God has purpose in what He does, and that includes the fact that He wants fruit from His people. He wants fruit that brings glory to His name. In John 15:8 we see Jesus say, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8). God wants fruit from individual Christians today, but the same truth holds true at a national level for the nation of Israel.

Isaiah 5 is a passage from 700 years ago where God confronted Israel for its refusal to honor God by bearing fruit for His glory. Today’s blog reminds us of the need to have tender hearts that bear fruit for the glory of God.

The chapter breaks down into three major portions.  It begins by telling a parabolic song about an unfruitful vineyard (vv. 1-7).[1]  This is then followed with six woes against the people of Judah (vv. 8-23).  Lastly, we see God’s instruction about how to avoid His judgment (vv. 24-30).

The unfruitful vineyard (vv. 1-7)

One principle that runs throughout the Bible is that every person is accountable to worship God and bear fruit for His glory.  If we are not doing these things, we are not fulfilling our purpose.  This is true for individual Christians today, but it was also true for the nation Israel.  Furthermore, we also recognize the principle that greater spiritual privilege increases one’s responsibility before God (cf. Luke 2:48).  This is a central idea in Isaiah 5.  God gave Israel  the privileged position of knowing Him and bearing fruit, but in spite of all that God did for them, they failed to produce fruit.  By means of a parabolic story (a song), Isaiah tells the people that since they have failed to bear fruit, the only option left is for God to bring judgment.  This song has two basic scenes.

First scene:  Preparation of the vineyard (5:1-2)

In verse 1 Isaiah declares his passionate intention to sing a song about His “Beloved,” the owner and builder of the vineyard.  As noted, the major focus of Isaiah’s song will be about the extraordinary effort to create a fruitful vineyard, and its subsequent failure to produce good fruit.  Isaiah highlights six careful steps of preparation for the vineyard.

The first three steps (vv. 1-2a).  The first thing this man did was to find the best possible location.  The Hebrew text calls the location “a horn of a son of oil,” an expression that means the soil was very rich and had good exposure to the sun (v. 1).[2]  Next, he “dug it all around, meaning that he cultivated the dirt and dug furrows for good growth (v. 2).  Third, the owner removed all of the stones.[3]  The Arabs had a proverb that said that when God created the world an angel flew over it carrying a bag of stone under each arm, and when he flew over Palestine, one bag broke so that half of all the stones in the world are in Palestine.  The key point is that the owner put great effort into making this an excellent vineyard.

The last three steps (v. 2b).  Fourth, the owner planted the “choicest” kind of vine, a sorek vine.  The sorek grape was noted as one of the choicest of all, and there is even a valley southwest of Jerusalem called The Sorek Valley (where Samson lived), a valley known for its excellent wine.[4]  Fifth, he built a tower so that watchmen could protect against thieves and wild animals.  Sixth, the owner hewed out a wine vat.[5]  Wine vats consisted of two portions of ground that were carved into the bedrock (about 4-6 inches deep into the rock) with one being higher than the other and a channel connecting the two.  Grapes were trampled in the upper vat, and then the juice flowed down the channel into the lower vat where it was collected and put into wine skins for fermenting.[6]  The owner did everything possible to produce excellent fruit.  Sadly, it produced only “worthless” grapes, grapes that were tasteless and sour (cf. Lam. 2:6).

Second scene:  How God will deal with Judah (vv. 3-4)

In light of this, God calls upon His people to make a judgment about how the owner of the vineyard should deal with his dilemma (v. 3).  Clearly there was nothing else the owner could have done (v. 4).  God can no longer ignore their transgressions.  Isaiah declares that nothing more can be done (vv. 5-6), then explains it more fully in verse 7.

