Notes on Isaiah 5   David H. Linden


5:1-7   The song of a vineyard   Jesus gave a parable related to a vineyard in Matthew 21:33-46. So when He did, it was not the first time the Jewish people heard that kind of parable. (A parable is an extended metaphor.)  I think this one in Isaiah 5 was in their minds already. The illustration is very simple: God made a vineyard that He cared for but it yielded only bad fruit. He would destroy it in a way that sounds very much like 1:7-9. God would remove the wall; invaders would trample it. Israel and Judah would lose God’s protection. But the judgment was not passive, (i.e. this is what happened); it was active, (i.e., “I will make it a wasteland”). 


The song is one more angle to speak of the sin of His people. What is poignant about this one is that it addresses how much attention and care God had given them. For all this, the Lord their God received no gratitude. Gratitude is shown by obedience. God was looking for justice and righteousness.


Notice Matthew 21:33,  …There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.  He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower …” This setting is very close to Isaiah 5. In both texts the Lord is denied the fruit He deserves; the result was judgment. The rejection of Jesus as Messiah was related to His healing on the Sabbath in John 5:18 and to healing Lazarus in John 11:45-53. But we should not miss that those who heard the Lord speak of a vineyard caught on that He was speaking “against them” the same way Isaiah was, so they looked for a way to arrest Him (Mark 12:12). The motive was that they might kill Him. God was still not receiving good fruit from His vineyard. After giving such a parable, notice that the Lord did something else parallel to Isaiah 5. In the same time frame, between the Triumphal Entry and His crucifixion, He gave a list of woes in Matthew 23.


Maybe something else the Lord Jesus said has its background in Isaiah 5. Jesus calls Himself the true vine in John 15. Obviously Israel was the bad one. Isaiah is not just about the destruction of bad vineyards – so to save us God has sent the true vine. In the obedience of that True Vine we are justified, i.e., justified by obedience outside us. In the vital connection of branch (believers) to vine (Christ), we are fruitful, i.e., sanctified with obedience being produced within us. Thus our Lord Jesus, the True Vine, takes the place of the disobedient nation. This contrast of fruitless Israel and Christ the One pleasing to the Father will be clearer in 41:8 where ‘my servant’ is Israel, but in 42:1 ‘my servant’ is Christ.


The Six Woes, 5:8-25


1) The first woe is about stealing land, and the land will not produce. An ephah is one tenth of a homer.  It is terrible when the farmer gets a crop that is far less than the seed he sowed. Note Isaiah reports that the Lord spoke in his hearing (v.9). Every time one claims “God told me such and such” that person is making a claim to being a prophet. (I hope you do not claim to be a prophet.)


2) Pleasure seekers.  The wealthy in their mansions live in indulgence. Scripture condemns neither wine nor music, yet any gift can be exalted above the Lord. Their interest and priority was pleasure; they find none in the Lord. We should note that it is clearly a sin not to have an interest in His deeds. The Lord’s past deeds include creation; His present work is His providence over all, and His special work is His saving sinners, a theme that will open up in beautiful detail in Isaiah. It is important to make note of what interests us and what bores us; these reveal our true affections. One terrible way to have no regard for the work of the Lord is to give no attention to the record of history He has left us, and to pay no attention to reports of His current work in bringing the nations to Christ. Some professing Christians know who the movie stars are yet have never read Genesis. This is a sickness described in Isaiah 5 as lacking understanding. 


This is the first but not the last time in Isaiah that the grave is personified in receiving the dead. (See 14:9-20.) The humbling of man and the exaltation of God first seen in chapter 2 is repeated here. The justice and righteousness sought, but not found in Israel in v.7, are now found in the Lord’s judgment. Some think that the term God’s “righteousness” is always applied to His gracious work, but here it is applied to His work of judgment, which is just as righteous and pure as His gracious work. Judgment is one of the ways God shows Himself holy (v.16). To remove judgment from Him would be to have a God who is less than holy.  Thus in Revelation 19:1-3, the saints adore and worship Him for His wrath poured out on the earth. How fitting and good and right it is that God should punish the wicked.


3) The insolent    The sin must be a large load if it takes a cart to pull it, or it may mean that the sin has such a connection to them or grip on them that it is like a cart linked to an animal. The specific sin here is arrogance toward God. When the godly claim that God will bring judgment, the careless respond arrogantly that they don’t see any judgment yet, and therefore there must not be any. (Note 2 Peter 3:1-9.) It is insolent to tell God what He must show us or to hurry up and do it in order for man to believe. Note that this is a case of refusing to believe what God says until man as judge can make a judgment of God. It is all very backwards. We are to live under God’s scrutiny, not Him under ours. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). 


Woes 4)  5)  6)  All these woes are because some virtue has been overturned: calling good evil, calling their thinking wisdom, inferring God’s words are not wise (v.24). One can be quite sure this is what is meant when we see the stress on wisdom in the rest of this book. (Isaiah’s procedure is to introduce a theme and to return to it later.)


Jesus used a series of woes in Matthew 23.  There He was speaking in human flesh just as He had spoken 700 years before through His prophet Isaiah, when the prophet pronounced similar woes on Israel. Those hearing Jesus should have recognized that He was speaking again just as He had earlier in Isaiah 5. 


Judgment is again shown as fire, v.24. The verse comes close to saying that all men are like grass (40:6-8). Spurning, as in 1:4, returns; there it was the Lord spurned and here it is His word; there is no difference. Judgment by ‘shaking’ also returns. (Note Hebrews 12:28,29.) Bodies piled in the streets is a image used here for the first time. We are also introduced in v.25 to the repeated mention of a hand raised to strike. It will reappear in 9:12, 17, 21 & 10:4. That shows that chapters 1-12 are a unit, yet while the theme of judgment is continued, interspersed are prophecies of salvation and Christ.


A foreign army, 5:26-30     We all know that Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by the Babylonians. But that was 150 years after Isaiah’s time. A mighty Gentile power before Babylon was the tool of God to punish Judah and Jerusalem. Here is the first mention of Assyria but not by name, as in 7:17. The coming army is described as overwhelming in fitness, weaponry, tenacity, success and confidence. Before leaving this subject, Isaiah mentions darkness and distress, yet another theme to which he will return in the end of chapter 8 and the beginning of 9. This theme is one the Holy Spirit used in Matthew 4:15,16 to introduce the ministry of Jesus the Light Who would enter this dark world.