The sixth reflection (26 mins) covers the final chapter of the extended preface to / background for the prophecies of Isaiah, found in the first 5 chapters.
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Chapter 5 falls into three sections: a parable, woes, and an announcement of coming judgment.
Vs. 1-7—Here we find a short "love song." God loves his people, and does all he can for his "vineyard." The vineyard requires significant time and skill to cultivate: hoeing, irrigating, pruning, building walls and tower, digging the vat, harvesting, pressing... Yet Judah has failed him, despite his patience ("looked for"/"waited for" x3). Instead of yielding good grapes, the vineyard yields only "stinking things." Jesus' Parable of the Talents (Matt 21) builds on this OT parable. Word plays in v.7: mishpat (justice) v. mispach (bloodshed), and tsedaqa (righteousness) v. tse‘aka (distress cry). As a result of her covenant unfaithfulness, judgment is on the way (vs.8-30).
Vs. 8-10—Land speculation in Isaiah’s day. See Mic 2:2; Amos 2:6-8. Prosperity!—yet the poor were being squeezed out. (Recall the expropriation of Naboth's vineyard in 1 Kings 21.) Land parcels pressed tightly together meant that the poor could not clean from the edges, as permitted by the Torah (Lev 19:9-10; 23:22). Low yield – bath = 22 liters = 5 gallons / ephah = 1/10 bath! God is the real owner of the land. The woe concerning property acquisition (Woe 1) connects to the woe concerning money acquisition (Woe 6). Despite the crowding, people are “alone."
Vs. 11-12—The pursuit of pleasure (partying, music, indulgence). See Prov 23:29-35. In the prophets, drunkenness is often associated with the aristocracy—the powerful (whether powerful landowners or corrupt priests). Woe 2 (self-indulgence) connects to Woe 5 (self-importance).
Vs. 13-17—Exile is the judgment. Sheol (the realm of the dead)—no one "dies rich." The Lord humbles the proud. Nomads will camp among the ruins of the rich.
Vs. 18-19—Attachment to sin (ropes)—animal existence (animals pulling carts)! Sinners think they can act with impunity, and without God knowing. Woe 3 (sin pursued) connects with Woe 4 (sin justified).
V. 20—Inversion of good and evil. This has a very modern ring to it! See also Amos 6:12.
V. 21—Right and wrong reduced to mere personal opinion. The problem is made worse in our day, when many are “educated beyond their intelligence.” Holding a college degree does not necessarily make one wise. Political wisdom—alliances with Egypt or Assyria, or trust in military might.
Vs. 22-23—Drink affects judgment. “The sixth woe turns to corruption in the lawcourt… The judges [are] weak-minded, undisciplined creatures whose strengths and virtues go no further than holding their liquor and mixing cocktails. In situations where real strength of character is needed, to refuse bribes or defend human rights, they are miserable and culpable failures” (John F. A. Sawyer, Isaiah Volume 1 in The Daily Study Bible Series [London: Westminster John Knox Press, 1984], 60). The 7th woe doesn’t come until 10:1-4!
Woes: “Between the song (1-7) and the darkness (30), Isaiah spells out the grim reality of the inedible grapes (8-25) in six ‘woes’. It is not the Lord’s way to pass and execute judgment without enquiring into the facts, nor to spring judgment on those who deserve it without alerting them to its cause” (J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999], 61).
Vs. 24-28—There's no excuse for rejecting Torah. Judah despised the Holy One. No right relationship with God. Invasion means removal of the watchtower and wall around the vineyard! Approaching army. See Hab 1:5-11. Terror—there is no escape. The Sovereign Lord over history is using Gentiles to chasten the Jews.
Vs. 29-30—Three further images: growling lion, growling sea, and darkness. “Isaiah has now established the backdrop against which he worked as a prophet. The people to whom he was sent were the heirs of great promises but appear to have forfeited them. By the end of his prefatory chapters, darkness has closed in upon them. Grace has been exhausted; nothing but judgment lies ahead” (Motyer, 66).
For us today:
* Character – Resist the world. If we are in positions of leadership or influence, let's pay attention to the warnings in Isaiah 5.
* Justice – The rich ought to take stock of where their riches have come from—how they have been obtained. Not all of the wealthy are guilty of wrongs against the poor, but many are, and for many more, the wealth they have acquired or inherited was originally obtained immorally. Let’s all remember that we brought nothing into the world, and we will take nothing with us when we depart.
* Pandemic – Whether the world ends by nuclear holocaust, asteroid collision, or global plague, it will most certainly come to an end, the Bible assures us.
Next: “Here Am I—Send Me"