Isaiah 5:2


I. NOTICE THE ART OF THE PARABLE. It has been remarked, "A proverb finds him who a sermon flies." Pictures from nature are acceptable to all, especially of that nature which is familiar to the imagination of the listener. Through the imagination we may glide into our listener's heart and conscience. The truth comes with much more power when it is made to glance from an object intermediate between the mind and its naked reality. A great secret of teaching is to leave the learner much of the work to do. Here, as he looks upon the bright picture drawn by the prophet, the wrappings of the parable gradually fall aside, and the truth itself stands out.

II. THE PICTURE OF THE VINEYARD. The close touch of accuracy suits the parable. Then follows a short song.

1. Situation of the vineyard. It lay on "the horn of Ben-Shamen," i.e. son of fatness; on a fertile height. The Roman poet sung that the vine loves the open sunny hills (Virgil,' Georg.,' 2:113). The description is of fruitful Canaan, flowing with milk, honey, and wine. We may think of the beautiful slopes of the Rhine.

2. The care expended on the vineyard. It had been fenced, the stones had been cleared from it, and it had been planted with the choicest vines. Some take the word rendered "fenced" in the sense of digged about, thoroughly digged. The watchtower had also been set up in the midst of the field, a post of observation and of guard against the jackals and the foxes in the ripening time.

3. The thankless soil. The vine-dresser's hope is deceived; for, instead of the true grapes wild ones only appear, or, as the LXX. render akanthas, thorns. Gesenius and others think the plant meant is the monk's-hood or nightshade, which produces berries like the grapes in appearance, but poisonous. If we compare the story in 2 Kings 4:39 = -1:4, alsoDeuteronomy 32:32, 33 ("vine of Sodom, grapes of gall, bitter clusters"), this will seem probable. The Arabs call them wolf-grapes. The idea is caught by one of our poets when he sings of

"Dead Sea fruits that tempt the taste,
And turn to ashes on the lips."

III. APPLICATION.

1. Jehovah's appeal. It is an appeal to memory and to conscience. What more could God have done? Israel had been selected for special service and fruitfulness - had been fixed in a fertile land, her life and worship centered in the holy city. What was that city now? A scene of order, morality, good government? Alas! a "den of thieves," a scene of misery and anarchy. Instead of the genuine grapes of a national life strong and pure, the poisonous berries of luxury and vice. Such must be the result where man grafts his own pride or folly upon the stock of conscience.

2. Jehovah's denunciation. The thick thorn fence shall be removed, and the vineyard shall, become a prey to every trampling beast and invader. The hand of the pruner and the digger shall be stayed, the clouds shall suspend their gift of rain. Every protection and every blessing shall be withdrawn, and the thankless nation shall earn its appropriate wages. Having deserted God, God will now desert her. So must it ever be with the nation and the individual. Unless there is a constant disposition to redress discovered wrong, to reform manifest evil, the doom must be felt. "Thy vineyard shall be wasted, thy candlestick taken from its place" (Revelation 2:5).

3. The reason of the judgment. In poignant language, by the use of paronomasia, or play on words, the prophet announces the ground of the Divine decision. He waited for Mish-path, i.e. Might, and behold Mispath, i.e. Might; for Zedakah, i.e. Exactness, and lo Zeaqach, i.e. Exaction. A bitter intensity suggests this form of speech.

IV. PERSONAL APPLICATION. In our sinful miseries God is calling us to account. Our life-failure, whose fault is it? Does not Nature pour her beauty around us, instruct us from childhood, fill our sense and fancy with wonder and joy? Does not the world of men afford us a daily school of experience? Is not every suffering a pruning-knife, every change of life like a cleaning of the ground from weeds and stones? If our lives turn out selfish and vicious, where does the responsibility lie? Where, except in the secret fault that may poison all God's good? Lord, with what care hast thou begirt us round Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters Deliver us to laws. They send us bound To rules of reason. Holy messengers; Pulpits and Sundays; sorrow dogging sin; Afflictions sorted; anguish of all sizes; Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in! Bibles laid open; millions of surprises; Blessings beforehand; ties of gratefulness; The sounds of glory ringing in our ears; Without, our shame; within, our consciences Angels and grace; eternal hopes and fears 1 Yet all these fences, and their whole array, One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away. ? J.







