What Makes a Good Investment?
If we invest in a house, for example, we are apt to take care of it, make improvements, do repairs, paint it and shingle it. One day we may need to sell this house, and we expect to at least cover our original investment, and hopefully make something of a profit.
What about people as investments?
Or more to the point, how would you and I invest in people, and what dividends do we—at some level—hope will come from that investment? Parents of children come immediately to mind, teachers of their students, coaches of their teams or directors of their orchestras, friends and lovers of each other.
And what dividends might God desire of us, in whom God has invested immense resources?
God has given every believer God’s own life to live within us. God has made the way clear for each of us to be made new, our sins forgiven, our natures made pure and holy by God. The Lord has given us every spiritual blessing, and we are being led forward by the Lord’s Holy Spirit into new life, our minds opened to new ways of understanding, our hearts flooded with God’s love, God’s peace, our inner selves filled with God’s power and vitality.
When you and I are too weak to even pray, God’s Spirit intercedes for us. The Lord is working all things together for our good and God’s glory, and the Lord has permanently joined us with God, never to be separated.
So, are we parlaying all that into fruitful living? Are we a good investment for God?
God’s Beloved Vineyard
Remember that the book of Isaiah is a collection of his memoirs, sermons, and oracles over the course of his sixty-year career. We do not know what the setting was for this song, but it may have been during the Feast of Tabernacles, following the grape harvest, when people lived out in the fields in huts to commemorate the time when God took care of them in the desert.
In Hebrew, this song is evidently a literary masterpiece, something everyone in Isaiah’s time would have acknowledged as a classically beautiful piece. Music adds a kind of depth to a message that brings it straight into the heart. So imagine Isaiah, or maybe musicians he had hired, reaching over for a harp or lyre and pulling his ensemble around him. As the crowd hushes, Isaiah begins to sing this lovely song, so appropriate to the season, about a rich vineyard, lovingly cared for, and the bountiful harvest sure to come.
Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:Isaiah 5:1 (NRSV)
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
In Isaiah’s song, the vineyard owner has done everything in his power to bring his vines to full fruit.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,Isaiah 5:2 (NRSV)
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes . . .
The vineyard itself was perfectly located on a very fertile hill. The owner aerated the soil, took out all the stones, used only the choicest vines, and even put in a watchtower, with sentinels to keep watch night and day, making sure nothing would interfere with the vines’ growth.
In anticipation of a rich harvest, the owner hewed out a wine vat from the living rock of the hill.
And at first this was a wonderful song for the people, thinking about how much God loved them, and how well the Lord cared for them. God had blessed Israel with so very much:
- The patriarchs
- Moses and the Law
- The priests and sacrifices
- The Promised Land
- The prophets
- The kingly line of David
- The promise of Messiah
- God’s Own Presence, portrayed in the pillar of fire and cloud
- The tabernacle, and later the temple.
Israel was God’s covenant people.
The parallel was to show Israel where they stood with God. Isaiah was helping the people to understand why God’s anticipation of fruitfulness in them was reasonable, and also to explain what was coming.
God’s Unfruitful Vineyard
Because in the last line of this song the specially blessed vineyard only yielded up wild grapes—in fact the Hebrew here indicates rancid, stinking grapes.
Judge Between Owner and Vineyard
Isaiah spoke for God when he asked the people to judge between the owner of the vineyard, and the vineyard itself:
And now, inhabitants of JerusalemIsaiah 5:3-4 (NRSV)
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
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?
Who was at fault for this shocking result?
Had not God invested every loving care with patient grace and rich resources?
What more could God do?
Actually, as any farmer knew, this was not a rhetorical question.
Uproot the Unfruitful Vineyard
The only thing to be done now was to tear it all out and start over, the vines had gone bad somehow.
And now I will tell youIsaiah 5:5-6 (NRSV)
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.
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.
- The hedge of protection would be removed, and animals would come in and graze on the rich hillside.
- The watchtower would get trampled down by the wildlife.
- The vineyard owner would no longer work the soil, or tend the vines.
In fact, it is at this point that it becomes clear Isaiah’s song was a parable about the Lord and God’s people, because, at the end of Isaiah’s response only God could command the clouds to stop raining.
Reject the Rotten Fruit
The wild grapes, or more appropriately, the rancid grapes were a metaphor for Judah’s lack of moral virtue and purity.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hostsIsaiah 5:7 (NRSV)
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
There is a play on words, here. God looked for justice, mishpat but he found only mispach bloodshed. He looked for righteousness, tsedeqah but instead heard tse’aqah cries of distress.
How must Isaiah’s audience have felt about that?
The Lord looked for fruitfulness in God’s people but instead the Lord found rottenness. God looked for justice and righteousness but instead found the sins that Isaiah listed, with the six woes to follow.
The Fruit of Righteousness
Righteousness is both an inner and an outer quality. Righteousness describes being right with God, and also refers to the upright moral conduct that reflects God’s word and way. God’s grace transforms every person who is willing to be transformed, and that transformation—expressed in our spirits and lives—is seen in righteousness.
It was right for God to look for fruit from this vineyard, and it is right for the Lord to look for the same evidence of God’s grace in your life and mine today.
God provides all that is needed to live fruitful lives
But what is God looking for, though, exactly?
Jesus may have had this passage in mind when He described Himself as the true vine, and every disciple as a branch abiding in Him. Think of the whole vine—including the branches and the fruit—as one whole, as Jesus Himself, and you and I who are in the vine are a part of that whole.
The righteousness God is looking for is lives lived as the incarnation of Christ.