Summary: A Love song - from a disappointed lover - God is going to judge his unfaithful people.
I grew up in the 60’s listening to the Beatles. If you know anything about their music you’ll know that most of it was love songs: ‘I want to hold your hand’, ‘She loves you’, ‘From me to you’. And it was a winner because everyone loves a love song and everyone can relate to them. Of course not every love song is a happy one. Sometimes they’re more like a lament. That boy took my love away but this boy, wants you back again. She’s ignoring him, he comes to her door and there’s No Reply. I can’t sleep at night since you’ve been gone, ... I call your name.
Well Isaiah gathers the people of Jerusalem together and sings them a love song which turns out to be a parable. It starts out very happy like a good love song
The Hope of a Harvest
You can imagine the people settling down to hear this song of love and devotion. “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 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? The watchtower indicates that he’s here for the long haul. And he’s dug a wine vat to store the wine so he must expect a great harvest. Everything that could be done for the vineyard has been done. The best position, the best soil, the choicest vines.
But then like every good parable we come to the sting in the tail.
The Failure of the Fruit
“He expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” Grapes, that is, that were too small or sour to be used. You can imagine his listeners gasping in amazement at this turn of events. What’s gone wrong? All his expectations have been dashed. Did he do something wrong perhaps? That’s the question Isaiah puts to the people of Jerusalem. “ 3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” The implication appears to be that the fault is not with the farmer but with the vineyard itself. There’s something that’s not right that’s stopping it from bearing the right fruit.
The Verdict on the Vineyard
So what will the farmer do? “5I 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. 6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briars and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” The only solution for a vineyard whose soil is tainted is to abandon it. To leave it to be overrun. To stop wasting your energy and resources on it.
And then Isaiah delivers the punch line: “7For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” Suddenly the parable hits home. He’s been talking about us. We’re the vineyard. We’re the ones who have failed to bear good fruit, despite all of God’s care and attention.
And what is it that’s led to this verdict from God?
Well it’s all there in vs 8-23: Greed, v8, self-indulgence, v11, flaunting of sin while presuming on God’s goodness, v18, justification of sin, v20 through redefinition and glorification vs21-22 and finally their greed has led to bribery and corruption v23.
The Identification of Israel
The power of the accusation comes from the description of the people of Judah as his pleasant planting or more poetically the garden of his delight, v7. These are the people that God has taken delight in. He’s given them everything: a fertile land, protection, guidance and all he asked of them was to bear good fruit.
Look at v7: “He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry; or as one translator put it: he looked for the right but saw riots, for decency but found despair.
Of course he’s right isn’t he? The whole history of Israel is a tale of failure. They’ve repeatedly failed to follow God, to do what he said. Joshua had warned them that it was all too hard for them. And now they’d come to the point where they didn’t even realise what they were doing. The judgement that would follow would be a case of both God acting to judge and the natural consequences of their own actions.