Isaiah 5 completes the prophet’s address that began in chapter 2. As noted before, the parable of the vineyard is the epitome of that message.
In the parable God rehearsed His ways with Israel and emphasized their lack of response to His love and patience. This “song of the vineyard” links intimately with our Lord’s parable concerning the same subject, which He presented to the scribes and Pharisees shortly before His arrest and crucifixion.
We might well refer to Isaiah 5:1-7 as the vineyard poem because the words of the prophet’s song are graphic and touching. God of course was the real speaker. When He said, “My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill,” He was speaking of His own blessed Son, who is the Messiah of Israel as well as the Savior of the world.
The vineyard represents Israel as God viewed them at the beginning of their Palestinian history. Having brought them out of Egypt, He planted them in the land of promise and there cared for them and protected them from the ravages of their enemies. He “fenced [His vineyard], and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein.” But the vineyard produced no fruit suitable to His holy desires. “He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.” Instead of bearing fruit for God, Israel brought forth that which grieved His heart and dishonored His holy name.
And so, addressing Himself directly to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Judah, He asked, “Judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” After all the care He had lavished upon Israel—His loving provision for their needs, His gracious forgiveness extended to them over and over again when they failed—how could it be possible that there would be no suitable fruit for Him? Why should they produce only that which was worthless and useless? Their fruit was unsatisfactory because their hearts had departed from the living God.
After giving His people one opportunity after another to repent and judge themselves in His sight, He finally decided to give them up. He said, “I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”
That we are not mistaken in the interpretation of the parable is clear from 5:7, where we are definitely told, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” This is confirmed in Psalm 80-81 and also in Hosea 10:1.
Here we have the six woes to which reference has already been made. In 5:8 the Lord pronounced a woe upon them “that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!” In other words, He pronounced judgment on those who selfishly seek to accumulate houses and lands for themselves, showing no consideration for the poor and the needy. Such selfish people will eventually be desolate and their holdings destroyed; their fields will fail to bear crops, and their hope of gain will be disappointed.
In 5:11 the Lord pronounced a woe upon those who give themselves over to voluptuousness and sensual pleasure, who “rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!” Reading on through 5:17 we learn that they seek to delight themselves with beautiful music and other worldly pleasures, “but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.” Because of this they will go into captivity. They have acted as those who are without knowledge; and the leaders among them, who should have been honorable men, have proven themselves to be fools. So “hell hath enlarged herself.” That is, the unseen world has “opened her mouth without measure” and they and all that they have delighted in will go down into the pit. “The mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled: But the Lord of hosts [whom they have despised] shall be exalted in judgment.” God, the infinitely holy One, “shall be sanctified in righteousness” when He visits with judgment those who have grievously offended.
The third woe (5:18) is upon those who “draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope.” They openly defy the God of Israel and brazenly insist on taking their own way in opposition to His Holy Word. They ridicule the message of His prophet and spurn His commands.
The fourth woe (5:20) is upon those who fail to distinguish between good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness. They “put darkness for light, and light for darkness”; they “put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” In other words, they make no distinction between that which honors God and mat which dishonors Him. Like Laodicea in a later day, they are neither cold nor hot; they are utterly indifferent to divine truth.
The fifth woe (5:21) is upon those who are “wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” Pride, so natural to the human heart, is hateful to God, and if persisted in will eventually bring destruction. As Proverbs 16:18 puts it, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
The sixth woe (5:22-23) is for those who, inflamed by wine, lose all sense of righteousness in judgment. They “justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!”
Having pronounced the six woes, the Lord declared, “Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble.”
In spite of warnings, the people persisted in their iniquity, their hearts unmoved by all God’s dealings with them; therefore more severe judgments were yet to come.
The Lord had summoned the nations of the East to overrun the land of Israel. Already the northern kingdom of Israel had felt the power of Assyria and had been carried away. Soon the southern kingdom of Judah would be destroyed by the might of Babylon. No effort on Judah’s part would enable them to turn back the power of the enemy when the appointed hour had come for the destruction so long predicted. Like a roaring lioness with a litter of young lions, the eastern nations would rush upon their prey and carry it away triumphantly. In that hour of distress, the people of Judah would cry to the Lord in vain, for “darkness and sorrow” were destined to be their portion. The light would be darkened in the heavens above them.