The Parable of the Vineyard
The Parable of the Vineyard is the first of three sections in Isaiah 5. The parable is found in verses 1-7.
Ludlow writes in his book that he along with “many scholars” (p. 115) (although he doesn’t cite any other scholar) believed that Isaiah delivered this parable to the people gathered in Jerusalem for the yearly Feast of the Tabernacles (see “Feasts” in the Bible Dictionary for more information). Ludlow states that during Isaiah’s time, the Feast of the Tabernacles had been corrupted. The Day of Atonement was observed a few days before the Feast of the Tabernacle, during which they should be fasting and praying. After observing the Day of Atonement, the people participated in “excessive revelry and merrymaking” and this “distracted them from the fasting and rededication rites they had performed” during the Day of Atonement (p. 116).
To bring this back to modern-day application, today many of our holy days (holidays) are drowned out by the materialism of our society. Instead of thinking on why we give gifts on Christmas day, we think more about what we want to receive as gifts. In this scenario, Isaiah apparently delivers his parable to the people.
Isaiah uses a pattern in this parable and other parts of this chapter.
He begins by identifying (I) and defining the people to which the message will apply.
Secondly, he describes (D) the Lord’s work or power or judgment upon the previously defined people.
Lastly, he contrasts (C) “the initial expectation of the Lord or the people” with what actually occurs. The initial expectation and reality are usually opposite of each other.
What I have done in my scriptures is color-code each part of the pattern. Pink is the identifying pieces of the pattern; orange is the description; and green is the contrast.
The parable has four parts with each part containing the pattern. The first part sets the stage for the lesson that Isaiah is about to give to his audience. He tells them that he has a friend who planted a choice vineyard. But instead of yielding delicious grapes, it produced wild grapes.
The second part switches to first person, indicating that Isaiah is speaking on the Lord’s behalf. He seeks the audience’s advice and asks “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?”
In the third part, the Lord tells them what he will do to the vineyard. He will knock down the hedge and leave the vineyard unkempt and he will also take the rain away from it.
I particularly like what Ludlow had to say about this part, “His process of abandoning the vineyard exemplifies the judgments of God, who usually does not destroy or severely punish a wicked person; God simply leaves him alone to face the challenges of life and buffetings of Satan without the protection of the Spirit” (p. 114).
The last part of the parable contains the surprise. Up until now, the audience may have been enjoying that parable and were enthralled with the story of this friend who planted the finest vineyard in the finest ground, yet still yielded sour grapes. Perhaps they gave Isaiah some advice to pass along to his friend because they had a similar experience. But now Isaiah reveals the true purpose of the parable. The story of his friend is about them! The vineyard is the house of Israel “and the men of Judah his pleasant plant” (Isaiah 5:7). If they audience is quick on the uptake, they will realize where they stand with the Lord.
Have you ever had a child who doesn’t want to eat his peas or doesn’t want to take a bath? Simply telling him to eat his peas or telling her to take a bath won’t fix the problem. Sometimes we have to take a backdoor approach. Telling them a story of a girl who refused to take a bath might help. The girl’s parents were so tired of fighting with the girl, they decided to let her win … she would never have to take a bath again. But soon the dirt in her hair and arms were so thick that one day at dinner, her dad planted radish seeds in her hair! In a few weeks they were able to pluck the radishes from her head! The girl was so mortified, that she decided she wanted to take a bath. By telling this story and other similar stories, we hope to grab our children’s attention and teach them a lesson. Isaiah used a similar method by telling the people this parable of the vineyard.
There are six woes pronounced by Isaiah to Israel. I’ve tried to glean what I can and apply it to our day.
The first one deals with landowners buying up the poorer farmers land until all the wealthy landowners are joined house to house and field to field that there be no poor between them. The poor are thus forced to move to the cities or live on the land as indentured servants (Ludlow 117).
In our day, greed is common. People try to keep up with their neighbors. Families buy big homes and then fill it with things they do not need. Sometimes their greed pushes them to purchase beyond their means. Greed is a sin.
The second woe is to those who are continually drunk. In our day, we may think that this scripture might not apply to us; that we might use it against those who drink. But we can still apply it to ourselves. The drunkard is simply an addict. Do we not all have to be careful of addictions? The prophet has warned repeatedly against the vice of pornography. He has also warned that we should get our houses in order. Are we addicted to spending money? As King Benjamin instructed the Nephites, “there are divers ways and means” of committing sin and establishing addictions.
The third woe warns against those who would hasten the Lord’s work (Isaiah 5:19). To me this sounds like a lack of patience. Sometimes we want to see the signs so that we may know if it is true. But we would be wise not to tempt the Lord for a sign as Jacob and Sherem taught us in the Book of Mormon (see Jacob 7).
The fourth woe is for those who call evil good and good evil. In our world today, there are many who call evil good and good evil. Just off the top of my head, I can list a handful of examples: prayer in school or public settings is shunned; alternate lifestyles are promoted while wholesome marriages are derided; politicians are praised for their ability to lie. The reason good is called evil and evil is called good is because standards have been assailed. And when standards are torn down, there are no principals and nothing is labeled either good or evil. As the cliché goes, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.
The fifth woe is to those who think they are wise and prudent in their own eyes. Those who are wise in their own eyes are proud. They would remove the speck of dust in your eye while there is a 2x4 in their own eye! These will not listen to counsel, especially the Lord’s counsel. They are not “easy to be entreated” (Alma 7:23).
The last woe cautions those who “justify the wicked for reward” (Isaiah 5:23). I think this refers to bribery. Instead of meting our justice, they let the guilty go free for money. In the preceding years before the coming of the Lord to the Nephites, many judges were corrupted and let the guilty go free because of their money. There is no doubt that this wicked practice thrives today in our legal system.
Promises of Redemption
Despite all their sins and iniquities and the consequences that follow, the Lord will still redeem his people. “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his had is stretched out still” (Isaiah 5:25). I’m sure that the act of the Lord’s hand being stretched out has double meaning. It is stretched out with a sword of vengeance to deliver the consequence of sin and when the people repent and humble themselves, the hand is open and ready to give aid and comfort (see Ludlow 121).
The Lord promises Israel that He will “lift up an ensign to the nations from far” (Isaiah 5:26). In the latter days, we have been taught that the ensign is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, when Brigham Young and the saints entered Utah, a few of the leaders stood on a summit that overlooked the valley. They named it Ensign Peak out of reference to this verse (see Gordon B. Hinckley, “An Ensign to the Nations,” Ensign, Nov 1989, 51)
Other general authorities have compared the descriptions given by Isaiah to the modern day missionary work. The apostles and other general authorities are constantly traveling abroad and preaching. They seem to never rest. Modern day transportation must have been tough for Isaiah to describe, but he did the best he could; perhaps calling our trains, jets, cars and other forms of rapid transportation “whirlwind” and “flint” and as the roar of the lions.