The Lord had invested deeply in God’s vineyard, and yet instead of a rich harvest, the vineyard yielded rancid grapes. As every farmer knew, the only recourse at this point was to plow the vineyard under and start over.

God’s Heart Over Sin

Isaiah spoke of God’s anger, but he began with God’s deep sorrow, with a Hebrew word, הוֺי | hôy, that is translated as ah!, alas!, ha!, ho!, O!, woe! It is meant as a cry of pain, and of lament. So, instead of hearing each of these indictments as an angry pointed finger, let us listen to them as a grief-stricken parent might say them, devastated over the effects of sin in their child.

First Sorrow: Abuse of Wealth

Ah, you who join house to house,
    who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
    and you are left to live alone
    in the midst of the land!

Isaiah 5:8 (NRSV)

These were affluent times.

But the rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor, in complete disregard of God and God’s law.

In order to understand what exactly God was grieving over, we need to go back to the Torah, to the Book of Leviticus.

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them:

Sabbath for the Land

When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord.

Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord:

– you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.

– You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest

– or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine:

it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.

You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

Leviticus 25:1-7 (NRSV)
Photo by Claudio Testa on Unsplash

The Law of Jubilee

This was the outline for God’s law of Sabbath rest for the land itself. Then, beginning in Leviticus 25:8-12, God instituted the law of Jubilee.

In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another.

You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely. The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely.

Leviticus 25:13-14, 17-19 (NRSV)

God had given each family a farm site to call their own as their inheritance in the Promised Land, which they were entitled to forever!

The Earth is the Lord’s

Following this section were all kinds of ways the land could be redeemed until the next Jubilee. But the underlying point of the entire body of law concerning the Jubilee was this:

All of Israel, all of earth itself, was all God’s land to give as God pleased.

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine;

with me you are but aliens and tenants

Leviticus 25:23 (NRSV)
Wanderings in the desert map | By Michel van Lochom – The National Library of Israel Collections, Public Domain

Abundance comes from God, not our own efforts.

The people had not gotten this land on their own, it was a gift from God. If the people obeyed God’s law, their land would be fruitful.

A wise person views wealth as God’s resources to be invested in what pleases God and furthers God’s purposes.

But instead the people allowed greed to rule them, selfishness and self-serving, disregarding the needs of those around them who had less. Therefore,

The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
Surely many houses shall be desolate,
    large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
    and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah.

Isaiah 5:9-10 (NRSV)

The land would be left almost barren.

Second Sorrow: Hedonism

Ah, you who rise early in the morning
    in pursuit of strong drink,
who linger in the evening
    to be inflamed by wine,
whose feasts consist of lyre and harp,
    tambourine and flute and wine,
but who do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
    or see the work of his hands!

Isaiah 5:11-12 (NRSV)
Pierre Olivier Joseph Coomans, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Accompanying the abuses of their prosperity—wealth and abundance that were gifts from God—this was also a time of hedonism, the pursuit of feeling good. God’s work got sidelined.

Isaiah’s next line gives a little more insight to what was happening. People were losing their knowledge of God, which would eventually lead them into ruin.

Therefore my people go into exile without knowledge;
their nobles are dying of hunger,
    and their multitude is parched with thirst.

Isaiah 5:13 (NRSV)

Therefore, Isaiah said, because of this, people who shut down their thinking with drinking will really end up parched and hungry. But the grave’s appetite will increase, for many would die because of this, not realizing how dependent they truly were on God.

Isaiah conjured up the horrifying image of people’s mouths opened in laughter, and song, and in the drinking of their wines while underneath them gaped the shadowy maw of Sheol.  

Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite
    and opened its mouth beyond measure;
the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude go down,
    her throng and all who exult in her.

Isaiah 5:14 (NRSV)

This sorrow was not about parties, or enjoying wealth. God’s great sorrow was over the effects of addictions to and abuses of alcohol (and in our day we would have to include other controlled substances).

Isaiah paused here and explained what God would do

People are bowed down, everyone is brought low,
    and the eyes of the haughty are humbled.
But the Lord of hosts is exalted by justice,
    and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness.

Isaiah 5:15-16 (NRSV)

The Lord will humble God’s people so that finally, when they hit the bottom of their pit, the only direction they have left is to look is up.

The Measure of God’s Righteousness

Isaiah declared, The Holy God shows Himself holy in righteousness. Righteousness and goodness flow out from the character of God’s Own Person as a part of God’s attributes, a part of God’s nature.

Righteousness is actually a matter of one’s inner essence.

