The Song of the Vineyard

Let us say that you have this dear friend. Now this friend has adult children who have turned away from God. And now this friend is all full of grief and guilt and shame. But you know. You have seen this friend do everything for their children. You have seen the laying down of self; the sacrificial love; the constant care; the sleepless nights; the training. How did this happen? You know it is not your dear friend’s fault. You know that there are no guarantees in this life. You know that people do stupid regardless of their training. But how do you speak into the feelings of failure? How do you comfort here? Sing them a song. That’s what Isaiah did for his dear friend.

Isaiah 5:1-7 is the famous Song of the Vineyard. Isaiah begins with a request to sing for his beloved; a song for his loved friend. The words used have similar meanings. The first word is used to describe how God views his people (Deuteronomy 33:12; Psalms 60:7; 108:5; 127:2; Jeremiah 11:15). It denotes a close relationship. The second word is used often in Song of Solomon. Both words imply an intimate friendship. This is how Isaiah viewed his relationship with God. Some have suggested that in this context the words may imply a patron; a caring patron; a patron who fully expects loyalty and obedience. The song is for the dear friend, but it is concerning the vineyard. Some have suggested that the word “song” doesn’t quite fit the reality. Song implies celebration and even entertainment. And the beginning may be considered a lovely piece of entertainment, speaking of the loving care of the owner, but it suddenly takes a turn toward disappointment and judgment. This is most likely intentional.

So, Isaiah’s beloved had this vineyard on “a horn of the son of fatness.” The word “horn” can refer to a mountain peak, which is not likely here. “Hill” is a good choice and it describes the areas where vineyards existed in Palestine. “Son of fatness” is a phrase that means “fertile.” The land was not the problem. The land was good. You may even say that it was flowing with milk and honey. And the problem was not the preparation. The owner dug the land up. This refers to the initial breaking of the land; the preparing. Palestine was a land of stones. These were removed – possibly put in a pile or used to build a wall. The choicest vine was used. This may refer to a kind of red grape that was highly prized. A watchtower was built in the middle of the vineyard. The winepress was constructed. This had two parts: the upper part was for the trampling of the grapes, and the lower container collected the resulting juice. Everything was done; nothing was neglected. Then the owner waited eagerly for the vineyard to fulfill its purpose – to yield grapes. Ah, but that vineyard only produced bitter wild grapes. Well, that’s disappointing.

Then the song shifts to a call from Yahweh for the people of Judah to judge between him and the vineyard. At this point do they know that they are the vineyard? Let’s assume that the don’t know. What would their decision be? The owner of the vineyard had done absolutely everything possible for the waited for and desired results and yet, what he received was rotten grapes. Of course God doesn’t wait for their judgment. It was a rhetorical request. He will do the judging. The hedge will be removed and the vineyard will be consumed; the wall will be torn down and this fertile hill will become trampled ground. He will remove every protection and he will cease to provide care: no more pruning or taking care of weeds. He will shut up the clouds. Briars and thorns will dominate the land.

Verse 7 brings the song into crystal clear focus. The vineyard of Yahweh of Hosts is Israel and Judah is the plant of his delight. Can you hear the pain here? God waited for good things. The word “waited” is a thread running through this passage. The NASB uses different words to translate it, which is unfortunate. A beautiful play on words is used here in the Hebrew. God waited for mishpat (justice), but found mishpach (bloodshed); he waited for tsedekah (righteousness), but found tse’akah (cry of distress). See Yahweh waiting with anticipation for the vineyard to produce good grapes like justice and righteousness. Ah, but the harvest was bloodshed and a cry of distress. This is on the vineyard, not the owner. Side note: your children’s choices may have nothing to do with your failure.

The question for us is: What will Yahweh find to harvest in us? He is waiting for justice and righteousness. Don’t give him bloodshed (oppression) or a cry of distress (used for the cry of Israel under Egyptian oppression in Exodus 3). He has done everything. He can not be blamed. Bear good grapes.