“Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land…A ten acre vineyard will produce only 22 litres of wine and 220 litres of seed only 22 litres of grain.” (Isaiah 5:8, 10)
One of the major themes in Isaiah’s preaching is that we have only one life and one fundamental relationship within it. Whether we like it or not, this means that we can’t follow two competing dreams. If God is our focus, then we can’t allow other desires to be the driving force of our lives.
Our great problem is that we want to ride two horses. But as Woody Allen once famously quipped, “You can’t have your backside on two horses at one time.” Our problem is that we lose perspective when lesser aspirations like owning our own home or enjoying life’s simple pleasures become all-consuming. And this was Isaiah’s complaint with the Israelites in his own day. They were allowing lower priorities to become more important to them than God Himself.
What happens in our lives when we allow secondary aspirations to control us? Well, according to Isaiah, what usually happens is that financial concerns tend to take over. We want to ‘add house to house’. When God is no longer at the top of our list of priorities, something else slips into first place. And, in this case, it was property. Why property? Presumably because they thought that owning a string of properties would give them a sense of security and allow them to project an image of being clever and strong.
The dangerous thing about making financial success an aspiration is that we scarcely know that we have done it. That’s why we need to question ourselves constantly, “Has my desire for security become more important to me than God?” Perhaps you are wondering, how can I really find out whether I have slipped into this false sense of security? Well, one way would be to ask the question: “Do I tell myself there are certain things that I simply must have otherwise my life will be miserable? Do I need to be out shopping before I feel good? Do I believe that having the right car, living in the best street and earning a lot of money are more important to me than knowing God?”
Isaiah’s point in all this is quite serious: we can’t have a casual relationship with God. It’s all or nothing. If we set our hearts on becoming rich rather than on serving God, we commit ourselves to the law of diminishing returns. In the Israelites’ case, a large vineyard yielded just a dribble of wine and they reaped only a tenth of what they sowed.