At this point, post-Genesis 3, every person who is measured against God’s own righteousness, will find themselves falling short. It is simply not in us—not in any of us—to have genuine, authentic, righteousness without first having God’s nature within us. God alone is without darkness, or impurity, or flaw.

Thankfully, gracious and loving God understands this about us. That is why the Lord gave God’s people the temple, the priests, and the sacrifices, so they would have a way of understanding the awfulness of sin. They were given a visceral while also symbolic way of being absolved of their sin and receiving God’s forgiveness and reinstatement.

But the people had lost sight of all that and had turned the sacrifices into rote ritual, mistakenly thinking all this was for God’s sake, and not for their own.

You and I find ourselves in the same situation today, and God has provided for us as well through faith in Jesus, the Branch, the Messiah, our Savior, the One to Whom all those ancient sacrifices pointed.

Roberto Bompiani, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

3 thoughts on “Isaiah 5: Ah, the Sorrow

  1. Sister Joanne, thank you for this clarification. I’ve actually thought about this Holy Scripture many times but didn’t see it in the same light that I now do!

    “22And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Roman 3:22-24

    When we speak of our heavenly Father who is all-encompassing, all-knowing and absolute; we must realize how incomplete and lacking we are; on its face making any of us so far removed from the capability of “Righteousness,” which is saying we are not and cannot be pure and therefore have no ownership of perfection; but only by God’s infinite grace and love which is manifested in the only redemptive sacrificial lamb of God; Jesus Christ, whereby if we follow His example alone; those training wheels will be removed and we can enter into God’s eternal kingdom!

    “Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!” Matthew 25:23

    So now recognizing that we abhorrently fall short and are in such great need of supreme help of ever finding our way to anything remotely on track of entering into righteousness or thus the glory of God! Any of us being likened to a jig-saw puzzle with so many pieces missing which in its completed form clearly becomes a picture that can then be seen for what it truly is meant to be, as an individual which is likened to and only a mere reflection of our Creator, who made us in his image or likeness; but actually being potentially capable of becoming more like Him who breathed life into us; so that we might have life and can have it more abundantly! This is why He gave us the tools as you state, “the temple, the priests, and the sacrifices,” with Himself being that one ultimate sacrifice given through His eternal love, these tools that we sorely need, the training wheels on the bicycle if you will; so we can pass onto Him in His glory, eventually able to join in the absolute; as heirs and actually become children of God! Amen.

    Thank you for getting my gears of contemplation going again!
    God bless you and yours!

    Brother in Christ Jesus,

    1. Thank you for this contemplation, Brother in Christ Lawrence. This is what we long to do, to pass on to the Lord in glory one day.

      It is true God is the Righteous Judge, but God is also, One of infinite grace and love.

      What a beautiful saying all this is. Grace and peace, Joanne

      1. As always my Sister Joanne I’m honored to add what I can to your wonderful work for our Lord and Savior; He most certainly loves you so much for this!

        But, my only caveat I must add to what you said here is that many are going to hell, make no mistake about it; how exactly it works who am I to say; but being of sober and sound mind with a contrite heart I see the writing on the wall plain as day! Jesus’ own words to His disciples tell us what will come on that sad day for so many souls!

        Mathew 7:22-24 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’ 24Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

        I see all too well that the Heat is On and there is no time for sugarcoating anything because that helps he devil add souls to the infernal region for sure! Sober means be Sober and vigilant not being tricked by anyone and there is so much trickery and treachery abounding now! I know I’m right about this point and so many are not just playing with fire but they are tempting the devil to damn them with his lies and treacherous deceptions just like he did during the time of our Lord’s Crucifixion; its happening again the world is out of control!

        1 John 2:14-16 “I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world.”
        That Holy Scripture has never been as important as it is right now!

        Again I’m seeing with no sugar-coatings and being decisive in what I say because so many are not being serious enough or even caring! God will love and be eternally forgiving to those who deserve it, just like Dismas did on his cross next to Him our Savior; but nobody can get a free pass if they don’t deserve God’s great love and kindness; otherwise what would be the point of all of this, why not just tell the devil he is forgiven too, and this was all just a waste of time! You and I know that is ridiculous on its face; so the sheep will be separated from the goats!

        “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.” Revelation 19:20 (NASB)

        “And the devil that deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Revelation 20:10 (NASB)

        “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14 (NASB)

        “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:15 (NASB)

        Revelation 21:7-9 “7The one who overcomes will inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. 8But to the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and sexually immoral and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This is the second death.” 9Then one of the seven angels with the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

        Thank you for this opportunity to speak to such gravely important matters to all humans, which are being manipulated in earnest now by the father of all lies, the serpent; that is taking I believe the final steps to bring on Armageddon!

        God bless you and yours!
        Brother in Christ Jesus,

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