This love-song or parable is a fine example of the freedom and creativity of the prophet. We have already heard several oracles of judgment against the unfaithful people, but now the prophet gets their attention in a new way. Everyone is attracted to a ballad singer. Everyone is willing to listen to a love-song. But this one springs a trap, not unlike that of Nathan's equally creative parable of the wicked rich man who stole the poor man's beloved sheep (2 Samuel 12:1-12). In condemning the arrogance of the rich man, David condemns himself, just as the inhabitants of Jerusalem now condemn themselves in sharing the disappointment of the vineyard owner whose hard work went for nothing. Isaiah shows himself to be a brilliant and effective preacher.
The vineyard was a common image for the people of God (see especially Isaiah 27:2-6; Psalm 80:8-16; Jeremiah 2:21-22, this last text mirroring several themes found also in Isaiah). Jesus too used the vineyard metaphor in several of his parables about the kingdom of God (Matthew 20:1-16; 21:28-31; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 13:6-9). The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-9) seems deliberately to play off of this text in Isaiah.
Another example of the prophet's effective use of poetry comes with the plays on words at the end of this passage. God expects justice (Hebrew mishpat) but gets bloodshed (mispach); God expects righteousness (tsedaqah) but got a cry of violence (tse'aqah).
5Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011