The parable of vineyard. 5:1-7
The preface to the book of Isaiah covers chapters 1 through to the end of 5. The prophet sets out to diagnose Israel's condition and to offer a prognosis. Up to chapter 5, the infection of sin in the nation's life is not terminal. A remnant exists such that there remains the hope of cleansing and a new creation. Yet, now in chapter 5, all hope is abandoned; nothing is left but doom. The chapter falls into two sections: the Vineyard song, v1-7, and the crop of judgement, v8-30. In our passage for study, the prophet sings a song about his friend and the vineyard that he has planted, v1-2. He then sings for his friend who mourns the state of his vineyard, v3-4, and his sad decision to walk away from it, v5-6. The prophet finally reveals who his friend is. He is "the Lord Almighty", and his vineyard is "the house of Israel", v7.
v1. The prophet sings a love song for his friend, a song with words that become the words of the friend.
v2. The friend is described as lavishing the utmost care on his vineyard. No expense is spared - the best preparation, vines, a watchtower to protect it from thieves, a wine vat for storage (not "wine press"), double fenced, v5. He then waits for the produce, but even after all the effort, the grapes are "stink-fruit." The image presented is of the Lord's total care for his people, but the result is as if no care was given.
v3-4. Now, singing as the friend, the prophet asks the question, what more could I have done? The poor results cannot be the fault of the owner of the vineyard. Why then did it yield only bad fruit? The fault lies elsewhere.
v5-6. A fruitless vineyard faces destruction, and fruitless this vineyard is, producing only wild bitter fruit, "bad fruit" (stink fruit). So, it will be destroyed, devoured, become a wasteland infested with thorns and devoid of moisture.
v7. The friend is the Lord, the vineyard "Israel" (a general reference to Israel and Judah), and more particularly, the select people of "Judah" - the people of God's intense pleasure. The Lord looked for good fruit and found foul. The two sets of couplets describing this are a form of alliteration in Hebrew. He looked for "right" (justice) and found "riot" ("bloodshed", "the inflecting of wrongs"). He looked for "decency" (right living and right relationships) and found "despair" (the anguish of the oppressed).
The song of the vineyard
A vine is good for fruit, or it is good for nothing, Ezk.15:2-5. Israel was good for nothing. Even Jesus applied the image of the fruitless vineyard in the parable of the Tenants, Matt.21:33-46. The church of Jesus' day, the religious crew, the Pharisees, rejected their Lord ("the stone") and so therefore "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."
It is easy to see these words applied to faithless Israel, but what of the church? Paul the apostle reminds the Corinthians of the people of Israel in the wilderness: "God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert." "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall", 1Cor.10:1-13. We best take this warning to heart.
The last thing anyone would want of their church is that it might become a fruitless vine destined for destruction. This was Isaiah's warning to Israel in his day. Jesus warned his fellow Jews of the same danger. Paul warned his young churches of a similar danger. So how do we assess the danger, a danger so real to all of us?
The children of Israel had abandoned loving care toward each other, they had abandoned right relationships, fellowship. Paul identifies a similar problem in the Corinthian fellowship, 1Cor.8-10. Love was absent from their fellowship, undermining their worship.
Such sour fruits are an evidence of a far greater problem. Jesus makes this point in Luke chapter 13, verses 1-9. In the Parable of the Fig Tree, v6-9, the fruitless fig tree is given one more chance to bear fruit worthy of its continued existence. The fruit is defined as the fruit of repentance. "I tell you..... unless you repent you too will all perish." John the Baptist similarly links the sour fruits with repentance. "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance", Lk.3:7-8.
"I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" Lk.15:7. Our God rejoices when a person turns to Christ in repentance and faith. There is no greater response we can make toward our Lord. It is the one fruit he desires of us. It is a fruit he desires constantly of us, that we daily turn to Christ and rely on him for our eternal salvation. This is what God desires of the church, that we rest on Jesus. In this resting is our righteousness and therefore, our eternal security. Then, as children of faith, we will begin to exhibit the fruit of faith - love.
Does our vineyard produce "fruit in keeping with repentance", or only "stink fruit"?
1. What does the vineyard and the "stink fruit" represent?
2. Discuss some of the "stink fruit" of the church today.
3. Is grace missing from the church today? Evidence....
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