This blog continues my commentary on Isaiah using the Complete Jewish Bible version.
I want to sing a song for someone I love,
a song about my loved one and his vineyard.
My loved one had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug up its stones and cleared them away,
planted it with the choicest vines,
built a watchtower in the middle of it,
and carved out in its rock a winepress.
He expected it to produce good grapes,
but it produced only sour grapes.
3 Now, citizens of Yerushalayim and people of Y’hudah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I haven’t already done in it?
So why, when I expected good grapes,
did it produce sour grapes?
5 Now come, I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will remove its hedge,
and it will be eaten up;
I will break through its fence,
and it will be trampled down.
6 I will let it go to waste:
it will be neither pruned nor hoed,
but overgrown with briars and thorns.
I will also order the clouds
not to let rain fall on it.
7 Now the vineyard of The Lord of armies
is the house of Isra’el,
and the men of Y’hudah
are the plant he delighted in.
So he expected fair judgement
but look — bloodshed! —
but listen – a cry of distress!
The prophet composes a song for his loved one about the loved one’s vineyard, as perhaps a lover might do for his beloved and her favourite pet bird. The prophet is playing the role of a gallant lover giving his lady a very personal gift. In my judgement the song itself is only two verses, while the rest is the loved one’s, that is God’s, response.
The image of Israel as the vine is found in Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and is used by Jesus in the parable of the wicked farmers, Matthew 21, and in the farewell discourse of John 15. We should note however that here the image is of a vineyard. The first two verses are clear and rhythmic, modellee, some scholars suggest, on an existing harvest song. The point is made that the vineyard was planted with the best quality vines; the farmer is not expecting plonk. The area has been prepared meticulously so no fault can be laid at the door of the farmer. Yet it produces “beshooim” wild, bitter berries!
Now comes a surprise for the audience: the prophet leaves his pleasant song, with its overtones of folk music behind and speaks with harsh eloquence in the voice of his God.
“ Come now I will tell you what I will do…” The Hebrew spits it out word by word, with lots of alliteration, assonance and jingle. God’s language expresses a savage pleasure in confronting the people with their terrible punishment. Because it has not produced good grapes for farmer to eat, the vineyard will be eaten up. God will simply abandon it, leaving it to become wild ground once more. Any protection it might have had as productive land is removed.
In verse 7 the prophet resumes his own persona, applying the parable to his people, using puns to awaken them to the point of the Lord’s anger: he expected fair judgement, Hebrew mishpat, and he got bloodshed, Hebrew mishpach; he expected justice, Hebrew tsedaqah, and he got a cry, Hebrew tseaqah. The force of these words cannot be reproduced in English, but they sum up in an instantly memorable way the prophet’s understanding of God’s case against his people. It is not personal pique that arouses his wrath but a sober estimate of the moral corruption of the people.
This may be one the earliest prophecies of Isaiah and already it displays his characteristic passion and mastery of words.