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The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard


Let me sing for my beloved

my love-song concerning his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard

on a very fertile hill.


He dug it and cleared it of stones,

and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,

and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,

but it yielded wild grapes.



And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem

and people of Judah,

judge between me

and my vineyard.


What more was there to do for my vineyard

that I have not done in it?

When I expected it to yield grapes,

why did it yield wild grapes?



And now I will tell you

what I will do to my vineyard.

I will remove its hedge,

and it shall be devoured;

I will break down its wall,

and it shall be trampled down.


I will make it a waste;

it shall not be pruned or hoed,

and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;

I will also command the clouds

that they rain no rain upon it.



For the vineyard of the L ord of hosts

is the house of Israel,

and the people of Judah

are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice,

but saw bloodshed;


but heard a cry!

Social Injustice Denounced


Ah, you who join house to house,

who add field to field,

until there is room for no one but you,

and you are left to live alone

in the midst of the land!


The L ord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:

Surely many houses shall be desolate,

large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.


For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,

and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah.



Ah, you who rise early in the morning

in pursuit of strong drink,

who linger in the evening

to be inflamed by wine,


whose feasts consist of lyre and harp,

tambourine and flute and wine,

but who do not regard the deeds of the L ord,

or see the work of his hands!


Therefore my people go into exile without knowledge;

their nobles are dying of hunger,

and their multitude is parched with thirst.



Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite

and opened its mouth beyond measure;

the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude go down,

her throng and all who exult in her.


People are bowed down, everyone is brought low,

and the eyes of the haughty are humbled.


But the L ord of hosts is exalted by justice,

and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness.


Then the lambs shall graze as in their pasture,

fatlings and kids shall feed among the ruins.



Ah, you who drag iniquity along with cords of falsehood,

who drag sin along as with cart ropes,


who say, “Let him make haste,

let him speed his work

that we may see it;

let the plan of the Holy One of Israel hasten to fulfillment,

that we may know it!”


Ah, you who call evil good

and good evil,

who put darkness for light

and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet

and sweet for bitter!


Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes,

and shrewd in your own sight!


Ah, you who are heroes in drinking wine

and valiant at mixing drink,


who acquit the guilty for a bribe,

and deprive the innocent of their rights!

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Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,

and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,

so their root will become rotten,

and their blossom go up like dust;

for they have rejected the instruction of the L ord of hosts,

and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.



Therefore the anger of the L ord was kindled against his people,

and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them;

the mountains quaked,

and their corpses were like refuse

in the streets.

For all this his anger has not turned away,

and his hand is stretched out still.



He will raise a signal for a nation far away,

and whistle for a people at the ends of the earth;

Here they come, swiftly, speedily!


None of them is weary, none stumbles,

none slumbers or sleeps,

not a loincloth is loose,

not a sandal-thong broken;


their arrows are sharp,

all their bows bent,

their horses’ hoofs seem like flint,

and their wheels like the whirlwind.


Their roaring is like a lion,

like young lions they roar;

they growl and seize their prey,

they carry it off, and no one can rescue.


They will roar over it on that day,

like the roaring of the sea.

And if one look to the land—

only darkness and distress;

and the light grows dark with clouds.


18. Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity! After having inserted a short consolation for the purpose of allaying the bitterness of punishments as regards the godly, he returns to threatenings, and proceeds to launch those thunderbolts of words which are fitted to awaken some degree of alarm. By cords he means nothing else than the allurements by which men suffer themselves to be deceived, and harden their heart in crimes; for either they ridicule the judgment of God, or they contrive vain excuses, and allege the plea of necessity. Any concealment, therefore, which they employ, he calls cords; for whenever men are prompted to sin by the lust of the flesh, they at first pause, and feel that something within restrains them, which would certainly keep them back, if they did not rush forward with opposing violence, and break through all opposition. When any man is tempted to do what is sinful, his conscience secretly asks him, What are you doing? And sin never advances so freely as not to feel this check; for God intended in this manner to provide for the good of mankind, lest all should break out into unbridled licentiousness.

How comes it, then, that men are so obstinate in doing what is sinful? Assuredly they permit themselves to be deceived by allurements, and stupify their minds, that they may despise the judgment of God, and may thus have some freedom to commit sin. They flatter themselves by imagining that what is sin is not sin, or by some excuse or idle pretense they lessen its enormity. These, then, are cords, wicked ropes, by which they draw iniquity. Hence it is evident that the Lord has good reason for threatening them; for they sin, not only of their own accord, but perversely and obstinately, and, in short, they bind themselves to sin, so that they are without excuse.

