What was the worst job in history? Did you catch that show on the ABC? Tony Robinson tries to answer that question by looking at the worst possible jobs in each era of history. From boys down coalmines, to soap makers, to people who swept up the dog and cat rubbish around London to be used by tanners. The list goes on and on.
But I reckon right up there must be the job of THE PERSON WHO BRINGS BAD NEWS.
During the war, telegrams were delivered to wives to tell them their husbands had been killed. And women used to dread the doorbell ringing.
Imagine delivering THAT news?
Or being a doctor delivering bad news about medical tests?
Today’s passage is BAD NEWS. And Isaiah had the tough job of DELIVERING it to the people of Judah. That the God who LOVED them, and had set them up in the land, was FED UP with their lying and cheating and hypocrisy. They’d BROKEN HIS HEART. And he was going to PUNISH them.
And Isaiah chooses to use a SONG. Which is a great way to express EMOTIONS.
Because this is a song full of EMOTION. It starts off as a LOVE song. Gentle and sweet. But before too long, the mood turns. Still full of emotion. But it’s a love song that very quickly becomes TRAGIC.
Like a country and western song. They always seem to be about love gone wrong. Of heartbreak, and unrequited love. Of lovin’ and cheatin’ and lyin’.
Here’s the titles of some REAL country and western songs that show what I mean.
There’s the OBVIOUS “love gone cold” songs
Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well
I Would Have Wrote You a Letter, But I Couldn’t Spell Yuck!
I’d Rather Pass a Kidney Stone than Another Night With You
Then there’s ones that seem to have a “firearms” theme
You Stuck My Heart In an Old Tin Can and Shot It Off a Log
If I Had Shot You When I Wanted To, I’d Be Out By Now
Still Miss You Baby, But My Aim’s Gettin’ Better
And finally there’s the CLEVER ones. Some with titles that take a bit of THINKING about.
I Thought She Was Out Jogging, But She Was Running Around On Me
Gave Her My Heart and a Diamond And She Clubbed Me With a Spade
My John Deere Was Breaking Your Field While Your Dear John Was Breaking My Heart
My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend And I Sure Do Miss Him
That’s Country and Western songs for you. And Isaiah’s song in Ch 5 has a similar sort of feel. Of deep emotions. Of love, and of betrayal. And of wanting justice. I’m not sure what the title is, or whether it’s as clever as those country and western songs, but it’s something like “My life with you was a vineyard, but it’s all turned to weeds.”
1. The vineyard (1-7)
See how it begins? Isaiah’s singing a song about the one he loves. We find out a few verses down that he’s talking about GOD.
And Isaiah sings about how God’s prepared a vineyard. How he’s lovingly cleared out the rough stones, prepared the ground. Planted the vines.
And then he prepares everything that goes WITH his vineyard. The winepress to squeeze the grapes. The watchtower to protect it. Fences and hedges to protect it from animals and wind. All lovingly and carefully prepared. All in expectation of a harvest of choice grapes.
But by the end of v2, our love song’s started to turn sour. Like grapes left to rot. Because instead of vines heavy with plump bunches of juicy grapes, all the vineyard produces is withered dried-out useless stalks. Worthless. A waste of all his time and energy and emotion.
Then in v3, God takes up the singing. Singing to the people of Judah. HIS people. The people he’d rescued out of Egypt, and brought into the land.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
The sad story of love gone wrong. Of God pouring everything he had into his vineyard, but it was all a waste. With nothing good coming out of it.
And so, he goes on to describe what you DO with a useless vineyard like that. V5.
5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
When you’ve tried everything you can, you abandon a useless vineyard. You stop protecting it, pull down its walls and hedges, and let the wilderness overgrow it again. Back to the chaos and disorder it was before.
At which point Isaiah chimes back in again. And points out what we might have already worked out. That the vineyard represents the people of JUDAH. And the FRUIT God was looking for was obedient and godly living. V7.
7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for JUSTICE, but saw BLOODSHED; for RIGHTEOUSNESS, but heard cries of DISTRESS.
We miss how CLEVER Isaiah’s being here. How CATCHY. It’s a bit like some of those country and western titles. Because there’s a play on words. For each pair, the BAD word sounds almost the same as the GOOD word.
God wanted ONE THING. But there was something else instead. He looked for JUSTICE (mishpat), but only saw BLOODSHED (mishpah). He looked for righteousness (tsedakah) but heard cries of distress (ts’akah). Justice might SOUND like bloodshed. But they’re MILES apart. And the same with righteousness and cries of distress.
