The Vineyard that God Abandoned

By Tom Holt
Isaiah 5:1-7
TO MY KNOWLEDGE there are only two verses in the Bible that talk about God singing. One is Zephaniah 3:17: "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." What a Savior! Our merciful God not only saves us, He even joys over us with singing.

The other is in Isaiah 5. Here, though, it is a song of lament. It's about a vineyard that failed to bear good fruit. God begins by saying in the first two verses:

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: 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 a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.

God then expresses His disappointment to the Jewish people in verses 3 and 4:

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. 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?

He follows in verses 5 and 6 by stating what He will do to it:

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: 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.

Finally, in verse 7, He identifies whom that vineyard represents:

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.

In this song, then, God is lamenting how the Israelites of old, in spite of the gracious way He had blessed them and instead of living a holy life in response, were behaving wickedlyso much so that God didn't just withhold His blessing, He actually caused them to be eaten up and trodden down by their enemies.

Warning. Why is God telling us all this? Well, I Corinthians 10:11 tells us, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." God was using the way He treated the apostate Israel as an example to warn the New Testament church of what He would do to it if it also turns apostate.

Considering how churches have fallen away from the word of God and how false prophets have dominated Christendom, I think that Isaiah passage is really describing the state of today's house of Israel upon whom indeed the ends of the world are come.

The corporate church

Let's see how that ill-fated vineyard identifies with the church of our time. First of all, when God speaks of His wellbeloved, He has to be talking about Jesus. Remember what He said when our Lord was baptized? "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

The vineyard that belongs to Christ is no doubt the kingdom of God. It says that He fenced it. To fence a piece of land is to give it borders, separating it from other lands. By going to the cross, Christ established and sanctified the church for sacred use. This is true with both the eternal church consisting of all born-again Christians throughout time and the corporate church that comprises both believers and unbelievers.

The seven churches that Jesus wrote to in Revelation 2 and 3, for instance, were all corporate churches. Back then, He walked among their golden candlesticks in heaven because He cared for them and chastened them as sons. But He has since left all of them.

Thankfully, we can rest assured that our Lord would never leave or forsake the invisible church, the eternal body of Christ.

The boundary of the kingdom of God is the word of God. This helps to explain why in the Old Testament, God says, "Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark" (Deut. 27:17). We must never change the commands of God to suit our personal desires.

God also gathered out the stones thereof. An appropriate commentary of this is Ezekiel 36:26: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." The promise to remove the stony heart applies only to believers, of course, but even unbelievers in the church benefit from the congenial atmosphere generated by those whom God has given a new spirit.

Choicest vine. Next, God says He planted it with the choicest vine. Jesus says, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). Who can be more choice than the Lord Jesus?

God also built a tower in its midst. A tower is an observation post in which a watchman stands to look out for anything that might hurt the vineyard. In a sense, every child of God is told to be a watchman. We constantly watch for the Lord's return, lest He comes to us as a thief in the night, and we warn the unsaved of the upcoming Judgment Day.

But God also sets spiritual leaders in the midst of the church to watch over the flock. We read in Hebrews 13:17, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."

Winepress. Finally, it says here that God made a winepress therein. In the Bible, winepress has to do with the wrath of God. Referring to Judgment Day, for example, Revelation 14:19 says: "The angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God."

The winepress in this vineyard, however, is pointing to Christ's enduring God's wrath for our sins. To establish His church, Jesus emptied His glory to become a lowly man laden with our sins and suffered the wrath of God. No wonder God remarks in verse 4, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" What more could God have done for the church?

Yet, the second half of verse 4 says, "Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" That, I believe, is precisely what God is saying today as He looks at the Christian community. Why is it that when I look for good fruit, I find one congregation after another falling away and chasing after other gospels?

For that reason, what He says in verses 5 and 6 may well describes His current response. In other words, He has removed His blessings from the church and is allowing it to be "eaten up" and "trodden down" by unbelievers. He is letting one congregation after another turn into a wasteland.