19. Who say, Let him make speed. He specifies one class of sins, by means of which he shows that they draw sins as by ropes. When men not only lay aside all thought of the Divine judgment, but despise and treat as fabulous all that is said about it, nothing can be worse than this. He intended to say that the utmost contempt is manifested when men, to whom the judgment of God has been declared, say that it would give them joy to see it, and treat it with ridicule as a silly alarm; which is denoted by these words full of contempt and of wicked confidence: Let him come, let him make speed.

Work, is here put, by way of eminence, (κατ ἐξοχὴν,) for judgment; for God appears to be doing nothing when he does not punish the crimes of the ungodly; but when he rises up to execute judgment, and inflicts punishment, his work is then seen, and becomes visible (as is commonly said) by action; because from the very fact we learn that the world is governed by his authority and power. Work, therefore, is taken specially for judgment; because by means of it we see that God is by no means unemployed, but performs his office. Now, ungodly men speak of him with reproach and contempt, and at this very day we have abundant instances of such wickedness and rebellion; and the same war which was formerly waged by the prophets is that which we also are called to maintain.

The ungodly think that God does nothing, and cares not about the affairs of men; as Epicurus thought that God’s highest happiness consisted in his being free from all occupation. Though they imagine that there is some God, yet they do not at all acknowledge his judgment; and in the meantime they bid themselves be of good cheer, and resolve that they will not wear themselves out by such thoughts. “Let these prophets and ministers cry, and bawl, and hold out terrors and threatenings; we will wait without any concern for what they tell us, and in the meantime we will enjoy our mirth.” In this way the Prophet relates the speeches of the ungodly, by which they expressed ridicule and contempt of the word. Not only do they say, Let his work come, but, Let him hasten, Let him make speed; for when he delays, they conclude that everything which God does not execute as soon as he has spoken it is idle talk. Thus Peter represents the ungodly as saying,

Since the world was created, the course of nature has been uniform; and, therefore, after so many ages, it is idle to
expect a day of judgment.” (2 Peter 3:4.)

In the meantime, they purposely, as it were, provoke God to exert his power immediately, if he has any.

Let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come. To work is added counsel, as if they had said, “Why does God deliberate so long, or say what he intends to do? Let him rather show that what he has decreed is accomplished.” It is a great aggravation of their crime, that they wickedly dared to set aside the doctrine which was well known to them. They were more wicked than the heathen Gentiles in this respect, that they despised the doctrine by which he had adopted them to be his peculiar people.

That we may see it. These are proofs of infidelity; for ungodly men will not acknowledge God, unless they have immediate evidence of his presence, and they refuse to believe his words. Now, if the Holy Spirit, by means of this mark, holds up ungodly men to detestation, we ought to testify our faith and piety by the opposite sign, that is, by relying on the word of God, though the effect does not immediately appear; for it is the peculiar excellence of faith to hold us dependent on the mouth of God. True, we next derive confirmation from works, but we must not begin at them; for this is the distinction between the elect and the reprobate, that the elect simply rely on the word, but do not disregard works, while ungodly men scorn and disdain the word, though God speak a hundred times; and yet they continually and eagerly call upon him for works. And when the judgment of God is declared, they say, “Where is it?” They cannot endure the mention of it, unless it be immediately made known by action. When men are so immoderate, it follows that they have no faith, but rather obstinate rebelliousness, Which more and more withdraws and estranges man from God.

20. Wo to them that call evil good. Though some limit this statement to judges, yet if it be carefully examined, we shall easily learn from the whole context that it is general; for, having a little before reproved those who cannot listen to any warnings, he now proceeds with the same reproof. It is evident that men of this sort have always some excuse to plead, and some way of imposing on themselves; and, therefore, there is no end to their reproachful language, when their crimes are brought to light. But here he particularly reproves the insolence of those who endeavor to overthrow all distinction between good and evil

The preposition ל (lamed), prefixed to the words good and evil, is equivalent to Of; and therefore the meaning is, They who say of evil, It is good, and of good, It is evil; that is, they who by vain hypocrisy conceal, excuse, and disguise wicked actions, as if they would change the nature of everything by their sophistical arguments, but who, on the contrary deface good actions by their calumnies. These things are almost always joined together, for every one in whom the fear of God dwells is restrained both by conscience and by modesty from venturing to apologize for his sins, or to condemn what is good and right; but they who have not this fear do not hesitate with the same impudence to commend what is bad and to condemn what is good; which is a proof of desperate wickedness.