It’s right up there with
“Gave Her My Heart and a Diamond And She Clubbed Me With a Spade” OR “My John Deere Was Breaking Your Field While Your Dear John Was Breaking My Heart”
The funny thing is/ on the SURFACE, Judah might have LOOKED productive and fruitful. Economic wealth and prosperity. Plenty of free time, choices galore. Just the sort of things our politicians want to see in Australia. Signs of a FRUITFUL and developing country.
Six Woes (8-24)
But is that the fruit GOD wants to see? What is it that God notices when he looks at Judah? From v8 we get a low-flying tour over the land, highlighting the crime and the greed and the corrupt attitudes that make God sick.
Six WOES. Six portraits of sin and judgment and condemnation.
- v8. WOE to those who value property over people. Possessions over relationships. People who acquire more and more land until they sit in the midst of fields, but with no one to SHARE it with.
- V11. WOE to those whose priority is drinking. Who show their industriousness and hard work when it comes to finding the best PARTY. Whose greatest concerns are the right music and the right booze. And who don’t care at all for things that REALLY matter, like doing what GOD wants, or an honest day’s work.
- V18 and 19. WOE to those who arrogantly defy God. Who mock the warnings Isaiah brings. Who think they know better than God. And have nothing to fear from him.
- V20. WOE to those who turn justice on its head. Who twist morality to suit their own preferences.
- v21. WOE to those who are clever in their own sight.
- v22. WOE to those whose greatest claim to fame is being able to drink everyone under the table. But who couldn’t care less about things that MATTER – like innocence and guilt.
And the root of the whole sorry tale is there at the end of v24. It all comes because they’ve rejected the law of the LORD Almighty. Turned their back on God.
Isaiah’s describing a period of Israel’s history that boasted many impressive achievements. Of material prosperity, and comfort and security. On the OUTSIDE, everything looks GOOD. Success, glamour, even wisdom.
But together with all that WEALTH came an absolute POVERTY of things that MATTER. Of righteousness and equality and justice and sobriety. There’s a pre-occupation with SELF. And a cold, blatant, calculated disregard for God, or what HE wants. And instead, to defiantly redefine the rules of life around what I think.
It’s ALWAYS been our biggest problem. Whatever society we live in. And it’s STILL the root of the problems we face in Australia TODAY.
Some would point to the problems of economic inequality, environmental concerns, or racial conflict. But these things are only the SYMPTOMS of our rejection of God.
Just like in Isaiah’s time. And Isaiah sings WOE to all these people. Because they’re standing in the firing line of God’s judgment. Woe to them because it’s that sort of behaviour and attitudes that God HATES.
See the sorts of things God says will happen.
V9. The great houses will become RUINS. Abandoned.
V13. The party-goers, ironically, will die of hunger, and be parched with thirst.
V15. The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled.
V16. The LORD Almighty, the LORD of ARMIES is what it literally means, will be exalted by his justice, and will show himself HOLY by his RIGHTEOUSNESS.
V25 The LORD’s anger BURNS against his people, he strikes them down. Dead bodies lie like refuse on the streets.
But even that’s not enough. The culmination –v26.
God will whistle for foreign invaders to come. They come swiftly, and without tiring. Their arrows are sharp, and their chariots fast.
And, v29, like a lion, they seize their prey, and carry it off with no one to rescue.
And it all came TRUE / a few short years later, in 722 BC. When Assyria stormed through the northern kingdom of Israel, scattered the nation, and then 20 yrs later arrived at the gates of Jerusalem in 701 BC.
King Hezekiah prayed for God’s deliverance, and so he DID. Assyria withdrew to fight Babylon who was on the rise. That’s in Isaiah 37.
But eventually, in 586 BC it’s BABYLON who invades. Breaks down the city walls, and destroys the temple. And takes the Jews into exile.
Israel Mk 2
Where they stay for 70 years. Until, once again, God delivers them. Brings them back to Jerusalem. And gives them a second chance.
And, under the watchful eye of Ezra and Nehemiah, they rebuild the city and the temple.
Will things be different THIS TIME? Did they learn their lesson? How will Israel Mark 2 behave?
To answer that, jump forward 500 years to the time of Jesus. ANOTHER prophet who comes preaching God’s message. And flip over to Matthew 23 (p700).
