Isaiah 5

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2006 James Melough

5:1.  “Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard.  My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:”


The speaker is Isaiah, his “well-beloved” is Jehovah, the vineyard is Judah as represented here by Jerusalem, and the fruitful hill is Mount Zion, the complete symbolic picture being of God’s earthly people represented here by Judah, who is in turn a figure of the Church which is the corporate body of His chosen people of this present dispensation of grace.  The “fruitful hill” speaks of the unique blessedness of those who comprise the Church.  They are the bride of Christ, and are as described in Ephesians 1:3 “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (things), in Christ.”


5:2.  “And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made out a wine-press therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.”


Its being fenced speaks of God’s protecting care; the removal of the stones portrays His removal of all that would make difficult their being fruitful spiritually.  The planting occurred when He brought the people into Canaan, they themselves being His choicest vine, chosen from among all the other people on earth.  The tower in the midst may represent Jerusalem, which means peace, and which portrays “the peace of God which passes all understanding,” Philippians 4:7, into which faith in Christ brings the believer; and since wine is a biblical symbol of joy, the wine-press speaks of the happiness God meant them to enjoy in the good land He had given them.


Few will have difficulty seeing in all of this a typological picture of what God wants men to enjoy through conversion which “has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son,” Colossians 1:13.  By the new birth we have been brought spiritually out of the world of business and pleasure represented by Egypt, into the spiritually rich realm represented by Canaan, but literally we remain in that same evil world, which has now become for us a spiritual wilderness through which we travel on our way home to heaven.


Having planted Israel as a vine in the vineyard of Canaan, God looked for spiritual fruit: gratitude expressed in obedience.  We as believers have had the spiritual equivalent of that planting, and God looks for the same expression of gratitude: an obedient life; but sadly, He must be as much disappointed in us as He was in Judah, for we too have brought forth “wild grapes,” setting His teeth on edge as it were, instead of giving Him pleasure.


Ungrateful Israel however, instead of producing the fruits of righteousness represented by the cultivated grapes, brought forth wild grapes, symbolic of what is sinful; and we are deceived if we fail to see in this the foreshadowing of our own delinquency.  How much that is unrighteous, how little of what is righteous, have we produced in our own lives!


5:3.  “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.”


This exhortation is the equivalent of the self-examination enjoined relative to eating the Lord’s Supper on the first day of each week, “... whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup,” 1 Corinthians 11:27-28.  The fact that self-examination is to be followed, not by absenting oneself from the Table, but by eating the Lord’s Supper, implies very clearly that the examination should bring repentance and abandonment of the sin.


5:4.  “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?”


The Church is the equivalent of the vineyard, and the same question might well be posed relative to what God has done for her.  Every member has been redeemed by the precious blood of God’s only Son.  What more could He have done or given?  Surely remembrance of the price paid to redeem our souls from eternal death should impel the grateful response, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift,” 2 Corinthians 9:15, the reality of our gratitude   being demonstrated in the presentation of an obedient life.


5:5.  “And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:”


“... now go to” is an archaic way of saying “permit me, and I will....” or “attend to what I am about to say.”


This was fulfilled in the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions, and again in that of the Romans under Titus in 70 AD, the latter conquest leaving the rebellious nation scattered across the earth until 1948 when Britain gave Palestine to be a homeland for the Jews, their return to it continuing today, and signifying that the Great Tribulation is imminent.


5:6.  “And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”


Lack of pruning and digging results in lack of productivity, with the result that the ground is taken over by briers and thorns, symbols of the curse, see Genesis 3:17-18, drought contributing to the barrenness.  And this has a spiritual counterpart: failure to read, study, and obey the written Word results in a barren spiritual state, the existence of which is all too apparent today, not only in professing Christendom, but also in the lives of genuine believers, multitudes of whom fritter away precious hours, not in grossly sinful activities, but in those that contribute nothing to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, e.g., business, hobbies, sports, the arts, politics, to name but a few.


It would, in fact, be a healthy exercise to ask in regard to everything we do, other than our necessary work, “Will this contribute in any way to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom?”  If the answer isn’t Yes, then we may be sure that that activity will bring no commendation at the judgment seat of Christ.


5:7.  “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.”


The condemnation thus far has been of negative wrong: sins of omission, Judah’s failure to do right; but now the Lord takes up the matter of her active evil.  He had looked for justice, equity, right rule, integrity, righteousness, but had found only murderous iniquity, bloodshed, anarchy, oppression, and had heard only the cry of the oppressed.  In our educated, wealthy, sophisticated, pleasure-loving, modern world the same evils continue to provoke His righteous anger.


