These seven verses are a song. The song begins with the beloved singing to her lover and ends with her lover’s response. Israel is the beloved and God is the lover. This is the song God gave to Israel through Isaiah. It is doubtful they ever sang the song. I say this because the intent of the song is to lead to repentance, but repentance did not come.
The beloved describes how God placed His vineyard, Israel, on a good land; He cultivated it and gave it the best opportunity to produce good fruit. He secured and prospered them but they yielded only bad fruit. Then God asks Jerusalem and Judah to judge between Him and the vineyard. He pronounces the sentence upon them: He will take away their protection and make Israel a wasteland because He looked for justice but found bloodshed; He looked for fairness but only heard the cries of the oppressed. Given the best of advantages, the fruit of the vineyard was sour.
The prophet Hosea, a contemporary to Isaiah, declared Israel to be a luxurious vine (Hos 10:1-2). God had cultivated and prospered the nation. They yielded fruit, but what kind of fruit did they yield? In the second verse, Hosea says the more God blessed them, the more they set their hearts on other gods. Their hearts were false – just like their gods. In verse thirteen, Hosea wrote, the people plowed iniquity and reaped injustice. The fruit of the beautiful vine was only lies.
The lure of the world is deceptive – it calls for us to seek our own prosperity, to seek our status and fame. The Apostle Paul wrote the love of money, or power – mammon – is the root of all kinds of evil and those who take hold of it find emptiness and pain. More than that, they have strayed from the faith (1Ti 6:10). This is where Israel was. God blessed them, but their taste of prosperity caused them to seek after more rather than praise the One who blessed them. Those who love the world can never have enough of it (Ecc 5:10). What appears to be living the dream is a hollow shell that houses emptiness and pain.
Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch that does not bear fruit He takes away.” [Joh 15:1-2 ESV] This is where we are in the Song of the Vineyard. Israel will not bear good fruit – in fact, worse than bearing no fruit, they produced sour fruit. So, God removed them from the land. First, He removed their protection (v 5). Then, He laid waste to the land and withheld the rain (v 6). We know from history, Judah was led into captivity for seventy years. When God brought them back to their land, they rejected the false gods of the nations around them. However, in their zeal for their own power, they also rejected the Messiah. After that, God removed them and desolated the land for almost two thousand years.
Matthew presents Jesus’ parable of the vineyard and the tenants (Mat 21:33-41). The owner of the vineyard prepared it just the same way Isaiah describes it in the song. Then he leased it out to tenants. However, when the owner of the vineyard sent his agents to collect the rent, the tenants beat some and killed others. Finally, he sent his son – with the assumption they will respect the next of kin. But the son was cast out and murdered. Jesus asked what the people thought the owner of the vineyard would do about this and affirmed he would cast the tenants out and lease the land to those who would honor the lease. The purpose of this parable was to explain to the Jews the age of Israel had come to an end (at least for a time) and that they would be dispersed, just as Isaiah had warned.
Why was Israel committed to this awful end? Isaiah gives the answer in verse seven: Israel was the vineyard of the Lord of hosts – He is the commander of armies. What He commands must be done. To refuse Him is to bring dire consequences. He prospered the men of Judah but they abandoned justice for disobedience and they abandoned righteousness for oppression.
Some people believe the only role for the Christian is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But here God makes clear we are responsible to stand up for truth and justice. I am not talking about good feelings, self-esteem and social justice. In fact, social justice is the opposite of true justice because it demands the oppression of one man to relieve the oppression of another. God says He is looking for justice and He is looking for righteousness. When He looks upon our community and our nation, will He find what He is looking for, or will He find disobedience, bloodshed and oppression?
When Jesus told the story of the vine – He is the true vine – He warned against not bearing good fruit, just like Isaiah is warning Israel in the Song of the Vineyard. His warning is that those who do not bear good fruit would be cast out and tossed into the fire, or eternal damnation (Joh 15:2, 6). We cannot bear good fruit unless we abide in the vine. If we abide in Christ, we will bear good fruit, we will be His disciples and we will abide in His love (Joh 15:7-11).
Israel had a choice to bear fruit for God or bear fruit for themselves. The world calls us to bear fruit for ourselves, but it is sour fruit. Many people claim to be Christian but are working to bear fruit for themselves. But just as God cast away His vineyard, so He will destroy these people in Hell (Mat 7:21-23). What kind of fruit are you working on?