Based on Isaiah 5:1-7
As this Old Testament parable begins, we hear the language of a joyful love song. The narrator sets the scene: the master of a vineyard carefully cultivates the fertile ground, digging and clearing out the stones and planting it with the best of vines. Beyond that, he built a watchtower from which to guard against thieves and animals. He was so certain of the vineyard’s success that he hollowed out a winepress. When all was completed, he sat back to wait for what would surely be a fruitful harvest.
This is where the language makes a 180-degree turn. The vineyard should have yielded grapes; it had been lovingly prepared and tended – grapes were what the master of the vineyard deserved. Instead, it yielded wild grapes, which are inferior fruit.
In verse 3, we learn that God is the master of the vineyard when he begins to speak. He asks his listeners to judge between him and his vineyard. He points out that he had done everything necessary for the vineyard to succeed, and yet, it did not. We can imagine his listeners passing judgment against the vineyard. They probably agreed that the vineyard deserved the treatment it was going to get – removing the walls, neglecting to prune or hoe it, allowing thorns and weeds to take over, commanding the clouds not to rain on it. After all, the vineyard was in the wrong here, and God had the right to punish it.
In verse 7, the listeners would have been taken aback to learn that God was not talking about a vineyard – he was talking about them! He had lovingly planted them in the Promised Land and taken care of them, but they did not return his love with love, his justice with justice, his righteousness with righteousness. Instead, they became sinners, shedding innocent blood and ignoring those who cried out for help. They were unfruitful and unfaithful, just like the vineyard in the parable, and they deserved nothing but punishment.
How often have we been like that vineyard? God cares and provides for us, but does the fruit of our service match the generosity of his nurturing? This parable is a wake-up call for us. Like the Israelites who first heard this parable, we too can take it to heart, repent of our sins, and turn away from them to be fruitful and faithful as God intends.