Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Isaiah 5: 3-5

“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between Me and My vineyard.
“What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes 
did it produce worthless ones?
“So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.

As God is telling His story in Isaiah, Chapter 5, He turns to His listeners and says, in verse 3, "And now...," what do you think the ending should be?" We have read in the first two verses of this chapter of this beautiful vineyard, established and cared for with the greatest of skill and love. But the plot in the story turns to "sour grapes." And what is the ending? Isaiah left the decision to the "inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah." (vs. 3)

Will you follow God or will you follow the "vineyard," the chosen people of God who have turned away and against Him? "Judge," discern, reason, go figure, given the information provided, how this story could end any way but how God spells it out in verse 5. In rhetorical questions, really, God asks, "What more was there to do....?" Had He not provided for everything and shown incredible grace to His people, even in their waywardness? Psalm 80, once again, appears as a cross-reference:

"You removed a vine from Egypt;
You drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground before it,
And it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shadow,
And the cedars of God with its boughs.
It was sending out its branches to the sea
And its shoots to the River."
--Psalm 80: 8-11

It should have been a fabulously fruitful grape. But there was no fruit worth picking! Sour, stinking, worthless, nothing of a grape.

It will not be the only time Judah and Jerusalem are compared with a vineyard in Scripture. As Jesus shares what we know as "the parable of the landowner," He talks with his critics about the end that faces the vine-grower who selfishly and at no cost whatsoever tends his vineyard.

"'Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?' They said to Him, 'He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.'"
--Matthew 21:40-41

What the chief priests and Pharisees determined to be the ending of Jesus' story is the same conclusion that God reaches with Judah and Jerusalem. And, what we learn over time is that this storyline plays out in Israel over and over throughout history into modern times. From my study Bible, "As punishment for her unfruitfulness, Israel became desolate and accessible to any nation wishing to invade her, such as happened in the Babylonian invasion of 586 B.C., and will happen repeatedly until her national repentance at the second coming of the Messiah."

The hedge of protection has come down and the walls of Jerusalem next, says the Lord in verse 5. With this calamity comes the revealed vulnerability of a nation that will not receive God's gracious protection in the manner in which it had known it until a time yet to come.

"Why have You broken down its hedges, so that all who pass that way pick its fruit? A boar from the forest eats it away and whatever moves in the field feeds on it."
--Psalm 80: 12 and 13

When the chosen vineyard yielded bad fruit, something had to change. The "boar from the forest" might well be King Nebuchadnezzar, who came in to devour Judah, selecting his kinsman Zedekiah to rule as the Babylonian captivity began. Even in this tumultuous time, as God tried to speak to Judah, the people seemed to be lost, pondering God's question from Isaiah 5:3, looking back and forth at their choices: Him or the vineyard? Him or the vineyard?

"The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy.... Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles.
--II Chronicles 36: 15-16 and 19 (italics mine)

Isaiah spoke to a people who did not hear him. How much, I'm sure, he was hoping to be the "remedy" of which II Chronicles speaks. Isaiah would be told a great deal more by God, and we will soon read of his calling by God in Chapter 6. We know that more is to come from Isaiah on the true Remedy. But His message would be one that would leave the Jewish nation continuing not to hear, yet open the way for you and me.

"Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it."
--Matthew 21:43

Official study break! Enjoy a peace-filled week....'Til Wednesday in 2 weeks!


* * *

In 2 weeks: Isaiah 5: 6 and 7

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Isaiah 5: 1 and 2

Isaiah 5:1-2

Parable of the Vineyard

1 Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones.

When I was looking at the upcoming weeks' schedule for study a few weeks back, I noticed the title of the beginning of Isaiah Chapter 5: "Parable of the Vineyard." My first thought was, "A parable? In the Old Testament? A prophet's words?" Very excited! 

We hear 'parable' and we think Jesus. I do, anyway. In some of His teaching, Jesus used these stories, these metaphors, to explain concepts and truths he was trying to teach. Though commonplace language and expressions were used, still, not everyone understood them. Even now, culturally displaced as we are in 2012, we may not understand them without helpful resources. But for those Jesus was trying to reach, parables explained a mighty bit. 

In the Greek, the word literally means "a throwing beside," from para- "alongside" + bole "a throwing, casting, beam, ray," related to ballein "to throw." [] Jesus did not originate the parable. He used it as an effective teaching tool, as it was often used by others in that day and in the days before Jesus arrived. It should not surprise us, given what we know of Isaiah's creative writing, that God would use this approach through him in this prophecy. Not surprising, either, that Isaiah would set his parable around a vineyard, as the growing of grapes and the production of wine would be something the entire nation of Israel would know something about.

As we begin with verse 1, Isaiah is the one singing. The keeper of the vineyard--if not given away by the NASB's use of 'His' in verse 1--is clearly apparent by the end of verse 7 as "the Lord," meaning Jesus. This is a song about the Lord "touching his vineyard," as the King James Version reads. What is the vineyard?

