The Song of the Vineyard
Brief Background of the Passage
The prophecy of Isaiah (meaning “the Lord is salvation”) was most likely written around 700 BC when the Assyrian empire was strengthening and attacking the northern kingdom of Israel. Judah did not come to Israel’s aid, and was therefore attacked by Israel itself. Assyria overtook Israel in 722 and looked to attack the southern kingdom of Judah. The righteous King Hezekiah heeded the warning of Isaiah and did not make an alliance with Egypt. God delivered Judah from defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. Isaiah’s prophecy warned Judah that its sin (lack of justice and righteousness) would result in captivity. Isaiah also prophesied about the redemption that would follow. Jerusalem eventually fell in 586 BC the the people of Judah were sent into exile in Babylon.
Could the Lord Almighty Have Done Anything More?
The Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5 is a metaphor contrasting God’s gracious action toward his people with the inadequate response of his people toward Him in return. It all began with the caretaker’s (the Lord Almighty) gracious initiative toward the vineyard (the nation of Israel and the people of Judah). The caretaker prepared everything so that good grapes could be produced in the vineyard. This can be viewed trough two separate lenses. Historically, this is seen when God freed the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, drove out the enemies before them, and led them into a land flowing with milk and honey. God’s desire was that through his covenantal relationship with Israel all nations of the Earth would be blessed. Theologically, this constitutes prevenient grace, God’s gracious action in advance of our response.
Yet, despite the caretaker’s effort and desire for a crop of good grapes, the vineyard only yielded bad fruit. It seems as if the vineyard was wild and had a mind and will of its own in rebellion against its loving caretaker. The yield of the vineyard was not predetermined solely by the action of the caretaker. Even though the caretaker had done everything he could do to prepare the vineyard to produce good fruit, to his dismay the vineyard still produced bad fruit. This is a sorrowful snapshot of our free agency and rebellious inclination to go our own way.
The wide gap between the action and hope of the caretaker and the results of the rebellious vineyard drove the song of the vineyard to probing questions of comparison. The people of Judah (the vineyard itself) were enlisted as judge to discern between the caretaker and his vineyard. As if looking into a clear, full-length mirror the gracious and righteous action of the caretaker became the standard to which the action of the vineyard was compared. The mirror clearly displayed the rebellion and failure of the vineyard. In the same way, the standard by which our lives are judged is the holiness of God. We fall woefully short. With the tone of an anguished parent of a rebellious teenager, The Lord Almighty, (the caretaker) asks the people of Israel (the vineyard), “What more could I have done for you?”
Following this heartbreaking examination, the Song of the Vineyard transitioned to the judgement of God. The caretaker removed its protection and allowed the vineyard to become a wasteland. In effect, he allowed the vineyard to experience the natural consequence of turning away from the gracious hand of the caretaker. The judgement of God is the set of destructive natural consequences that result from the rebellious choices to go our own wild way. Scripture is clear that the wages (results) of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). If we turn away from the gracious action of God in our lives, we turn toward our own destruction.
The Song of the Vineyard concludes with a clear explanation of who the characters in the song are, as well as a play on words in Hebrew about how the Lord Almighty found something vastly different from what He sought. Bloodshed in place of justice, and cries of distress instead of righteousness.
Reflection Questions for Preaching Preparation.
Where have we as individuals or as a community of faith seen God’s gracious initiative toward us? Have we seen his work preparing the way for us to produce good fruit? Are there responses for which we need to celebrate or other responses for which we need to seek forgiveness? How does our action compare to the gracious action of God? How can it??
Where do we see God’s gracious initiative before us right now? What do we need to do to cooperate and respond to his work among us?