Chapter 2 addressed the overthrow of the things man had made for himself and set up as his security. In chapter 3 the focus turned to the effects on the culture which resulted from rampant idolatry and emphasized the overthrow of the people in whom the nation trusted for their security. Chapter 5 brings the writ of judgment to a climax as the very land itself comes under God’s condemnation, reminiscent of his promise given in their early days as a nation – Deuteronomy 28:38-39 .
As is true of Isaiah in general, there is one who is always in view – that is God. The prophet himself speaks occasionally, God speaks often, and God is the one who always initiates the action. God has his people in view, what their true condition is and consequently their true need, how he will through the execution of his decrees deal with his people in a way that brings glory to him and good to them.
1. the careful owner vv. 1-2
These first two verses come to us from the prophet as he begins to sing a song, one which is exactly reflective of his subject. As a folk-song his composition begins much more positively than it finishes. He turns his eyes to his beloved and the vineyard located on a fertile and fruitful hill. We are given a highly poetic description of a skilled horticulturist, one who knows how to do everything necessary to establish a prize-winning vineyard.
Isaiah identifies the one to whom he sings as his dearest friend, one to whom he is inseparably attached and for whom he possesses undying affection. Isaiah was in the unenviable position of being a Jew, one of God’s chosen people and the object of God’s love; further, he was a prophet, God’s chosen mouthpiece charged with bringing God’s message for weal or woe to his people; finally, he was one of God’s chosen people and the object of God’s purifying fire as well as the people’s anger and contempt. In that position and condition, only the bonds of love forged in the fire of affliction and purification would serve to keep the prophet faithful to his Beloved.
This beloved friend of Isaiah is portrayed as the initiator in every aspect of the parable-song which follows. It is the Beloved, God, who selected the location for the vineyard and then did all things necessary to establish that which should yield abundant and good fruit. God chose the place, prepared the ground, chose the vine he would plant, erected a tower of protection.
Each of these actions of God on the part of the grapevine have parallels in his work of redemption and his establishment of the church. God chooses the individual in which he will do his work, he roots out the obstacles to spiritual growth which can be found in the individual’s heart, he plants new spiritual life through regeneration, he builds a tower of protection by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Christ establishes his church where he chooses and by means of the faithful preaching of his word and the watchcare provided by pastors called to the task, he guards the vineyard against those who would damage it. Just as it was the sovereign choice of the Beloved to establish his vineyard where and how he did, so it is the sovereign work of God in the hearts of men which results in their regeneration and conversion.
The Beloved went above and beyond the call of duty in expending time, energy, and resources to establish the vineyard, make it secure, and make it easy to grow good grapes there. Yet he did even more, making preparations for the grapes to be conveniently used, pressed out into fine wine when they are fresh from the vine.
2. the contrary vineyard v. 2b
After the Beloved had done all of these things to establish his vineyard and set it up for success, he expected that it would produce succulent grapes in abundance. His expectations were not unreasonable; he had done many things to ensure the success of his venture. Can you imagine his disappointment when he observes that the cultivated vine has produced wild grapes? Contrary to the intent of the vinedresser and the design of the vineyard, the vine had failed to produce that for which it was made.
What a sad commentary, not merely on the vineyard but also on Israel herself. The vineyard is a picture used often in Scripture to designate Israel; Jesus made it personal when he described himself as the vine and us as the branches in John 15:1-8 . Even without that tender and heartwarming description of the relationship between the Church and her head, the Jewish people recognized that they were God’s vineyard. That is why the chief priests and Pharisees knew what Jesus was talking about in his parable in Matt. 21:33-45 .
Israel had benefited from God’s tender care and blessings, chosen by God to be his special people, guarded and guided by him through all sorts of situations. Yet it was the repeated story of their life that they failed to produce godly fruit, chasing instead after idols of their own making while trying to perceive themselves still as good people. When all was said and done, in spite of all their attempts at self-redemption, they were unfit for God’s use and deserving only to be thrown away.
3. the compassionate judge vv. 3-4
As God comes to the center of attention he speaks, commanding the attention of all who are in Jerusalem and Judah. He has presented his case, he comes forth now as the Judge who confronts his people and expects them to render a verdict on their own performance. He has plainly declared through the prophet what he has done to prepare his vineyard to be a star performer, then he asks the rhetorical question “What else could I possibly have done?” The obvious answer is that there is nothing more necessary that God could have provided for his people.
Jerusalem and Judah are in an awful position – accuse God of having failed to do what he should have for them, his people, -or- acknowledge that God was correct in his assessment and they were guilty as charged. To charge God with failure of any kind is unthinkable but the other option leads only to condemnation and destruction. Either way the vineyard is destined for a bad end.
But are these the only options? Is it right to call God the compassionate judge? Consider the circumstances – at this point in time God was absolutely justified in bringing down whatever judgment he deemed most appropriate on his people and without any further warning. Yet that is not how God proceeded; instead by confronting his people, forcing them to acknowledge their guilt before him, God was at the same time providing them with an opportunity for repentance and throwing themselves on his mercy. Had they done so, he would have graciously pardoned them and their promised judgment would have been averted.
