Note: I am in the process of transferring all my sermons to wordmp3.com. This is my first sermon at Providence Church (CREC) in October 5th, 2008.
Isaiah 5:1 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!
“Their foot shall slide in due time.” This was the dreadful text in Deuteronomy heard that day when Jonathan Edwards announced the doom of those who “brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit.” Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God seems to be a prevailing theme in the mouth of the prophets. But the anger of God in the Scriptures does not arise out of nothing; it arises in response to the unfaithfulness of His people. Our text this morning in Isaiah 5 reveals the response of an angry God.
It was the Danish poet and author Hans Christian Anderson who once wrote that “Where words fail, music speaks.” Indeed nothing is more memorable than music. We may not know the complexities of Luther’s theology, but we all know the splendor of his Reformation hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
When the prophets’ words fail to reach the expected result—which is repentance—God may often use other means to bring about His message. God may make a man marry a prostitute to convey His message; He may lead a man to the middle of a valley filled with dry bones to convey His covenant promises; or He may make a man sing, so that the music may speak to their unrepentant hearts.
In chapter 3:14, we see the Old Covenant Church mentioned as a vineyard, but in chapter five the prophet Isaiah sings about this vineyard. He sings for His beloved, a love song concerning his vineyard, in verse one.
Immediately the image of a vineyard may convey thoughts of prosperity and sweetness. In fact, we may be led to think of the vineyard in the Songs of Solomon; that was also a love song expressing the love of a man for a woman. There the song is filled with intimate language; so intimate that many in the Church today refuse to see its literal meaning, choosing instead to fall prey to the Gnostic notion that sexuality is evil.
Instead of a love song containing words of intimacy, this love song contains the condemnation of the hearers. They were like David when confronted by Nathan. Unbeknownst to David, Nathan spoke of him. Thou art the man! You are the murderer, you are the deceiver. In the same manner, Judah is guilty! When they join this prophetic chorus, every verse will serve as a condemnation of who they are and what they are doing. But what does this song say and how does Judah’s condemnation unfold?
In verse one the prophet speaks on behalf of God; he is speaking for His beloved concerning his beloved’s vineyard. The prophet carries the divine pronouncement concerning the doom of God’s people. But this doom does not come because God failed to protect His vineyard/people; rather the text tells us that the vineyard was planted on “a very fertile hill.” The people were placed in a location where they could prosper in every way. On that hill they would be exposed to the sun; the conditions were perfect “to produce grapes for the year’s vintage.”
But not only was the location appropriate to produce the choicest grapes, the owner of the vineyard wanted it to be even more suited to producing good and sweet fruit. Next, “he dug it and cleared it of the stones” in verse two. This is significant because God was not only ensuring that they would produce good fruit, but He was protecting the vineyard from anything that would sabotage its outcome. The text speaks of God “clearing the stones.” The Palestinian land is replete with stones. It reflects the dryness of the land. In fact, there is an Arab tale that says that when God created the world, He sent angels to accomplish His demands. One angel was carrying two bags of rocks and on his way to distribute the rocks throughout the world, one bag broke and half of the rocks fell on Palestine. Though only a tale, it gives a perspective on the immensity of the work of clearing the stones from a vineyard. What is clear thus far in the text is that a “grape crop demands a great deal of preparation and care.” This is not the work of a day’s labor; it is the work of an entire year. God is showing how gracious He is to provide the proper environment for a fruitful season.
And in the middle of that beautiful vineyard planted with the choicest vines, He builds a watchtower. The watchtower served as a place where He could protect it from thieves and beasts and simply observe what He had done. It also appropriate to look back to the creation narrative where we see God himself looking over His creation and declaring it “very good!” The vineyard is also “very good.”
And what is expected from a very good vineyard, but very good grapes? But the end of verse two paints a different scenario. The winepress is ready to crush and extract the juice from the grapes. Instead of an abundance of sweet large grapes, which is expected from all the work done in the vineyard, the vineyard produces wild grapes, or better translated as “stinking grapes, unworthy grapes.” The privileged nation, who had received so much from the hands of God, now has degenerated to stinking and worthless grapes, not even profitable to make the cheapest wine.
And now in verses three and four, God takes over. The prophetic song has been unleashed and the Maestro has a few choice words to say to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Judah.
Verse four reads: 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?
As the audience hears a shift in the tune of the song, they are well aware that the marriage has gone awry.
The rhetorical questions in verse four serve only to accentuate their guilt. Now the audience is in deep silence. Nothing they say can justify their actions, or lack thereof. The verdict has been pronounced and now the vineyard has been found to be unproductive and therefore, it must be punished.
The punishment begins in verse five. And now I will tell you what I will do, since your mouths have been shut in light of your sins. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. As Calvin observes: “When the fence has been removed, the cattle will tread on it and lay it bare, robbers will ransack and plunder it, and thus it will become a wilderness.”
All the defensive work done to protect this vineyard from its adversaries will be removed. The wild animals, the insects and the weeds, which are the enemies of agriculture, will have free access to this vineyard. They will devour it voraciously, without mercy.
Just as the walls of Jericho fell, so will this vineyard. In verse six we get a glimpse of this tragedy: 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 prophet Jeremiah echoes this same disaster when he writes: And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste (7:34).
