Lesson 3: Chapters 2:5-5:7
Part One: Prophecies of Condemnation
Indictment of Israel and Judah Continued (1:1-5:30)

Almighty Father,
The Israelites of the Old Covenant were promised Your protection against all enemies and the fullness of prosperity in the Promised Land so long as they remained obedient to the Law of the Covenant they made with You at Mt. Sinai. No power could undo that promise except their rejection of the covenant and abandonment of their covenant relationship with You. When they abandoned You for false gods and indulged in their own understanding of what was right and just, You punished them with temporal sufferings to bring them back into covenant union with You. We live in an age when people and nations have turned away from You and the truth of Your Living Word, Jesus Christ. They have become like the nations and people of Israel and Judah in Isaiah's time. We pray that You will continue to call professing Christians and their nations to repentance and to return to You in the Spirit of truth. Help us, Most Holy Spirit, to be true witnesses to the Truth and the voice of faith and reason to our neighbors and our nation before God's Day of Judgment falls upon us. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Come, my children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of Yahweh. Who among you delights in life, longs for time to enjoy prosperity? Guard your tongue from evil, your lips from any breath of deceit. Turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of Yahweh are on the upright, his ear tuned to their cry. But Yahweh's face is set against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
Psalm 34:11-16

New Testament quotes in this lesson are from the New American Bible translation (NAB).

Despite the sins of the people, the description of the indictment against them in Isaiah's covenant lawsuit and the coming judgment they deserve, at the end of last week's lesson (Is 2:1-4) Isaiah prophesied that God was still calling the covenant people to repentance and to the day when God promised restoration in a messianic kingdom. In that future restoration, Isaiah and other prophets describe God's "house" as the seat of authority and the source of clear and truthful doctrine to which people of every nation on the earth will come to know the One True God. These words announcing God's salvific intervention in the fullness of time came true with the birth of Jesus Christ, the "Anointed One" "the Messiah who established, in the Kingdom of His Church peace and reconciliation between God and man. Isaiah then prophesied that the messianic kingdom will reach its climax at the end of the Age in divine judgment that will herald a new era of eternal peace and harmony between God, humanity, and all creation (Is 2:4; Mt 25:31-32; Rev 21:1-7). The Church uses the text of Isaiah 2:1-4 in the liturgy of the first Sunday in Advent to encourage us to look forward to the Second Advent of Christ as we prepare to recall His first Advent at Christmas.

Question: How do Jesus and the Gospel writers describe Jesus' mission (for example see Mt 3:2; 4:17, 23; 10:7; Mk 1:14-15; Lk 4:43 and 9:2, 11)?
Answer: Jesus came to declare the messianic Kingdom promised by the prophets.

Question: How does Jesus describe the Last/Final Judgment at the end of the Age in Matthew 25:31-32 and how is it like Isaiah 2:4a?
Answer: God (the Son) will judge the nations of the earth.

Chapter 2:5-4:6
Isaiah's Judgment Homilies

Prophecies of punishment for Israel's ingratitude by Isaiah's contemporary prophet Hosea: Woe to them for having fled from me! Ruin seize them for having wronged me! I have rescued them again and again and they have only told lies about me.
Hosea 7:13

Israel was a luxuriant vine yielding plenty of fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; the richer his land became, the richer he made the sacred pillars. Theirs is a divided heart; now they will have to pay for it.
Hosea 10:1-2a

Isaiah's judgment homilies in 2:5-4:6 focus on four aspects:

  1. A call to recognize God's majesty and be humbled (2:5-22)
  2. A judgment against Judah and her leaders (3:1-15)
  3. A judgment against Jerusalem's women (3:16-4:1)
  4. A description of God's "day of restoration" (4:2-6)

Isaiah 2:5-8 ~ Judgment against the People's Empty Lives
5 House of Jacob, come, let us walk in Yahweh's light. 6 You have rejected your people, the House of Jacob [they have been filled from the east], for it has long been full of sorcerers [anan = soothsayers-diviners] like the Philistines, and is overrun with [and clap (hands) with the children of] foreigners. 7 The country is full of silver and gold and treasures unlimited, 8 the country is full of horses, its chariots are unlimited; the country is full of idols. They bow down before the work of their hands, before what their own fingers have made.
= literal Hebrew translation IBHE, vol. III, page 1617; "clap with the children of foreigners" or "grasp hands" probably refers to making covenants with pagans living within the Promised Land.

5 House of Jacob, come, let us walk in Yahweh's light.
"House of Jacob" refers to the descendants of Jacob-Israel. The impassioned plea in verse 5 forms a connection between what preceded in God's call for repentance and the promise restoration in the glorious future messianic kingdom and the continuing condemnation that follows. The "light of the Lord" refers to the word of truth that comes from God and directs the path of man in righteousness and the unity of communion with the God.
Question: How did Jesus refer to Himself in John 8:12; 9:5; 11:9, 10; 12:35, 36, 46?
Answer: Jesus identified Himself as the "light" of the world.

