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Isaiah 5:1-7

Old Testament: Isaiah 5:1-7

Background to the Book of Isaiah

Historical: The following table gives an indication when the prophet Isaiah was preaching. It is worth noting that Hosea in the Northern kingdom of Israel and Micah in the Southern kingdom of Judah were in the same period.

Kings Israel

Kings of Judah


Kings of Assyria

Menahem 748 - 737

Uzziah 769 – 736

Jotham 756 - 741

Hosea 745 Israel

Isaiah 742 Judah

Micah 735 Judah


745 - 727

Pekahiah 737 - 736

Pekah 735 - 732

Hoshea 731 - 723

Ahaz 741 - 715

Isaiah 742 - 701


727 - 722

Fall of Samaria


Hezekiah 715 - 687

Isaiah 742 - 701

Sargon 722 - 705

(The above dates are approximate because you will find slight variation among the scholars)
Isaiah, a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah, had four major periods of prophecy between the years 742 -701 BCE. One of these times was when Ahaz was king of Judah and the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser had initiated a campaign from the north into Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel (738 BCE). In order to combat the Assyrian army Israel had formed a coalition with Syria against Assyria. However, Judah refused to join that coalition having the benefit of some distance from the direct challenge of Assyria. The kings of Syria (Rezin) and Israel (Pekah) sought to replace by force the Judean king, Ahaz, in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah, sharing with Ahaz the words he heard from Yahweh, made clear that Ahaz was to trust in God alone and not to go down the path of forming coalitions with other countries whether, Syria, Israel or Assyria.

Isaiah was alive when the Assyrians over ran the Northern kingdom of Israel and deported the majority of the ten tribes of Israel to countries which Assyria had defeated and who were in vassaldom to Assyria. There is some reference to this event, but not as much comment as one would expect for such a devastating occurrence. Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem was safe because the Lord dwelt there in the temple. This was affirmed when the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem and the people were becoming desperate when suddenly the Assyrians departed in a hurry leaving Jerusalem safe for another 114 years. The Book of Isaiah records this as a miracle of the Lord (Isa 37:36-38).

Literary Background to the Book: The whole book of Isaiah has been divided up into three main sections which appear to reflect preaching from different historical periods. Chapters 1-39 are often referred to as the prophecies from Isaiah of Jerusalem and cover the periods shown in the above table. Chapters 40-55 speak to the exiles, offering forgiveness and a strong encouragement to move back to Jerusalem. It contains some of the most beautiful language and a comprehensive theology of God as creator and redeemer. The remaining chapters 56-66 speak to a later post-exilic situation addressing quite different concerns to those expressed in Isa 40-55.

Isaiah 1-39 has some distinct sections within it. Isa 1 has a collection of oracles which appear to come from different periods of Isaiah's ministry. Isa 2-12 contains a collection of oracles mainly about Judah and Jerusalem, covering the threat from the Israel/Syria Coalition and the section ends with a psalm of deliverance. As each of the major prophets have a section with oracles against foreign nations so Isa 13-23 covers this topic. There are oracles against Babylon, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Assyrian crisis and Tyre. We then find in Isa 24-27 a collection of oracles which are called the Isaiah Apocalypse and is reminiscent of material from a much later period in Israel's history. The remaining oracles cover further oracles on the Assyrian crisis and this section finishes with narratives about Isaiah. Isa 36-38 are almost identical with 2 Kings 18-19.

The Isaiah Scroll which was found at Qumran in the caves there (1948) and came from a time (250-68 BCE) before the Massoretes added vowels to the language is almost an exact copy of the Hebrew Text from which we work today. This testifies to the ability of the scribes who copied the Hebrew texts

Context of Isa 5:1-7
Since the opening chapter, there have been prophecies of salvation and judgement in Isa 2-4. The prophecies of judgement are against the leaders (3:1-15) and against women who appear to be wealthy (3:16-26). The prophecy of judgement in 2:6-22 is quite general talking about the 'Day of the Lord'. These prophecies of judgement are surrounded by two oracles of salvation in Isa 2:1-5 and 4:2-6, one in poetry and one in prose. Both focus on Jerusalem as the place of peace and refuge. The lectionary reading follows next in Isa 5:1-7 which is a very clever piece of rhetoric spoken by the prophet on behalf of Yahweh. The verses following this name the sins of the people using a particular form called a 'woe oracle' (Isa 5:8 = Woe to those ...). The woe oracle begins with the sin, Isa 5:8 followed by the judgement Isa 5:9-10 and they can vary in length. After several woe oracles in Isa 5 we move into the call of Isaiah in chapter six. This chapter looks as though it was the beginning of a book at some point before it became incorporated into the larger Isaiah scroll. It names only one king (Isa 6:1) where as the Isa 1:1 sets Isaiah's ministry in a period covering four kings.

