Isaiah 1-39 - Lesson 3

By Harold Shank

Two Visions (Isaiah 5)


  1. The student will be able to explain how God feels about the inequities of life in Jerusalem.
  2. The student will be able to outline the kinds of behavior and thinking that God finds offensive.
  3. The student will be able to explain why God decides to discipline his people.


  1. A Bible for each student
  2. A map on which to locate Jerusalem
  3. A worksheet listing the main points of the lesson


Isaiah 5 completes the opening section of Isaiah in which the prophet explores the relationship between God and his people. He presents the reality and the potential of that relationship.

Setting the stage

  1. Review
    1. Isaiah 1-4 reveals two different views of Jerusalem. In terms developed last week, God's vision is filled with great potential to overcome the depressing realities of Jerusalem in the last half of the 8th century B.C.
    2. God's vision includes these elements
      1. It might be like the healthy relationships possible between a father and son, or a physician and patient or between a husband and wife.
      2. It would be a community in which the people practice the Golden Rule where everybody does to others what they would want those others to do to them.
      3. With those horizontal relationships in place, the vertical connections between the divine and human world are strengthened
      4. When the community does not live up to God's standard of righteousness and justice, God's own righteousness and justice leads him to action.
    3. The people of Jerusalem have a different vision
      1. It reflects a two-class society where the upper classes live in luxury at the expense of the oppressed class. Jerusalem leaders accept this inequity as the appropriate status quo.
      2. The upper class maintains control of the economy, the military apparatus and religion.
      3. The upper class isolates itself from the pain of the oppressed, often widows and orphans, so that they are not fully aware of their situation.
  2. Preview
    1. Isaiah completes his treatment of these two views in three ways.
    2. 5:1-7-He uses a parable of a farmer and his vineyard.
    3. 5:8-25-He uses six woes to further identify the problems with community life in Jerusalem
    4. 5:26-30-He uses the metaphor of an invading army to describe God's discipline.

