The first part of chapter 5 of Isaiah is about a vineyard planted and tended by YHWH which did not produce good fruit. In His parable about a vineyard (Matt 21:33-46), wicked servants stole the fruit and were punished. In this chapter, slothful workers fail to produce good fruit and are punished. In both cases, the thieving and slothful workers are national Israel and God is the owner of the vineyard.
Isaiah 5:1-2 (HCSB) “I will sing about the one I love, a song about my loved one’s vineyard: The one I love had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it and even dug out a winepress there. He expected it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless grapes.”
This is God speaking; the One He loves is the Son Who did the work. In verses 3 & 4 the residents of Jerusalem and Judah are identified as witnesses of what is happening.
Isaiah 5:3-4 (HCSB) “So now, residents of Jerusalem and men of Judah, please judge between Me and My vineyard. What more could I have done for My vineyard than I did? Why, when I expected a yield of good grapes, did it yield worthless grapes?”
In the next two verses the judgment of God is revealed. He will reduce the vineyard to wasteland, just as He cursed the fig tree that did not bear fruit (Matt 21:18-22).
Isaiah 5:5-6 (HCSB) “Now I will tell you what I am about to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge, and it will be consumed; I will tear down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland. It will not be pruned or weeded; thorns and briers will grow up. I will also give orders to the clouds that rain should not fall on it.”
The end of this passage testifies to the power and authority of the One created all things and judges all things. And it reveals who is represented by the vineyard.
Isaiah 5:7 (HCSB) “For the vineyard of the LORD of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, the plant He delighted in. He looked for justice but saw injustice, for righteousness, but heard cries of wretchedness.”
YHWH owns the vineyard which is the national Israel (north and south kingdoms mentioned). They do injustice and are wretched and judgment will fall on them. This is the nature of the law covenant: temporal blessedness for obedience; judgment and punishment (often at the hands of pagan nations) for disobedience.
Contra is the New Covenant, wherein every branch will abide in the Root and bear good fruit (Matt 21:43). Note this: in Matt 21, Jesus has been telling many things to the leaders of national Israel and to His disciples, telling them of the disobedience of Israel and the judgement to come. This last reference, verse 43, is a critical passage, for we see here that ethnic Israel was a temporary people, just as the Mosaic Covenant was a temporary covenant. These things served their purposes as shadows and types. But in due season, the kingdom was revealed as spiritual and eternal and it was taken from the temporary, temporal “guardian” of ethnic Israel and given to the eternal, spiritual heirs of spiritual Israel.
Verses 8-17 depict the first 2 woes pronounced upon apostate Israel.
Isaiah 5:8 (HCSB) “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field until there is no more room and you alone are left in the land.”
This “woe” must be seen in its context. YHWH had given His covenant people land, tribe by tribe, with a provision for the Levites. In this way, no child of Abraham (according to the flesh) would be homeless. But. Sinful men who accumulated power began to take advantage of the poor. This was a comment charge of God against national Israel. This one comment in verse 8 may be reflective of King Ahab’s taking of Naboth’s land as recorded in 1 Kings 21.
The prophet Isaiah then records: Isaiah 5:9-10 (HCSB) “I heard the LORD of Hosts say: Indeed, many houses will become desolate, grand and lovely ones without inhabitants. For a ten-acre vineyard will yield only six gallons, and 10 bushels of seed will yield only ⌊one⌋ bushel.”
Judgment from God upon those who put their trust in things of this world. Recall how He would not allow Gideon to win the battle with many men, so all would know it was YHWH who had won the day. Recall how the children of Israel declared “some trust in horses and chariots but we trust in the name of our God!” Yet like so many of us, they grew comfortable and, like the farmer in the parable who went to sleep planning to build bigger barns, the Hebrew nation would find out their crops could not be depended upon if the Lord of the harvest did not bring in the produce.
