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;
but behold, an outcry!
“You said you would be here!” he barked.
“I had to…”
“Don’t want to hear it. Remember, no excuses.”
I watched this exchange with some perplexity. The man who was barking at his son seemed out of character, unlike the reasonable and gentle fellow I otherwise knew. Later we talked about it. His son was addicted to one drug or another. He had stolen from his parents and others, lied again and again, and disappointed them repeatedly. It was a pattern I had seen play out in the lives of people who love those are addicted. Yet, with tears in his eyes, this man confessed his love for his wayward son. The son needed boundaries and rules. He had proven himself unfaithful time and again, but he was still his son. He only barked at him because he loved him. The opposite of love is not “I hate you;” it is “I don’t care.”
God laments the vineyard for which he has cared, but which has produced only sour grapes. The people of Israel are the vineyard of the Lord. He looks for justice, but he sees bloodshed. I am reminded of Jesus’ words to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt. 5:6). They hunger and thirst because they do not have it.
Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s destruction of the vineyard and the trampling of the vines would find its fulfillment in the Exile, some years after the ministry of Isaiah. In that Exile, God was keeping His promise to His people made at Sinai. He had promised them that if they forgot him, He would call them back, gently at first but with increasing intensity. The people who returned from exile were far more devoted to God than they had been before the exile. In a sense, it worked. It was brutally difficult, but it worked. God still looks upon this world with the profound disappointment of the vineyard owner in this extended metaphor of Isaiah. His providential love sometimes brings difficult things to us. God wants us to repent. The Christian, however, has an insight which the world does not know. One day, about 800 years after Isaiah wrote these words, the blood which was unjustly shed by the children of these Israelites was the blood of Jesus and that has changed everything. God’s love for his rebellious, foolish, violent world is never in doubt. Pandemics, social unrest, hurricanes, forest fires, and whatever else the world can throw at us cannot shake that truth. Jesus has died for this world. No matter how hard God barks at his rebellious children, he always loves them.