Nothing more can be done (vv. 5-6).  The time for patience has run its course, and the only thing that can be done is to destroy the worthless vineyard.  The owner will remove its protective hedge and give the vineyard over to destruction.  With no protection, wild animals will trample down the vineyard so that nothing can grow there (cf. 7:25).[7]  Instead of rich fruit, the worthless vineyard will become a place of “briars and thorns,” an expression Isaiah repeats five more times (7:23-25; 9:18; 10:17; 27:4; cf. Gen. 3:18 for the idea of curse).[8]

Isaiah makes an explicit explanation (v. 7).  The story is a parable that illustrates the failure of Israel and Judah to bear fruit for the Lord.  God’s people were His “delightful plant” from whom He expected rich fruit (e.g., righteousness and justice),[9] but instead they produced nothing but sin and wickedness (cf. Mic. 3:10; 7:2-4).[10]

What, then, is God to do?  The answer is found in Isaiah’s full prophetic message.  For the present time there is no option but to bring a severe destruction.  Terrible days are about to come, but even here God will not fully abandon His people.  A restoration will come, but until long ages of judgment have run their course (cf. Deut. 30:1-10).

Six woes that bring the wrath of God (vv. 8-23)

Chapters 1-5 have already shown numerous reasons why God’s judgment would fall upon Israel.  This section continues exposing the sins of Israel with a series of woes why God must judge them.  Weber explains,

[A woe is] an interjection, usually of lamentation.  It occurs fifty times in the prophets and once elsewhere.  Six usages refer to mourning for the dead (as I Kgs 13:30), and forty involve negative warnings or threats of God’s physical chastisement.  But in Isa 55:1 it introduces a positive invitation to come and buy good things without money or price.[11]

Isaiah exposes Judah’s sin with a series of six woes that explain why the wrath of God would burn against Israel for a long time.  Martin explains, “Though verses 8–30 are not a part of the song in verses 1-7, they fit into Isaiah’s train of thought nicely because their six indictments (‘woes’) are against the ‘bad fruit’ the nation had been producing.”[12]

The first of Isaiah’s six woes:  Unrestrained greed (vv. 8-10)

Greed is one of those ubiquitous sins that shows itself in every culture.  The greed of Judah had become especially grievous.

The nature of Israel’s unrestrained greed (v. 8).[13]  Israel had been overtaken by greed.  Rather than finding contentment in their permanent land allotments given by the Lord (Lev. 25:23-25; Num. 27:7-11), many were relentlessly acquiring multiplied land possessions, often by means that were both sinful and illegal.  Greed is a curious sin, for it does not matter whether one has little or much, the greedy man always wants more.  Paul warns against this sin by reminding us that it is a form of idolatry (Col. 3:5), the kind of sin God’s people should be very wary of (1 Tim. 6:17), for it is always at work to bring evil temptations (1 Tim. 6:9-11).  Solomon warns, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity” (Ecc. 5:10).

The days leading up to Isaiah’s time had been quite prosperous (the days of Jeroboam II and Uzziah), but still the people were not content.  Pfeiffer explains that, “by foreclosing mortgages or by forcing sales of land, the wealthy landowners acquired all the adjoining farms to form huge estates.”[14]  In reality, this greed showed a lack of faith in the Lord and a lack of love for their Israelite brethren, a sin that was illustrated supremely by King Ahab (1 Kings 21:17-24; cf. Mic. 2:1-9; Amos 2:6-7).

The result of Israel’s unrestrained greed (vv. 9-10).  Their sin infuriated God and lead Him to act.[15]  The people found their delight in large, opulent estates, but God tells them that He would take it all away and make all those houses “desolate” (shammah, empty, uninhabited), even the largest and finest of the land.  Amos gave the same warning when he wrote,

Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them; though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, yet you will not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine (5:11; cf. 6:4-7).

In other words, instead of a land that was populated and prosperous, it would be a land of ruin (v. 10).[16] 

Greed is still with us today, of course.  Those who live in the West (esp. America) can testify that no matter how much money a person has, it will never be enough money if money is what is driving a person.

The second woe:  The sin of drunken revelry (vv. 11-17)

Isaiah describes a nation that has been overcome not only with greed, but also by drunken revelry.  The party life of Israel showed itself at both ends of the clock.  Isaiah exposes their sin (vv. 11-12), and God follows this up by declaring how He will judge it (vv. 13-17).