5:8.  “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!”


This continues God’s disapprobation of the mercenary unscrupulous landowners who under any pretext seized the property of the poor in order to extend their own holdings, and make themselves the sole occupants of large estates.  Relative to this the JFB Commentary states that “The jubilee restoration of possessions was intended as a guard against avarice.”  The avaricious breed however, continues to thrive today, both in Christendom, and world wide.


5:9.  “In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.”


The ears were Isaiah’s, he being the one to whom God was revealing the future of rebellious Judah described in the preceding verses.  The day was coming when the unscrupulous land-grabbers, together with their unfortunate victims, would be killed or carried into captivity, leaving many houses to become ruins; and it isn’t difficult to see in this a preview of the desolation that will be worldwide at the end of the Great Tribulation.


We are missing an important part of the lesson however, if we fail to remember that after a few brief years on earth, we too will have to leave this scene, and a question we would do well to ponder is whether we will be leaving behind us what we had foolishly thought was treasure, and will be going out into eternity as spiritual paupers because we failed to set our hearts on those things which are of eternal value, having ignored God’s command, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Matthew 6:19-21.


5:10.  “Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah.”


The proportionate yield differs according to which Bible translation is used, but the clear general statement is that there will be terrible famine throughout the world in the Great Tribulation, for the judgments that have fallen upon rebellious Israel and Judah are but precursors of those still future, and that will be universal, see e.g., Revelation 6:5-6.


5:11.  “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!”


Drunkenness has been a scourge of society almost since the dawn of history, but never has it been so pervasive as during this twenty-first century, its victims including both sexes whose addiction begins in their early teens.  And who can begin to measure the misery that has been its concomitant!


5:12.  “And the harp, and the viol, the tabor (tambourine) and pipe, and wine are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.”


The music described here is not that appointed by God in the days of David for the expression of worship, see 1 Chronicles 15:16-19; 16:7; 23:1-5; 2 Chronicles 7:6; 8:14; 29:25-27; 35:15,.  This was the OT counterpart of the cacophony which passes today for “music,” but which inflames passion, and offends the ears of all but its duped devotees.


We might note in passing that Scripture is significantly silent relative to music in the Church, the biblical injunction being “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” Ephesians 5:18-19, and again, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord,” Colossians 3:16.


The orchestrated music, which plays such a prominent part in the so-called “worship” of Christendom, quickly developed under Roman Catholicism, and is one of the many unscriptural affixments appropriated by Protestantism from that same evil source.  And so intent are the devotees of apostate Christianity on replacing the Divine order with their own agenda that they never take the trouble to even examine God’s, or to carefully consider all the evidence supporting belief in His existence.


5:13.  “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.”


Their abandonment of God had resulted in His abandoning them, and delivering them into captivity, the certainty of the event being indicated by its being spoken of here as an accomplished fact though it was still about 150 years in the future.


Scholars differ relative to the meaning of “because they have no knowledge.”  Some take it to mean that the people were unaware of the judgment about to overtake them; others, that they didn’t know how much God had done for them; and others, that they had lost the knowledge of how God was to be served and worshiped.


The “honorable men” were the leaders; and “the multitude,” the commoners.  Multitudes would perish in the famine.


Again, it is easy to see in this literal famine a picture of the spiritual state of present day professing Christianity, for the bread and water are types of the Scriptures as the spiritual food and drink of genuine believers; but unbelief can’t assimilate that spiritual sustenance, hence the spiritual famine raging today in professing but unbelieving Christendom.


5:14.  “Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and the multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.


The opening clauses are metaphors emphasizing the certainty of the eternal punishment of all who thoughtlessly ignore God, or who deliberately reject His authority.


5:15.  “And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.”


“... mean” here refers to the common man, and “the eyes of the lofty” refers to the haughty.  In that fast approaching day the judgments of God will not discriminate between rich and poor, high and low.  All would be compelled to acknowledge their own nothingness, and His supremacy.  He is a wise man who voluntarily makes that confession here on earth, and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.


5:16.  “But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.”


“hosts” means armies, and as a title of God it emphasizes His omnipotence, He being glorified by the impartiality of His judgment, the only way to ensure His favorable judgment being for the sinner to trust in Christ as Savior, He by His vicarious death having laid a basis of perfect righteousness upon which God can acquit the believer of all guilt, since Christ’s death has expiated all his sin.