Jesus is speaking against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. And he has a word from God for them. SEVEN words in fact. Seven WOES. Just like Isaiah, Messages of condemnation and judgment.
On the SURFACE, things in Jesus’ time look different to Isaiah’s day. After all these leaders SAY they’re following God’s law. But the reality is/ it’s all ON THE SURFACE. Jesus calls them whitewashed tombs in v27. That look beautiful on THE OUTSIDE, but which are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean ON THE INSIDE.
How ridiculous to think that God can’t see your INSIDE!
Jesus’ condemns their HYPOCRISY (v5). Pretending to be honouring GOD with their fancy clothes, and long prayers, when they’re more interested in seeking honour for themselves.
And there’s also some major SIMILARITIES with Isaiah’s time. The same messed-up priorities (v23). So worried about following every tiny little made-up law/ they’ve forgotten all about the MAJOR things – justice, mercy and faithfulness.
But most important, just like the people of Isaiah’s time, the root cause is still the same. That blatant disregard for God’s Word. They haven’t learned A THING. Refusing to live life according to what God says. See what Jesus says there. God’s message – v33.
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you WILL KILL AND CRUCIFY; others you will FLOG in your synagogues and PURSUE from town to town.
It was treatment of God’s messengers that culminated in their treatment of Jesus himself. God’s GREATEST prophet.
Flip back a couple of pages to p698. Mt 21:33. And Jesus tells a very familiar story. About a landowner who planted a vineyard. Dug a winepress and built a watchtower. Just like God did in Isaiah’s song.
But then the story changes. The landowner goes away, and rents the vineyard out to some tenants. (Jesus is talking about the leaders of the Jews. The ones God’s put in charge to look after his people.)
And then, when harvest time comes, the owner sends servants to collect the fruit. And the farmers beat, stone and kill the servants. They’re not interested in the authority of the landowner, or what he wants from them.
But Jesus’ story is going to get even more personal. V37.
37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Of course, Jesus is talking about HIMSELF. And what the Pharisees will do to him within a matter of weeks.
And as Jesus adds his modern twist to the story of God and his vineyard, listen to how he FINISHES it. How God will punish his people, who once again, have turned their backs on him. V41.
41 “He will bring those wretches to a WRETCHED END,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
And again in v43. He jumps out of the story, and speaks the application straight to the Pharisees who are listening.
43 “Therefore I tell you that THE KINGDOM OF GOD WILL BE TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
God wants to see FRUIT.
People who refuse to listen to their Master. Who insist on doing what THEY want. And who refuse to produce the sort of fruit that makes God proud / RISK MISSING OUT. We need to take that warning SERIOUSLY.
At a historical level, Jesus is talking about the Jews in general. Following Jesus’ return to heaven, God looked BEYOND the Jews. Opened up the good news of people becoming his children to EVERY nation. In the Gentiles. And looked for fruit throughout the WHOLE WORLD.
Which is US! We’re the people God is looking to / to be producing the fruit of godly lives.
Which is a bit scary! I don’t know about YOU, but I recognised a little of myself in those portraits of Isaiah 5. At least in some of my attitudes. Being more interested in possessions than people. Being greedy, and not recognising the need all around me. In having my priorities upside-down when it comes to seeking pleasure over what really matters.
How can I make sure I’m a GOOD vine? The type that produces fruit that pleases God?
The first step is to make sure you don’t have that attitude of rejecting the OWNER of the vineyard. Make sure we LISTEN to God. Submit to him, and to his Son. Hand your life over to him, as the one who DESERVES your service, and your allegiance.
Which really just means BECOMING A CHRISTIAN.
But there’s a SECOND step Jesus identifies when it comes to making sure we produce the fruit that pleases God. Flip over to Jn 15. Last passage – I promise! (p764). Jesus says,
15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
Jesus is the PERFECT vine. Who bears fruit that pleases the Father PERFECTLY. And then he says a bit further on (v4)
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
The key to producing the plenty of fruit is to REMAIN in Jesus. To keep your eyes firmly on him. To follow him constantly. To listen to him closely. To seek his honour and glory in everything you do. To commit every day of your life to Him, done in the strength of his Spirit living in you.
THAT’S what it means to remain in the true vine who’s Jesus.
That’s how to produce the good fruit of a godly life that pleases your Father in heaven who is the gardener.