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The people’s misuse of “the vineyard” meant that they were not using it according to the principles of God’s law, which were their terms of agreement at the beginning. Isaiah then issues six “woes,” by which he condemned the wickedness of the nation for allowing sin to oppress the common people.
Woe #1 against Jubilee Violations
Isaiah 5:8 says,
8 Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, until there is no more room, so that you have to live alone in the midst of the land.
This was directed at the wealthy and powerful men of Judah who had foreclosed upon the inheritance of the poor. It implies that they had failed to keep their Jubilees, where every family’s land would return to them ever 49 years (Leviticus 25:10, 13). The law of Jubilee was a safeguard against perpetual debt and the loss of one’s inheritance in the land.
A growing number of Judahites had to “live alone” because of the breakup of the family. The family inheritance provided space for the family to work together, each person having assigned duties according to their abilities. The family structure, held together by their family inheritance in the land, was meant to provide stability to the nation.
The divine judgment for violating these principles is seen in Isaiah 5:9, 10,
9 In my ears the Lord of hosts has sworn, “Surely, many houses shall become desolate, even great and fine ones, without occupants. 10 For ten acres [tsemed] of vineyard will yield only a bath of wine, and a homer of seed will yield but an ephah of grain.”
The prophet had heard the oath sworn by the Lord of hosts “in my ears,” he says. When God swears an oath, it will surely be fulfilled. It is a settled verdict from the divine court. It may yet be delayed through repentance, as we see with Judah, when the Assyrian army failed to capture Jerusalem and the captivity was delayed another century. Nonetheless it would surely come to pass in the end.
Those great houses and mansions, which the rich and powerful had built for themselves, would be unoccupied, because they would either be dead or sent into exile. The reason for such desolation is the land’s inability to produce fruit (wine and grain). Here is a subtle reminder of the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7, where the issue was Judah’s lack of proper fruit. As we have seen, this was a spiritual problem set forth in a farming parable.
A bath was about six English gallons. Ten acres of grapevines should have produced far more than just six gallons of wine. The Hebrew word tsemed literally means “a yoke (pair) of oxen,” and by extension it referred to the amount of land that a pair of oxen could plow in a day. This too was how an acre was measured during the Middle Ages.
Likewise, the prophet says, “a homer of seed will yield but an ephah of grain.” There were three basic measures of capacity in the Hebrew culture: omer, ephah, and homer. An omer is a small measure of grain; an ephah is ten omers, and a homer is ten ephahs or 100 omers. The measures go by multiples of ten.
So the prophet was telling us that if they were to plant a homer of seed, they will harvest just one-tenth of what they had planted by the law of diminishing returns. Normally, one would expect to receive 30-fold, 60-fold, or even 100-fold from one’s labor (Matthew 13:8).
All of this shows the deeper meaning of Judah’s lack of fruit. Their refusal to implement God’s law resulted in a severe shortage of the fruit of the Spirit that God required and which was the purpose of His labor at creation itself.
Woe #2 against too much Partying
Isaiah 5:11, 12 says,
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! 12 Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; but they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor do they consider the work of His hands.
This is not merely a condemnation of alcoholics. It is a condemnation against those prefer parties and frivolous pleasure-seeking to studying and learning about God and His nature. The prophet considered their parties to be a waste of valuable time caused by men’s lack of proper priorities in life. The judgment of God is then set forth in Isaiah 5:13-17. Verse 13 says,
13 Therefore My people go into exile [gala] for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst.
The prophet uses the word gala, “to be carried away, or exiled” with a double meaning. On the surface, it means that the people would be carried away by the Assyrians shortly. But meanwhile, the people were getting “carried away” by their frivolous pursuit of fun. Being carried away with parties resulted in their lack of knowledge of God and what He had done in Israel’s history.
Our English word gala, means “a festive celebration.” It is derived from the French word gale and galer, “pleasure, merrymaking,” but it is one of thousands of English words originally derived from the Hebrew language.
The judgment of God, then, is rendered in Isaiah 5:14, 15,
14 Therefore Sheol [the grave] has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure; and Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it. 15 So the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased, the eyes of the proud also will be abased.
The whole nation, great and small, was to suffer by being “humbled” and “abased.” Sheol, the pit or the grave, was pictured as a python, which enlarges its throat to swallow its prey whole. In this case, to be “abased” (shafel) is to be brought low or cast down (into the pit of Sheol), even as python swallows its prey.
Isaiah 5:16, 17 concludes,
16 But the Lord of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. 17 Then the lambs will graze as in their pasture, and strangers will eat in the waste places of the wealthy.
The abasement of the sinners stand in contrast to God’s exaltation (gabbah, “to be lofty, high”). His judgments (mishpat) are His verdicts as He judges the nations and the people. All of His judgments will be vindicated as acts of righteousness (tsedeqah). So Revelation 15:3, 4 says,
3 … Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy, for all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.
The prophet’s concern is that when God brings judgment the people usually think that God is abusing them unjustly. They misunderstand because of their lack of knowledge. Not knowing the ways of God or the divine plan, they think, in their arrogance, that they are their own masters. They do not recognize that the Creator owns what He creates and has the right to set the standard of behavior according to His own righteous nature, as expressed in His law.
The judgment is that lambs will eat grass in what is left of their houses, and foreigners will use its ruins for shade when they have lunch.
Woe #3 against Cynicism
Isaiah 5:18, 19 says,
18 Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes; 19 who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come to pass, that we may know it.”
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says this:
18, 19. Guilty of cynical materialism. Like idol worshipers drawing the cart of a great idol in festal procession, these backslidden people dragged along their idol of iniquity, challenging the Holy One of Israel, as if he were powerless to intervene in human history and exercise His sovereignty.
In other words, to “drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood” was to parade an idol (“iniquity”) along the streets of Jerusalem. Their cynicism was based on God’s apparent failure to vindicate Himself or to manifest Himself in the earth. The prophets had foretold many things, which had not yet come to pass. Hence, the word of the prophets carried no weight with them.
So when Isaiah objected to their idolatry, the people said, in effect, If your God is the true God, then let Him hurry up and fulfill His word so we can see and believe. We read of similar people in 2 Peter 3:3, 4,
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their own mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”
Peter answers in 2 Peter 3:8, 9,
8 … with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Time is the main ingredient to patience. God’s patience is based on His immortality; man’s impatience is based on his mortal perspective. Man therefore lacks time and demands to see everything immediately. But God is the One who sets the policy, and men’s cynicism and childish impatience will not make Him follow their childish example.
Someone has to be the adult around here.