Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–14

Moving On

Centuries ago an editor decided to place the comforts and blessings of the previous segment of Isaiah in a chapter of its own. Indeed, Isaiah 4:2-6 appears like an island of safety in a sea of volcanic lava. If we thought the judgment that preceded this portion was bad (Isaiah 2:5-4:1), the judgment which follows is horrendous.

Structure of Chapter 5

This chapter begins with a parable of a vineyard belonging to the “Lord of hosts.” (The speaker identifies himself in Isaiah 5:7.) It continues with a series of “woes.”  “Woes” are great troubles, or things that cause great sorrow and distress (see Matthew 11:21 and Revelation 8:13). Interspersed among the statements of woe are statements of consequences. These begin with the word “therefore.” The word “woe” appears six times in Isaiah 5, and the word “therefore” five times.

The Parable of the Lord’s Vineyard–Who Is Speaking?

Isaiah 5:1 Now I will sing to my beloved a song of my beloved concerning my vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a <1> high hill in a fertile place.
2 And I made a hedge round it, and dug a trench, and planted a choice vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and dug a place for the wine-vat in it: and I waited for it to bring forth grapes, and it brought forth thorns.
3 And now, ye dwellers in Jerusalem, and every man of Juda, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What shall I do any more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it? Whereas I expected it to bring forth grapes, but it has brought forth thorns.
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be for a spoil; and I will pull down its walls, and it shall be left to be trodden down.
6 And I will forsake my vineyard; and it shall not be pruned, nor dug, and thorns shall come up upon it as on barren land; and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and <1> the men of Juda his beloved plant: I expected it to bring forth judgement, and it brought forth iniquity; and not righteousness, but a cry. (Isaiah 5:1-7 LXE)  {1) Gr. a man} 

Everyone who’s read the gospel narratives will recognize the motif of a parable about a vineyard. Briefly, a biblical parable is a story that teaches a moral lesson. Jesus spoke with many parables. The elements of a parable represent something or someone else. For example, in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-5f), the seed that was sown represents the word of God (Luke 8:11). As another example, after Matthew records Jesus’s parable about the wicked tenants, he states that the chief priests and Pharisees knew that Jesus was talking about them (Matthew 21:45).

In Septuagint Isaiah’s parable of the Lord’s vineyard, it is not immediately clear who is the speaker, who the beloved, and whose is the vineyard.

5:1 Now I will sing to my beloved a song of my beloved concerning my vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a high hill in a fertile place. 2 And I made a hedge round it…

Verse 6, however, implies that God is the speaker, when he declares concerning his vineyard, “… and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it.” And then, of course, verse 7 clearly states that the speaker is the Lord, God. Further, the vineyard is “the house of Israel,” and the beloved plant is “the men of Juda [spelled according to the text]. The Septuagint contains a footnote for the English phrase, “the men.” The actual Greek says, “a man.” The NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint, Isaiah, by Moisés Silva, http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/) adds clarity by translating this segment of verse 7 in the following way:

“… and the man of Ioudas is a beloved young plant; I waited for him to produce justice, but he produced lawlessness…”

Using this translation as evidence, the thought that perhaps “the beloved” plant may have represented the Lord Jesus is emphatically denied, for obvious reasons.

The Masoretic Text Is Also Confusing

Some of the English translations of the Hebrew text, as distinct from the Septuagint, present no greater clarity as to the identities of the speaker and “the beloved” in verse 1. The ESV and KJV do the best, I believe. The NIV and NET present the speaker as a female Israel. The thoughtful reader must surely question this, however, for a variety of reasons, especially the clear statements to the contrary in verses 6 and 7.

Further, verse 5, under this interpretation, presents great difficulties. If the speaker is Israel, why would she be destroying herself? The NIV solves this difficulty by placing quotation marks around verses 3 to 6, as though Israel is quoting what God is saying. But even more substantive than this, the NIV interpretation doesn’t work because Israel does not in fact love God. This is the whole point of the parable. She cannot be singing to “the one I love,” (verse 1). The NET goes even further afield than the NIV. The reader can investigate this on her own if anyone cares to.

