Bible Commentary: Isaiah 5

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Isaiah 5

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Song of the Vineyard and Impending Woes

God begins this chapter with a song of Israel as a vineyard. This analogy is used elsewhere in Scripture as well (compare Psalm 80:8, Psalm 80:14-15; Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 10:1; Matthew 21:33-46). "It is a mournful song indeed," notes The Bible Reader's Companion, “as God laments the necessary abandonment of the 'garden of His delight,' the people He has cared for so patiently" (Isaiah 5 chapter summary). Despite His loving care, the people bring forth not the pleasing fruit of righteousness, but the bitter fruit of sin. So six "woes" follow—indictments of those "who monopolize land ownership (vv. 8-10), live profligate [unrestrained, self-indulgent] lives (vv. 11-17), make evil their life's work (vv. 18-20), distort [the definitions of] good and evil (v. 20), are self-important [believing themselves wise] (v. 21), and corrupt justice (vv. 22-25)" (same note).

Verse 10 illustrates how unproductive the land would become. Estimates of the modern equivalent of a bath vary, but a number of sources give it as six gallons (22 liters). This is not much of a yield from 10 acres. Even more dramatic, a homer of seeds (about six bushels full) would produce only one ephah—a tenth of a homer (compare Ezekiel 45:11) or just over half a bushel—of produce. Yet worse punishment lay in store for this nation in rebellion against God.

The moral failure of Judah, and the house of Israel, can be seen today as well. Calling evil good and good evil (verse 20) is an earmark of our day. Adherence to God's definition of right and wrong is now called intolerance. Traditional values are labeled backward and repressive. The patriarchal family is called chauvinistic. Opposition to the murder of the unborn is branded anti-choice or restricting a woman's freedom. Rejection of homosexuality is called homophobia, hatemongering and bigotry. On the other side, an acceptance of all views except the belief in absolute truth is referred to as being open-minded, accepting and understanding. The denigration and marginalizing of husbands and fathers is called equality. Promiscuity and perversity of every form is lauded as freedom and self-expression. Homosexuality itself is simply an "alternate lifestyle." Support for abortion is labeled pro-choice. And what amounts to murder of the elderly or infirm is called euthanasia (or "good death").

For their arrogant rebellion, viewing their way as better and more righteous than that defined in God's law of true love, God's anger burned against the people of ancient Judah and Israel. Just so, His anger burns against our societies today. His anger, of course, is different from that which a human ruler might feel at subjects who don't keep his word. Ego taints human anger. But God's anger is because people are hurting themselves and each other. They are so wrongheaded and stubborn that He has to take drastic action to bring them around to change. And as He brought foreign armies to carry out His judgment on the people back then—so will He do in our future. Though it was apparently not yet an accomplished fact when Isaiah wrote the words, it was, in the eyes of God, as certain as done. That's why the captivity of the people is recorded in the past tense (verse 13), even though it appears that it had not yet happened. For God calls "those things which be not [yet] as though they were" (Romans 4:17).