The prophet Isaiah wrote down the words of a song. A beautiful song with a deep and meaningful message. It is about One he calls “the one I love” or “my beloved” and it is about that One’s vineyard. At first the identity of the characters is not evident, but gradually the identities and meaning are revealed and it is shocking! He sings:
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit. (Isaiah 5:1-2)
What a shocking thing. All that labour of love to choose the best fertile land, full of hope that one day it would produce sweet luscious grapes. With that in mind, he dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. Then, after all his years of painstaking effort to produce the right environment for growth and fruitfulness, he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. How incredibly disappointing!
So, who are the characters of this story? The imagery of the vine appears way back in Genesis when Jacob blesses his son Joseph and says:
Joseph is a fruitful vine,
a fruitful vine near a spring,
whose branches climb over a wall. (Genesis 49:22)
The Isaiah song continues:
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Isaiah 5:4, 7)
As we turn to today’s Psalm, it is also clear. We read:
8 You [God] transplanted a vine from Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it,
and it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches.
11 Its branches reached as far as the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River. (Psalm 80:8-11)
So, the vine imagery concerned Israel, the people of God, whom God had lovingly planted into the land of Canaan. That means that the identity of Isaiah’s beloved, the divine farmer, is God himself.
And yet that shocking truth – it yielded only bad fruit!
So, the result was inevitable as Isaiah had mentioned in his song:
Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.” (Isaiah 5:5-6)
And as we read Psalm 80, we find that is what the psalmist is crying out to God concerning:
16 Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
at your rebuke your people perish.
In fact, recognizing God’s judgement, he asks God:
4 How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smoulder
against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours,
and our enemies mock us.
It seems that the psalmist here is reminding God that Israel is still His vine, planted by Him, and so pleads for restoration, despite their rebellion, because he knows that God is faithful and compassionate and he also knows that “He is not the one to begin a great work and lose interest in it.” (# 29)
And so, he prays:
14 Return to us, God Almighty!
Look down from heaven and see!
Watch over this vine,
15 the root your right hand has planted,
the son you have raised up for yourself.
And cries out to his God, the divine farmer to,
19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
Despite how bad things were between him and God, this psalm teaches us that “God, it seems, prefers an excess of boldness in prayer to an excess of caution, as long as the boldness is something more than loquacity (Eccles. 5:2; Matt. 6:7). We come to him as sons, not as applicants. (#29)
Father, thank you for your love and compassion and that you don’t just give up on us when we fail. Thank you that you don’t lose interest in us, ever! Help us to boldly and confidently pray to you, not with mere words but from our hearts. Amen.