The expression in verse 6, they have been filled from the east ... refers to the land being filled with those things that are contrary to the Law of God. The phrase cannot be referring to the Philistines since their cities were to the west of the Israelites along the Mediterranean coast. In Scripture "to the east" is always moving away from God, as in Cain being banished to the east (Gen 4:16), and Lot moving to the east toward Sodom when he left Abraham (Gen 13:10-11). The phrase probably means that divination and occult practices have filled up Israel from the east and the west.

Question: In Isaiah 2:5-8, the prophet condemns his people's abandonment of the Lord God in what four ways that has caused God to abandon them?

  1. They turned to sorcery/divination like their pagan neighbors (2:6b).
  2. They made alliances/covenants with pagans (2:6c).
  3. They lusted after financial gain and filled their lives with material things to secure their future instead of trusting in God (2:7).
  4. They replaced proper worship of God with man-made pagan idols (2:8).

Question: Why are these four practices condemned in Isaiah's covenant lawsuit? For #1 see Ex 22:17; Lev 19:31; 20:27; Dt 18:10-11, 14. For #2 see Ex 23:32-33. For #3 see Dt 17:16-17; Ps 20:7. For #4 see Ex 20:3-5, 23; Lev 19:4; Dt 4:15-20; 5:7-8.

  1. Divination in any form was condemned under the Law.
  2. The Israelites were forbidden to make alliances/covenants with pagans.
  3. The Laws of the king forbade the accumulation of material wealth, horses and chariots; they were to rely on God to protect them.
  4. To worship other gods violates the first of the Ten Commandments.

Divination or soothsaying is the occult practice of trying to determine the direction of future events or hidden things by consulting or evoking certain powers. Evoking these powers, whether explicitly or implicitly is considered an appeal to Satan's aid. It is therefore a grave offense against God and a serious sin. Astrology is a form of divination based on the theory that the planets and stars influence human destiny.

Isaiah 2:9-22 ~ Human Pride Humbled by Yahweh's Majesty on the Day of Judgment
9 Human nature has been humbled, humankind brought low: do not raise them again! 10 Go into the rock, hide in the dust, in terror of Yahweh, at the brilliance of his majesty, when he arises to make the earth quake. 11 Human pride will lower its eyes, human arrogance will be humbled, and Yahweh alone will be exalted on that day. 12 That will be a day for Yahweh Sabaoth, for all who are majestic and haughty, for all who are proud, to be brought low, 13 for all the cedars of Lebanon, high and proud, and for all the oaks of Bashan; 14 for all the high mountains and for all the proud hills; 15 for every lofty tower and for every towering wall, 16 for all the ships of Tarshish and for everything held precious. 17 Human pride will be humbled, human arrogance brought low, and Yahweh alone will be exalted, on that day. 18 When the idols all disappear, 19 they will go into the caverns of the rocks and into the fissures of the earth in terror of Yahweh, at the brilliance of his majesty, when he arises to make the earth quake. 20 That day, people will fling to moles and bats the silver idols and golden idols which have been made for them to worship, 21 and go into the crevices of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, in terror of Yahweh, at the brilliance of his majesty, when he arises to make the earth quake. 22 Have no more to do with humankind, which has only the breath in its nostrils. How much is this worth?

Isaiah's second oracle that began in 2:1 continues with Isaiah's description of the humbling of humanity on the Day of Yahweh when there will be no place to hide from God's divine judgment, and the people will suddenly understand that their false gods and their belief in their self-sufficiency cannot save them. A similar description of the Day of Yahweh's Judgment is found in other books of the prophets, for example,

In verses 13-16, Isaiah lists six things in nature and man-made that cause men to marvel and be proud:

  1. The cedars of Lebanon were believed to be the world's greatest trees.
  2. The oaks of Bashan were believed to be the world's longest living trees.
  3. High mountains and tall hills were places where pagan gods were worshipped.
  4. Stone towers and walls were building marvels of man.
  5. Ships of Tarshish were great ships that sailed to what was believed to be the ends of the earth at the southern Iberian Peninsula and the straights of Gibraltar.
  6. Everything held precious by man sums up all things that man admires.

All these things will be of no value to man on the Day of Yahweh's Judgment.