Habitual drunkenness was a stumbling block (vv. 11-12).  Whether it was strong drink (sheker) early in the morning,[17] or wine (yayin) late at night,[18] many had become enslaved to drunkenness.  Young notes,

It is not the fact of drinking in itself is here condemned, but the debauchery and waste of time that is connected with it. Those condemned rise early in the morning, not thereby to glorify the Lord in their daily work, but to satiate themselves with strong drink (a shameful way to live says Solomon in Ecclesiastes 10:16).[19]

Music has always been popular with all men.  The lyre (Kinneroth) was a 10-stringed instrument and the harp (nebel) a 12-stringed instrument.  Tamborines (toph) were among the percussion instruments, and flutes (chaliyl) were among the wind instruments.  The problem is not music, but godless ease.  Amos derided this kind of carefree, sinful living in the northern kingdom when he wrote about those,

who improvise to the sound of the harp, and like David have composed songs for themselves, who drink wine from sacrificial bowls while they anoint themselves with the finest of oils, yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph (Amos 6:5-6).

Again, the problem was not that music itself was bad, or that God was against His people having pleasure in life (cf. Ecc. 9:7-9), but it was an idolatrous view of hedonism and a lack of faith in the Lord Himself (v. 12).

God’s response (vv. 13-17).  Verse 13 introduces the logical conclusions (laken) of their persistent rebellion—invasion and exile.  Isaiah highlights five kinds of judgments that will be part of God’s work.  The first will be invasion and exile to a foreign land (v. 13).  Exile should have come as no surprise since the Mosaic covenant said that this would be the punishment for covenant disobedience (Deut. 28:36, 64).  God calls the problem “lack of knowledge” (cf. Isa. 1:3; 27:11).  This is not an innocent lack of knowledge, but an intentional rejection of knowledge (cf. Hos. 4:6).

Second, none will escape this judgment, not even the highest classes in the land (v. 13b).  Powerful sinners (the kabod) often see themselves as being immune to calamity, but God makes it clear that none will escape.

The third judgment will be death to the nation (v. 14).  She’ol, i.e., death, is personified as standing with a wide-open mouth.  Both Assyria and Babylon brought massive death to Israel, a death that seemed insatiable (Isa. 29:8; cf. Prov. 10:3).  With this, God will bring an end to the sinful revelry.

The fourth judgment will be a complete reversal of the present, sinful order (vv. 15-16).  The nation was so upside down that the only solution was a judgment so severe it would bring a radical reversal of the present order.  As Young explains, this will mean “the complete and utter humiliation of man and the exaltation of the Lord” (cf. 17:7).[20]  Israel will be humbled (v. 15), but Yahweh will be exalted by this judgment (v. 16).  Up to this time, Israel had complete disregard for the righteousness of God, but all this was about to change with the visitation of the Holy God.[21]

The fifth and final judgment will be that the glorious land of Israel will become a desolate wasteland (v. 17).  Instead of native Israelites farming their God-given inheritance and enjoying its fruit, the land will be overrun by animals and strangers from foreign lands.[22]

The third woe:  Defiance against God (vv. 18-19)

The imagery Isaiah uses is that of dragging iniquity and sin with ropes like a cart (cf. Prov. 5:22).  Instead of doing their labor by pulling a cart for work, they simply dragged around their iniquity and their sin.  Their defiance showed itself in that they were taunting God to bring judgment (perhaps mocking Isaiah).  Judgment was speeding toward them (cf. 8:1-4), but in their minds Isaiah’s words were empty threats (cf. 30:8-11).

The fourth woe:  Twisting and perverting moral truth (v. 20)

The sins that dominated Judah are the same today:  “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”  The things that God said were good were being rejected.  Pfeiffer explains, “they acclaimed depravity of character as manly strength, and sensuous impurity as true virtue and strength.”[23]  All of it is moral perversion.

The fifth woe:  Extreme pride (v. 21)

God describes Judah as “wise in their own eyes” and “clever” in their own sight (empty pride).  The Proverbs tell us that God hates haughty eyes (6:17) and that pride goes before destruction (16:18).

