The Parable of the Vineyard.
“Now let me sing to my Well-beloved A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes. “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it. ” For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help. ” Isaiah 5:1-7 (NKJV)
A parable deep in the oceanic statements of the prophets! How incredible! More than likely, the mother of all parables that caused Jesus to tell so many stories about vineyards and seed planting. It is the story of the entire history of Israel up to that point in history where Isaiah stands up to sing. Seven verses of scripture cover over a thousand years of history. It’s true! Yahweh Himself uses poetry and song in this minute section of the revelation of His grit thoughts to man. We have in this, “tuition by music, ” a resume of the history of God’s chosen people. This parable is a valuable servant of truth. It is pure spring water, almost “sound bite” brief, artistically and creatively fascinating, attractive, and explosively apt. The Divine idea fires its intrinsic bullet at once, as light from a diamond. These are words straight from heaven set to music, which, unfortunately, we don’t have. This entry into the world of music, by Isaiah, is not only a song of Divine love, but a song, tragically, of Divine heartbreak.
|A genuine Vineyard watchtower in Israel.
“Now let me sing to my well-beloved.” Yes! Of course, Isaiah wrote this song! It is part of the prophetic book that bears his name. But as God’s prophet, whom is he speaking for when he sings? As a scriptwriter in a play, whose name prefixes these words? Is it Isaiah singing to God, about God? Who is the well-beloved? Who is doing the loving? I do not consider it so lightly as some “authorities” do when they claim that this is not an issue. Many suggest that, “Isaiah tells a story, the details of who is saying what, to whom, are irrelevant till we get to verse 7.” Not true. The entire threefold repetition in verse one is utterly unnecessary if that is true.
If written as a drama script, it would read as thus:
Isaiah: I shall sing a song entitled, “My Well-Beloved”.
Isaiah (adopting new character for He who sings): A song of my Well-Beloved, concerning His vineyard.
(Now the song starts): My Well beloved has a Vineyard on a very fruitful hill.
Hold on, though! All the Lexicon’s and Hebrew word study books tell me that the word used for “well beloved” is as near to the English word “darling” as any. A familiar, intimate expression. Surely it is inappropriate, if not inconceivable, that the prophet who bows in awe before the Almighty in chapter 6 of this book, and persistently refers to Him who is, “the Holy One of Israel,” here refers to God as his, “Darling?” It is an important and chronically relevant question; and one to which the answer is not altogether obvious. Exactly who is the “well-beloved,” “the darling,” of Isaiah’s song here in chapter 5? Who is speaking? And, to whom are these words addressed? Only two answers seem possible. Either it must be the prophet who speaks, addressing God; or else, it must be the eternal Father who is speaking, but speaking to whom? This is a very important question, as I hope you will see as you read in.
If I wanted, as most preachers and Christian book writers seem to, to adopt the former exegetical pattern, we have to face two very serious difficulties, neither of which can I accept. Firstly, because Isaiah here uses that term of endearment which would be strangely inconsistent with his usual style of addressing God. If it was Isaiah singing to the Almighty, I have to own up and say that such a use of the Hebrew term (Well-beloved; darling) here employed occurs nowhere else in Scripture. I say it is silly to even pretend that Isaiah is here singing from his heart to God. Yes, “darling” is a term of endearment of the strongest kind. However, it is easy to see that there is something very repugnant to any ideas of language, for a human being to apply such a term to the Almighty, Everlasting, Omniscient God. This is the all glorious Yahweh, with whose awesome majesty Isaiah was himself so profoundly impacted. In every other biblical case in which this word is used as a term of endearment, it is addressed by the stronger to the weaker, by the superior to the inferior, by a father to a son, but never from a son to his father. Thus Benjamin is spoken of as the beloved (darling) of the Lord in the blessings of Deuteronomy, the thought suggested being, that as Benjamin himself was Jacob’s favourite, the darling of his heart, so the tribe was to be specially dear to the great Father of the race. But obviously, while Benjamin might justly be called the darling of Jacob’s heart, it would have been, to say the least, somewhat incongruous to speak of Jacob as Benjamin’s darling. The term would have been wholly out of place; and not less, but even more, out of place if it was heard from the lips of Isaiah addressing Yahweh.
Yet another difficulty has to be faced if we make the prophet himself the source of the voice of the song. If it is Isaiah himself, speaking on his own behalf, the song clearly ends at the close of the second verse. Following through with this hypothesis, it must be therefore be assumed that there is an abrupt transition from the speech of the prophet to the speech of God in verse 3. So the song is really only two verses long. It seems clear, however, to even the most cursory glance from a novice reader of scripture, that the whole passage, down to the end of the seventh verse constitutes the song referred to in the first verse. All the text from the end of verse 1 to the end of verse seven are spoken of as a song sung to the, “well-beloved darling.”
|A contemporary Israeli vineyard.
