Two of the most common forms of literature in the bible are songs and prophecies. They come together in the fifth chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah, where God directs the prophet to sing a song. God gives Isaiah the lyrics to this song, and they make up the chapter. The song laments the state of Israel, which is pictured as a vineyard owned by none other than God himself. The metaphor the song develops is this: Israel, as a culture, is God’s vineyard, and was supposed to bear the fruit which God wanted.
The fruits God wanted were the cultural and societal effects of human lives lived in fellowship with God, and guided by his laws. In verse 7, the fruits are listed, and there’s only two: justice, and righteousness. If you study the bible’s teachings on these two very central words, you find that God wanted a society in which his character, as expressed in his directions for human life, found expression in the families and friendships and workplaces and government and worship of the people–in other words, in all of daily life, public and private. And the character of this life was one of justice and righteousness. As I’ve posted on this blog before, you could characterize these words this way:
If God has his way, the world will be a place where God is known and worshiped by everyone, so everywhere you go is full of his life-giving, personal presence, so no one oppresses anyone, everyone has everything they need, everyone is nurtured to health and strength and no one ever conquers or oppresses or invades or steals and everyone is safe and everywhere is safe.
But this is exactly not the kind of culture Israel was creating. The second verse of the chapter says that instead of these “good grapes,” Israel the vineyard was producing “wild grapes,” fruit God wasn’t interested in, and couldn’t use. Verse seven reads:
“For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.“
What did Israel’s culture produce? Oppression, and cries for help. That’s what made this culture foul-tasting,and the vineyard unusable, to God. And then, starting in verse 8, God speaks through the prophet, drops the metaphor, and elaborates on exactly what form these “bad grapes” took in the culture.
I encourage you to work through this list, maybe even with bible in hand. It’s a blow-by-blow cultural critique from God himself. As always, when we read the prophets, we have the opportunity to see how our culture is like the one Israel produced.
So here are the “wild grapes” Israel was growing:
- Selfish use of resources and economic oppression, with the rich living in luxury. (v.8-10)
- Drunkenness and feasting with music, but no knowledge of God. Entertainment, but no worship, devotion, or even basic acknowledgement of God. (v.11-12)
- Active pursuit of sin, while challenging God to show himself. (v.18-19)
- Calling good “evil.” And calling evil “good.” (v.20)
- Thinking they’re really wise. (But not actually checking to see if they are, according to God’s standard.) (v.21)
- Being heroes…but only at getting intoxicated. (v.22)
- Perverting justice, so that those with money get their way at the expense of those who don’t have means. (v.23)
And if you keep reading, you see the result of all these situations…God’s judgment (v.24-30).
Friends, let’s keep reading, praying, and living our daily lives out of the things we see in the scriptures. Let’s always be moved to be engaged in spreading God’s message. The world kicks up a lot of dust, and it’s easy to get disoriented, but the word of God will be our light in murky places. It will keep our heads on straight, and keep us alert to what is really going on.