It brought forth wild grapes.
The history of the Jewish nation is written for our warning, and the lessons taught by this parable are sadly needed by the England of today. There is not one word of this description of the vineyard at its best which is not true of this highly favoured land. This, too, is a very fruitful hill. Under the soil, what unheard of mineral riches, mines of wealth! Above the soil and in it what fertility, what productive power! Around us, from port and bay and harbour, our merchant fleets take and fetch and gather the riches of the earth! Here, too, is planted a chosen and favoured vine. Here God has planted the Anglo-Saxon race, so blended with some other tribal blood that, even our enemies being judges, we have been unequalled in hardy daring, conquering energy, splendid enterprise, and universal stretch of power. We, too, have been strangely "fenced in" by the providence of God. Our iron coasts, compassed by the inviolate sea, have largely made and kept us separate and safe. Out of this land have also been gathered the stones of idolatry, barbarism, despotism, bigotry, slavery. Here, too, the Husbandman hath built His tower and made His wine press. "The temples of His grace, how beautiful they stand!" Surely the Lord hath not dealt so with any people! To us He says, as well as to Israel of old, "What more could I do to My vineyard, that I have not done? Why, then, when I looked for grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" Is not this indictment true? Wild grapes, offensive to God, mischievous to others, and ruinous to us, are being produced on every hand. The Husbandman describes some of them.

1. The excessive greed of gain (ver. 8). The sin lies not in the mere addition of house to house, by fair and lawful means, or a moderate gathering together of earthly good; but in that mad rush and scramble, that strife and struggle to lay hold of all the hand can grasp. Never was Nebuchadnezzar's golden god worshipped with half the eager frenzy of today. Utterly reckless of Naboth's honest claim to his little vineyard — regardless of the right of poorer neighbours to gain a livelihood, a powerful purse shall buy them out; huge estates shall be enclosed in an ever-expanding ring fence; rampant speculators shall starve the spinner and weaver by the cunning of a "cotton corner." It is a moral wrong; it is a national calamity; it is a wild grape which wins a "woe" from God. The one gleam of hope lies in the fact that the monster will be its own destroyer. "Of a truth, many such houses, great and fair, shall be without inhabitant."

2. Another wild grape is the crying sin of intemperance (ver. 11).

3. Another wild grape is the headstrong rush after pleasure; the follies and frivolities of the tens of thousands whose whole time and tastes and talents are wickedly laid on the shrine of sensual delights. A perpetual round of feasting, junketing, dancing, sightseeing, and sensational enjoyments is the be-all and end-all of their existence (ver. 12).

4. Another wild grape is sensuality in its grosser and fouler shapes. "Woe unto them which draw iniquity with cords, and sin as with a cart rope." In this ease the silken threads which bound them to the gilded chariot of pleasure have been woven by the force of habit into strong cords and cables, and they are drawn by the baser passions into bestial sensuality, and within the veil of secrecy, and under the curtains of night, uncleanness reigns.

5. Another wild grape is infidelity. "Woe unto them that regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operations of His hands." They deny His creating power, they question His existence, and as for the operation of His providence, not God but law and nature is the cause of all! And all this in England!