When we adopt the other explanation of the passage, ie: that it is Yahweh Himself singing the song, it all at once becomes self evident and self-consistent. We see before our eyes a marvelously explicit reference to a great biblical truth, that was not fully revealed to the world till the Christian epoch. We read with great clarity in the words of Isaiah the biblical truth of the distinction of Persons (for lack of better terms) in the divine Oneness of God. This same truth is seen in many other passages of Old Testament Scripture, sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit. If we take hold of this line of thought, it is the eternal Father that is here addressing His well-beloved, darling Son. Here the expression used is just what might be expected, and we are reminded of the voice which fell from heaven in New Testament times: “This is My well beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Looking at the passage through this pair of spectacles, the personage of the singer and the unity of the song is comfortably preserved throughout. There is no abrupt transition from the utterance of one person to that of another. He who sings and He to whom the song is sung are one. The Father sings over the Son from verse the last phrase of verse 1, through to the end of verse 2. The text then changes from third person to first person, indicating the Son now answers to the Father’s remarks, through to the end of verse 7. The change from third person to first in the third verse then ceases to sound like a disjointed misprint The Father is jealous with a holy jealousy for the Person and work of His Son. He knows how well that work has been done, and has all the more reason to complain of Him having been denied its proper results and its merited reward.
We will, therefore take these words to be spoken, not as from the person of Isaiah, but as from God the Father to His Son our Lord, who in New Testament language is called, “the beloved Son.”
So, we read the whole as Heavenly Father informing us that His darling Son has a Vineyard. And this Vineyard is placed in a good situation, physically, spiritually and in every conceivable way for good fruit and wine from the vineyard. “The fruitful hill” is quite literally, “the horn of a son of oil,” suggesting a hill that is remarkably fertile because it is exposed to the sun all round, as all Vineyards need to be. This Vineyard has, indeed, been the subject of great love and care (Isa 5:2). The Well-beloved Son has a just and deep expectation of fruit from the vineyard, but we are about to be told about His deep disappointment of the results. It brought forth wild (literally, smelly) grapes
The fruitful hill, alludes plainly to the land of Canaan as a physical location, which was a fertile land. The “horn of the son of oil,” could also refer to the scriptures, such as they had in Isaiah’s day, which elevated Israel as a hill to imbibe the sunshine of God’s word.
The hill, though ideal in itself, needed to be improved upon. This hill is prepared at first; it has to be fenced in to keep strong winds and thieves out, stones are to be removed, and the choice vine is to be planted, with a watch tower to be set in the midst of the whole, and the wine press to be built. Everything big starts little. The child is but the beginning; the man should be the finished result. The seed is to be planted, and the fruitful vine is to be the finished result.
| “On a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine.”
God cleared the soil of this vineyard from stones by giving Israel and Judah the oracles of God, the covenants and the prophets. But this is a proper continuation of the allegory within the parable, that as stones should be cast out of a vineyard, so God cast out the ancient inhabitants of Canaan, to make room for the children of Israel. And with them He cast out their idols, made of wood and stone, and demolished the temples dedicated to such idolatry, that His own people might have no stumbling blocks left in their way, but might be wholly turned to His service, that is, that they would become a fruitful vine.
God made a fence round about it, i.e., He distinguished His people from all other nations by specific laws, statutes, and observances, not only in matters of faith and worship, but even in civil life, in their very diet and conversation, so that it was impossible for them to sustain the divinely inspired Jewish biblical culture, and thereafter to mingle freely with the rest of the world. God also fenced them with a miraculous protection from the invasions of their adversaries, which bordered them on every side.
He planted it with the choicest vine, the true knowledge of God and form of government, both ecclesiastical and civil, which He had revealed from heaven. He made excellent provision for the instruction of His people, and the promulgation of His will and pleasure among them. Having planted, watered and cultivated, God looked for the final result that all Vineyards are required of. I think it was Matthew Henry who wrote, “God expects vineyard fruit from those that enjoy vineyard privileges.”
|Bad grapes. In Hebrew, literally, “Stinking Grapes,”
After much cultivation of His vineyard, as shown through the history of Israel in the Bible, from Moses through to what was Isaiah’s present day, proving God’s choice of vine, He justly expected a plentiful product of the best kind of grapes; but was recompensed, here in Isaiah’s generation and time, for all God’s efforts with nothing better than the fruits of a wild, uncultivated nature; “grapes of Sodom and clusters of Gomorrah” (Deuteronomy 32:1-52). And He gives us a sample and taste of them in some of the following words “He looked for judgement, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” The great increase of their fields and flocks, wherewith He had blessed them, afforded them sufficient means of giving back in thanks to God, and loving kindness to neighbours within Jerusalem and Judah as a whole. But instead of being led by Heavenly beneficence to works of liberality and charity, they only studied how to sacrifice to their insatiable lusts and lewd affection. In short, the fruit of the national lifestyle stank before God.
With sinful, godless people, nothing is more common than to accuse Almighty God of partiality and injustice, as if it were in His nature to be austere and cruel, and expect more than can reasonably be done by them in their circumstances. When the earth is unprofitable, and its production is fit only to be burned in the fire, the fault is neither in the sun nor the clouds, but in the planted vines whose purpose was to be rooted in the earth for the purpose of growth. Unfruitful vines would be fired, and they have no power of choice. How much more severe should the judgement be for those whose very existence is filled with the capability and the capacity to be rooted and fruitful. In exactly the same way, and with equally perfect justice, may God appeal to Judah, which is the purport of the question, “What could have been done more for My vineyard, that I have not none in it?”
