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The song of the vineyard

Isaiah series

The song of the vineyard
Posted on October 9, 2020  - By Tom Horvat

Text: Isaiah 5:1-7

Before we contemplate the message of Isaiah 5, a brief visit to Hebrews 1:1 will help us understand the method God used to communicate to the prophets. There we read, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.”

In many ways indicates that God brought His message to His people through means that illustrated the truth He wanted to deliver. This took the form of poetry, songs, and many examples from nature and human relationships.

As A.W. Pink put it: “Thus we may see here an illustration of the sovereignty of God: He did not act uniformly or confine Himself to any one method of speaking to the fathers. He spoke by way of promise and prediction, by types and symbols, by commandments and precepts, by warnings and exhortations.”

A song, ripe with imagery

Isaiah 5 opens with the announcement that the Spirit of God is going to bring his message to Israel by a song. In reference to v. 1, we will entitle it, My beloved has a vineyard.

There is no mistake in identifying who the vine is. Look at v. 7 — we’re told that the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and that the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. Note Psalm 80:8-11:

“You brought a vine out of Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.”

We cannot fathom the inestimable privileges God bestowed upon the seed of Abraham! They did not earn those privileges — it was all based on grace. While all the other nations were following the imaginations of their own hearts, God chose to manifest himself to the Hebrews. While others were fabricating mythology, God gave the Hebrews the truth. While others laboured under horrible conditions to appease their gods with rituals like child sacrifices, God gave the Hebrews a sacrificial system through the blood of lambs, bulls, and goats — until the one supreme sacrifice appeared in the person of the Messiah. 

God did not bestow blessings upon His chosen nation for a vain display of priest-craft, but to yield fruit in the lives of His people that would display His beauty and holiness to the surrounding nations as they obeyed His commandments.

God did not bestow blessings upon His chosen nation for a vain display of priest-craft, but to yield fruit in the lives of His people

Old passage, modern applications

We come now to consider Isaiah 5:1-7. I hope to make relevant applications based on two major headings:

I. The great works of God bestowed upon His people (vv. 1-2)

First, we are given a magnificent horticultural picture to describe God’s great works for His people (vv. 1-2).

  • It was planted in a fertile place — “in a very fruitful hill”.

Note what one wine website says about vineyard placement: “Today, we now have more scientific data to support that planting on hills or mountains can provide a higher quality wine as there might be improved drainage, sun exposure, heat, soils as well as protection against frost.”

The point I desire to make is that God knows where the best place is to obtain the best fruit possible. Usually this means the place He chooses for us is not to our liking. Usually that also means He intends for us to bear fruit where we are presently, unless He providentially moves us.

Consider how many times the Israelites complained about the promised land — the very fruitful hill — while desiring to return to Egypt, the place of their bondage. My brethren, we must learn to accept God’s providence in our lives and thrive wherever He places us, resting in Him until/if He leads elsewhere.

  • It was planted in a protected place — “He fenced it… and built a tower in the midst thereof.”

As God led His people to this fertile place, He was their guardian. A pillar (tower) accompanied them their entire journey, and as their enemies pursued them, He fenced them out with a wall of darkness so that they could not come near them (Exodus 14:19-20). As Psalm 125:2 puts it, “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about His people from henceforth even forever.” Matthew Henry points out: “If they had not thrown down their fence, no inroad could have been made upon them.”

We must learn to accept God’s providence in our lives and thrive wherever He places us, resting in Him until He leads elsewhere

How often do we get into trouble spiritually because we throw down the fence God has graciously provided through His word? How often, in the face of clear warnings, do we step outside the line of safety and end up with a fiery dart from the devil in us? How often do we find ourselves lamenting with the apostle, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:19)?

  • It was planted in a smooth place — “He gathered out the stones thereof.”

One of the great redemptive acts of God is removing the stony heart of unbelief and giving a heart that is soft to receive His Word. “I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). 

Remembering the parable of the sower, we should fervently seek the work of the Spirit and ask for a receptive heart in hearing His Word. The stony ground may hear the Word, but it cannot receive and grow from it if the seed can’t take root. Unconfessed sin and unbelief are the great causes of the stony heart. “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’” (Hebrews 3:14-15).

II. The great wonder of a degenerate people of privilege (vv. 3-4)

  • It was planted as a choice vine.

The greatest way to interpret the Bible is to let the Bible interpret itself. What does it mean that Israel was a choice vine? Paul’s statement in Romans 9:4-5 gives a most concise description of the blessing and privilege of chosen Israel:

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”

Here was the one nation out of multitudes that the one true God revealed Himself to and through, giving them the only God-ordained religion in the world! They were the recipients of truth that was supernaturally inspired and preserved for generations without end. Messiah himself would be from this stock. What a choice vine! 

Here was the one nation out of multitudes that the one true God revealed Himself to, giving them the only God-ordained religion in the world

This picture considered carefully and thoughtfully exacerbates the heinous apostasy of a chosen and cared-for nation, which leads to the second major heading: The great wonder of a people of privilege.

Privileged — and disobedient?

In v. 3, Jehovah makes an exceedingly gracious and condescending appeal, asking His people to consider what He has done for them and how they have responded to Him. The evidence of His grace and their treachery is obvious, as the rhetorical question in v. 4 shows: “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”

Calvin gives this helpful insight: “It is a proof of the strongest confidence in His cause, when He bids the guilty persons themselves declare if this be not the true state of the fact.”

We cannot afford to miss the application here and will let Matthew Henry again lead us:

“God expects fruit from those that enjoy privileges. Good purposes and good beginnings are good things, but not enough; there must be vineyard fruit; thoughts and affections, words and actions, agreeable to the Spirit. It is sad with a soul, when, instead of the grapes of humility, meekness, love, patience, and contempt of the world, for which God looks, there are the wild grapes of pride, passion, discontent, and malice, and contempt of God; instead of the grapes of praying and praising, the wild grapes of cursing and swearing. Let us bring forth fruit with patience, that in the end we may obtain everlasting life.”

Check out also Matthew 3:5-12 to learn the truth that privilege is no guarantee of product, and privilege spurned is judgment earned. We understand this sad truth not only from the utter spoiling of the nation of Israel, but from the many sad testimonies of those who began well in the Christian faith and dashed their lives on the rocks of unbelief.

I close with this final exhortation from Calvin: “As God continually bestows on us innumerable benefits so we ought to be earnestly on our guard lest, by withdrawing first one and then another, He punishes us for despising them.” May we humble ourselves in repentance over our neglect of our privileges as saints of the Most High, and bring forth the fruit of Zion in this barren world.

Tom Horvat

About Tom Horvat

Tom Horvat completed his BA in education and theology at Washington Bible College. He pastored a house church for 15 years and served as a volunteer chaplain in a local prison for 20 years. He is now retired and pursuing interests in hiking, kayaking, nature study and wood crafting. He is passionate about ecology and published a book entitled New Creation Ecology that is available on Amazon. Tom has seven children and 13 grandchildren with his wife of over 40 years.



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