(When I taught my two year long Bible study on Isaiah, I used The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell to give me a starting point and rough outline of the material covered in the chapters. In this article, when you read the phrase “my commentary”, I am referring to this volume.)
Isaiah 5 is split into two main sections, the Song of the Vineyard (vs. 1-7) and the Woes and Judgments (vs. 8-30). In the previous chapters we have seen both aspects of God’s mercy and judgment represented; this chapter is all about judgment.
Once more we have two speakers, Isaiah and the Lord. As for the audiences, it is not always clear: Judah, Isaiah, or the 3rd party (the Heavens & the Earth)
Read Isaiah 5:1-2. Isaiah is speaking/singing about the Lord. Who his audience is is uncertain. I was greatly touched at how easily, without embarrassment he says “the one I love” and “my loved one.” This is such a tender image, so unlike the harsh, fire and brimstone picture you have of a prophet. Other versions (I have NIV) use the term “beloved.”
Now in the Bible I have seen numerous times God calling people “beloved”, the Father calling his Son “beloved”, a man and a woman calling each other “beloved” (the Song of Songs), and even Paul calling other believers “beloved”, but it is very rare, it seems that you see a man calling God beloved or greatly loved.
This is very strange (and somewhat sad) since all of Israel was based on a “covenant of love.” Read Deuteronomy 7:9-10. Yet you just don’t get many people saying blatantly, personally “I love God!” (Can anyone think of a NT example? Peter in John 21:15-17, but there Jesus flat out asks him)
On the God’s side, however, we have countless examples where God says, quite clearly, that He loves mankind, that people are His “beloved”, precious treasures, etc. Do we speak of God tenderly, like someone who is greatly loved, or is He a remote, almost cold figure we obey or feel we need to placate by doing “good deeds”? I think if those deeds aren’t done out of love, they are worthless.
Back to Isaiah Chapter 5. Here we have an image of Judah as a vineyard and God as a farmer. This is a common image in the Bible used both in the Old Testament Read Psalm 80:8-16 and the New Testament Read Matt 21:33-41.
BTW, if you look up “vineyard” in the dictionary, one of the definitions is:
A sphere of spiritual, mental or physical endeavor
It is interesting to see how the Bible has impacted our language and culture, isn’t it?
These two verses describe an allegory of the creation of Judah. Looking at it from the farmer’s viewpoint, what all did God do?
He choose a fertile hillside/place for the vineyard. Vineyards were commonly placed on mountain tops or hillsides and terraced.
He dug up the ground and cleared it of stones. This would have required removing weeds as well as rocks. The rocks then would have been used in building walls to protect the vineyard.
He planted it with “choicest vines.” Apparently there was a cultivated grape that was good for making wine (these would have been red during Isaiah’s day). The wild, uncultivated grapes weren’t good for wine.
He built a watchtower which would be used to watch for marauders, thieves, or other dangers to the vineyard.
He dug a vat to be used as a wine press; the grapes would be pressed for juice, then made into wine. The fact that he built a wine press demonstrates that he expects the vineyard to produce good quality grapes that can be used to make wine.
Now let’s look at the allegory from a spiritual viewpoint. What all did God do for Judah?
He choose a land and place for Judah/Israel. In this case he choose the rich lands of Canaan. And yes, these are hilly. (Genesis)
He helped the Israelites to clear the land of the weeds and rocks, in this case the pagan peoples. (Exodus & Joshua) He also provided them with protection (the rocky walls) against the pagan peoples when ever Israel cried out to him. (Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel)
I believe the “choicest vines” alludes to the kind of people God chose to father this nation: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David ‘” these were Godly men, who for all their flaws, followed God. If the people of Israel had followed in these Godly fathers’ footsteps they, too, would have been “choicest vines.”
God set up prophets as watchmen, to warn the people of coming judgment, the marauders of sin. Ezekiel (a prophet who lived about 200 years after Isaiah), is called a watchman by God. Read Ezekiel 3:16-21. Talk about a tough job!
Finally, the wine press ‘” this symbolizes, I believe the final accounting all of us must give at the end of all things. We will either bring forth the sweet wine of the Holy Spirit or be destined for the wine press of God’s wrath. Read Revelation 14:14-20. Notice there are two harvests, one by one “like a son of man,” which is usually assumed to be Jesus; the second harvest by an angel which gathers grapes from “earth’s vines”.
Read Isaiah 5:3-4. God is speaking to Judah. He did everything He could for Judah, but she only produces bad (wild/natural) fruit.
Read Isaiah 5:5-6. What is God going to do?
— take away the hedge; break down the wall: He is going to remove His physical protection from Judah
— stop pruning and cultivating the ground. “Cultivating” means hoeing, or weeding: he is no longer going to be active in keeping Judah spiritually pure by removing the dead wood in their lives or the weeds of sin. Read John 15:1-4. Without God actively involved in their lives, the weeds will multiply and take over
— command the clouds not to rain on it: I believe God is speaking of spiritual blessings, perhaps the Holy Spirit or spiritual guidance. Read Hebrews 6:7-8. Why provide “rain” for a “vineyard” which only grows weeds and worthless grapes?
Read Isaiah 5:7. Here we have the explanation of the parable, that Judah is the vineyard and the garden. We also see what fruits God was looking for:
Justice and righteousness (or right living)
But instead He found the bad fruit of:
Bloodshed and cries of distress
The people of Judah were mistreating each other, probably through greed, materialism, apathy, and injustice in the courts.
Here ends the “Song of the Vineyard.”
H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (editors). The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah