Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Isaiah 5

Found my notes at last! Stuffed into Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper

(1-2) preamble, the story of the vineyard

(3-7) the lawcourt and threat of punishment / (7) summary of charges

(8-23) SIX WOES

(8) – the charge of “joining field to field”

(11) – the charge of luxury

(18) – the charge of deceit and mocking God

(20) – the charge of moral reversals

(21) – the charge of self-assurance

(22) – the charge of bad, drunken judges

(24-25) the LORD will judge those who have rejected him and his justice

(26-30) the LORD will call in foreign armies to complete the judgement

The message of judgement continues. Here in chapter 5 it is unremitting. The setting is the lawcourt, a three-party system – plaintiff, defendant and judge. In this scenario YHWH ironically calls upon the men of Judah (3) to be the judge between himself as plaintiff and his vineyard (the whole people). Under this system someone was always guilty (either of the crime in question or of making a false accusation) and someone was always innocent. The system is outlined when Israel’s own corrupt judges are lambasted in verse 23 – there are the guilty (acquitted) and the innocent (denied justice).

This calls to mind another Hebrew lawcourt in Scripture, Romans 1-3. In that setting God is both judge and plaintiff, and humans (both Jew and Gentile) are the defendant. One of Paul’s concerns there is to undermine the smugness of the Jew who presumes himself to be plaintiff against the Gentile with the Law as his witness (esp. Rom 2:17ff.). But the overall scenario is there to face up to the question, how can God justiy the unjust? (Rom 4:5) Only by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ – if the wicked are to be justified, someone else must be punished on their behalf (esp. Rom 3:21-26).

The WOES, the charges against the people here in Isaiah 5 are not pleasant reading…

8-10 The Jubilee principle is broken, and the greedy rich paint themselves into a corner that they fondly imagine gives them security. Like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:13-21) they are all alone, not even enjoying abundant life now despite their great riches and still storingup judgement for themselves and the removal of those riches.

11-17 Alcohol comes in with arrogance: both the workaholic rich and the lazy rich turn to drugs and alcohol today. God’s justice towards them exalts him – of course it does, for he is proved just by his judgement. Deep down we cry out for judgement, we need it…

18-19 Denial of God’s immanence enables them to support their own dodgy behaviour

20 False prophets always call evil good and good evil, for they are usually on the side of the oppressor

21 Pride, and pretending to deserve congratulation for their injustice simply because it has rendered them materially wealthy

22-25 Wine is back! Reminds us of the vineyard setting, and the abuse of something good. This leads to the perversion of justice elsewhere, too, “and the rest is history” (AMGD).

This passage is of course developed by Jesus in his tussle with the Pharisees in Matthew 21, the Parable of the Tenants. [The Parable of the Two Sons that precedes it also recalls some of these vineyard themes.] Here is an outline of some similarities…

Isaiah 5

Matthew 21, 23 & 24

1-2 Story of the Vineyard (version 1)

3-6 Story of the Vineyard (version 2)

21:28-32 First Parable of the Vineyard (Sons)

33-41 Second Parable of the Vineyard (Tenants)

5-7 summary and promise of judgement

42-46 summary and promise of judgement

8-23 WOES against people, especially their leaders

23:1-39 WOES against the Pharisees (leaders) including a coda about the people

24 Judgement on Judah through foreign invasion (Assyria, Babylon)

24:1-51 Judgement on Israel (and in AD70 there was an unprecedented foreign devastation)