“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He 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; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I 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. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:1-7)
Of the many characteristics of the Prophet Isaiah, one thing that might not come to mind when thinking about the prophet is that he was a musician and a composer. Isaiah 5 contains the prophet’s love song on behalf of the LORD toward His people, Israel.
John Calvin explains that, “Isaiah composed this song that he might present to the people a clearer view of their wickedness. Undoubtedly, he handled this subject with magnificent and harmonious language for the highest skill is commonly exercised in the composition of poems.
Who are the subjects of this love song? First of all, there is the beloved. This is the LORD. He is the One who possesses a vineyard. The word vineyard is a metaphor symbolizing God’s people (Isaiah 27; Ezekiel 15; John 15:1-7). In the immediate context, the vineyard is Israel.
What does the text say about the vineyard, aside from being the object of the LORD’s love and affection? To begin with, the vineyard was located on a fertile hill. The LORD dug this ground, removed the stones and planted the vineyard with choice vines. The LORD also built a watchtower in its midst in order to be on the alert for any predators who might seek to damage or destroy the vineyard or steal its grapes. The LORD also constructed a wine vat fully expecting the grapes would yield fine juice, which when fermented would become excellent wine.
However, the vineyard did not produce fine grapes for wine, but rather wild grapes. The phrase “wild grapes” means sour, hard, stinking, rotten and worthless grapes.
As Isaiah composes this song, he speaks on behalf of the LORD. The prophet asks a series of rhetorical questions in vs. 3-4. “3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes” The answers are obvious. The LORD did everything He could in order to ensure the fruitfulness of His vineyard.
What will the LORD do in response to the vineyard producing rotten and unusable grapes? The answers are found in vs. 5-6. “? 5 And now I 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. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”
The significance of the vineyard metaphor is finally clarified in vs. 7. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” The sour and rotten grapes of Israel is not justice and righteousness but rather bloodshed and the cry of injustice.
Dr. John Walvoord writes, “The vineyard in this song is identified as Israel and Judah. As elsewhere in Isaiah, “Israel” is sometimes a synonym for the Southern Kingdom (Neh. 1:6; 13:3). Delighting in His people, God wanted good fruit, that is, justice and righteousness (cf. comments on Isa. 1:21). Instead He saw only bloodshed (cf. 1:15) and heard cries of distress. Because of its “bad grapes” (injustice) most people would be killed or taken into captivity. Isaiah used two interesting cases of assonance (similarity in word sounds) to stress the contrast between what God expected in His people and what happened to them. “Justice” (mišpāṭ) was replaced with “bloodshed” (miśpoḥ), and instead of “righteousness” (ṣeḏāqâh) there was “distress” (se‘āqâh).”
Calvin comments that, “Isaiah does not illustrate every part of this metaphor; nor was it necessary. It was enough to point out what was its object. The whole nation was the vineyard, the individual men were the plants. Thus, he (Yahweh) accuses the whole body of the nation, and then every individual, so that no man could escape the universal condemnation. The same doctrine ought to be inculcated on us at the present day. Christ affirms that he is the vine (John 15:1) and that having been engrafted into this vine, we are place under the care of the Father.”
Let each of us examine the fruitfulness of our spiritual lives (Galatians 5:16-23) to see if each of us who are in Christ are yielding, and being, good fruit.
As one commentator explains, “We are not counted as righteous before the Lord because of our service to Him. Nevertheless, if we are not fruitful in serving Him, then we do not abide in His choice vine—the Lord Jesus Christ—whose work alone can save us. By the Spirit, we must continue to abide in Christ and bear fruit unto the Lord’s glory in the form of love for God and neighbor.”
Soli deo Gloria!