Isaiah 5:1-7: Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; 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 are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!
The ‘love song’ in verses 1-2 poetically portrays God’s grace to Israel. God had chosen Israel to be his own, delivered them from slavery in Egypt, given them his covenant and cared for their needs in the wilderness, and brought them into the land of Canaan which was filled with good things they did not work for, plant, or build. God’s intention in “planting” Israel in this way was that they would be a nation wholly dedicated and obedient to Him. Before Israel entered Canaan, Moses urged them:
Deuteronomy 10:12-13: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”
Deuteronomy 11:1: “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.”
Sadly, despite all that God had graciously done for Israel, the people did not faithfully love him, serve him, and walk in his ways. Instead, they consistently “turned aside and served other gods and worshipped them” (Dt. 11:16) and this led to the flowering of injustice and oppression in Israel. In the images of the parable in Isaiah 5, God expected the (good) grapes of justice and righteousness from Israel, but what He got instead were the sour wild grapes of bloodshed and cries of suffering (v. 2, 4, 7).
Verse seven uses a wordplay to emphasize the distortion which sin had created in ‘the vineyard of the Lord of hosts’: the Hebrew word for ‘bloodshed’ sounds like the word for ‘justice,’ and the word for ‘outcry’ sounds like the word for ‘righteousness.’ This audible similarity is meant to demonstrate how idolatry and greed corrupt God’s people, and in the rest of Isaiah 5 the prophet lays bare the depths of Israel’s corruption.
The New Testament passage which parallels this text from Isaiah is John 15:1-17. This passage makes clear that just as God expected good fruit from the nation of Israel, so God also expects good fruit from the community of Christ’s disciples. God expects good fruit from us! The warning which Christ gives is clear: if we do not abide in Him and produce fruit we will be taken away from the Vine, gathered with other fruitless branches, and thrown into the fire to be burned (15:2, 6).
How are we to produce the good fruit God expects from us? It is not something we can do by ourselves. In fact, Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5b). The key to Christian fruitfulness, then, is abiding in Jesus: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (15:4-5a). The word here translated ‘abide’ can also be rendered ‘remain.’ It has to do with staying connected to Jesus as his disciples. How do we remain connected to Him? Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (15:9-10).
Notice how Jesus himself is our pattern here: He obeyed the Father and abided in the Father’s love. In just the same way we will abide in Jesus’ love if we keep Jesus’ commandments. Obedience keeps our connection to Jesus vital, healthy, and strong. Obedience begins with gratitude for the wonder of Christ’s love. Jesus doesn’t love us because we obey Him. Rather, Jesus loves us so that we can obey Him. Just as God first chose Israel as his beloved and then expected them to produce the fruit of justice and righteousness, so Christ first chose us (Jn. 15:16) and on this basis he expects our lives to produce the fruit of his saving love. So, our obedience to Christ’s commands is motivated by our gratitude for his love and our desire to love him in return (Jn. 14:15, 23-24). Next, obedience demonstrates that Christ’s word is living and active in us. If we neglect the word of God our discipleship will ultimately falter and fail, and we will drift away from Jesus. If, on the other hand, we consistently attend to God’s word and take it into ourselves, we will grow in fruitfulness. Psalm 1:2-3 describes the fruitful person in this way: “… But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (cf. Joshua 1:7-8, Jn. 15:7, Col. 3:16-17). Third, obedience is evidence of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus taught much about the Holy Spirit in his Last Supper Discourse which is recorded in John 13-17. He taught that the Holy Spirit will enable us to bear witness to Jesus (Jn. 15:26-27). He taught that the Holy Sprit will guide us into truth, remind us of Jesus’ words, and convict us of sin (Jn. 14:25-26, 16:6-15). The Holy Spirit is the one who guides us in the way of Jesus, and when we walk in obedience to Jesus’ words, we show that we are “keeping in step with the Spirit” who produces his fruit in us (Gal. 5:16-26).
So, let us, as branches, remain connected to Jesus the Vine through a lifestyle of loving obedience to his word. If we do this, our lives will produce the good fruits which please God, and not the wild, sour grapes of greed, corruption, and injustice.
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started: “Heavenly Father, thank you for all that you did for Israel, and for all that you have done for your church. Thank you for connecting me to Jesus’ the Vine. Help me not to take your grace for granted. Help me to remain in Jesus by keeping his word, even as Jesus kept your word. May my life produce good fruit which brings glory to your Name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”