Sunday, May 08, 2016

The singer and the song

Isaiah 5:1-5
1 Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: 2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. 4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? 5 And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: 6 And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
Isaiah the prophetic songster intones a song to his well-beloved. As he begins the intro, in the third person he sings to or concerning his wellbeloved and his vineyard (1-2). As he builds his rhythm, he shifts to the first person to speak for or as his wellbeloved (3-6). As he closes out, he returns to the third person to explain the meaning of his parable in song (7).

The song is a parable of a vineyard. The wellbeloved chooses fruitful ground, a prime location "in a very fruit hill." He makes full preparation -- removing stones, adding fence, tower, winepress, etc. He selects the finest stock ("planted it with the choicest vine"). The parable paints a picture of a vigneron[1] who spares no effort. Nothing is left undone; no fault can be found. Nevertheless the resulting crop is defective. Wild grapes spring forth in contradiction to expectation of the owner of the vineyard. The main difference between wild and domestic grapes is the care lavished on the domestic!

As Nathan the prophet drew in the sympathy of King David with a sheep and shepherd parable, so Isaiah prepares his hearers for an expected end. No criticism cleaves to the owner. The problem is the vineyard itself (Cf, Hebrews 8:8). What more should happen to this disastrous vineyard than its destruction by the owner? That which is useless will be removed (Cf. Jeremiah 13:7-10; Matthew 5:13; Luke 13:7). He will turn in the beasts of the field to eat it up and tread it down. He will make it a wasteland of briers and thorns. He will withhold the rain. Withhold the rain?? Who is this owner of the vineyard, and what is the vineyard?

The (whole) house of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of hosts, and the men of Judah to whom Isaiah presently sings his prophecy God's pleasant plant. Wild grapes of their own making have sprung forth -- oppression in place of justice; the scream of anguish in the place of righteousness. If the hearers are naturally drawn to the conclusion of cheering the destruction of the worthless vineyard, what is their hushed answer now that they know the vineyard is none other than themselves? 

[1] a person who grows grapes for winemaking

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