The sixth and final woe:  Extremely wicked living (vv. 22-23)

For lack of a better label, the final woe might be characterized as that of extremely wicked living.  The sin of drunkenness is vividly highlighted by calling them masters of making mixed drinks that became very strong through a combination of high alcohol and strong spices (cf. Ps. 75:9; Prov. 23:30; Song 8:2; Amos 6:6).[24]  Not only were they master drunkards, but also master criminals who used their power and money to work the system for oppressing and robbing others.  In all likelihood, Isaiah is referring to the princes and judges who, rather than dispensing justice, were using their powerful positions to enlarge themselves.  Wrath will soon fall upon them.

The burning wrath of God (vv. 24-30)

Once God’s patience runs its course, judgment is the only solution (cf. e.g., Gen. 6-9; 19).  By the time of Isaiah, Israel had enjoyed God’s patience for over 700 years, but God’s patience was about to be exhausted.  Here in 5:24-30 we see three descriptions of how God will satisfy His wrath.

First description of God’s burning wrath (v. 24)

            The consequence of Israel’s unrepentant sin will be divine anger that is likened to an unquenchable fire that consumes everything in its path.  Israel rejected God, so He will reject them.  Not only will the grass be burned up, but the root will rot and disappear (cf. Amos 2:9; Hos. 9:16; Mal. 4:1).  They had the knowledge of God, but they willfully rejected Him (cf. 1:4), and now they will bear the consequences.

Second description of God’s burning wrath (v. 25)

            Because they rejected the Lord,[25] the anger of the Lord was burning against them.  The vivid language of verse 25 portrays the invading armies of Assyria and Babylon who would lay waste to Judah and introduce a long age of covenant curses.[26]  The judgments by Assyria and Babylon would be horrific, but God tells them that these invasions and wars would only be the beginning of a long period of wrath:  “For all this His anger is not spent, but His hand is still stretched out.”  This is a fascinating expression that we find for the first time here, but recurs several times before it culminates with an end of the burning anger in chapter 12 when the anger of God has been fully spent (cf. 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4, 25; 12:1).  God is showing His people that rebellion will bring judgments (Deut. 28:15-68).

A careful tracing of this theological theme (God’s wrath on Israel) reveals a treasure of understanding about how God’s judgments will fall on rebellious Israel, a wrathful anger that is often called the “indignation” of the Lord.  This indignation began pouring down long ago (cf. Isa. 10:5, 25; 13:5; 30:27; 34:2), but it will not be exhausted until the end of the tribulation period.  Isaiah 26:20-21 warns the future remnant of Israel to find shelter from the eschatological wrath in the tribulation period as God comes to destroy “the inhabitants of the earth.”[27]  All of this will come as God saves His remnant through the sufferings of persecution and the regenerating work of the Spirit (cf. Zech. 12:10; 13:8-9; Mal. 3:1-6).

Daniel foretold that at “the time of the end” (Dan. 8:17)—the “appointed time of the end”—there would be a “final period of the indignation” (Dan. 8:19), and that it is through the fires of this tribulation that God would bring an end to Israel’s covenant “transgression” (Dan. 9:24) and restore His fallen people.  None of that can be fulfilled, however, until “the indignation is finished” (Dan. 11:36) and “that which is decreed” to fall upon Israel has been fulfilled (Dan. 11:36; cf. Dan. 9:27; Matt. 23:37-39).  The fires of God’s consuming wrath will bring Israel to its knees in the great tribulation period (cf. Dan. 12:7), but all of it will be part of God’s gracious work to save His elect remnant (Isa. 1:9; 4:2; 6:13; 10:20-22; 11:11; 37:31-32; 43:5-6; 46:3; 49:6) and to restore His people (Rom. 11:25-36).

Third description of God’s burning wrath (vv. 26-30)

            God explains that He is about to bring in a fierce and impetuous nation who will not show any mercy.[28]  The sovereignty of God is magnified as God makes it clear that He Himself is the One summoning this nation (cf. Isa. 9:11-12, 17, 21; 10:4).[29]  God is the One raising the banner (Isa. 11:10, 12; 13:2; 18:3; 49:22; 62:10), and God is the One giving the whistle (Isa. 7:18; Zech. 10:8).  Verses 26-30 show us four descriptions.