The prelude to the Final Judgment that marks the Final Age of Mankind in the Passion of the Christ was described by the prophet Amos seven hundred years before the event of the total eclipse during Jesus' crucifixion and the profound sorrow after He gave up His life (Mt 27:45; Mk 15:33-39; Lk 23:44-45): Amos 8:9 ~ On that Day "declares the Lord Yahweh "I shall make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I shall turn your festivals into mourning and all your singing into lamentation; I shall make you all wear sacking round your waists and have all your heads shaved. I shall make it like the mourning or an only child, and it will end like the bitterest of days

But with the coming of Jesus Christ we understand the final Day of God's Judgment for all humanity will happen when Christ returns in glory (see CCC 1038-41):

Chapter 3: Judgment against Judah and her Leaders and against Jerusalem's Women

Notice that in this part of the continuing oracle begins and ends with the "Yahweh Sabaoth" (see Is 3:1, 15), the Lord's title as commander of armies of angels and of all forces in the natural and supernatural order, in proclaiming God's sentence on Judah and Jerusalem for their pride and self-sufficiency. They have become a society of anarchy in which no one is ready to enforce justice and the rule of law and leaders are incapable of making sound judgments. Do you see any similarities to conditions today?

Isaiah 3:1-15 ~ Judgment against Judah and her Leaders
1 Now the Lord Yahweh Sabaoth is about to deprive Jerusalem and Judah of resources and provisions "all reserves of food, all reserves of water "2 of hero, warrior, judge, prophet, 3 diviner, elder, captain, dignitary, counsellor, architect, soothsayer. 4 "I shall give them boys for princes, raw lads to rule over them. 5 People will be ill-treated by one another, each by his neighbor; the young will insult the aged, and the low, the respected. 6 Yes, a man will catch hold of his brother in their father's house, to say, "You have a cloak, so you be leader, and rule this heap of ruins." 7 And, that day, the other will protest, "I am no healer; in my house there is neither food nor clothing; do not make me leader of the people." 8 For Jerusalem has collapsed and Judah has fallen, because their words and deeds affront Yahweh and insult his glorious gaze. 9 Their complacency bears witness against them, they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not conceal it, all the worse for them, for they have hatched their own downfall. 10 Say, "Blessed the upright, for he will feed on the fruit of his deeds; 11 woe to the wicked, it will go ill with him, for he will be treated as his actions deserve." O my people, their oppressors pillage them and extortioners rule over them! 12 O my people, your rulers mislead you and efface the paths you ought to follow! 13 Yahweh has risen to accuse, is standing to pass judgment on the people. 14 Yahweh is about to try the elders and the princes of his people, "You are the ones who have ravaged the vineyard, the spoils of the poor are in your houses. 15 By what right do you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor?" says the Lord Yahweh Sabaoth.

The Bible encourages us to submit to our nation's leaders and show them respect (Rom 13:1-7; Heb 13:17); however, ultimate allegiance must be to our Lord God and not to human leadership. God vows to take away all natural resources and human leadership from Jerusalem and Judah. The natural resources are food and water followed by 11 different positions of human resources that the people mistakenly believe has made their city great.
Question: What are the 11 different kinds of human resources?
Answer: (1) hero, (2) warrior, (3) judge, (4) prophet, (5) diviner, (6) elder, (7) captain, (8) dignitary, (9) counsellor, (10) architect, (11) soothsayer.

God will make null and void the leadership the people turned to instead of trusting God. He will dispense with their political leaders, military leaders, judicial leaders, and their social and spiritual leaders to leave society in chaos.

Question: What will be the result? See 3:12.
Answer: The ensuing chaos will lead to desperate searches for leaders with the result that when no one suitable can be found that unqualified people will be pressured to assume leadership roles, and they will mislead the people and set up conditions for anarchy.

12 O my people, your rulers mislead you and efface the paths you ought to follow!
The "paths" the people ought to follow are the Law and the ritual of worship in the Temple liturgy.

The poem probably describes conditions at the beginning of the reign of King Ahaz in c 735 BC when the king was 20 years old. Razon king of Aram in Damascys and Pekah king of Israel launched a campaign against Jerusalem and besieged the city. Instead of turning to God for help, Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, acknowledging himself as a vassal of the Assyrian king in 734 BC. But the purchase of foreign protection will pave the way for the downfall of his kingdom (2 Kng 16:1-9 and Is 8:5). Influenced by the Assyrians, Ahaz will bring pagan worship to Jerusalem and will revise the Temple to accommodate his changes (2 Kng 16:10-18; 2 Chr 28:24-25).

Notice that in verse 9 the sin of Judah's rulers is again compared to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Then there is a formal covenant lawsuit indictment against the people and their rulers: 13 Yahweh has risen to accuse, is standing to pass judgment on the people. 14 Yahweh is about to try the elders and the princes of his people, "You are the ones who have ravaged the vineyard, the spoils of the poor are in your houses. 15 By what right do you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor?" says the Lord Yahweh Sabaoth.