"You removed a vine from Egypt;
You drove out the nations and planted it."
--Psalm 80:8

God's chosen people--"the vineyard"--removed from the land of bondage in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, Israel. The vineyard was planted on "a fertile hill" or a "fruitful hill," in other translations, which, in the margin notes is translated as "a horn, the son of fatness." In the Hebrew, 'horn' carries with it the idea of being a projection, as if sound coming from a horn or the end of the horn itself, which projects out to distribute the sound. "Fatness" or oil denotes the idea of richness. God's people were planted in a place of blessing out of "the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus," as Paul would later write in an epistle to the Ephesians (2:7). This planting was intended to be a growth opportunity, projecting the Word of God and His holiness from this rich beginning. (And I love the fact that 'grapes' in the Hebrew comes from an unused root meaning to bear fruit [Strong's]. More on this in a moment.)

Continuing with verse 2, the care taken by Lord in the planting of this vineyard is most notable. He prepared this soil with great intent, digging and removing stones that might otherwise cause the roots not to take hold. "He built a tower in the middle of it," implying a place of protection and watchfulness over the vineyard. He placed a wine vat, or winepress, in the vineyard. This aspect of the vineyard not only speaks to the fruit being put to good use but the idea of the firstfruits being returned to God as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. If those listening to Isaiah were led to think of their forefathers, these words would have spoken to them of a God who truly was their Beloved...once.

“Yet I planted you a choice vine,
A completely faithful seed.
How then have you turned yourself before Me
Into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine?"
--Jeremiah 2:21

"...The choicest vine" Isaiah uses in verse 2 to speak of the chosen people of God. A vine to yield the best possible, ripest, most delicious grape. "He planted it with the choicest vine, set up a pure religion among them, gave them a most excellent law, instituted ordinances very proper for the keeping up of their acquaintance with God," explains Matthew Henry in his commentary. What God had intended to be a vine that would grow, be fruitful and project His Kingdom out into the world had become, in Jeremiah's words, a "degenerate shoot." In Isaiah's words, "only worthless ones [grapes]," meaning, in Hebrew, "stinking or worthless things; poison-berries." [Strong's] Now you know where "sour grapes" comes from.

"For their vine is from the vine of Sodom,
And from the fields of Gomorrah;
Their grapes are grapes of poison,
Their clusters, bitter.
'Their wine is the venom of serpents,
And the deadly poison of cobras....'"
--Deuteronomy 32: 32 and 33

"This parable was put into a song that it might be the more moving and affecting, might be the more easily learned and exactly remembered, and the better transmitted to posterity; and it is an exposition of the song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-47), showing that what he then foretold was now fulfilled."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

God's expectation for His Son's vineyard was that it "produce good grapes" (vs. 2)--that it bear good fruit. It didn't happen! Everything was established to be just so, perfect conditions for growth, for fruitfulness, for the best kind of prosperity and success. Yet, it was not to be. As if to invoke the fall of mankind in the garden again, the vineyard that is God's people, Israel--Israel and Judah--would take matters into their own hands, cultivating success of their own will and following other gods. They did not heed the warning of Moses--the end of the song mentioned above: "Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life." (Deuteronomy 32: 45-47a)

As I write today, so many situations and thoughts of others come to mind. My church is in the midst of making decisions concerning its denominational affiliation. There are many issues and questions--unresolved issues of the past and questions we may have never explored answers to thoroughly enough, so that we are questioning our convictions. What is the church? What do we really believe? What would God have us do? How did we get here and where are we going? As overwhelming as it has been to address big questions with many worldviews, how marvelous an opportunity to do just that?! Look at that word in Deuteronomy: "For it is not an idle word for you...." God's Word is "living and active," says Hebrews 4:12. It continues to speak, guide, help in discernment--and, yes, to warn.

Where have we been planted? What kinds of "grapes" are we producing? Whose expectations are the most important to satisfy? Do we believe that the Lord is our caretaker and that He continues to be the watchtower of our vineyard, the clearer of stones from our roots? Do we recognize that our being grafted into the True Vine is not a position of idle connection but is a lifeline to growth, maturity and prosperity? Eternal fruitfulness? Do we believe and trust that He can "build us back" into a thriving "choice vine" on a "fertile hill" if we yield in all obedience and love to the One who planted us?

"A bare profession, though ever so green, will not serve: there must be more than buds and blossoms. Good purposes and good beginnings are good things, but not enough; there must be fruit, a good heart and a good life, vineyard fruit, thoughts and affections, words and actions, agreeable to the Spirit, which is the fatness of the vineyard (Gal. 5:22, 23) [fruit of the Spirit passage], answerable to the ordinances, which are the dressings of the vineyard, acceptable to God, the Lord of the vineyard, and fruit according to the season."
--Matthew Henry (italics his)

 More from this rich parable....'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 5: 3-5

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Isaiah 4: 4-6

When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion 
and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, 
by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning,
5 then the Lord will create over the whole area of Mount Zion 
and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, 
and the brightness of a flaming fire by night;  
for over all the glory will be a canopy.
There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, 
and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.