(To save the remainder of His elect, He has raised up a para-church ministry like Family Radio and lately enabled it to send forth the gospel to all nations more powerfully than ever before.)

Individual churchgoers

The need to bear fruit is just as crucial for individuals as for the corporate body. In fact, God warns in Matthew 3:10: "Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." What fruit are we expected to bear, without which God will cast us into hell? Well, God has given all believers the Great Commission, and so one way or another we all should engage in sharing the gospel with the unsaved. But this is not the "fruit" spoken of in Matthew 3:10.

There, God was speaking through John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees. It was before the cross. The Jews were not then commanded to share the gospel. If anything, they were told to separate themselves from the pagans. The fruit that God wanted them to produce had to do with that which was "meet for repentance" (v.8).

Nor does the fruit in question refer to our service. True, Romans 12:1 tells us to present our bodies a living sacrifice. To devote our whole selves to serve God is our chief purpose for living. But consider the thief on the cross. He was saved just before he died, so he never had a chance to serve in any ministry. Yet, Jesus told him, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). The thief must somehow have borne the essential fruit even in his final moments.

Inner changes. What God expects every child to produce is really the fruit of the Spirit. According to Galatians 5:22,23, it consists of love, joy, peace, longsuffering (or patience), gentleness (kindness), goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (self-control). Note that they all relate to the inner nature of a person, not his external activities.

You see, when a person is born again, he is a new creature with a new inner self. This fact was seen in the thief on the cross. In Matthew 27, he and the other robber both heaped insults on Christ. But when God saved him shortly after that, He gave him a new soul and a new attitude toward Christ. As a result, in Luke 23, he rebuked the other criminal, telling him to fear God. He had started to bear fruit.

Applying the knowledge

Knowing what the fruit is helps us examine ourselves to see if we are truly saved. By nature, we cannot on our own generate those Christ-like virtues for any length of time. We need the Holy Spirit to mold us into the image of God. Romans 8:14 says, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." When we are led by the Spirit, our thinking and behavior gradually reflect our new life in Christ.

Moreover, a fruit does not appear on a tree, grow for a little while and then become stunted. It keeps on growing unto maturity. Likewise, a truly born-again believer should find in their life a continuing increase in all components of the fruit of the Spirit. Hence, by examining to see whether we are today more loving, more joyful, more peaceful and so on than we were, say, six months ago or a year ago, we can find out for ourselves whether we have merely been trying to act like a Christian or whether God has really been working in us.

The rate at which our fruit of the Spirit grows is directly associated with the rate we grow in the knowledge of the Bible. That's because the word of God is the sword of the Spirit. The more divine truths we have hidden in our heart, the more the Holy Spirit will be able to reproof and correct us.

Protection. Knowing what the fruit of the Spirit is also helps us from being deceived by false preachers and teachers, and they certainly abound these days. Jesus says, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:15,16).

We are living in a time when most churches are dominated by unbelieving leaders and preachers. But as the Bible warns, they masquerade as servants of righteousness and, unlike heretics of earlier times, they even understand "dark sentences" (Dan. 8:23)that is, they are well acquainted with the Bible.

But however well they disguise themselves, they cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit since they do not have the Spirit of God indwelling them. So, observe the way these teachers behave when their guard is down. You'll be surprised how many of them do not practice what they preach. If you see in their non-public moments a distinct absence of patience and kindness (usually toward family or staff members), a lack of meekness and self-control, or a shortage of peace and faith in times of trials, keep away from them.

Conclusion. In conclusion, Isaiah 5:1-7 may well be describing the time we are living in.  God has evidently begun to let the corporate church go to waste, and has sent their members strong delusion, that they should believe a lie (II Thes. 2:11). And before Christ returns, it will get even worse.

What should we true believers do? Rely only on the Bible for truths, and, with Godís help, be steadfast to the end.

In Revelation 2, God says some dreadful things to the church in Thyatira, the one that allowed the woman Jezebel to teach and mislead others. Unless they repent, He said, He would kill both her and her followers with death, meaning eternal damnation. But we read these comforting words for believers like us in verses 24-26:

But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations. o

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