Question: What is the "vineyard" that the elders and princes of Judah have ravaged by profiting off the affliction of the poor?
Answer: The "vineyard" is Israel/Judah.

Isaiah 3:16-4:1 ~ The Women of Jerusalem
16 Yahweh says: Because Zion's daughters are proud and walk with heads held high and enticing eyes "with mincing steps they go, jingling the bangles on their feet "17 the Lord will give Zion's daughters scabby heads, Yahweh will lay their foreheads bare. 18 That day the Lord will take away the ornamental chains, medallions, crescents, 19 pendants, bracelets, trinkets, 20 diadems, ankle-chains, necklaces, scent bottles, amulets, 21 finger-rings, nose-rings, 22 party dresses, cloaks, scarves, purses, mirrors, 23 linen clothes, turbans and mantillas [veils]. 24 Then, instead of perfume, a stink; instead of belt, a rope, instead of hair elaborately dressed, a shaven scalp, instead of gorgeous clothes, sacking round the waist, and brand marks instead of beauty. 25 Your men will fall by the sword, your warriors in battle, 26 and her gates will moan and mourn; she will sit on the ground, deserted. 4:1 That day, seven women will catch hold of one man and say, "We will eat our own food, and wear our won clothing, but just let us bear your name. Take our disgrace away."

Question: What is the sin of the women of Jerusalem?
Answer: They are immodest in dress and in behavior.

Question: What are the signs of their judgment?
Answer: Afflictions of the scalp with no veil to cover their condition and the loss of all their finery. There will be so few men that there will not be enough men available to be husbands and many women will remain unmarried and without protection.

21 items are named in the judgment in verses 18-23. 21 = 3x7. 7 is the number of fullness and completion but their punishment will be as great as 3 times the normal judgment. This is followed by 5 contrasts:

  1. Instead to perfume, a stink
  2. Instead of a belt, a rope
  3. Instead of dressed hair, a shaven head
  4. Instead of lovely clothes, sackcloth (a sign of mourning)
  5. Instead of beauty, brand marks (perhaps the branding for a slave captured in war)

Question: Why is the judgment so severe for the women of Jerusalem?
Answer: They are the women of God's holy city and responsible for being a symbol of womanly virtue and holiness for the other women of Judah.

The picture Isaiah paints is one of total misery for the city of Jerusalem, summed up in 3:25-4:1 where the male population has been decimated by war; and, of the women who survive, 7 (an ideal number expressing fullness or completion) women will ask a man to be their master as the once proud women are desperate to become concubines.

Chapter 4: The Holy Remnant

Isaiah 4:2-6 ~ Yahweh's Messianic Branch
4:2 That day, Yahweh's seedling [tsemach = bud, seedling, branch] will turn to beauty and glory, what the earth brings forth will turn to the pride and ornament of Israel's survivors. 3 Those who are left in Zion and remain in Jerusalem will be called holy, all those in Jerusalem noted down to live. 4 When the Lord has washed away the filth of Zion's daughters and with the wind of judgment and the wind of burning cleansed Jerusalem of the blood shed in her, 5 Yahweh will create, over every house on Mount Zion and over those who assemble there, a cloud by day and by night smoke with the brightness of a flaring fire. 6 For over all will be the Glory as canopy and tent to give shade by day from the heat, refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain.

"That day" does not refer to the Day of Judgment on Judah and the women of Jerusalem but a day of redemption when the land and people will experience a rebirth. "Branch" (shoot or bud), in 4:1, is a title the prophets used for the Redeemer-Messiah. Two Hebrew words are used in the "branch" prophecies: tsemach (Is 4:2; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zec 3:8; 6:12) and netzer (Is 11:1; 14:19; 60:21; Dan 11:7).

The use of the word in the poetic imagery of "what the earth brings forth" compares the revitalize Israel to a tree bringing for new growth in the spring. "Survivors" in verse 3 refers to the faithful remnant that will once again become a nation. The "seedling" or "branch" that brings back new life to Judah and Jerusalem either describes the Messiah or the remnant of Israel that survives the coming judgment and returns to rebuild the nation.(1) The poetic imagery in verses 5-6 recalls the Glory cloud that protected the children of Israel on the Exodus when God's divine presence was continually with His people (Ex 13:21-22; Ps 78:14). The same imagery in verse 6 is found in the description of the eschatological bliss of union with God at the end of time in Revelation 7:15-16 ~ That is why they are standing in front of God's throne and serving him day and night in his sanctuary; and the One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will never hunger or thirst again; sun and scorching wind will never plague them, because the Lamb who is at the heart of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.