What God is telling His people is that all the privileges of a nation will be taken out. His prophets will no longer prophecy gladness and his ministers will no longer prophecy hope. As this song or parable comes to a close there is a re-enactment of the fall when the text says that briers and thorns shall grow up in the land. It will be left desolate. Nothing will grow in this vineyard, except the unthinkable. Nor will anyone desire to plant a vineyard in the same location again. It is now a refuge for beasts.
But the punishment continues: God commands the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. Up to this point in this divine indictment there is still a little hope left. We can start over; it may take a long time for the vineyard to be back to its original design, but in time it will produce good grapes again. But in this last phase of God’s judgment all hope perishes. There will be no more rain. If there is rain there is a possibility of restoration, but without rain, this vineyard can no longer be restored. To the Hebrews, rain meant everything. Rain was a sign of God’s favor or anger. In the days of Noah rain was a sign of God’s fierce wrath, but when it poured at the right time and season, it was a time of rejoicing, because it indicated that God was showing favor to His people and making them prosperous. There is a certain connection between man’s spiritual condition and the amount and timing of the rainfall. When man’s heart is right with God, he graciously gives the command to the clouds and they refresh the earth (Isa 5:6), just as he graciously rained manna on Israel in the wilderness (Exo 16:4; Psa 78:24).
And now the prophetic song comes to an end in verse 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!
If there is any doubt as to the meaning of this parable, God makes it clear. The vineyard is Israel. The fruitful hill where the vineyard was located is Canaan. You may remember in Joshua that when the spies returned they could not even carry the grapes. The land was flowing with milk and honey. The clearing of the stones may be an illusion to the removing of the Canaanites. The tower built in the middle of the vineyard may be a reference to the temple, which was the religious center of that culture. The walls built to protect the vineyard refer to God’s unchanging law meant to establish a fruitful nation.
But in verse 20 we find that they have lost any sense of morality by calling evil good and good evil.
In verse 24 we read: “for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” The boundary markers that once made Israel the great hope of the world, now were brought down making Israel the great refuge for paganism.
There is a striking play on the Hebrew words in the end of verse 7. The Hebrew word for justice and bloodshed sound alike and the same goes for the Hebrew word for righteousness and outcry. This is a common Hebrew technique to call the attention of hearer. God came looking for justice, but found bloodshed; for righteousness, but found the cry of the distressed! Anarchy has broken into the streets, covenant-keepers have abandoned their sacramental commitment, and the vineyard produces only rubbish.
The explanation of this bloodshed and outcry comes in verses 8-20 where the author provides a six-fold woe. This is the outcome of this unjust people, and as a result God will open the gates for Israel’s natural enemies: the Assyrians and Babylonians. One of the results is exile in verse 13 and in verse 14 the Hebrew translation reads in poetic form: Therefore Sh’ol has enlarged itself and opened its limitless jaws- and down go their nobles and masses, along with their noise and revels.
You will find that a consistent theme of these woes is pride. They seem to have reached a position where God is no longer necessary; where God is treated just like any other god. You will notice that the remaining portion of this chapter is a dark conclusion, without a hope of promise. God will give them over to their own desires.
But what does this teach us? How shall we then live in light of this grotesque picture?
The Lord expects the fruits of righteousness from His chosen people. God is jealous for His vineyard. He has spent His time and care to ensure that the vineyard produces good fruits. The reality, however, is that the vineyard of Isaiah’s day, reflects our society, and even more, it reflects in many ways the Church of God. The modern church does not see the fruit of its labor in great proportion because it has been marred; the vineyard has been tainted by her behavior. As a result we cower into our self-righteousness, thinking that when the prophetic song is sung it is not speaking about our vineyard. But this was also what the Old Covenant Church thought, only to find out that they were the ones the song spoke of.
Brothers and sisters, let this song not speak of us, but let the song of righteousness be our song. Christ is the choicest vine. It was God himself who “planted Him in our world as a source of life for the people of God.” In John 15, we find an explicit use of this vineyard theme. “Christ is the true vine, and as a result through him comes all the nourishment and spiritual resources.” (Einwechter) We receive the Holy Spirit who leads us into righteousness. When God asks His people in Isaiah what more could I have done, He asks us that same question today: What more could He have done to encourage us to produce good fruit; good works that would reflect the kindness of God towards His people?
Christ the Lord calls us this morning to renew our commitment to His revelation, our commitment as covenant husbands, as faithful mothers, obedient children, and fruitful heirs of the covenant of grace.
There is one thing we are sure of on this Lord’s Day, and that is, that when we feast with our Lord in the Eucharistic Meal, the fruit of the vine does not come from wild grapes, but from sweet large grapes produced in the Lord’s vineyard. Come and taste the wine, come and eat with the eternal vine. Amen and Amen.
 Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards
 Derek Thomas, God Delivers, pg. 52.
 Illustration from a sermon by William Einwechter of Immanuel Church.
 The NIV Application Commentary, John Oswalt, pg. 11.
 Bibliography: Baly, Denis, The Geography of the Bible, Harper, 1957, pp. 41-52. W.C.K.