First description of the invasions:  It is a ready nation (v. 26).  God is not describing events of the distant future, but events that would come soon and quickly, starting with invasions from far away Assyria, invasions, says Martin, that “seemingly come from the ends of the earth, a phrase Isaiah used frequently to suggest people everywhere (5:26; 24:16; 40:28; 41:5, 9; 42:10; 43:6; 45:22; 48:20; 49:6; 52:10; 62:11).”[30] 

Isaiah began his prophetic ministry in 740 B.C. at a time when the Assyrian war machine was getting aggressive in a westward push.  Tiglath Pileser III (aka Pul, 745727)began pushing westward, conquering every nation in its pathand deporting many of those he conquered.  An antiAssyrian coalition formed between Israel and Damascus which resulted in these two powers attacking Judah in 735 for not joining the alliance (cf. chs. 7-12).  Their desire was to overthrow the Davidic dynasty and replace Ahaz with someone who would be loyal to this anti-Assyrian alliance (Isa. 7; cf. 2 Kings 16:2-6, ca. 734 B.C.).  Here in these opening chapters Isaiah is warning the rebellious nation that all of this will soon come upon the nation.

Second description:  It will be a powerful nation (v. 27).  Assyria was a nation that showed no weakness, i.e., no weariness, no stumbling, no slumber, no sleep.[31]  This is one powerful nation who is ready for battle with belts and sandals tightly bound for battle action.[32]

Third description:  It is a prepared nation (v. 28).  Every aspect of their weaponry is ready for action, whether it is sharp arrows (cf. Ps. 45:5-6), bent bows (bows were never bent until needed),[33] or powerful horses with sharp hooves.  In the ancient world, chariots were a powerful military tool (like a tank).  Isaiah describes the Assyrian tanks as having wheels like whirlwind (a blur of iron and loud sounds; cf. similar language referring to God in Isa. 66:15; Jer. 4:13).

Fourth description:  It is a fierce nation (vv. 29-30).  Isaiah uses two metaphors to describe Assyria.  The first is that of a roaring lion (like a lioness making a kill, or a young, weaned lion in the prime of youth).  Powerful lions make their kill, and none can stop it, and so it will be with Assyria.  Secondly, Assyria is like the roaring of the sea, awesome in its force.  Bad times are coming on Israel, very bad times.  Nevertheless, by His saving grace, the day is coming when Messiah will bring light to the nation in the messianic kingdom (Isa. 2:3; 9:1ff.; 45:14, 22-25; 49:23; 58:10; 60:3), but this salvation cannot come until times of judgment and darkness come upon them for their sin (Isa. 8:22; 42:7; Amos 5:18).  Pfeiffer explains, “The enemy warriors would be fierce and unsparing, and their armies would engulf Palestine like a tidal wave.”[34]

Summary and application God sees sin, and He certainly will judge it.  That was true in ancient Israel, and it is still true today.  As those who believe in Jesus Christ and the truthfulness of God’s Word, we should apply this truth to ourselves by keeping ourselves from sin, for we know that God hates it and judges it.

[1] We see the vineyard metaphor in Jeremiah 12:10 and Psalm 80.

[2] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah,Chapters 1-39, 149, n 1.

[3] The “privative” use of the Piel expresses the idea of removal as seen in the Heb. of Ps. 51:9 (ibid., 149, n 2.).

[4] Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 82.

[5] The Hebrew wegam (“and even”) emphasizes this as an extra, extraordinary step.

[6] An excellent example of such a wine vat can be seen in the place called Tel Avdat in the Negev of southern Israel.

[7] Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 201.  Young notes that “there was often a double enclosure, one of stones and the other of hedge. . . .  When these protections are removed the cattle can enter the vineyard and so trample.

