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The Song Of The Vineyard
© 02.18.19 D. Eric Williams

This article appeared in the February 21 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle

Now I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a rich and fertile hill. He plowed the land, cleared its stones, and planted it with the best vines. In the middle he built a watchtower and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks. Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were bitter. Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah, you judge between me and my vineyard. 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? Now let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will tear down its hedges and let it be destroyed. I will break down its walls and let the animals trample it. I will make it a wild place where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed, a place overgrown with briers and thorns. I will command the clouds to drop no rain on it. The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the LORD of Heaven's Armies. The people of Judah are his pleasant garden. He expected a crop of justice, but instead he found oppression. He expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence (Isaiah 5:1-7).

Isaiah 5:1-7 tells us that the Lord disciplines his non-fruit-bearing people. This was true for God's people in Isaiah's day and it remains true for us today.

In the first part of this passage, we see that after all the Lord has done for his people, he expects them to bear righteous fruit (vv. 1-2). Isaiah uses a love song to tell the story; a sure-fire way to grab the attention of his audience and a reminder of the need to love God. He illustrates the circumstance with a situation well known to his listeners; the establishment of a vineyard where everything that could be expected is done on behalf of the vineyard.

It would be natural to choose the very best ground for the vineyard. It is normal to till the soil, to clear the land of stones and to use plantings of one's choosing (vv. 1-2). The gardener took the customary steps defend the vineyard with a watchtower and to protect it with hedges and walls (v. 5). The gardener took the obvious step of placing a wine-press there (v. 2). Pay attention; Isaiah is describing a very normal situation. It is the description of someone who takes great care but it is still the norm. There is no need to look for allegorical meanings behind each detail. Think about it for a moment; if you garden - vegetables or flowers, or even houseplants - you understand. These are normal activities. Nonetheless, they are accomplished with certain expectations in mind.

So, the Lord provided everything for his people to produce good fruit (vv. 1-2a). This tells us something about God; it is his nature to care for his people. It tells us the normal thing for God to do is make sure everything is in place to produce godliness in his people. He is a conscientious gardener and leaves nothing out. Moreover, it reminds us the people of Israel and Judah did not belong to themselves. They were the creation and possession of God. We are as well.

Thus, Jesus used a vineyard illustration in describing our relationship with him. He is the true grapevine and his Father is the gardener (John 15:1). Like Isaiah, Jesus goes on to describe the natural, normal behavior of the vine-dresser in caring for his vineyard. Again, we see that God has done everything for us that is expected to produce growth in Christ-likeness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3).

When we look at Isaiah again, we see that despite the Lord's provision, his people produced bad fruit (v. 2b). Even though everything necessary for the production of good fruit was in place, the harvest was bitter. There was no good reason for the bitter harvest; the fault was with the people of Judah and Jerusalem. They were rebellious and disobedience. We will see in a moment what that bitter fruit was but for now, keep in mind that the Judeans took advantage of the care and provision of God for their own ends.

Today, people who claim to be followers of God are still capable of producing bitter fruit. As we will see next week, it can be the same bitter fruit as produced by the ancient Judeans.

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