The Unfruitful Vineyard in the Hands of an Angry God

Jesus told the Pharisees that God will evict the Jews, the old tenants, and bring in new tenants into the vineyard. The Jews perceived what Jesus meant: God will take the kingdom away from the Jews as his chosen people, and his new kingdom will now be expanded to include the Gentile nations.

Psalm 118:19-24; Isaiah 5:1-7 (text); Matthew 21:33-46; John 15:1-6
May 8, 2011

The valley known as the Napa-Sonoma in the San Francisco Bay Area is world-renowned for its vineyards, and of course, its wineries. Last year, our friends from Denmark came to California for their vacation, and we took them on a day-long tour of San Francisco, and one of their wishes was to visit the famed Napa-Sonoma vineyards. So we drove them to the picture postcard valleys with their lush vineyards, black oak trees, and rolling hills, and stopped by one of the wineries for wine-tasting. As the driver, I had a sip of three different wines, and my favorite was sweet wine.

Napa Valley vineyard (click to enlarge)
Napa Valley vineyard (click to enlarge)

Sweet wine, of course, is better than bitter wines. I’m not a wine connoisseur, but I assume that the most succulent sweet wine comes from sweet grapes, not bitter grapes. Isaiah Chapter 5 is about a vineyard owner who planted a vineyard, tended and protected it with care, but when harvest came, his vineyard produced not sweet, but only bitter, wild and therefore, useless grapes. What a disappointment!

This chapter is introduced in verse 1 as Isaiah’s song for his “beloved,” a Hebrew term of endearment usually applied to a romantic relationship between a man and a woman (cf Song of Songs 1:13ff). But here, the term is used by Isaiah for God. To him, God is not only “the Holy One of Israel,” but his “beloved friend” as well. Our text is not just a song, but a “love song,” but what kind of a love song is this? It is a strange love song, because it talks about his dear friend’s unfruitful vineyard and how his friend will let it be ruined.

In this love song, Isaiah develops the story about the Lord’s vineyard in the form of an allegory, an Old Testament literary device that uses symbolic characters and events to illustrate a message. At the end of the story, the symbolism is usually explained, as Isaiah does so in verse 7: the vineyard is Israel itself whom God loved, provided for, and protected all her days. But in return for all of God’s love, Israel rebelled against God, resulting in their ruin.

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