“The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.” – Isaiah 5:7 NLT
God had chosen the people of Israel as His own possession. He had hand-picked Abraham to be the father of the nation of Israel. God had blesses Abraham and his descendants. He had given him a land, blessed him with a child in his old age, and promised to give Abraham a multitude of descendants – too many too count. Years later, when Abraham’s descendants found themselves living in the midst of a famine in the land of Promise, God led them to Egypt where He had arranged for their care through the unlikely intervention of Joseph – who had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and was now the second-highest ranking official in all the land of Egypt. While in Egypt, the people of Israel would prosper and multiply. Their expansion would cause the Egyptians to persecute and enslave them. So God provided a savior to lead them out of captivity and back to the land He had promised to Abraham. God miraculously provided their release from Egypt and met their needs all during their travels through the wilderness. He even gave them victory after victory over the inhabitants of the land once they arrived. Time after time, God had blessed the people of Israel. He had given them David as their king. He had graced them with His constant presence and protected them by His power. He had allowed Solomon to build a temple as His dwelling place on earth. God had provided a sacrificial system to deal with their sins and to assure their access to Him.
But as we have read in the stories of the kings of both Judah and Israel, the people continued to sin against God. They rejected His leadership. They proved unfaithful to Him time and time again. God had expectations of His people. He chose them for a reason. He had blessed them for a reason. So through the lips of Isaiah He laments, “What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not already done? When I expected sweet grapes, why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?” (Isaiah 5:4 NLT). God uses the analogy of a vineyard because it was one the people of Israel would have readily understood and appreciated. Wine was a necessity in that day. Vineyards were vital to survival. So the idea of an unfruitful vine or a non-productive vineyard would have struck a chord with the people to whom Isaiah was speaking. God makes it clear that He is talking about Israel. “The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s armies. The people of Judah are His pleasant garden” (Isaiah 5:7 NLT). God’s chosen people were not producing the “fruit” He expected. Instead of justice (the righting of wrong), they oppressed (inflicted wrong). They replaced righteousness (right relationships) with violence (wrong relationships). They were guilty of greed, hedonism, willful sin, mocking God, pride, and corrupt values. It wasn’t that they were fruitless. It was that they were producing the wrong kind of fruit – bitter grapes instead of sweet. Their fruit was worthless. And as a result, God was going to have to deal with them. Branches that produce worthless fruit are worthless themselves. They have no value to the vineyard owner. Listen to what Ezekiel says, “Son of man, how does a grapevine compare to a tree? Is a vine’s wood as useful as the wood of a tree? Can its wood be used for making things, like pegs to hang up pots and pans? No, it can only be used for fuel, and even as fuel, it burns too quickly. Vine branches are useless both before and after being put into the fire! ” (Ezekiel 15:2-5 NLT). Vine branches don’t even make good firewood. They have one use and one use only – to produce fruit.
God had great expectations for Israel. But they failed to deliver. And in chapter six we get a contrast between the unrighteousness and worthlessness of Israel and the righteousness and worth of God. Isaiah is given a vision of God in which he is blown away by God’s holiness and his own sinfulness. Before God can use Isaiah as His messenger, Isaiah must come to grips with His sinfulness and God’s righteousness. What God is about to do to Israel is just and fair because God is righteous and holy. In the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God would reveal His own holiness and righteousness by doing what is just and righteous. He would carry out His moral commands. He would honor His holiness by dealing with His people’s sinfulness. But as always, God would show mercy and grace by providing a hope for the future. These two chapters end with the promise “But as the terebinth or oak tree leaves a stump when it is cut down, so Israel’s stump will be a holy seed” (Isaiah 6:13b NLT). God would not completely abandon Israel. He would not destroy them all, but He would preserve a remnant, so that He could fulfill His promise to Abraham. From the seed of Abraham would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God would reveal His holiness, righteousness, mercy and grace – simultaneously. Just as the cross was a representation of God’s wrath against sin and His love for men by providing a sin substitute, God’s dealings with Israel would result in their ultimate preservation and the provision of the Messiah. God would fulfill His own expectations of the people of Israel by providing a means of salvation and a process by which holiness is achievable – through the death and resurrection of His own Son.
Father, like Isaiah, I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips. I am incapable of living up to Your holy expectations. Left to myself, I am a worthless vine producing worthless fruit. I am good for nothing. But because You provided Your Son as my sin substitute, I have hope and holiness. They have been provided by You, and I can’t thank You enough. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men