Insights/Message of Isa 5:1-7:
Scholars refer to this piece of literature in different ways, as allegory (Sweeney:123), as a parable (Willis: JBL 96, 359), as a funeral lament and metaphor (Watts: 51), and as a piece of rhetoric and juridical parable (Tucker: 87-88). Just to note that in 'allegory' each element represents a corresponding reality, whereas a parable has a single truth. I would prefer to deal with it as metapohor of the relationship between God and Israel which uses rhetorical devices to make certain emaphases and to lure Israel into self condemnation (Sweeney:123). While we are dealing with the song only in the lectionary (vv.1-7) it is part of a talented creation involving the whole chapter and even the whole book. Isa 5:8-30 makes specific the sins and consequences of vv.1-7.

vv.1-2 = setting: a song of his friend's love for a vineyard [v.1]; his friend's preparation and yet failure of the grapes [v.2]

Vv.3-4 = speaker now changes to Yahweh who in the first person who appeals to the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their verdict. These verses contain two rhetorical questions.

Vv.5-6 = the owner, Yahweh, will take action, remove its protection so the vineyard becomes vulnerable, and further to these actions the owner will destroy it by refusing to care and furthermore, instructs nature not to give rain.

V.7 = the prophet's interpretation of vv.1-6, makes it specific to Israel and Judah and names two requirements, justice and righteousness, as essntial embodiments of the people of Yahweh.

The form began as a love song which becomes a trial form in order to get Israel to condemn itself, rather like the situation with Nathan and David in 2 Sam 12:1-15. The language of 'my beloved' (y`did, dod) in v.1 and references to a vineyard point to this as a love song with which people would have been familiar. V.7 contains contains a sophisticated play on words using 'mispat' (justice) with 'mispah' (bloodshed) and 'sedaqa' (righeousness) with 'se'aqa' (a cry). It is a very clever play on the Hebrew. The use of 'Israel' here is not a reference to the Northern kingdom but the later generic use meaning the chosen people.

Sweeney suggests that, "The intention of 5:1-24 is clearly to convince the people of Jerusalem and Judah that the invasion of Israel during the Syro-Ephraimite War is an act of YHWH to punish the country for its failure to maintain its standards of justice and rigtheousness." (Sweeney:130). Many scholars assume that it is the prophet Isaiah who is speaking in vv.1-2 on behalf of Yahweh who than takes over in v.3-6 before Isaiah comes back in v.7. The message arising from vv.1-2 suggests that everything has been done to ensure a bountiful harvest from the vineyard, but it yields only rubbish. Time and again in prophetic writing the audience will be lead along one path before there is a sharp turnabout and the hearer finds themselves challenged or accused. Vv.1-2 set the audience up ready for the questions in vv.3-4 before the judgement in vv.5-6. Yahweh ensured that these people would have all the goodness and protection they needed and instead of embodying justice and righteousness they embodied violence and oppression. The words used in vv.5-6 recall images of war - devour, trample, make waste - so as the people have caused blood to be shed through injustice so they will be punished violently.

The prophet can confront the people because they know the ways of God and are called to live out of that relationship. So, as God has cared and provided for them, they are asked and expected to do the same for those in their community. We are called to live out a relationship embodying justice and righteousness which has been further informed by the revelation of Jesus Christ. The consequences can be on a global scale and personal ones.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 12:49-56 contain a couple of direct allusions to the Old Testament. 1. There are many cases of judgement depicted as fire especially in the prophetic literature (Jer 43: 12, Ezek 15: 7 Amos 1:4-14 et al). In the OT it was God who wrought the judgement but in the NT it is Jesus who is speaking. 2. The idea of children rebelling against parents is present in Mic 7:6, but the writer of Luke emphases it by v.53 expanding on v.52 in order to make clear that his mission will be associated with troubles and not peace.

Resources/Worship for Isa 5:1-7:
Worship: It would be interesting if the preacher was able to model a sermon using similar rhetoric devices as displayed in Isa 5:1-7. However, the conclusion would need to be the gospel, again another twist.

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Barton, J. Isaiah 1-39. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.
Childs, Brevard. Isaiah. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Clements,R.E. Isaiah 1 - 39. NCB. Grand Rapids: Wm.Eerdmans, , 1980.
Hayes, J.H. & Isaiah, His Times and His Preaching, Abingdon,
Kaiser,O. Isaiah 1-12 (2nd ed), OTL, transl. J.Bowden, London: SCM Press, 1983.
Oswalt,J.N. The Book of Isaiah 1-39, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986.
Seitz,C.R. Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation, John Knox, Louisville, 1993.
Sweeney,M.A., Isaiah 1-39, FOTL, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996.
Tucker, Gene. 'The Book of Isaiah 1-39'. NIB. Vol VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Watts,J.D.W. Isaiah1-33, Isaiah 34-66, WBC, Word Book, Waco, 1985, 1987.
Wildberger,H. Isaiah 1-12, transl.T.H.Trapp, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1991

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:

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