Chapter 5:1-7 ~ Yahweh's Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7 ~ The Song of the Vineyard
1 Let me sing my beloved the song of my friend for his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it, cleared it of stones, and planted it will red grapes [soreq]. In the middle he built a tower, he hewed a press there too. He expected it to yield fine grapes: wild grapes were all it yielded. 3 And now, citizen of Jerusalem and people of Judah, I ask you to judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? Why, when I expected it to yield fine grapes, has it yielded wild ones? 5 Very well, I shall tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I shall take away its hedge, for it to be grazed on, and knock down its wall, for it to be trampled on. 6 I shall let it go to waste, unpruned, undug, overgrown by brambles and thorn-bushes, and I shall command the clouds to rain no rain on it. 7 Now, the vineyard of Yahweh Sabaoth is the House of Israel, and the people of Judah the plant he cherished. 7 He expected fair judgment [justice], but found injustice [blood shed], uprightness, but found cries of distress. [..] = literal Hebrew, IBHE, vol. III, page 1621.

The theme of this parable is Israel symbolized as God's cherished vine that was chosen but because of its failure to produce acceptable fruit is now rejected. It is a theme that had also been introduced by Isaiah's contemporary, the prophet Hosea (Hos 10:1), and it was one of the reoccurring symbolic images of the Old Testament prophets.(2) Notice that it is Isaiah speaking in verses 1-2 and then God speaking in verses 3-7).

See the chart of the "Symbolic Images of the Prophets", or in handout 3 from Lesson 1. In the symbolic imagery of Israel as God's vineyard, the prophets presented four different stages of Israel's relationship with God. Notice that Isaiah presents the three parts of Israel's relationship with Yahweh in his parable of the vineyard: Part I, covenant unity; Part II, rebellion; and Part III, redemptive judgment.

Image Group Part I
Covenant relationship
Part II
Part III
Redemptive Judgment
Part IV
Restoration Fulfilled
Fig tree
[examples in Scripture]
Well-tended vineyard/fruitful fig tree
Isaiah 5:1-4a; Ezekiel 19:10-11; Jeremiah 24:4-7
Vines grow wild/failure to produce fruit
Isaiah 5:4b; Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 2:14; Micah 7:1-4; Joel 1:7, 11-12
Weeds overgrow vineyard/ ruin and destruction
Isaiah 5:3-6;
Ezekiel 19:12-14;
Jeremiah 8:13; 24:1-10;
Nahum 3:12-15
Vines are replanted/fruitfulness restored Promise: Hosea 14:2-9
John 15:1-2, 4-6

Isaiah begins by speaking about his "friend" who is the owner of the vineyard.
Question: Who is Isaiah's "friend", what does the "vineyard" symbolize? See verse 7. What has been done for the vineyard?
Answer: Isaiah's "friend" is Yahweh who has done everything possible to prepare Israel to be His fruitful vineyard.

Notice that in verse 1 Isaiah calls God, the Master of the vineyard, his "friend" (dod) and a related word translated "beloved" (yedid). Both these terms can be translated "beloved" and express the intimacy of the relationship the prophet has with His Lord. Isaiah is probably singing this song "to my beloved" the Lord, and not to the citizens of Judah for whom he is not feeling much love while delivering his covenant lawsuit.

Question: In the parable, what has the owner of the vineyard done to prepare his vineyard? See verses 1-2.

  1. He has planted in a fertile hillside that will get full sun.
  2. He spaded the ground and cleared it of stones.
  3. He planted the best vines.
  4. He built a watchtower so servants can protect the vineyard.
  5. He dug out an in ground winepress to prepare for the fruitful harvest.

In the Bible the "winepress" is frequently used as a symbol of obedience or judgment (Is 63:3-6; Jer 48:33; Lam 1:15; Hos 9:2; Joel 4:13; Rev 14:19-20; 19:15). The "harvest" is frequently used as a symbol of judgment and the ingathering of souls into God's heavenly storehouse (Is 17:11; Jer 50:16; Joel 4:13; Mt 13:39).

Question: How is each of these preparations symbolic of what God did for Israel in the conquest of the Promised Land of Canaan?

He has planted in a fertile hillside that will get full sun. God chose the land of Canaan as the place where His covenant people could thrive.
He spaded the ground and cleared it of stones. God led Israel in the conquest of the pagan peoples and removed them from the land.
He planted the best vines. God allotted the land to the twelve tribes of Israel.
He built a watchtower so servants can protect the vineyard. God sent His prophets to watch over His people, and He protected them from their enemies.
He dug out an in-ground winepress to prepare for the fruitful harvest. In God's divine plan for mankind's salvation, Israel was to be His agent to bring the Gentile nations to salvation. It was a mission that was to bring about the great harvest of souls into heaven and the Last Judgment at the end of the Age of Man.