6. Another wild grape here mentioned is fraud and falsehood: and still another is dishonesty. "Woe to them who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter," and so on. Again, "Woe unto them which justify wickedness for reward!" Tricks of trade, scamped handiwork, adulterated goods, lying puffs and advertisements, commercial frauds, haphazard speculations — oh, 'tis a sickening list! What shall be the end of it? Must England, like Israel, perish, forsaken of her God? No nation that forgets God shall prosper: look on the ruins of Babylon, of Greece, of Israel, of Rome. No city that forgets God shall prosper: read the sad records of Nineveh, of Tyre, of Jerusalem, of Sardis, of Laodicea. No man that forgets God shall prosper: look at the graves of Pharaoh, of Ahab, of Saul, of Herod, of Napoleon. If England lives on, and grows in lustre as she lives, it must be because the King Emmanuel is undisputed Monarch of the national heart, uncontrolled Director of the national policy and the national will.

(J. J. Wray, M. A.)

Isaiah was speaking in the first years of the reign of Ahaz, who, by his luxury and effeminacy, was beginning to imperil the splendid results of the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham. Like most men who are embodied consciences, the prophet was looked upon as a busybody. Those are usually most hated who do that which is most needed. Having attracted attention by his parable of the vineyard and the grapes, Isaiah became a remorseless and terrible voice. The man seemed to have disappeared, while the voice spoke the retributions of the Almighty. This embodied conscience was terribly faithful. It is useless to attempt argument with a conscience. It can never be argued with — it must be heard. It utters its imperative, and you are heedless at your peril. Some things may be reasoned about; a matter of conscience, never. Furthermore, conscience is always and of necessity prophetic. Whenever conscience tells you that you are wrong, it tells you more than that — it tells you that you must turn or you will be punished. That is what makes it a terror. Not only does it point the finger of shame; it also points the finger of doom. So is it with the national conscience; it, too, is prophetic, and always speaks of judgment. Isaiah was the conscience of Judah speaking its imperative, as Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison were our national conscience in the days when the Republic protected slavery. Judah had grown rich; she was getting careless; she was trusting in her riches. Judah had been sadly disciplined. There had been earthquakes, loss of territory, defeat, and now there was approaching the spectre of an Assyrian invasion. For all this she boasted of her riches and neglected God.

(Amory H. Bradford, D. D.)

1. As soon as a people become rich, they usually begin to subvert the natural and Divine order to their own selfishness. The tendency of riches is to lead people to do wrong. That may be why it is so hard for a rich man to get into heaven. He makes the mistake of thinking he can buy his way anywhere, and finds at last that character, not gold, is the currency he needs.

2. The sternness of the prophet continues. Those who have grown rich have also grown luxurious. They have learned the pleasures of the wine cup; they tarry long at the wine. The land question is an old one; the liquor question is equally old. Again I ask, Who shall tell why, as soon as men begin to prosper, they begin to do what is worst for themselves and worst for the world? Read that fifth chapter from verse 12 to 17. How true to life! "The mean man is bowed down, and the great man is humbled." The low-bred fellow drinks his fiery liquor and wallows in the gutter; the high-bred and rich say that they can mind their own business, and go to the same disgusting squalor. But Isaiah was speaking of the nation rather than to individuals It was a national shame that such things were tolerated then; it is a disgrace that such things are tolerated now. If Isaiah were alive today, or, better, if Jesus Christ could have your attention for a moment, He would say, How can you justify yourselves in giving so much time to purely economic questions and so little to the devising of means for the abolition of what ruins the finest of our boys, blights homes that would otherwise be beautiful and full of love, and makes so many of our rulers more like swine than the sovereigns they were intended to be? These two old foes are still alive, with new faces — the land question and the liquor question. The lesson which we have to learn is the one which the prophet sought to impress in his time — that both individuals and nations are responsible to God; that responsibility is real; and that there is a judgment seat before which men and nations must stand. "For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still." Let us not forget that we — our community, our state, our nation — are in the moral order of God; that everything we do is making ourselves and all others better or worse; that we are all called to fellowship with the prophets and apostles and faithful souls in all ages, to do something toward bringing in the time when the good things of the world shall belong to all people.

(Amory H. Bradford, D. D.)

God expects vineyard fruit from those that enjoy vineyard privileges.

( M. Henry.)

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