The Word Made Fresh
1I will sing for my beloved a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
2He dug up the soil, cleared out the stones, and planted the best vines.
Then he built a watchtower in the middle of it
and dug a wine vat in it.
He expected it to produce grapes,
but it produced only wild grapes.
3So now, you citizens of Jerusalem and Judah,
choose between me and my vineyard.
4What more was there to do for my vineyard
that has not been done?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield only wild grapes?
5This is 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.
6I will turn it into a wasted field.
It shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall become overwhelmed with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds not to rain on it.
7You see, the vineyard of the LORD the Almighty is Israel,
and the people of Judah are the LORD’s own crop.
The LORD expected justice, but saw only violence.
The LORD expected righteousness, but heard only distress.
8You have joined family to family
and have added field to field
until there is no room for anyone but you.
You have been left in the midst of the land.
9The LORD Almighty has sworn – I have heard it myself –
that many houses will be abandoned.
Great and beautiful houses will be without inhabitants.
10Ten acres of vineyard shall produce only six gallons of grapes,
and six bushels of seed shall yield only a couple of bushels of grain.
11You rise early in the morning and immediately take to strong drink.
You linger in the evening until you are overcome with wine.
12Your feasts are accompanied by lyre and harp and
tambourine and flute and wine.
But you ignore what the LORD has done.
You are blind to what the LORD’s hands have done.
13So, my people are exiled without knowing why.
Their leaders are dying of hunger
and all of them are parched with thirst.
14That is why the grave is so much larger now;
its mouth is opened wider than ever.
All of Jerusalem and its leaders,
its multitudes and throngs
and everyone who takes pride in her
15are bent over, overburdened,
and even the haughty are humbled.
16But justice lifts up the LORD of hosts,
and the Holy God is shown holy by righteousness.
17Then you will see the lambs grazing in their own fields,
the young fat ones and the kids alike shall graze among the ruins.
18Woe to those who drag their wrongdoing with cords of lies,
and drag sin along with cart ropes;
19Who boast, “Let God hurry! Let God speed up his actions
and let us see what is being done.
Let the plan of Israel’s Holy One hurry along
so that it will be obvious to us!”
20Woe to you who call good evil, and evil good.
Woe to you who use darkness as light, and light for darkness;
who think bitter is sweet, and sweet bitter;
21you who think you are wise, but are only wise to yourselves
and clever in your own eyes;
22you who are champions at drinking wine,
and clever at mixing drinks;
23you who would set a guilty person free for a bribe,
and deny the innocent their rights!
24So, as a tiny tongue of fire destroys the stubble in the field,
and as dry grass is toppled in the flame,
their root will rot, and their flowers turn to dust
because they have ignored the orders of the LORD of Hosts,
and have hated the wisdom of the Holy One of Israel.
25That is why the LORD’s anger flamed against the LORD’s people.
God’s hand reached out and struck them down;
The mountains shook and dead bodies lay in the streets.
All God’s anger has not turned away;
the hand of the LORD is still reaching out.
26The LORD will summon a foreign nation,
and call out for a people who live at earth’s bounds.
And see, here they come, rushing quickly!
27None of them is weary; none of them stumble;
none of them sleeps; none have sagging trousers;
none of them have as much as a sandal thong broken.
28Their arrows are sharpened, their bows bent,
their horses’ hooves are like flint
and their wheels whirl like the wind.
29They roar like young lions, growling and seizing their prey.
They carry it off where none can find it.
30They will roar over their conquest
like the sea waves roaring.
And those who look to the land
will see only darkness and distress
as the light grows dimly in the clouds.
1-7: Verse 7 reveals that the vineyard is Israel, and “my beloved” is God. God established Israel with great expectations, only to have them turn away from the covenant. God asks the people for a verdict in verse 3, but without waiting for a reply determines that the vineyard will be made a waste.
8-15: Statements of punishment are levied against those who accumulate wealth at the expense of others (8-10), those who live only to party (11-13), and the ruling class who have overburdened the people (14-15).
16-17: God the just will see that the country is returned to nature.
18-24: The diatribe against the wicked continues. They are condemned for taking an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude towards God’s pronouncements through the prophets.
25: This verse is written in the past tense, as if the prophet is now looking back on the outcome of the curses of verses 8-24.
26-30: God will summon a nation far away to carry out the sentence of destruction. Not long after Isaiah’s time the Assyrians invaded Israel, but Judah lasted until the Babylonians came a century after Israel’s fall.
Isaiah holds nothing back as he describes a society that has completely forsaken God. The inevitable outcome is that God will forsake them, and with God out of the way their enemies have a welcome invitation to come and take what they want. Again and again the Bible warns Israel that, once the wrong path is taken, it’s hard to return to the right path. And the wrong path – the one that leads away from God – is fraught with all kinds of difficulties and disappointments. We must constantly order our steps towards God and forsake the paths that lead away from God’s will.