Tuesdays with Isaiah (Chapter 5)

The opening section of the book draws to a close in chapter 5.  Isaiah’s anthology of visions in these first five chapters reveal Judah’s present spiritual degradation, the coming divine judgment and, thankfully, the promised future glory for God’s people. 

Chapter 5 opens with a “love song” for the Lord and His vineyard, Israel.  The song begins beautifully and peacefully, looking back to the Lord’s gracious planting and protection of His vineyard—the nation of Israel (1-2).  Sadly and suddenly, things change.  The anticipation of fruit withers as the vineyard only produces “wild grapes” (2).  Isaiah’s song gives way to the Lord’s voice in verse 3; God speaks, asking the current residents of Jerusalem and Judah to render a verdict between Himself and His vineyard (themselves!).  What more could he have done for them?  Why were they so unproductive? (4).  As a result, the Lord will remove the protection for His vineyard.  (Note the similar wording in 3:1 “The Lord God of hosts is taking away support and supply.”)  He will break down his vineyard’s outer wall (5), withholding rain and allowing it to be covered with “briers and thorns” (6).  Lest we miss the point, Isaiah concludes this extended metaphor by explaining its meaning (7).  The vineyard is “the house of Israel”.  The people of Judah are “his pleasant planting”.  The good fruit He looked for has become the bitter fruit of “bloodshed” instead of “justice” and an “outcry” rather than “righteousness” (the pairs of Hebrew words sound similar).

The second (and larger) section of the chapter (8-30) is built around God’s pronouncement of a series of six “woes”, indicting His people for their sinful ways and indicating the severe judgment to come.  “Woe” is a heavy, dark warning that ominously speaks of coming judgment. 

  • God speaks woe to those who pursue enlarging their homes and estates and farmlands, especially at the expense of others (8-10).  The New Living Translation interprets verse 8 to say that the rich are adding to their property by evicting people, leaving them homeless: “until everyone is homeless, and you live alone in the land.”  The Lord is displeased with this greed. He promises that these “beautiful houses” will be “without inhabitant” (9).  In fact, nomads will eventually graze their flocks amidst the “ruins of the rich” (17).
  • God speaks woe to those who live to party, centering their lives around feasting, drinking, and reveling (11-17).  Because they fail to “regard the deeds of the Lord or see the work of his hands” (12), they are headed for an exile marked by hunger (not feast), thirst (not drinking), and death (not parties).  The wealthy who live for pleasure will be humbled (15) as the Lord is exalted in holiness and righteousness (15-16).  Their mansions, once the site of their feasts, will be ruins where nomads graze their flocks (17).
  • God speaks woe to those who load up wickedness and dare God to act (18-19).  The Lord pictures his people as loading up their sins in a cart and pulling it along after them (18).  To make matters worse, they mockingly dare God to do something about it: “Let him be quick, let him speed his work that we may see it” (19).
  • God speaks woe to those who invert moral realities (20).  Here we have people turning things on their head by calling good evil, calling darkness light, and calling bitter sweet (20). Not only are they doing evil, they are relabeling it as good.  It’s not difficult to see parallels in our day where pride is a virtue and being an “idol” makes you a celebrity.
  • God speaks woe to those who are self-assured and arrogant (21).  Although they have discarded God’s wisdom, they are “wise in their own eyes,” convinced they know better than the Lord.  This downward spiritual trajectory is lamented by the apostle Paul in Romans 1:22: “claiming to be wise, they became fools.”
  • God speaks woe to those who have lost all self-control and any sense of justice (22-23).  Here the focus seems to be on the derelict leadership of Judah.  These officials have become “heroes at drinking wine” but villains when it comes to giving out justice (“who acquit the guilty for a bribe and deprive the innocent of his right”).

At the close of these six woes, God declares the consequences for Judah: “Therefore” (24) introduces the final section detailing the coming destruction (24-30).  The Lord, in his anger (25), is going to strike his people with a burning judgment that will leave “corpses . . . as refuse in the midst of the streets” (25).  But even after calamity strikes, God will not be finished: “For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still” (25).

In verses 26-30, Isaiah describes a coming invasion by the armies of other “nations” (plural—26).  From the “ends of the earth”, these armies will come “speedily” (26).  Isaiah pictures them as strong (“none is weary”), prepared (“not a waistband is loose”), heavily armed (arrows and horses and chariots), and ferocious (“like young lions they roar; they growl and seize their prey”).  The chapter ends with light fading for Judah: “behold, darkness and distress; and the light is darkened by its clouds” (30).

Those who mocked God, daring him to be “quick” and act, will get their wish (19).  God will send conquering nations “quickly, speedily” (26).  Those who called darkness light (20), will find their world shrouded in the darkness of destruction (30).  As Paul would later write in Galatians 6:7: “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap”.

Behold Your God

The Lord expects his people to live fruitful lives.  In the opening “song” (1-7), the Lord is pictured as putting great care into setting up his vineyard:  fertile location (1), prepared soil (2), choice plantings (2), and ample protection (watchtower and wall—2).  He does this with an expectation of choice grapes to fill his vat with wine (2).  But when all he gets are the wild grapes of injustice and unrighteousness (7), he is justified in uprooting what he has planted (4-6).  The message of the metaphor is that God expects fruitful lives of holiness, humility, and righteousness from his people.  God’s love, though unfailing, is not “unconditional”: he has clear expectations, desires, and demands from his people.

It is fearful thing to have the hand of the Lord of Hosts against you.  Four times in chapter 5 the Lord is called “the LORD of hosts” (host = armies).  This truth brings great comfort to his people who live under his protection (under his “watchtower”—2).  However, the same truth brings terror to his people (and all people) when we live under his judgment. He is able to “stretch out his hand” to strike his arrogant, defiant people (25).  He can raise his hand and “signal” for the armies of the nations to invade (26).  When he does, there is no stopping him or standing against him.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

Here Am I

I want to love the Lord like Isaiah loved the Lord.  Isaiah begins the chapter with a song for his “beloved” (2x in verse 1).  It’s clear that Isaiah’s beloved is none other than the Lord of Hosts, the One who is “holy, holy, holy” (6:3).  It’s possible to fear the Lord greatly and love Him deeply at the same time.  I want to have this kind of heart for my Lord.

I must live with humility, in the fear of the Lord.  The rulers of Judah are foolishly “wise in their own eyes” (21).  They feel large and in charge as they amass wealth and abuse power.  They feel secure, even from the Lord’s intervention.  But they are fatally wrong.  Only the “Lord of hosts is exalted (literally “high”) in justice” (16).  The “eyes of the haughty (literally “high”) are brought low” (15).  I must heed the admonition in 1 Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”

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