As regular readers know, I’ve been slowly working my way through Isaiah, and letting Scripture work its way down into the way I see the world around me. This morning, I’m mulling over the “Song of the Vineyard” in chapter five.
It prompts me to dig out our bin of plastic food, left over from our kids’ early days and waiting for the next visit of the grandkids.
In Isaiah 5, God likens Israel to a vineyard that he carefully prepared, planted and protected. He muscled the stones out of the ground, selected only the best vines to grow and built a winepress for the coming yield of grapes. But the crop was a huge disappointment.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad? (Is. 5:4)
The original word for “bad” literally means “stink-fruit.” What a powerful image! Instead of sweet, succulent grapes, he got nasty, foul-smelling ones. Photos can’t convey this, but I rubbed each of these replicas in the juice of an onion I let rot in the basement. Imagine the putrid odor! (Okay, I didn’t do that. But you get the whiff.)
That is how the behavior and attitudes of God’s people looked (and smelled) like to him.
The analogy ends with this:
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Is. 5:7)
I love word play in the Bible. In that last sentence, Isaiah crafts two written versions of the false-fruit image. The Hebrew for “justice” is mispat; “bloodshed” is mispah. “Righteousness” is sedaqa; “cries of distress,” se aqa.
Each one is almost but not quite. Look-alikes on the surface, but radically different underneath. One of my favorite commentators, Derek Kidner, was able to fashion one in English: “He looked for right but, behold, riot.”
I wonder what our present-day, sound-alike fruits are. Here’s one. For around 20 years, my wife and I led a small group in our home. Eventually, we decided to call it quits because I realized the group had exchanged fellowship for familiarity. (It’s only an alliterative link, but you get the shift.) They vaguely resemble each other but are fundamentally dissimilar fruit within. The latter is a superficial – dare I say, plastic – version of the vibrant, soul-satisfying sharing of lives under the Lordship of Christ.
Familiarity produces assumptions about one another wrapped in a blanket of comfortability. The fruit of fellowship is a greater realization of spiritual power built on a communal commitment to Christ’s kingdom. It is an ongoing harvest of sweet and beneficial fruit. Here’s a newsflash: you get no wine from plastic grapes. Or rotten ones, for that matter.
But let’s not overlook a key word in verse 7: delight. My commentary tells me this is a word that is only used here in Scripture. It’s constructed to convey intensity: a deep pleasure.
We are his vineyard of delight. Let’s produce the fruit that such a loving attention should yield.
Lord, keeper of your vineyard, how great your care is for us. You chose us. You planted us. Watered us. Protected us. Keep us ever alert to and in step with your Spirit so that we may produce the fruit that delights you.
Reader: Can you think of another example of near-miss wordplay? (Like Kidner’s right/riot.). If so, I’d love to read it.