Having presented the scenario to Isaiah’s audience, God now asks the question that has the self evident answer. “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.” Only those with a pejorative self defending attitude could disagree with where the God of Heaven was going with His logic. “What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done?”
Those sections of the audience that would have taken Isaiah’s words seriously to heart, and received them as the word of God, would have undoubtedly been silence in their repentance. But for those still inwardly defying both Isaiah and Yahweh, Isaiah hammers the nail into their conscience even deeper. “Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth stinking fruit?” The point was that the weight of guilt that was a cloud over Jerusalem and Judah was the fetid, noxious fruit of a wild vine. And truly, not only their history demonstrated this lamentable fact, but their present spiritual status inwardly agreed with and screamed the truth of Isaiah’s words. From age to age, from Moses, through Joshua, the Judges and the division of the kingdom, right up to the day Isaiah first spoke these words, they grew more and more corrupt, morally offensive, and pernicious. Thus they spiraled downwards until the days of Christ. Unfruitfulness is bad enough, but pernicious fruitfulness is worse. The history of the world sadly proves that it is a common thing for men to grow in evil, even under the caring providence of God.
“And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard.” It may seem irreverent to speak of God being in a state of disappointment, but this is by no means the only passage of Scripture which in its obvious meaning conveys this idea. Perhaps we may have to leave the explanation of such concepts till we obtain fuller light in heaven. Oh to discover truths that penetrate the seeming paradox that is the great mystery of the relation of Divine foreknowledge to human freedom. Clearly such words as this parable are spoken to us in God’s great condescension to speak to us after the manner of men, in order that we may better grasp the intensity of desire, and the warmth of loving interest with which Yahweh, from whom we all proceed, seeks to raise us to our true dignity and our proper place in life. He speaks like this to facilitate our grasp of the sorrow and regret with which He witnesses the seeming failure of His gracious purposes concerning us.
“I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned.” Therefore with good reason God tells them and appeals to themselves to see the justice of it, that He would take away the hedge around His vineyard, and leave it open to be wasted and trodden under foot. It states three times in Romans 1 that “God gave them up.” It was in this very context that Paul wrote those words. The sensible person of the twenty first century however, rather than reading Isaiah and seeing it all solely in its immediate context of the Jews, Judah and Jerusalem, will always place their self firmly in the hot seat and allow scripture to speak to them. The wisdom that makes the application of all this to ourselves, is briefly hinted by the apostle Paul (Romans 11:21). “If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spares not you.”
The practical significance of God removing fence and hedge around the vineyard is that He would withdraw His protective guardianship from the Hebrew people. This threat was fulfilled in their experience. Heaven withdrew its aegis, and the Assyrians, followed by the Babylonians, and even later the Romans entered their world, and their land and wrought their ruin. It must be stated that even in the reality of God’s dealings with Judah and Jerusalem, all these horrific events that occurred to the Jew is only a faint symbol of what must inevitably occur in the experience of all who continue to live unrepentant lives under the gracious agency of God.
“It shall not be pruned nor dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns.” The idea of Isaiah’s words, is that God would put no more effort to improve the condition of Judah, and that He would cease to send them visions and prophets. It was a statement of God’s intention. God continued to speak openly until Malachi’s day. But it was actually from the days of John the Baptist onwards that this terrible judgement was inflicted on the Jews. There has not been a prophet to Israel since John. The Christ has come and they see it not.
“I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” However protected the vineyard might have been, and however enriched the soil, and no matter how skilfully pruned the branches were, if no rain come, the whole shortly afterwards is utterly ruined. What a terrible picture of human souls is this! Here is insipient hell.
Like most men who are embodied consciences to a person, nation or even a continent, the prophet Isaiah seems to have been seen by the majority as a busybody. In the economy of God, sadly, those are usually most hated who do that which is most needed. Having attracted attention by his parable of the vineyard and the grapes, Isaiah became a remorseless and terrible voice to Judah and Jerusalem for the rest of his life. The man seemed to have disappeared, being enveloped by the cloud of the presence of God Himself, while his voice, or rather, “The Voice” spoke the retributions of the Almighty. This embodied conscience was remarkably faithful. It is useless to attempt argument with a conscience made sensitive by God’s word. It can unwisely be argued with—but it will be heard. The Voice utters its’ imperative, and one is heedless at one’s peril.
Some things may be reasoned about; a matter of truth and conscience, never.
Furthermore, conscience is always and of necessity prophetic within the human frame. Whenever conscience utters the word “wrong”, it actually has said more than that it says “Turn or reap what you sow.” That is what makes it a terror. Isaiah was the conscience of Judah speaking its’ imperative. Judah had grown as a whole comfortably rich. Judah was now careless, trusting in riches and all the things that can be seen. Judah had been sadly disciplined. There had been earthquakes, loss of territory, defeat, and now there was approaching the spectre of an Assyrian invasion. For all this she boasted of her riches and neglected God.
|Vineyard in Israel. Dead Sea in the background.