Today we return to the Book of Isaiah. Today, I want to focus on chapter five. As we have journeyed through the Bible thus far we have noticed that the Bible consists of various types of literature. Many books are poetic in nature; ex. The Song Of Songs. Even within some books there is more than one type of literature, such as Exodus. In that historical book we find law and even a song. So it is with the Book of Isaiah. Chapter five of Isaiah is a song and it is called the Song of the Vineyard.
"I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard:My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes but it yielded only bad fruit. Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?" (Isaiah 5:1-4a)
This song continues for the entire chapter. We must understand that the word "vineyard" is a standard metaphor for "lover" in Israelite love poetry. When reading through this "song" one may very well recall the parable that Nathan told David after David's affair with Bathsheba. In judging the vineyard the people unwittingly pass judgement on themselves just as David passed judgement upon himself by judging the rich man who stole the poor man's lamb.
Not only is the word "vineyard" a common metaphor for "lover" it is also a common metaphor for God's people. (Ps. 80:8-16) "For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting." (Is. 5:7a NRSV) We have seen where God has called the people of Israel/Judah into a unique relationship with him ever since calling them out of Egypt. If you recall I suggested that what happened at Mt. Sinai before the handing down of the Ten Commandments was nothing short of a marriage ceremony between God and the people. When we get to Hosea we will see in more detail just how this relational language plays out.
"He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!" (Is. 5:7b) This is an interesting verse. We often think of justice/bloodshed, righteousness/cry of oppressed as being completely the opposite of one another. However, in Hebrew it is amazing as to how similar the words are. Justice in Hebrew is mishpat, while bloodshed is mispach. Righteousness is tsedaqah, while cry is tse'aqah. The prophet is definitely playing on the similarities of these words.
The song found here in chapter five operates on many levels; a love song, a judicial parable, and a judgement oracle. From verse 8-24 we find a series of oracles against social injustice. The oracles are introduced by the word "Ah" in the NRSV and by the word "Woe" in the NIV and KJV. These oracles are arranged in a series. What is being denounced in these arranged oracles?
1) The amassing of property at the expense of others. "For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah." (Is. 5:10) We also discover this in Micah 2:1-6. A bath is a liquid measure of approximately 5.5 gallons, which would be a small yield for ten acres of vineyard. A homer is when a baseball player hits a ball over the fence. Oh, sorry! I got off track there. *Hey, I had to find humor somewhere. A homer in this case is a dry measure of approximately 6.5 bushels. An ephah is a dry measure equal to one tenth of a homer.
2) Against drink and debauchery. "Ah, you who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink, who linger in the evening to be inflamed by wine..." (Is. 5:11 NRSV) "To be inflamed by wine" is a word play which may be better rendered "until wine chases them." What this implies is that the one thing they pursue will eventually control their lives. What is meant by "strong drink"? We often read about wine in the Bible. There is always the argument as to whether wine in the Bible is the same as wine today. Was it actually alcohol? Some say, "no" while others say "yes." many would argue that it wasn't fermented. Well, for it to not have been fermented man seemed to have the ability to get drunk on non-fermented grape juice. I believe it was wine. Now, here's the thing. This passage speaks of strong drink. This is most likely something other than wine. Beer was, in fact, well known in Egypt and Mesopotamia where barley was grown. Archeologists have even discovered evidence of a form of brandy.
3) Against scoffers who urged God to hurry up with the divine work so they could discern it. "Ah you who...who say 'Let him make haste, let him speed his work that we may see it; let the plan of the holy one of Israel hasten to fulfillment, that we may know it!'" (Is. 5:18a,19) God works according to God's own time table. I have no idea of what God's time table is. I have a huge problem with those who try to convince others that they know exactly when everything is going to happen as far as end time events.These people sell a lot of books and make a bundle of money. But, remember one thing; God, who was in charge of the beginning is the only one who will be in charge of the end. God's work always has a purpose and therefore must be left to God to fulfil as God sees fit. Our problem is, we are so impatient with God. We want God to act now. However, it may very well be that God is acting even during the moments we wish to speed up.
4) Against moral confusion. "Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (Is. 5:20) Wow! We could go on and on about this verse. We think this verse simply applies to our day and time, but it was said to the people living in Isaiah's time. Clearly our world has changed and we can sure attest that the words of this verse often describe 2017. Things that were once preached against are no longer preached against and are often being done by those who used to preach against them. I knew of a preacher who refused to allow another preacher behind his pulpit because this preacher had been divorced, but remarried. He would allow the fellow to preach when he was divorced and single, but once he remarried...NO! Can't allow that! That is a sin! The Bible Say So, I Believe IT, That Settles It! Yadda...Yadda...Yadda...Guess what? The preacher who refused to allow the newly married divorcee to preach, who himself had been divorced...yep, you guessed it...remarried. Of course, the policy was changed to allow for remarried divorcees to preach. Now, I'm not saying that remarried divorcees should not preach, no what I'm saying is that we often change the rules, such as this one fellow (who is not a United Methodist and will not be named) to fit our needs.
Another thing we are sometimes guilty of is "fitting in with society." If x is accepted by the majority of society then x must not be so bad. Well, I'm not so sure. Something sure made God angry with these people. I have had to ask myself more than once; "Is God angry today?" Is there a difference between good and evil? Is there a clear distinction? Yes, folks there are still works of evil, and there is a distinction between them and good. Perhaps our biggest issue today is, we can't agree on which is which. One calls x good, another calls x evil.
5) "Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes, and shrewd in your own sight!" (Is. 5:21) Have you ever heard it said, "So and so is really smart. If you don't believe it just ask him and he'll tell you?" Yes, we all know that person. Knowledge and wisdom are great things, but they are also gifts from God, not of ourselves. There is a purpose for wisdom, and it is not to impress others, but to edify others.
6) "Ah, you who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant at mixing drink who acquit the guilty for a bribe" (Is. 5:22-23a) This is self-explanatory. It is speaking to those who indulge themselves and who take bribes. I like how it says "you who are heroes in drinking" (by the way I'm all of a sudden using the NRSV. I just now realized that. This is because I have three Bibles in front of me and I got confused as to which one I was using) When I read that line above I couldn't help but think of the old Country and Western song (I say old, because I don't listen to the new stuff and can't tell you anything about it) "I'm Gonna Hire A Wine-O To Decorate Our Home" by Shelly West. In the song there was a line where she said something about him "feeling macho and crushing the beer cans like a man." I can just see these men standing around drinking feeling macho with their drinks in hand. *hopefully they don't try to crush the wine glasses.
Well, this gives us an insight as to what the charges were against these people. God is clearly angry and the song reiterates this: "Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them." (Is. 5:25) But, is everything hopeless? No! Remember this is a song. In the first chapter the people were promised "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; tough they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;" (Is. 1:18-19) There is still hope. Looking back at what we have already learned, we know that the Israelites and Judeans were led away into exile. God's judgement against them took place. Tomorrow, we will look at the message of hope that follows what we have just read in the first five chapters. Remember, we looked at chapter six at the call and commission of Isaiah. God called him to go to the people. The first sign of hope is when God calls someone to "go and tell." Join me tomorrow as we continue our journey. -Pastor Rick