The people of Israel were chosen out of all the peoples of the earth to be God's choicest vines producing "red grapes." The Hebrew word for "red grapes" in verse 2 is soreq; it is the name of a high quality plant designated by the blood-red color of its fruit (also see Gen 49:11; Is 16:8 and Jer 2:21). It was wine from these grapes that was used in liturgical worship at the Temple in the wine libation ritual at God's holy altar, and because of its color the wine was called the "blood of the grape" (see Sir 50:15). In our liturgical worship, it is the "blood of the grape" that becomes the "Blood of Christ."

3 And now, citizen of Jerusalem and people of Judah, I ask you to judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? Why, when I expected it to yield fine grapes, has it yielded wild ones?
In verse 3 the speaker in the parable suddenly changes from Isaiah to God as Yahweh challenges Israel to tell Him, after all He had done for them, why they failed Him.

5 Very well, I shall tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I shall take away its hedge, for it to be grazed on, and knock down its wall, for it to be trampled on. 6 I shall let it go to waste, unpruned, undug, overgrown by brambles and thorn-bushes, and I shall command the clouds to rain no rain on it.
In verses 5-7 God gives the terms of the covenant lawsuit and the redemptive judgments that will be inflicted upon an unrepentant people. These judgments are all the opposite of the covenant blessings God promised for obedience in Leviticus 26:1-13 and Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Instead, they recall the covenant judgments for disobedience promised in Leviticus 26:14-46 and Deuteronomy 28:15-69, including the judgment of invasion by foreign armies and exile (see Lev 26:32-35; Dt 28:49-52, 63-65). The words "thorns and briers" recall the covenant judgment against Adam for his sin in Genesis 3:18.

7 Now, the vineyard of Yahweh Sabaoth is the House of Israel, and the people of Judah the plant he cherished. 7 He expected fair judgment, but found injustice, uprightness, but found cries of distress.
So there is no misunderstanding of the parable, Isaiah identifies the "vineyard" as Israel. In verse 7, the words "judgment", "bloodshed", "justice" and "outcry" in the Hebrew constitute a play on words using two pairs of Hebrew words that sound alike but mean something very different. God looked for judgment/justice, in Hebrew mishpat, in His people, but He only found injustice (literally "bloodshed"), in Hebrew mispach. He looked for uprightness/righteousness, in Hebrew tsedeqah, but He found cries of distress, in Hebrew tse'aqah.

Compare Isaiah's vineyard parable with Jesus' Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Jesus' audience would not have missed the comparison between Jesus' parable of the vineyard and the well-known parable of the vineyard in the book of the prophet Isaiah that also ends in a prophecy of judgment (Is 5:1-7). Isaiah's "Vineyard" parable and Jesus' parable of the "Wicked Tenants of the Vineyard" are always pared in the Lectionary Readings in all three cycles (see Mt 21:33-46; Mk 12:1-12, and Lk 20:9-19).

Jesus told His parable to the crowd of Jews standing in the Temple's outer courts, but the teaching is a warning to the religious leadership concerning their rejection of both St. John the Baptist and Jesus, thereby rejecting God's divine plan for mankind. The parable should be studied within the context of Jesus' warning in Luke 19:43-44 where He prophesied the destruction of the city of Jerusalem when He said: "They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation" (NAB).

Question: What is the time of their "visitation" that is also the "proper time" in verse 2 of the parable? Also see Mk 12:2 that identifies the time of the "visitation."
Answer: Jesus' presence within the holy city is the time of "visitation" and now is the "proper time" (Mk 12:2)

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (The Gospel of Mark 12:1-12, NAB)
1 He began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge round it, dug a wine press, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers [georgos] and left on a journey. 2 At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty handed. 4 Again he sent them another servant. And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully. 5 He sent yet another whom they killed. So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed. 6 He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8 So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this scripture passage: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes'? 12 They were seeking to arrest him, but they feared the crowd, for they realized that he had addressed the parable to them. So they left him and went away.
[..] = IBGE, vol. IV, page 132. The noun georgos generally means a farmer but when the planting is vines it refers to a "vinedresser," a distinction that is significant in the context of the parable.

The situation in the parable would have been familiar to first century AD Jews not only because of the much loved vineyard parable of Isaiah but because of the customs of the times. Landholders often rented out their property to tenant farmers who had to share a percentage of the profits from the harvest with the owner of the land. Jesus uses the parable as an allegory predicting His death at the hands of the Jewish religious authorities, their eventual loss of authority as God's representatives to His people, and the destruction of the "vineyard" that is Old Covenant Israel.

