’ or ’I Want to Hold your Hand’, it was the same basic theme. Mind you, some love songs were also laments: ’Don’t Be Cruel’, ’Day Tripper’, ’As Tears Go By’: love songs that expressed the unrequited desires of the lover.
Well today we’re going to look at a love song of that sort, written 2700 years ago, long before the hit parade, by Isaiah, to express God’s sadness at the way his people had rejected his love for them.
If you’ve been here over the last month or so you’ll realise that we’ve just skipped 300 or so years of Israel’s history, from the time of David and Solomon and the start of the kingdom of Israel to the time of Isaiah and the impending end of the Davidic kingship. But before we look at this love song, let’s just go back over what we’ve seen over the last couple of months as we’ve traced the history of Israel through the lives of some of the great figures of that history. We began, of course, with Adam and Eve and we saw that they were called to live lives of obedience to God’s word. We saw that to respond in faith to God meant listening to his word even when he wasn’t present with them.
Then we saw how God called Abram to leave his home and go to a place that he’d show him. God promised Abram that he’d give him offspring more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sand by the sea shore. He’d make his name great. He’d bless him and would bless all peoples through him. Next, we saw how Moses was called to follow God, with the promise that God would go with him and would give him the words to say. We read Joshua’s challenge to the people to choose to follow God, but to first count the cost. And then last week we saw how in choosing David as king God looked on the heart rather than his outward appearance. And we saw how great leadership depends not just on the gift of leadership but on the willingness to follow God’s direction not just human expediency.
You may have noticed as we’ve looked at all of these examples and the lessons we learn from them, that they’re all things that are still true for us as Christians. We’re still called to live lives that are faithful to God’s word. We too are promised, by Jesus himself, that he’ll go with us and that he’ll give us the words to say. Jesus challenges us to seek first God’s kingdom but at the same time to count the cost of being his disciples. He’s warned us, once having put our hand to the plow, not to look back. And of course God stills looks on the heart. Remember, Jesus said it was what was in the heart that defiled a person, not what they ate.
Well, today we come to this prophecy of Isaiah and his song of the vineyard, and again we’ll find that this is also a message for us.
If you were to read through 1 & 2 Kings some time you’d discover that after Solomon’s death we get a whole string of Kings who are either dismal failures or at best only mild successes at following God’s way. And as time goes on it just seems to get worse and worse, until at last God’s patience is worn thin and he decides to act in judgement. And that’s where we come to today. God sends Isaiah to his people with a message of judgement. But this message is presented as a song, a song that’s in fact a parable. He says: (Isa 5:1-17 NRSV) "Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:"
It’s a good start isn’t it? You can imagine the people settling down to hear this song of love and devotion. After all they are God’s special people aren’t they? "My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He 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." If you’ve been out along the Yarra Valley lately you can probably imagine the scene. Rolling hills, green fields, rows of vines lining the road as you pass by. A stone farmhouse in the middle. It’s an idyllic description isn’t it? Everything that could be done for the vineyard has been done. The best position, the best soil, the choicest vines.