Learning Experiences

  1. The parable of the vineyard-Read 5:1-7.
    1. The purpose of the parable is to help the reader understand God's perspective.
      1. The parable builds on the father-son, doctor-patient and husband-wife images of Isa 1.
      2. In the previous metaphors, Isaiah moved quickly to the conclusion:
        1. Israel is a rebellious son
        2. Israel is an uncooperative patient
        3. Jerusalem is an unfaithful wife
        4. In the parable of the vineyard the conclusion of the metaphor is delayed
    2. The writer invites the original listener to pass judgment (5:3). These experiences include:
      1. There is the familiarity of "what more could the owner of the vineyard have done." We share the exasperation of the farmer.
      2. There is the understanding of frustration or indignation.
      3. There is the reality of failed dreams. Isaiah places this parable immediately after the grand picture of Isa 4:2-6. It is as if to say, "This wonderful future is in store for you, why do you turn away from it?"
      4. Perhaps ultimately this parable aims to give God's rationale for the coming destruction of Jerusalem. After God has done all he can at great personal cost, some other option must be pursued.
    3. The answer to the puzzle is revealed at the end. Israel (another name for Judah) is the vineyard on which God had poured his attention, but will now destroy. The parable shows God has no other option.
  2. 5:8-25-The six woes
    1. Perhaps after the vineyard parable there was a lingering question in the minds of the listeners and readers, "Is it really that bad in Jerusalem? Isn't God overreacting a little? Where are the wild grapes?"
    2. The conditions described in each woe put the people at odds with God. These attitudes and actions destroy the fabric of the human community and tear at the divine-human relationship. God who seeks to provide the agricultural bounty of v17 will instead bring (note the two uses of "therefore") the agricultural and cultural devastation of vv 24-25.
    3. These are the wild grapes growing in Jerusalem:
      1. 5:8-10-woe 1 laments that there is no room for God in the pursuit of wealth
        1. The 9th and 8th centuries BC where characterized by the confiscation of land (1 Kngs 21:1-16; Mic 2:1-2, 8-9) by which the wealthy gradually through means (their control of the courts) took the land of war widows and orphans and those poor farmers who through an accident or drought were forced into foreclosure. The vision of Leviticus 25 was totally ignored.
        2. Wealth is not condemned in Scripture (Abraham was wealthy and Jesus depended on wealthy patrons to support his ministry), but those who secure wealth unjustly and who use wealth without concern for righteousness and justice in the community are condemned.
        3. In v 8 "you are made to dwell alone" could have several meanings
          1. The people are homeless or landless or unemployed
          2. The people have taken so much land they now have no nearby neighbors
          3. What meaning do you see implied?
        4. Those who have the houses and the land will soon lose them. Their productive land will be cursed to return only ten percent of what they plant.
      2. 5:11-17-woe 2 laments that there is no room for God in the pursuit of pleasure
        1. This woe exposes those who indulge in luxury without concern for the community. God does not oppose finding joy or resting from one's labors, but this woe concerns overindulgence at the expense of others. See Isa 28:1-8; Amos 6:4-6
        2. Three punishments are listed in 5:13-14. As with the indulgent women at the end of Isa 3, the punishment is linked with the sinful overindulgence. Those who had huge appetites will encounter death whose appetite is larger still.
      3. 5:18-19-woe 3 laments that there is no room for God in a cynical lifestyle
        1. This woe uses the metaphor of an animal pulling a cart. Jerusalem is the beast drawing along the cart filled with sin. It suggests an intentional decision to do wrong.
        2. Jerusalem responds by challenging God to carry out the destruction Isaiah has announced.
      4. 5:20-woe 4 laments that there is no room for God in the arrogant use of freedom
        1. This woe reflects a society that redefined actions based on their own self-interest and not God's justice and righteousness. Such redefinitions lead to confusion, moral irregularities and weakening cultural foundations.
        2. The people in power in Jerusalem had the freedom to rewrite and enforce these new definitions.
      5. 5:21-woe 5 laments that there is no room for God among the prideful and self sufficient
        1. This woe centers on self-sufficiency, the view that people can live without divine help, make adequate judgments and deal with any fall out.
        2. This woe strikes at the foundation of the problems evident in woes 3 and 4.
      6. 5:22-23-woe 6 laments that there is no room for God for those who numb themselves in self-medication.
        1. This woe makes clear references to the Vineyard parable and to woe 2.
        2. The drunken heroes become famous in their exploitation of the oppressed.
        3. V 23 refers to how the powerful controlled the courts which they used as a means of oppression.
        4. Forms of the Hebrew word for righteousness are used three times in this verse: acquit (treat with righteousness), deprive the innocent (the poor are often called righteous in the sense that they did not cause their poverty), of his right (God's righteousness called for all to be treated fairly).
    4. By this behavior the people have rejected God's word.
      1. Isa 5:24b is another summary verse in Isaiah.
      2. Isa 5:24-25 list at least 11 responses God has to life among the temple-going, sacrifice-offering, prayerful people of Jerusalem's privileged class.
      3. The final two lines of 5:25 become a common refrain in Isaiah (see 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4). They take up the issue of God's role in destruction and use of violence. As we collect data on this issue which we will discuss in a later chapter, we note here that God persists in this role.
  3. 5:26-30-The invading army
    1. This closing poem contains 23 qualities of the army God is sending to punish Jerusalem and many of those qualities have implications for what will happen when the army does its work. The army is not identified (heightening the terror) here, but will be in Isa 7-8.
    2. In a simile the army is compared to a lion in two different ways.
    3. Isaiah will return to the metaphor of darkness in 8:22 and 9:1.
    4. This passage provides additional information on the nature of God's destruction and violence which should be explored. Included are that God holds his own people accountable, he gives specific examples of what prompts such violence, that the people's denial of the problems will not deter the punishment, that prophets are sent to teach and warn, and that it is appropriate to fear the destructive power of God.


  1. Many propose that Isaiah's parable of the vineyard stands behind some of the parables Jesus told. Which ones might you suggest are linked to Isaiah 5?
  2. What dreams does God have for people of other ages? If God were writing a parable about your city or your congregation, what might be the conclusion?
  3. Compare the lifestyles and attitudes of the woe section of this chapter with people in our contemporary world. How are they the same and different?
  4. Compare the lifestyles and attitudes of the woe section of this chapter with people in the church. How are they the same and different?
  5. Woes 4 and 5 suggest that those who have the freedom and sufficiency to redefine morality often do. Consider how the following issues involve this issue: euthanasia, termination of pregnancy, cloning, stem cell use, downsizing, opportunity, national security.
  6. Contemporary culture tends to accept only the loving side of God and not his destructive side. Contemporary culture also blames God for not taking action (read destroying) the evil in the world. Are those attitudes new? How does Isa 5 speak to those contemporary reflections on the nature of deity?

For Additional Study.

