Comment (2nd October 2011)
The Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah was so well known in Jesus’ time that when any rabbi used a vineyard as an illustration the people would assume he was talking about the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7). The Pharisees understood what Jesus was talking about in his parable of the vineyard, and didn’t like it. But Isaiah’s hearers would have been just as upset about his original song.
The message in Isaiah’s song is clear. It was given to a nation with a long history as God’s chosen people – a people whom God had rescued from slavery in Egypt and brought into the land he had promised to give their forebears. On the way he had given them laws to live by and regulations for worship. In the land they had in due course built a temple for God as his earthly dwelling, the focal point for their religious rites. Everything seemed set fair for a long and prosperous future. But by Isaiah’s time it was all very different, and the song of the vineyard is not a song of hope but a dire warning.
The trouble had begun with the king who built the temple, Solomon. He had married many women from other nations and religions, allowed them to build their own temples, and even joined in their worship. Such rebellion against God’s commands followed a trend seen from the earliest days of the nation’s history, and led to a decline in morality and justice even though Solomon’s wisdom was proverbial. The action of the king set a precedent that was easy for others to follow, and although there were godly kings after him they never succeeded in bringing the nation as a whole back to following God with all their heart. As Isaiah said in his song, instead of good fruit there was only bad: where God looked for justice he only found bloodshed, where he looked for righteousness he only found cries of distress. So the prophecy warned that disaster would come upon the nation, as a just and natural consequence of the nation’s failure to fulfil its destiny.
Jesus warned his hearers of exactly the same thing hundreds of years later. (Matthew 21:33-46.) As with Isaiah, the prophecy was fulfilled: the city and temple were destroyed by invading armies not long afterwards.
1) What is God saying to our nation?
2) How should we respond to these messages? Or are we spectators only?