Jesus' parable must be studied within the context of Isaiah's parable. It is the way the people listening to Jesus would have understood what He was saying. Isaiah's mission was to call a covenant lawsuit against the covenant people who had fallen away from their obligations to the covenant they made with Yahweh at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:3-8). They had fallen into apostasy, they disobeyed God's commandments, and they were worshiping pagan gods. Isaiah's warnings included that God would use the powerful nation of Assyria as His instrument of divine judgment in calling the covenant people to repentance and back into communion with their divine Lord. In Jesus' time only the nation of Judah remained, and when the Romans conquered the region in 63 BC it had been renamed the Roman province of Judea (Israel ceased to exist after 722 BC). Notice that in Jesus' parable that the lord of the vineyard identifies his son as his "beloved son" in Mark 12:6.

Question: What is significant about the use of the words "beloved son" in the parable? See Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11.
Answer: They recall God's voice from heaven identifying Jesus as His "beloved Son" at His baptism.

Question: To whom did Isaiah address his parable in the 8th century BC? To whom is Jesus addressing His parable in 30 AD?
Answer: Isaiah's parable is addressed to the people of Jerusalem and Judah (Is 5:3), just as Jesus is addressing His parable to the same audience.

Question: What is the function of the tenant farmers who are the vineyard's vinedresser? See Jesus' description of the work of the divine vinedresser in Jn 15:1-2.
Answer: A vinedresser pruned the vines so that they produced more growth and therefore more fruit. Vines that did not produce fruit were cut away for the health of the plant.

Question: Who owned the land of Israel? What was owed by the tenants of the land? See Lev 25:23.
Answer: The Promised Land of Israel belonged to God; the children of Israel were His tenants. The land could never be sold; it could only be leased and the "tenants" owed the Master their obedience to His commandments.

Question: What is the symbolism of the parable: Who is the master who owns the vineyard? What does the vineyard represent? Why was the master said to be absent for a long time? Who are the tenants/vinedressers in charge of the harvest, who are the lord's servants who were rejected and beaten, and who is the beloved son the tenants/vinedressers killed? Finally, who are the "others" to whom the vineyard will be given?

Symbolic Imagery in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants
The master of the vineyard God
The vineyard with a hedge and watchtower God's covenant people, Israel/Judah
The "hedge" was the Law and the "watchtower" the prophets
The tenants/vinedressers in charge of the vineyard's harvest The religious authorities whose duty it is to ensure the salvation of the covenant people
The master's journey/absence for a long time No theophany of God since Mt. Sinai
The three sets of the master's servants God's prophets down through salvation history
The master's son Jesus, God the Son
The tenants/vinedressers who decide to kill the son The religious authorities and others who reject Jesus as the Messiah and seek His death
The "others" who will now receive authority over the master's vineyard The Jewish and Gentile Christians who will be the "new Israel"* of the New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013

* see CCC 877: ... In fact, from the beginning of his ministry, the Lord Jesus instituted the Twelve as "the seeds of the new Israel and the beginning of the sacred hierarchy" ...

6 He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8 So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
This is a prophecy of Jesus' death outside the "vineyard" that was Judah's capital city, Jerusalem, when He was executed outside the walls of the holy city (Jn 19:17-20). According to the Law, all executions were to take place outside the city/camp of God; nothing unclean, like a corpse, could be present to pollute the ground of God's camp (Lev 24:14; Num 19:11-22; Acts 8:58). The Romans observed this custom.

9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others.
Question: Compare the judgment in Mark's parable to the judgment in Isaiah 5:5.
Answer: Isaiah's parable speaks of God's judgment on an unrepentant people in verse 5: Very well, I shall tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I shall take away its hedge, for it to be grazed on, and knock down its wall, for it to be trampled on. The covenant people will lose their special status as keepers of God's "vineyard" in the same way that Mark's parable speaks of judgment on the wicked tenants/vinedressers and their loss of the "vineyard" that will be given to others.

Question: Did Jesus' audience understand His parable and the threat it contained? See Mk 12:12 and Lk 20:16b.
Answer: The people absolutely understood: When the people heard this, they exclaimed, "Let it not be so!" (Lk 20:16b) and ... they would have liked to arrest him, because they realized that the parable was aimed at them ... (Mk 12:12). They understood that Jesus was talking about more than an ordinary vineyard and was saying that the "vineyard" of Israel that was the covenant with God was to be taken away from those to whom it was entrusted (the religious leadership) that rejects the teaching and preaching of Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus told the crowd: "10 Have you not read this scripture passage: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes'?"
The crowds of the faithful sang Psalms 113-118 continually during the festival of Passover and the week-long feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus is quoting verbatim from the Septuagint translation of Psalms 118:22 [117:22 in some translations]. The point is the futility of the rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders and others; God's plan will not be thwarted by their rejection.

Question: What is the significance of the passage that Jesus quotes from Psalms 118:22? Read Ps 118:19-29; Is 8:11-15 and 28:16. Who are the "builders" and who is the "Stone"? See Acts 4:11.
Answer: Jesus is identifying the rejection of the owner's son in the parable (verse 14-15) and Himself as the "Stone" rejected by the "builders," who are the religious authorities. The prophet Isaiah also spoke of a judgment on the people and of God's plan for one who will be a both a "cornerstone" and a "stumbling stone" to test the covenant people and especially the people of Jerusalem.

