Summary of the text:
Ancient Lens: Wine, grapes, vines, vineyards, fertile hillsides, are all products of a loving creator God. All are also elements of a parable regarding God’s desire for his people. The prophet Isaiah uses these words in his lyric poem, found in chapter 5:1-7, to punctuate how far the people of Judah had fallen from Yahweh’s intention for them. The Song of the Vineyard is like the prophet Nathan’s indictment of King David for his shameful affair with Bathsheba and the killing of her husband, Uriah. Both prophets cleverly force the rebellious sinners to judge for themselves the depth of their rejection of the Lord’s desire for justice and righteousness.
1-2 beautifully describes God’s loving labor to create a fruitful, productive and attractive vineyard, which is a wonderful word picture of his choice of the Jews to be his unique people.
He cleared the land and planted the best vines. He dug the double cistern, one for crushing the grapes, one for collecting the juice for wine. He erected stone walls and a watch-tower for protection. When the harvest was ready he discovered only bad fruit.
3-4 finds the issuing of the rhetorical question God asks regarding his vineyard, “What more could I have done to produce a fine vineyard?” He had done everything to produce good grapes, but only received bad ones. The people of Jerusalem and Judah could only judge one way, Yahweh had done everything right,
5-6 state the inevitable consequences for the fruitless vineyard, which must be utterly torn out and destroyed. Complete removal is called for. The wall of hedges pulled out, the watchtower torn down, the vines ripped out by the roots, the weeds allowed to grow, the curse of no rain to insure no plants. What more could the Farmer/God do?
7 relates the meaning of the parable, much as Jesus himself had to do with his uncomprehending disciples 700 years later. The vineyard is the people of Israel and Judah, the chosen people of God. God had chosen them to live in a delightful, worshipful relationship with Himself. Through them all the nations would be blessed. He had taken great care how the relationship was to be worked out, and had demonstrated continually His saving power to rescue His people. But while He desired justice and righteousness, the people produced only bloodshed and cries of distress. What began as a beautiful love ballad ended as a severe, harsh indictment against the Lord’s people. Their centuries-long neglect of Yahweh’s laws, their history of seeking to be like their neighbors, and their reliance on foreign alliances for security has come to its inevitable, natural conclusion.
Jesus Lens: The descriptive words of Is. 5:1-7 join the words of Ps. 8:8-16 and Jer. 2:21 to picture the people of Judah and Israel as the failed crop of grapes, despite the Lord’s best efforts to have a faithful community. Inevitably we must turn to the Gospel of John, 15:1-8, to find the solution to this historic crop failure. The O.T. usage of vineyards and grapes were just descriptive parables of the Jewish predicament; they were not reality. The Gospel of John speaks of truth and earth- shattering reality: the person of Jesus of Nazareth is the true vine which descends from the Creator God to connect Him to his creatures, the people of faith and obedience.
He declares himself to be the true vine, the avenue of connection between heaven and earth, between God and his people (Heb. 9:15). Interestingly, God is still referred to as the Gardener, the facilitator and initiator. He actively tends the branches which produce good fruit only by staying connected to the vine, to Christ. Good fruit and bumper crops display our role as Christ’s disciples. What more can a branch ask for?
Modern Lens: In the three thousand plus years since God’s chosen people entered the promised land, the political, social, and spiritual landscape has not changed very much. Like the ancient tribes of Israel the men and women in today’s churches still are enticed by the ways of the world, more than the ways of the Lord. All too often we see ourselves as Christian Americans rather than American Christians. We have confused our nouns with our adjectives.
The allure of the “ways of the world” confuses our abilities to make wise decisions regarding our usage of time and our obsession with style. Knowing what is right fails, under peer pressure, to do what is right. This failure permeates “Christian behavior” at all levels of life – home, school, office, leisure.
As Dallas Willard says in his excellent book, The Divine Conspiracy, we live in an “up-side down” world. Facts have become theory, and desires have become truths. The spiritual life of Christ followers is a constant battle between faithfulness to Christ and pursuing the ways of the world.
It is a daily struggle. The slightest gap between us and Christ can lead to a tragic rift. To avoid the pitfalls that befell the ancient Jewish people, the people of God’s many faceted churches must maintain constant loyalty to Christ, obedience to the truths of scripture, practices of prayer, worship, mission, and the pursuit of God’s Kingdom.
Ideas and themes to explored:
- How was the destruction of the vineyard carried out historically?
- How was the redemption of Judah carried out?
- Is the use of “vineyard” imagery a parable or metaphor? Explain to listeners.
- What is the promise made by Jesus to his listeners in his “I am the true vine statement?
Contemporary angle to preaching: Dallas Willard’s classic book, The Divine Conspiracy, contains a most accurate description of this world’s confused understanding of reality, a reality that permeates every part of modern living, thought, and aspirations. This magnificent tome also contains much in the way of wise and biblical thoughts of how the Church can counteract the ways of the world. I would recommend a brief summary of chapters 1 and 2. Or, perhaps, a new sermon series.
Bud Thoreen was raised in Southern California and has a BA from Wheaton College and an Mdiv. from Fuller Seminary. He spent nearly 10 years as an Area Director for Young Life. Retired after 37 years as a remodeling contractor, he now works for FaithQuest Missions, engaging believers in what God is doing around the world. He spent 40+ years as an elder, teacher, part-time preacher at Irvine Presbyterian Church. You can contact Bud at [email protected]
“No future hope, such as that contained in 4:2-6, could ever obscure or obviate present evil. This message is ever the same. Yes, there is hope, but that hope cannot annihilate the present, somehow removing us from its responsibility.”
John N. Oswalt, The New international Commentary of the O.T., The Book of Isaiah, 1-39, p. 151.
“…this parable is apt for portraying the truths of biblical religion: 1. True religion is a divine culture in human history; 2. election is intended to produce righteousness; 3. Divine husbandry may be thwarted by an inner degeneracy; 4. judgment, that is withdrawal of God’s protection and gracious influence, is the inevitable result of sin.”
Same as above. p. 155
“More than any other single thing, in any case, the practical irrelevance of actual obedience to Christ accounts for the weakened effect of Christianity in the world today, with its increasing tendency to emphasize political and social action as the primary way to serve God. It also accounts for the practical irrelevance of Christian faith to individual character development and overall personal sanity and wellbeing.”
Key Sermon Illustration
“Recently a pilot was practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet fighter. She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent—and flew straight into the ground. She was unaware that she had been flying upside down.
This is a parable of human existence in our times—not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that—but most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed, and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side up. Indeed, we are haunted by a strong suspicion that there may be no difference—or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant.”
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 1 & 2.