[8] The destruction to the fields and vineyards from the invading armies will be so bad that the remaining population will be forced to eat curds and wild honey (7:15, 19-25; 8:6-8).  The impact of God bringing curse will also include the withholding of rain (Deut. 28:23-24; Ruth 1; 2 Sam. 1:21; Amos 4:4-11).

[9] This term “delightful” (sha‘ashuyim) is a rare term that conveys the idea of objects of pleasure or desire (Pss. 119:43, 77, 92, 174; Prov. 8:30-31).  See 60:21 and 61:3 for similar imagery with different terms as God foretells His  eschatological blessing upon Israel.

[10] The Hebrew text uses two pairs of rhyming terms (paranomasia) to vividly illustrate the failure:  (1) justice, bloodshed [mishpat, mispach], (2) righteousness, cry [tsedaqah, tse‘aqah].  See the same literary tool in 13:6; 24:17; 33:1; 57:6; 61:3.

[11] Carl Philip Weber, “hoy,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 212.

[12] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1042.

[13] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah,Chapters 1-39, 157.

[14] Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Is 5:8.

[15] The identification of God as “Lord of Hosts” highlights His anger over sin.

[16] For ten acres of vineyard to yield one bath of wine (about 6 gallons) was disastrous.  For a field to yield one ephah of grain (an ephah was about 1/10 of a homer and the homer was equal to about 10 ½ bushels) was disastrous (about 1/10 of the norm), but all of it was God’s judgment (Deut. 28:38-39; cf. Hag. 2:16-17).

[17] This term refers to the high sugar and high alcohol content of certain drink (cf. 28:7).  The Greek equivalent is the word sikera, and both the Hebrew and Greek reflect themselves in our English word “sugar.”  Drunkenness is a sin that is condemned repeatedly (Isa. 5:22; 22:13; 28:1-8; Hos. 7:5; Joel 3:3; Amos 6:6).

[18] This is the most general of several terms for wine.

[19] Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 208-209.

[20] Ibid., 214.

[21] When God speaks about vindicating His holiness and righteousness with judgments on sin, one is reminded of passages like Ezekiel 36:19ff. and Matthew 6:9ff. that speak not only of the judgments on sin historically, but also the eschatological restoration of Israel by which the world will know Yahweh.

[22] The MT has the term “strangers” (gariym) but LXX has the very similar word “kids” (gadiym, cf. similar terms in 5:14-17).  Textual evidence and the parallel suggests that “goat” may be the correct text.

[23] Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary:  Old Testament, Is 5:20.

[24] Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 221.

[25] The Hebrew causal expression ‘al ken (“therefore”) shows the direct connection between Judah’s sin and the burning wrath of God.

[26] The string of waw consecutive imperfect verbs that follow the initial perfect stem verb (“burned”) are all looking ahead to the imminent Assyrian and Babylonian invasions (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 1-39, 166; Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 225, n. 26).  The idea of quaking mountains could be figuratively referring to the invading armies coming over the hills or, perhaps, to the earthquake that came during the days of Uzziah.

[27] The expression “the inhabitants of the earth” finds itself repeated in the Greek text of the apocalypse 11 times, always referring to a God-hating, Christ-rejecting world that is now falling under God’s judgments in the Day of the Lord (Rev. 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10bis; 13:8, 12, 14bis; 17:2, 8; cf. Isa. 66:14; Jer. 25:29; 30:10-17; 46:28; Amos 9:8).

[28] In the flow of Isaiah’s messages, it is clear that the foreign invasions will commence with Assyria against Israel/Judah in 732, but continue with an invasion by Babylon against Judah in 605 (and the eventual fall of Jerusalem in 586).

[29] This is one of many passages where the Bible illustrates the sovereignty of God over human affairs without presenting any conflict between divine sovereignty creaturely freedom (Isa. 40:21-24; 44:28-45:5; 46:8-11; cf. Dan. 1:2; 2:37).

[30] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1043.

[31] Curiously, God uses similar language to describe Himself and those whom He himself empowers through faith (cf. Isa. 40:28-31).

[32] Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 228.

[33] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah,Chapters 1-39, 169.

[34] Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary:  Old Testament, Is. 5:24.

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