Isaiah's passage has the same force of prophecy as Jesus' parable in this passage. The allusion is the same to the "stumbling stone" which is to be a trap for "the house of Jacob" and a snare to "the inhabitants of Jerusalem" and those who "fall on it" will be crushed. St. Peter will combine the prophecies of Isaiah 8:14; 28:16 and Psalms 118:22 in 1 Peter 2:4-8: Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it says in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame." Therefore, its value is for you who have faith, but for those without faith: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and "A stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall." They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny. NAB

St. Peter will quote the passage from Psalms 118:22 to the religious authorities of the Sanhedrin and apply it to Jesus in Acts 4:8, 11-12: Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered them "Leaders of the people and elders: ... He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.' There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved" (NAB). Also see Ephesians 2:20.

There is also probably a connection to Daniel 2:34-45 in which a divine "stone" breaks apart the "mountain" of the old Jerusalem Temple and its covenant. The scribes and chief priests certainly understood His references to Scripture and the force of His teaching. St. Mark notes that the leaders themselves clearly understood that the parable was directed at them: They were seeking to arrest him, but they feared the crowd, for they realized that he had addressed the parable to them. So they left him and went away (Mk 12:12).

The prophecy of divine judgment was fulfilled. The second half of the 8th century BC brought about the collapse of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the armies of Assyria. The end came in 722 BC with the defeat of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, and the exile of the people into Assyrian lands to the east (2 Kng 17:1-6). In 701 BC the army of Assyrian king Sennacherib ravaged the nation of Judah and planned to besiege Jerusalem, the capital of the Southern Kingdom (2 Kng 18:13). But good King Hezekiah turned to God and prayed for His mercy and protection. Yahweh delivered Judah from the Assyrians, and the nation had a temporary reprieve as Isaiah foretold (2 Kng 19:20, 32-36). But after the death of King Hezekiah, Judah fell again into apostasy and was conquered and the people exiled into Babylonian lands to the east in 587/6 BC.

The prophets Hosea (6th century BC) and Jeremiah (5th century BC) promised a restoration after God's judgment of exile. Hosea wrote: Israel, come back to Yahweh your God, your guilt was the cause of your downfall. Provide yourself with words and come back to Yahweh. Say to him, "Take all guilt away and give us what is good ...They will come back to live in my shade; they will grow wheat again, they will make the vine flourish ... (Hos 14:2, 8). The prophet Jeremiah promised that the Babylonian exile would only last 70 years before Judah and Jerusalem's debt of sin had been paid and the people could return to the land. There was a return of a faithful remnant of Israelites to Judah and Jerusalem, but there was no mass return to the Northern Kingdom of Israel occupied by the Gentile Samaritans.

God is the Lord of history, and Assyria and Babylon were only instruments of judgment in His hands to call His people to repentance and restoration. But while there was a temporary restoration with the return of the nation of Judah from the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC, full restoration didn't take place until the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah, Jesus Christ, and the birth of Yahweh's vineyard of the new Israel of His faithful disciples on the Jewish feast of Pentecost who were called to bear fruit in His New Covenant Kingdom of the universal Church.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: In John 15:1-5, during His Last Supper homily, Jesus returns to the subject of vines and vineyards. Who does Jesus identify as the "true vine" and who is the "vinegrower" who prunes the branches attached to the vine? Who are the branches?
Question: In viticulture, the vines are pruned to produce more fruit. How does God "prune" believers in Jesus Christ to produce more "fruit"? Why? What is the "fruit"?

The spring of 30 AD was the end of the time of God the Son's "visitation" to the Old Covenant Church. He has warned us that He will return at the end of the Age as divine Judge.
Question: What must the New Covenant Church do to ensure that Christ the Bridegroom will find His Bride the Church dressed in a wedding garment of grace and good deeds (see Mt 22:1-2, 11-13; Rev 19:8) when He returns? What were the failures of the Old Covenant Church that we must avoid?

1. The same word for "shoot" or "branch" is used in Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zec 3:8 and 33:15; 6:12 in reference to the Messiah.
2. The same imagery is used, for example, by Isaiah (Is 3:14; 5:1-5; 27:2-5), by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 2:21; 5:10; 6:9; 12:10), by the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 15:1-8; 17:3-10; 19:10-14); and by the inspired writer of the Psalms (80:8-18).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2015 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references:
Isaiah 5:1-5 (CCC 755)
Mark 12:1-12 (CCC 755, 443, 756)
Psalms 118:22 (CCC 587, 756)