Sermon for Sunday August 18th, 2019, the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

 

The Lessons: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-3, 8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-52

The Text: Isaiah 5:1-7

The Topic: God calls his people to bear the fruit of righteous living.

INTRODUCTION

The following conversation was heard between an old farmer in the country and the new parson.

“Do you belong to the Christian family?” asked the minister.

“No, they live two farms down,” replied the farmer.

“No, no, I mean are you lost?”

“Lost? Why, I’ve lived here thirty years.”

“I mean are you ready for Judgment Day?”

“When is it?” asked the farmer.

“Well, it could be today or tomorrow.”

“Well,” said the farmer, “when you find out for sure when it is, you let me know. My wife will probably want to go both days.” [1]

This illustrates in humorous fashion how someone can be oblivious to the reality of the Day of Judgment and to the concept of facing God’s judgment. In the judgment song of Isaiah 5:1-7, the people of Israel and Judah are made aware of both the enormity of their sins and the divine judgment they will face.

GENRE AND THEME OF ISAIAH 5:1-7

Vineyard songs form the main content of both Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80. The vineyard and the vine were familiar symbols of Israel in the Old Testament. The love song in our lesson from Isaiah 5 has been called by some scholars a judgment song. The connection between the owner of the vineyard and the vineyard itself is pictured in terms of the relationship between a lover and his beloved, a relationship that turns sour on account of bad fruit. The result of this is that the owner takes away the protection of the vineyard from its enemies, and allows it to be ruined. The identification of the vineyard as Israel and Judah and God’s diagnosis of their sinful condition comes almost as a surprise to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah, who have been invited to judge between God and his vineyard.

CONTEXT AND UNIVERSAL APPLICABILITY

It is likely that the historical context of this love song is a prosperous period in the reigns of the kings Uzziah and Jeroboam II, some years before the Syro-Ephraimite War (734 – 732 B.C.). Though it has this eighth century context, this song has acquired a certain timelessness, in that it stands as a warning to God’s people today not to produce the bad fruit of sinful behavior in response to all God’s loving kindness, but to bear the fruit of a righteous life. One can see parallels between this passage and the prophetic warning by St. John the Baptist to the crowds that came to the River Jordan to be baptized by him:

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

 

(Matthew 3:10, KJV)

One can also note a similar warning in our Lord’s own Parable of the Vine and the Branches in John 15, where He identifies himself as the True Vine and His disciples as the branches. In that parable we read the words:

If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

 

(John 15:6, KJV)

Returning to Isaiah 5:1-7, we can conclude that this song has an application that extends far beyond its historical context. It even reminds us of the Garden of Eden, where God was expecting the obedience of Adam and Eve, but found that they had been disobedient.

ISAIAH 5:1-7: THE LOVE SONG ABOUT THE VINEYARD

The vintner’s expectations of his vineyard were high. He looked for it to produce high quality grapes from which good wine could be made. He made every effort to secure a rich harvest, by choosing a fertile hill, fencing his vineyard, removing the stones from the soil in which the vines would grow, and planting the choicest vine, building a watch tower to ensure that neither the vines nor the grapes would be stolen, making a winepress, and finally by patiently pruning the vines, tilling the soil around them, and waiting several years for the vines to bear fruit. But he was disappointed, since the vine yielded only wild, or sour, grapes (Isaiah 5:2).

In the first two verses of this passage, it seems that the prophet is singing to God a song inspired by God, telling the story of what he has done for his vineyard, and his disappointment at the vineyard’s yield of wild grapes. In the third verse, the owner of the vineyard appeals to the men of Judah and Jerusalem to judge between him and his vineyard, as to what should be done, as if they themselves are not the guilty party. In the fourth verse, the owner asks two searching questions: what more could he have done for his vineyard than he did, and why did the vineyard yield wild grapes instead of good quality grapes?

Then the owner of the vineyard announces his decision. He will remove its protecting hedge and wall, and allow it to be trampled on (v.5); it will be left to go to ruin, being neither pruned nor tilled; briars and thorns will overgrow it, and he will command no rain to fall on it (v.6). The command to the clouds to withhold rain from the vineyard is a clue that tells the listener or reader, that this is no ordinary vintner. Then the next verse drives home the interpretation that Israel and Judah were the vineyard that God cherished, and that the fruit God looked for was righteousness and justice, but instead he found bloodshed and heard the cries of the victims. The rest of the chapter outlines various sins that call for God’s judgment and the impending invasions and destruction wrought by Assyrian armies, and centuries later, the Chaldean armies.

APPLICATION AND CONCLUSION

The two questions that God asks of his people (v.4) – what more he could have done for his people than he did, and why did they not yield the fruit of justice and righteousness – are very relevant today. Though Christians live in very different contexts in the world, God still asks what more he could have done for them than he has done, and why they still do not bear the fruit of righteousness and justice in their lives. If we are disobedient instead of obedient, unjust instead of just in our dealings with others and our attitudes, God’s judgment is that we should have known better from our knowledge of God’s word, the Bible, and he gives us over to the effects of our actions and behavior for as long as we persist in them. God expects from us the full harvest of his Holy Spirit, which, according to Galatians 5:22-23, is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against which there is no law.

What fruit will the Lord find when he comes to inspect your life?



[1] Quoted on p. 508, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

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