I believe we have here in verses 3 & 4 a picture of the final judgment as well. At that time, God will reveal in full detail all he has done for mankind, giving them all they needed to know there was a God and worship him as such. When man at the last judgment is confronted with that evidence and asked the same question “What more could I have done?” they will condemn themselves by their response, albeit through clenched teeth and raised fist. The great difference between Judah’s experience and that of the last day is that there will be no opportunity for repentance or the granting of mercy.
God did not use force in his management of the vineyard nor does he use force in his actions upon mens’ souls – force does not convert the soul nor bring it to God; it is with cords of lovingkindness that he draws us to himself. At the same time God and his gace is sovereign and effectual in accomplishing his purpose. God’s grace is irresisitible and though it is irresistible it is at the same time grace and thus makes the soul willing by operating on it.
We must also be careful not to misunderstand the question here; God is not asking for help to understand what he did wrong or failed to do. He is not implying that he has done the best he can under the circumstances but the circumstances were beyond his control. The question by its nature emphasizes the overwhelmingly abundant grace God has bestowed on his people to the degree that they are utterly without excuse. God has been absolutely faithful to keeping his promises, a fact which all of Isaiah’s audience were compelled to acknowledge.
4. the convicting sovereign vv. 5-6
The silence at the end of verse 4 is deafening as the Judge awaits an answer; hearing none other than perhaps a token attempt at self-justification, he proceeds to declare what he will do to his vineyard. Even in this writ of judgment against his sinful people the sovereign pleads with them to listen to his voice. It is in the tone of intreaty that he approaches them, giving them yet another opportunity to come under conviction of their sin and turn in repentance back to their loving sovereign Lord.
The very things which Judah and Jerusalem despised and which they needed the most will be taken away by the vineyard owner. First, God will remove that which separates the vineyard from the surrounding territory – the hedge and the wall which defined its boundaries. The hedge was likely plantings of prickly pears which are common in Palestine and in combination with the wall constructed of stones dug out during the initial process of cultivation served to protect the vineyard. Once the hedge and wall are removed, the vineyard is no longer protected from wild animals who then come in and trample the vines ending their usefulness.
Just as the vineyard would be left without protection, so God would remove the hedge of protection from around Judah and Jerusalem leaving them open to attack from foreign nations. Those nations, however, would not act only on their own initiative – God will lay the vineyard waste. It is he who takes responsibility for the destruction that takes place even though the agents used were Assyrian and Chaldean armies. God not only will remove his hand of protection, he will also remove his hand of provision – the vineyard will not be tended, pruned or cultivated so that it remains productive; in place of the choice vines God had planted there, briars and thorns will spring up in their place reminiscent of the awful sentence God proclaimed to Adam in the Garden.
In his final word of threatening, the Beloved vinedresser demonstrates his absolute sovereignty; who but the sovereign creator of the universe can command the clouds to drop or withhold their rain? God has declared that since his people are determined to remain rebellious and ungrateful, He would withhold his blessings from them, withdraw his presence from them, and leave them to their own devices and exposed to their enemies.
The sense of the whole verse is plain. God would leave the Jews without protection; he would remove the guards, the helps, the influences, with which he had favored them, and leave them to their own course, as a vineyard that was unpruned, uncultivated, unwatered. Barnes
5. the concise teacher v. 7
The voice we hear in verse 7 is again that of the prophet who makes it clear that while the previous is a parable, it is also real; there truly is a vineyard and it is destined for disaster. In concise summary fashion he makes application, defining his terms and explicitly enumerating the charges against the men of Judah. Once again God’s elective choice is obvious – out of all the nations of the world he chose the house of Israel and the men of Judah as the objects of his special attention and grace.
Even more astounding God set his affection on Judah and found delight in her not because of what she was intrinsically but because he would display his glory in her. God bestowed great affection and blessing on his people and looked for only two things in return – justice and righteousness. themes that resonated with Micah as well and seen in his explanation of what God’s requirement for mankind are: to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God Micah 6:8 .
But rather than respond properly to God’s blessings, his people rejected him and his expectations. Instead of finding justice as he looked at Jerusalem society he found bloodshed; instead of righteousness, he heard cries for help – see Barnes on this
In the original here, there is a remarkable “paranomasia,” or play upon words, which is not uncommon in the Hebrew Scriptures, and which was deemed a great beauty in composition:
He looked for “judgment,”
And lo! “shedding of blood,”
But lo! “a clamor,”
It’s easy to see how the Jewish people could arrive at this state. They had enjoyed God and his favor for generations; they had remained his covenant people regardless of their performance regarding the terms of the covenant; wayward or not, God still sent his prophets to them. All these things worked to convince them that they could never fall from his favor, that God would not abandon or judge or condemn them regardless of their treatment of him. Just as God refused to allow self-seeded vines to remain in the vineyard, so he has no grandchildren in his family. Simply being descended from Abraham was in God’s view no guarantee of spiritual blessing; each member of God’s family is adopted individually.
The same is true of 21st century America. Simply being descended from the founding fathers is no guarantee God will continue to bless our nation. Simply continuing to hold worship services in a structure that once proclaimed truth is no guarantee of God’s continued favor on that assembly. Living under the shade of parents’ or grandparents’ Christianity is no guarantee of divine protection. We cannot live on borrowed capital in the Kingdom of God; we must in each sphere of influence be living in such a way as to find favor with God – in the public square, in the local assembly, in our individual families. May he give us the grace to do so.