With the close of Chapter 4 comes the return of a picture of God that should have spoken volumes to His people, as Isaiah speaks of what the Jews coined the "Shekinah"--a visible presence of the glory of God in their midst. More on this shortly, because His holy glory cannot be present in the presence of sin, which is where we begin with verse 4.

Verses 4 and 5 are a "when...then" construction, as opposed to an "if...then." There will be a time when the Lord will clean up, if you will. As we discussed here last week, sin cannot exist with true holiness. This is why we will always be sinners in our fallen world. Our steps toward true holiness will never be enough to fulfill what God has established as holy. That should not stop us from trying to be Christlike. We just need to realize that every step He brings us in that direction will be accompanied by time on our knees in humility, recognizing, as did Christ, that equality with God is not something to be grasped. (Philippians 2:6)

The Lord will cleanse Judah of its filth (moral and otherwise) as well as its penchant for violence. Bloodshed was common in Judah under its evil kings, notably--and just prior to the nation's Babylonian captivity--under the rule of King Manasseh, who reinstated all of the evil ways his father, "good" King Hezekiah, had abolished. The Day of the Lord will bring bloodshed as well. But, in the time of a revived Zion, in the days of the remnant that would be eternally saved, God would take all of that away through judgment and burning. "Through the process of refining fire, consuming the faithless and purifying the faithful, God will produce a holy Zion." (Reformation Study Bible)

Note the dichotomy, looking at verse 5, as Isaiah moves from speaking of fire as a destructive, yet purifying force to fire as the protective, guiding presence of God Himself. Once the table has been set, God may come to it. Isaiah says He will return to His people in the form He took as in the days of old, leading them out of bondage in Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

"The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people."
--Exodus 13: 21 and 22

As I said up top, the Jews would come to refer to this presence of the glory of God with them as the Shekinah. ("That which dwells," in the Hebrew. --International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) Ezekiel, in Chapter 43, reveals his own encounter with the Shekinah, through a vision. "And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory." (43: 2b) Through the wilderness adventure, as recounted in Numbers, the cloud and pillar would appear over the tabernacle--home of the very word of God. When the cloud or pillar moved, so would the people. Whether days or weeks, the people watched and honored the God who led them. These are the days that are coming back! 

"...all the glory will be a canopy," (vs. 5) and, "There will be a shelter...." (vs. 6) The King James Version uses 'defence' for canopy, meaning "chamber or closet," and 'tabernacle' for shelter, meaning "hope, refuge, place of refuge, shelter, trust." [all references, Strong's] That word shelter also more literally means "hiding place," a metaphor Isaiah will use more than once in his prophecy.

"You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance."
--Psalm 32:7

Not only will the presence of God be literal, but His presence of safety and protection will be also. For a nation on the verge of captivity, there remains hope. For souls in the last days on the verge of being lost, there is a "hiding place" and a hope from which there is deliverance.

"That God will protect his church, and all that belong to it (Isa. 4:5, 6); when they are purified and reformed they shall no longer lie exposed, but God will take a particular care of them. Those that are sanctified are well fortified; for God will be to them a guide and a guard."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Concluding today with a theme that we can pick up in a word in verse 5: create. It is important to note, also, the subject that goes with that verb: the Lord. The Lord creates. As has been said before, Judah was not in a position to save itself from itself. God is going to save His people from their sins. To do that, He has to bring about renewal and refinement to create holiness. The Lord washes away and purges that which makes people unholy. He causes His presence to be made known once conditions are right for Him to appear. He brings the shelter, the refuge, the protection, the hope and the glory. "Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves...." (from Psalm 100:3)

We can pray for His presence. We can pray for His protection. We can pray for hope. We can pray for revival. We can pray for the return of His glory. What we need to accept is that we cannot make these things happen by our own will! We need to honor Him as the Creator of all, honoring His word as the Holy Bible, and the Holy Spirit as our Help and our "hiding place" in a fallen world. "For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting
and His faithfulness to all generations." (Psalm 100:5)

"Reformation-work is God’s work; if any thing be done to purpose in it, it is his doing. But how? By the judgment of his providence the sinners were destroyed and consumed; but it is by the Spirit of his grace that they are reformed and converted. This is the work that is done, not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts (Zech. 4:6), working both upon the sinners themselves that are to be reformed and upon magistrates, ministers, and others that are to be employed as instruments of reformation."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

The "Parable of the Vineyard" ....'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 5: 1 and 2

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).