Isaiah 5:11-12 (HCSB) “Woe to those who rise early in the morning in pursuit of beer, who linger into the evening, inflamed by wine. At their feasts they have lyre, harp, tambourine, flute, and wine. They do not perceive the LORD’s actions, and they do not see the work of His hands.”
The second “woe” – revealing another way in which the Hebrews had betray their God. They had grown comfortable living for today, engaging their fleshly senses with all sorts of stimuli. In the midst of so much luxury, they had forgotten Who had made all this possible, they had lost sight of their creator.
Isaiah 5:13-15 (HCSB) “Therefore My people will go into exile because they lack knowledge; her dignitaries are starving, and her masses are parched with thirst. Therefore Sheol enlarges its throat and opens wide its enormous jaws, and down go Zion’s dignitaries, her masses, her crowds, and those who carouse in her! Humanity is brought low, man is humbled, and haughty eyes are humbled.”
Because of their rebellion in seeking security in their stuff, God would send them into exile; the grave would consume many of them – all who sought satisfaction in goods. And we see the same refrain from chapter 2 – man is humbled, humanity is brought low. Pride cannot stand before God.
Isaiah 5:16-17 (HCSB) “But the LORD of Hosts is exalted by His justice, and the holy God is distinguished by righteousness. Lambs will graze as ⌊if in⌋ their own pastures, and strangers will eat ⌊among⌋ the ruins of the rich.”
Contrary to sinful man, who seeks assurance from other men, YHWH is above all and is exalted and glorified by His justice and righteousness! In that day, lambs (perhaps those Hebrews who had not gone the way of the flesh) will graze in peace and strangers – Gentiles – will be satisfied with what has been left behind. God will comfort and provide for His own.
Verses 18-22 reveal the final four “Woes” pronounced upon national Israel, wherein we see why the Lord will bring judgment on His covenant people. Note this: In the law covenant, failure to comply brought punishment. Biblical history of national Israel shows this cycle repeated countless times. In the New Covenant, which is a grace covenant, all the punishment for our rebellion and sinful neglect were laid upon the Lord Jesus. Because we are in Him, all that He has been given is ours and will be realized in the world to come.
While we sojourn in these fleshly tabernacles, let us learn from ethnic Israel’s failures and let us be humbly awed at being brought into spiritual Israel and given true rest by the Son of Man.
Isaiah 5:18-19 (HCSB) Woe to those who drag wickedness with cords of deceit and ⌊pull⌋ sin along with cart ropes, to those who say: “Let Him hurry up and do His work quickly so that we can see it! Let the plan of the Holy One of Israel take place so that we can know it!”
These people mentioned in this woe are wicked, trying to deceive others and drag then along. They are kin to the folks who demanded a sign from Christ Jesus; not believing in God unless He does what they expect and can see with eyes of flesh. Woe on those who demand a sign! It is a wicked and evil generation – whether in the days of the Old Covenant or now. We can see and believe on Him only with spiritual eyes, which He must give us.
Isaiah 5:20 (HCSB) Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
Is this not commentary on natural man’s condition in every generation and nation? Natural man cannot help but suppress his knowledge of the truth by his own personal unrighteousness. People in our day call abortion and homosex good and they call law and order evil. They work hard to snuff out the light of truth on every news and social platform, because their deeds are evil and their depraved consciences accuse and excuse them.
Isaiah 5:21 (HCSB) Woe to those who are wise in their own opinion and clever in their own sight.
Here we see another common affliction of natural man. These people think they can hide their sin (and Jerry Epstein didn’t kill himself!) by their cleverness. From tax cheats to porn addicts to lying politicians – woe!
Isaiah 5:22-23 (HCSB) Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, who are fearless at mixing beer, who acquit the guilty for a bribe and deprive the innocent of justice.
This fifth and final (for this passage) woe is pronounced on those who live to satisfy their fleshly desires and pervert justice for their own gain.
All of these behaviors in this passage that provoked these woes are common among natural man – and, at times, among the redeemed. Let us who claim Christ see this clearly and repent of what we know to be sin and plead for the grace to walk as children of the light day-by-day.