The Lord had provided greatly for the nation of Judah. The heavenly Father stood ready to lift up the nation of Judah above all other nations. He was willing to provide Judah with an unending abundance of peace and prosperity. Judah was God’s nation and God watched over her. However, like a rebellious child, Judah turned her back to the Lord. She forsook the Lord, choosing instead to worship idols, engaging in immorality, forsaking the poor and the afflicted, and calling evil good. In Isaiah, chapter 5, the prophet composed a song expressing the failure of God’s vineyard, Judah.
(1) 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.
(2) 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. (Isaiah 5:1-2)
In this song, we see the tale of one who owned a vineyard. This vineyard was on “a very fruitful hill.” The owner of this vineyard took great pains to clear out all the stones and to plant the “choicest vine.” The owner built a tower from where he would watch over his precious vineyard. In anticipation of an abundance of good grapes, the vineyard owner built a winepress. The owner of the vineyard, having taken great care in the positioning of and the caring for his vineyard, had every right to expect a bountiful harvest. However, much to the vineyard owner’s surprise and dismay, his vineyard yielded wild grapes. The Hebrew word translated as “wild grapes” is defined as: “stinking or worthless things, wild grapes, stinkberries.” (Brown-Driver-Briggs) Clarke’s commentary reads as follows: “beushim, not merely useless, unprofitable grapes, such as wild grapes; but grapes offensive to the smell, noxious, poisonous.” The fruit which this vineyard bore was worthless, full of stench and poison.
As Isaiah will explain in verse 7, the vineyard owner was the Lord and the vineyard was the nation of Judah. As we stated earlier, the Lord had taken great care of His people. However, instead of the nation of Judah bearing the fruit of righteousness, she bore the vile and noxious fruit of unrighteousness. In verses 3-6, the song forms a judgment against the nation of Judah, that worthless and rejected vineyard.
(3) “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
(4) 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?
(5) 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.
(6) 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” (Isaiah 5:3-6).
Isaiah calls upon the people of Judah to judge between God and His vineyard. What more could God have done for His vineyard, the nation of Judah? God had done everything possible to help the nation, to direct the nation, and to provide for the nation. However, despite everything which God had done, the nation of Judah refused to yield good fruit. Instead, they brought forth wild, useless, and poisonous fruit.
The vineyard which the Lord planted yielded wild and unrighteous fruit. Listen carefully to what the Lord promised to do to His vineyard:
- The Lord said He would take away the hedge from around the vineyard. He would also break down the wall surrounding the vineyard. By removing the hedge and the wall, the Lord would leave the vineyard vulnerable to being trampled down by the traffic of people walking by.
- The Lord would lay waste to the vineyard. The Lord would not prune the vineyard. He would not dig up the weeds, thorns, and briers which would grow among the vines.
- After all this, the Lord would command the clouds not to send rain on the vineyard.
In verse 7, Isaiah writes, “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 5:7). In verse 7, Isaiah uses a play on words, or a paronomasia, to emphasize the Lord’s message. The Hebrew word for “justice” is mishpat and the Hebrew word for “oppression” is mishpach. Then again, the Hebrew word for “righteousness” is tsedakah and the Hebrew word for cry (wail) is tseakah. Isaiah uses this word play to show how Judah had turned good into evil. The Lord God had expected justice from His people, but instead, they produced oppression or bloodshed. The Lord God had expected righteousness, but instead saw a behavior which produced an outcry (ESV) against His people.
As we consider the song of the vineyard, a song against the sinful nation of Judah, we cannot help but recall a contrasting statement which Jesus made about Himself and His followers. In John 15:1, Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” Unlike the nation of Judah, Jesus is the true vine, a vine made up of many branches. (The branches refer to the stems which produce the cluster of grapes.)About these branches, Jesus said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). The Father, the “vinedresser,” will, in a manner of speaking, tend to this vine. While the Father will prune the fruitful branches, He will also take away every branch which does not bear fruit. The only way a branch can produce acceptable fruit is to abide in Jesus Christ, the vine. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
Just as Judah was at one time God’s chosen nation, so too are we God’s holy nation. The apostle Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). However, if we, as individual Christians, produce unrighteous fruit, a fruit which is poisonous to our souls, then God will cut us off; He will remove us from the vine. Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). The apostle John wrote something quite similar when he said, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). Let us all, as Christians, remember the outcome which awaits the wild and unrighteous fruit. Let us seek to bear, as branches on the Vine, only that fruit of faithful obedience, the righteous fruit which the Lord desires.