A Further Possibility

There is another, devotional possibility for identifying the speaker and his beloved in verse 1. Admittedly, it is a long stretch, but no more so than the length the NET notes stretch. This is how the NETS, by Silva, referenced above, translates Septuagint verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2–

“I will now sing for the beloved a song of the loved one concerning my vineyard: The beloved had a vineyard on a hill, on a fertile place. 2 And I put a hedge around it… and I built a tower… and I waited for it… “

In the New Testament, God intercedes vocally two times to name Jesus Christ as his “beloved” Son. These are Mark 1:11 and Mark 9:7. The Apostle Paul calls Jesus “the Beloved” in Ephesians 1:6. Isaiah was aware of this relationship within the being of the one God. We know this, because later in Isaiah, beginning with the Servant passages, it becomes clear that within the Godhead are Father and Son. Therefore, here in this passage, God might be speaking to his Son in verse 1.

Explanation and Support

Utilizing Silva’s translation (see above) for this scenario, the Son would be the referent of the first occurrence of “the beloved” in verse 1. The second occurrence, “the loved one” would be Israel. And the vineyard, as clarified from Isaiah 5:7, is the house of Israel. Continuing on in verse 1, the vineyard would belong to the Son. God is the actor who places the hedge and the tower. He is also the speaker.

In favor of this interpretation is the fact that the prior passage, Isaiah 4:2-6, had the Kingdom of Messiah in view. Also in favor of this interpretation is John 1:11, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him,” (ESV). The NET places a translator’s note for the Greek in this verse, “to his own things.” Using this information, John in essence is stating, He came to his own things. Clearly, “his own things,” i.e., Israel portrayed as a vineyard, and “his own people” in John 1:11 are closely linked.

Further, one of the vineyard parables Jesus tells provides support of the devotional interpretation I am proposing. This is the parable of the wicked tenants found in Matthew 21:33-45. The details of this parable sound remarkably like the details of the parable in Isaiah. Indeed, the ESV Bible cites Isaiah 5:2 in verse 33 of Jesus’s parable. Pertaining to the argument here is the verse in the Gospel parable that identifies the owner’s son as heir of the vineyard. The vineyard belonged to the son as his inheritance.

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ (Matthew 21:38 ESV)

However, on the other side, against my devotional interpretation, is the fact that there’s not much else to support it within the passage itself. I find it devotionally more satisfying, however, than other, equally unsupported interpretations I have read.

Conclusion: Keep It Simple

The only certain thing one can truthfully know about Isaiah 5:1 is that its meaning is not clear. At the very least, the reader learns from all this that even the best of biblical experts–those who translate texts and write scholarly notes (I do not include myself in the category of biblical expert)–are sometimes stymied concerning the exact word meanings of portions of Scripture.

There is a happy conclusion, however, and that is that this passage identifies the speaker, the vineyard, and the plant. It does this not in the problematic verse 1, but in the clear verses 6-7.

6 And I will forsake my vineyard; and it shall not be pruned, nor dug, and thorns shall come up upon it as on barren land; and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it.7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Juda his beloved plant: I expected it to bring forth judgement, and it brought forth iniquity; and not righteousness, but a cry. (Isaiah 5:1-7 LXE) 

Verse 6 identifies the “I,” the first person speaker throughout this parable as God. Only God can command clouds not to rain. Verse 7 identifies the vineyard as belonging to the “Lord of hosts.” The vineyard is “the house of Israel,” and the beloved plant are the men (humans collectively) of Israel.

But What Does the Passage Say?

Next time, Lord willing, we will move on to the content of the passage. Clearly, God is not happy with his vineyard.

Blessings!

0

2 thoughts on “Isaiah: A Personal Devotional Journal–14

  1. Oh my Christina, such a great post and so thought provoking! Thanks for researching this. I can tell God is really speaking to your heart.
    Blessings!

    0

Love to Hear from You

Scroll Up