5:17.  “Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat.”


The reference is to the abundance that will characterize the Millennium, “the waste places of the fat ones” being the ruins of what had formerly been the estates of the unbelieving rich.


5:18.  “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope:”


Those upon whom this woe is pronounced are they who love sin, they being pictured as hauling behind them with a rope a wagon filled with their evil deeds.  It is an apt picture of the unbeliever on the roadway of life dragging along his ever increasing load of sin, to his eternal condemnation, ignorant of the fact that faith in Christ as Savior would “empty the cart,” and enable him to stand in God’s presence guiltless and unashamed.


5:19.  “That say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!”


This describes the attitude of multitudes today.  They sneer at the mention of God, and deny His existence, their mocking response to the Gospel being, “Show us proof of His existence, and we’ll listen to your message.”  Sadly, many genuine believers are unable to produce that proof because of their ignorance of Scripture which assures us that “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19.  By far the greater part of prophecy has been fulfilled, that completion being the assurance that the small remaining fragment will just as surely be accomplished.


5:20.  “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”


This wresting of Scripture was never more prevalent than in today’s sophisticated society, but the day is near when God will fulfill His Word relevant to His punishment of those who would tamper with His Word, see Revelation 22:18-19, “... If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”


Man has a polite euphemism to disguise the true nature of what God calls sin, but the futility of the substitution will be revealed at the judgment of the Great White Throne where all the sins of those arraigned there will be exposed in the blazing light of Divine righteousness.


5:21.  “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”


Every age has had its complement of such proud complacent men, but never more so than today, for advanced education has inflated man’s opinion of himself to the point where he despises God, and denies His very existence.


5:22.  “Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:”


“Woe to those who are ‘heroes’ when it comes to drinking, and boast about the liquor they can hold,” is Taylor’s rendering of this verse, nor could any description of today’s society be more accurate.  See comments on verse 11.


“... strength to mingle strong drink” relates to those who are skillful in concocting mixtures of wines and/or liquors.


5:23.  “Which justify the wicked for reward, and take the righteousness of the righteous from him!”


The reference here is to crooked judges willing to render verdicts in favor of the litigant paying the largest bribe, thus robbing the poor of their legal rights.  It is unnecessary to say that virtually every court today is also tainted with at least some measure of corruption.


5:24.  “Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.”


Stubble is the worthless root stump of grain or hay left in the ground after the harvest has been reaped, and it was usually burned. The blossom going up as dust refers to the withering of plant buds or flowers before coming to fruition, and their becoming like dust so that the wind blows them away.  Such were the rebels addressed by the prophet, and so likewise would be their end.  They had produced no fruit for God’s glory, but simply cumbered the ground, so He would remove them from the land by war, drought, famine, and disease.  In all of this God would have us see the foreshadowing of what will be in the Great Tribulation.


5:25.  “Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets.  For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.”


The trembling of the hills may be a poetic description of earthquakes, or may refer to the terror and trembling of the rulers who are frequently represented in Scripture by hills and mountains.


The tearing of their carcasses in the streets is generally understood to refer to the devouring of the dead bodies by dogs or wild animals.  It is yet another dark color on the metaphoric canvas depicting conditions in the coming Great Tribulation.


5:26.  “And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly:”


This was fulfilled when God brought the Babylonians against His rebellious people, but it also describes His gathering of many nations eager to destroy Israel in the Great Tribulation, as recorded in Revelation 16:16,  “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”


5:27.  “None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken:”


Here we have pictured the insatiable eagerness, and the invincibility of the invaders to destroy Israel.  They will let nothing stand in their way.


5:28.  “Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind,”


This is poetic language describing not literal bows and arrows, and horse-drawn carriages, but rather modern weaponry, and the swiftness of the invading armies.


5:29.  “Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.”


The prophet’s description of the weaponry is couched in the language of his own time since he could have had no concept of modern armaments, and the thrice repeated reference to roaring is a particularly appropriate symbol of the sound of modern weapons, the power of which is perfectly conveyed under the figure of a rampant lion.


5:30.  “And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.”


The roaring of a raging sea depicts the intensity of the nations’ hatred of Israel; and the darkened heavens and earth are symbolic of the dread with which that sorely beset nation will await the breaking of the terrible storm of Gentile animosity about to engulf her in the Great Tribulation.

[Isaiah 6]

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