Stroll through Scripture for Sunday, November 19, 2023 – Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5
Isaiah is considered to be one of the most important books in all of Scripture. It is the book most quoted in the New Testament and by especially by Jesus when he is quoting Scripture. Isaiah is a complex and complicated book for a multitude of reasons. First, there are multiple authors. This is because the book was compiled over the course of a couple of centuries. Second, Isaiah tells the story of God’s people before, during, and after the exile to Babylon – one of the most pivotal times in Israel’s history. Third, it is a book loaded with geopolitics, theology, words of judgement and words of comfort and hope. There are sections of the book that are some of the most well-known passages in Scripture and for good reason.
The Narrative Lectionary has chosen to give us two passages from what is called First Isaiah – that portion of the book written before the Babylonian exile. Isaiah is focused on the southern kingdom of Judah and conveys God’s words in a type of song. The author is using a vineyard as the metaphor to talk about the nation. Vineyards are supposed to produce grapes that are good for making wine – an important staple in the region since wine was safer to drink than water. Wine was a used in celebration and meal. Wine was important to the economy of the country as well, being a major export, and thus producing wealth.
Chapter 5 gives us a song about a beautiful vineyard that has been cared for and nurtured, with defenses built around it, all with the expectation of a great harvest and yield. Vineyards are supposed to produce fruit. The vineyard is equated with Jerusalem, and really the whole of the Southern kingdom of Judah. What has the kingdom produced? A yield of good fruit? Or sour and bitter grapes? Let’s just say that God makes it clear that they aren’t producing what God expected them to produce. And so what is God’s plan? To remove the protections around the vineyard (the kingdom) and allow it to be trampled and destroyed by outside invaders. This is the consequence. “He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Isaiah 5:7).
Chapter 11 gives us a familiar passage that we normally hear in Advent – “A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse…” (Isaiah 11:1). This section of Scripture has God making a promise for after Israel and Judah have been trampled by surrounding empires. Think of Chapters 5-10 as a sort of holy pruning that is being talked about. In Chapter 10, verses 20-34, God talks about the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob. It’s time to start over. And what will it look like? Chapter 11 tells us that a new messianic king, from the line of David will rise up, grow and flourish. Verses 1-5 tell us of how wonderful, and just, and righteous the new king will be. This will be king that will lead the people into the expectations that had been set before – producing good fruit in the vineyard of God’s people.
For further reflection: As Americans we often focus on individualism, and individual piety. But Isaiah has a different focus – a communal focus. Which is why justice and righteousness are emphasized. What does it mean to have justice and righteousness in the land? And how do we contribute to those things being firmly planted and maintained as opposed to bloodshed and the cry of those made to suffer injustice as Isaiah talks about?