Use this section if the class spends more than one week on Isaiah 5

  1. How to read the parable in Isaiah 5.
    1. Identify the main elements of the parable.
      1. Pronouns
        1. The pronouns change from first person to third person and back to first person.
        2. Identify which pronouns refer to which figures.
      2. Agricultural images.
        1. What is the meaning of the farming images?
        2. What is the general point made?
    2. The subject and conclusion come at the end.
      1. Some even propose that the love poem language at the beginning call to the hearer's mind books such as Song of Solomon leading the reader to suppose that the parable is about a broken marriage which the grieving spouse now laments.
      2. Parables are generally meant to be told not analyzed. It is our scientific modern mindset that wants to reduce everything to a point. Isaiah rather intends for us to experience the parable as a way of getting inside God's heart.
    3. Isaiah's contemporary, Hosea, acted out an allegory in which his own marriage to an unfaithful wife is compared to God's relationship with the unfaithful in North Israel, the other half of the divided nation of Israel. Judah shared their northern border with this nation which will become a key focus in Isaiah 7.
    4. Identify the main point of the parable.
  2. Compare the parable to what has come before in Isaiah.
    1. Vv 5-6 are parallel to previous and past descriptions of God's discipline.
    2. Compare with 1:7-9, 24-27; 2:10-21; 3:1-9, 13; 3:24-4:1.
    3. This passage anticipates 5:26-30. Does the farmer overreact?
    4. Some suggest that with v 3 the author is setting a trap so the wealthy in Jerusalem will condemn their own behavior. Viewed in that light, the parable is an attempt to penetrate the denial that surrounds most sinful activity.
    5. Puns
      1. Hebrews enjoyed puns (words that sounded similar but had different meanings).
      2. Since most read this passage in English, the puns are lost.
      3. The words for justice and bloodshed sound similar as do the terms for righteousness and cry. It might be roughly translated as "I looked for the growth but got slit on the throat. I hoped for help but got a whelp."
    6. Another point missed in English is that the word for "hope" or "wait is used three times:
      1. God looked for/hoped for/waited for grapes (3, 4) and looked for/hoped for/waited for justice (7).
      2. Vineyards take time. So do relationships.
      3. God's action in Isa 1-5 may be compressed into these short chapters, but he waits years, even decades before bringing on the invasion as a means of disciplining his people.
      4. Last week we considered the terror and violence of God. This parable adds another crucial element to understanding how God acts. When he resorts to violence it is only after years and decades of pursuing alternative courses.
  3. Woes
    1. A woe (8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22; compare 1 Kings 13:30; Jer. 22:18) was a cry associated with death and mourning. Imagine waking up to the sound of a woman walking down the sidewalk in front of your house crying hysterically. We would respond immediately, call 911, and find out what tragedy had occurred. The word woe prompted a similar response from those in the 8th century. These woe statements reflect the genre of lament. See the references to death in this section (empty house in 9, graves in 14, decay in 24, corpses in 25).
    2. Readers of this section would note the continuation of many of the themes of Isa 1:1-5:7:
      1. Knowing-1:4; 5:2, 5, 13, 19
      2. Vineyards-1:8; 3:14; 5:1-7; 10, 11, 22 (the last two with the mention of wine)
      3. Injustice-1:21, 23; 3:14-15, 23; 5:7, 23
      4. Agricultural ruin-1:29-31; 5:5-6, 9-10, 17
      5. Definitions of good-1:16-17; 5:20
      6. Brought low-2:9, 17; 5:14-15
      7. Word of God-1:10; 2:3; 5:24
    3. Isa 5:12b is another summary type verse in Isa (see 2:5; 3:8). Have you found any other summary verses?
    4. Gary Smith (See his commentary, Isaiah, 176) notes that vv 15-17 reflect God's divine plan which was for people to give God glory.
      1. He argues there are two significant principles in that plan that are at work here:
        1. Principle 1-since people were not giving God glory, God had to humble the proud (5:15)
        2. Principle 2-when God acts with righteousness and justice his holiness is demonstrated (5:16)
      2. The two principles are intended to work together. When God makes the wrongs right it shows his holiness (Isa 1-5). When people see his holiness (anticipating Isaiah's own vision of God's holiness in Isa 6), God is glorified and God's divine plan becomes reality (4:2-6)
      3. God's ideal world is visualized in agricultural terms in 5:17 anticipating 11:6ff.
    5. 5:18-19-Woe 3
      1. This woe employs a word play on the name of Isaiah's son to be born in 8:1. The name Maher-shalal-hash-baz uses the same words as 5:19a.
      2. The people do not "know" God (Isa 1:3) but do want to "know" if he will act. See previous material on "know."
      3. The people say they want to "see" (5:19) but in reality they are in denial (6:9).
      4. Students of this passage see Jerusalem in a variety of ways
        1. Cynical-Prophets have warned us before, years have passed, and the city is still standing. God is not going to destroy us
        2. Mocking-If God is really in charge, let's see some action
        3. Doubting-Until we see some evidence of destruction, we're not sure there is a God like the one Isaiah describes.

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