The Song of the Vineyard
The Old Testament parables have a voice for the present. In Isaiah 5, we have a public picture of the nation of Israel whereas in Chapter 6, it is a private picture of the prophet Isaiah. Here it is a dirge on the perversion of the people whereas in Chapter 12, it is a song of delight in the prosperity of the nation. Let us notice the Song, the Sketch and the Sequel of the Nation as Isaiah depicted it in his time.
In the opening verse the prophet commences with a song, but at the end of the chapter there is a wall. The vineyard is an apt figure of the specially privileged nation. The imagery is well known in the Bible (Jer. 2:21; Hosea 10:1, and in the New Testament, John 15). The melody is in the co-hortative voice, “Let me sing to my well-beloved (Jehovah) touching His vineyard” (Israel). It is helpful to remember there are three trees mentioned in the Old Testament relative to the nation of Israel, the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine. The elect nation is likened here to a vineyard divinely commenced, carefully tended, and jealously protected in the most fertile and productive country in the world.
In the second verse the prophet gives a panorama of Israel’s history from Egypt to the time of Isaiah. Prepared: Israel is seen as the divinely prepared nation through the call and choice and channel of Abraham. She was an enclosed garden and a fenced field, and separate from all other nations by the sovereignty of the Husbandman (Dent. 7:1-20; Joshua 24:3; Exodus 33:16; and 19, 5, 6). Planted: Not only was the vine cleared and cultivated, but it was the special object of the Husbandman. She was the choicest of vines having been chosen from the foundation of the world. Her branches were to run over the wall and become the healing of the nations of the world. Protected: Moreover, as a nation she was divinely preserved, and is until this day a unique people. God has blessed her exceedingly with the symbol of His Presence and other means of grace throughout her long chequered career. The tower and the wine-press suggest her preservation and protection. (The tower has to do with the external and the wine-press the internal.) As then, so now, the Pharaohs, the kings, the Herods, the Hitters could not, nor ever shall be able to, destroy the apple of God’s eye, the people of His pasture. Israel will yet possess her possessions and dwell safely in the Land of God’s choice. Productive: The word used here for ‘he looked’ suggests patience and expectancy on the part of the vine-dresser. Three times we read, ‘he looked’ and how suggestive is this in the pleading of God by means of prophet, priest and king. Perverted: What happened that the vine did not produce? Israel became perverted and as a vineyard was fruitless and barren. The cause of such a state is clearly told out in the Word of God (Ezekiel 15:2-5). As a nation she refused the voice of God’s prophets; she flatly rejected the Messiah of Israel, and David’s Greater Son is still a stumbling stone and rock of offence. Three times Jehovah looked with prophetic insight for fruit, and instead of grapes He found nothing but wild grapes. In fact He justly asks, “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?” In the following verses of the chapter the fulfilment of the parable is enacted in six woes inflicted through the Assyrians. First, the wild grape of covetousness (8). Second, the wild grape of carousers (11). Third, the wild grape of the challengers of Jehovah (18). Fourth, the wild grape of moral corruption of distinctions (20). Fifth, the wild grape of conceit (21). Sixth, the wild grape of civil criminals (22). What a sad commentary in view of Exodus 19:5-6. How awful the perversion of the purpose of God!
In verse 7, the figure used of the wild grapes is interpreted. Three times God looked for something from the elect nation. He looked for grapes and in return found wild grapes or as the root implies blighted grapes therefore evil-smelling. “He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry” (V. 7). The prophet makes a play on words and can be best expressed in the words, “He looked for equity and lo, iniquity; He looked for right but behold riot.” God looked for judgment and righteousness but found none in the land. God’s purpose in relation to His vineyard was perverted. Is there a spiritual lesson to be gleaned from this parable? Does this ancient record have a voice for us today? Yes! God expects something from the lives of His redeemed people. The Church of God is still in the world to carry on His purposes and present the truth of Christ: “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit (John 15:8).
The life of the Christian is to be marked by fruitfulness. The perfection of Christian character is seen in the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). The secret of fruitfulness is abiding in Christ. The life that abides in Christ, John teaches us, issues in prayer that is effectual, joy celestial, fruit perpetual and love perennial. Such a life brings forth fruit in season (Psa. 1:1-3). Fruit in season suggests in the time of sorrow faith in God; in the time of weakness strength in God; in the time of looseness of morals and increasing godlessness faith that overcomes. This is the life that has a song of praise, even the fruit of the lips (Heb. 13:15), and is daily operative in the production of fruit that remains by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Something else God is looking for today is faithfulness. How solemn the words, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Many in our generation reveal gift, zeal, leadership, executive ability in the affairs of the Church, but how few show forth the rare virtue of fidelity. “Most men will proclaim their own goodness, but a faithful man who can find?” This is a quality of life that puts first things first. It is the character of those who put God’s business first in the realization that He will take care of their affairs. God desires fidelity of heart and home. Am I truly faithful to God in my private personal life? Am I alive to the opportunity before me in the winning of those for whom Christ died? Am I moved at the conditions in the Church, in the world, among the lost sheep of the house of Israel? How about my home? Is my own garden well watered and cared for? It is the little foxes that spoil the vines, and often it is true of us, “My own vineyard have I not kept.” Our example is Christ who was faithful for God and to man whilst on this earth. Men like Moses who was faithful in all his house; Silvanus, a faithful brother, and Hannaniah, a ruler in the palace of Nehemia’s time, all reveal it is possible to possess this quality of life that is never forgotten in Heaven.
Wonder of wonders God is expecting something more from my life, fellowship. These three things were missing from the life of the nation as a whole. Thank God they were found in men like Daniel, Job and others. God is looking for righteousness of life, and this is a life that is walking in agreement and adjustment to God by the power of the Spirit. This is the life of partnership, communion and fellowship. Surely this is life’s richest goal and to this end God gave the Son that we might be in the family and enjoy the Father’s favour, care, provision, and paternal partnership. This is our daily experience as we walk in the light (1 John 1:1-5). The blessedness of personal communion with Christ cannot be substituted for life’s dearest relations. The more we fellowship with Christ the more we shall know of the bond that knits our hearts in His love. Fellowship of His spirit, of suffering, of sustenance all spring out of our union and communion with Him. Oh! to follow on for God being fruitful in every good work, faithful before God and man, and experiencing that fellowship which manifests itself in knowledge, assurance, and joy in the possession of eternal life.