This statement may be applied to various cases; for if a wo is here pronounced even on private individuals, when they say of evil that it is good, and of good that it is evil, how much more on those who have been raised to any elevated rank, and discharge a public office, whose duty it is to defend what is right and honorable! But he addresses a general reproof to all who flatter themselves in what is evil, and who, through the hatred which they bear to virtue, condemn what is done aright; and not only so, but who, by the subterfuges which they employ for the sake of concealing their own enormities, harden themselves in wickedness. Such persons, the Prophet tells us, act as if they would change light into darkness, and sweet into bitter; by which he means that their folly is monstrous, for it would tend to confound and destroy all the principles of nature.

21. Wo to them that are wise in their own eyes! Here he proceeds to rebuke those on whom no instruction can produce a good effect, and who do not allow any wise counsels or godly warnings to gain admission. In short, he pronounces a curse on obstinate scorners, who set up either the lusts of the flesh or a preposterous confidence in their wisdom, in opposition to God’s instruction and warnings. And not only does he rebuke those who are puffed up with a false conviction of their wisdom, and are ashamed to learn from others, but he likewise pronounces a general condemnation on all who, through prejudices in their own favor, refuse to hear God speaking, and to listen to his holy warnings.

This fault has been too common in all ages, and we see it in very many persons at the present day, who, though they would shrink from openly rejecting the doctrine of godliness, are yet so far from being truly obedient and teachable, that they haughtily reject everything that does not please them. They acknowledge that they need some bridle, but, on the other hand, are so much blinded by their presumption, that, when God points out the way, they immediately rebel; and not only so, but break out into violent indignation at the censure passed on their proceedings. Nay, where is the man who renounces his own judgment, and is ready to learn only from the mouth of God? But nothing is more destructive than this deceitful show of wisdom; for the beginning of piety is willingness to be taught, when we have renounced our own judgment and follow wherever God calls.

Nor is this false belief condemned solely on the ground of its rendering men disobedient to God, and thus being the cause of their ruin, but also on the ground of being in itself what God cannot endure. We must become fools if we desire to be God’s disciples. But it is also certain that mad rebellion reigns wherever there is not found that modesty and humility which leads a man willingly to yield subjection, In their own eyes means what we say in French, a leur semblant, that is, in their own conceit

22. Wo to them that are mighty to drink wine! Isaiah now censures another vice, namely, drunkenness and excess in eating, of which he had spoken before; so that probably this chapter is collected from various sermons, and the leading topics only are briefly touched; for when the Prophet saw no repentance, he was forced to repeat and frequently inculcate the same instructions. He therefore returns to the same reproofs which he had previously noticed; for he again discourses about drunkenness, luxury, covetousness, and other corruptions. Hence we ought to conclude, that when warnings produce no good effect, we ought to employ greater earnestness in addressing the obstinate and disobedient, and that we must not be afraid of giving offense by our eagerness, but must frequently repeat the reproofs, until they either yield or manifest incurable malice.

By calling them strong or powerful to drink, he wittily accuses them of wasting their strength in bacchanalian warfare. It is disgraceful and beastly ambition, when a man of vigorous health makes a display of his strength by drinking largely. Employing a figure of speech (synecdoche) which is frequent in the Prophets, and indeed in the whole of Scripture, he takes a part for the whole; as if he had said, “Wo to gluttony; Wo to intemperance.” But he purposely mentioned that which was disgraceful in the highest degree, in order to render that vice generally hated and abhorred; for, as we have said, nothing is more base or disgraceful than for a man to make trial of his strength in swallowing food or in guzzling wine, and thus struggling with himself so as to cram down as much as his belly can hold. Such men keep by no rule of life, and do not know why God gives them nourishment; for we eat and drink to support the body, and not to destroy it. We live that we may yield worship and obedience to God, and that we may render assistance to our neighbors. When men act so as not to maintain their strength, but to destroy it by trying how much food and wine they can bear, most certainly they are worse than beasts.

23. Who justify the wicked for a reward. He censures a corruption which at that time abounded in judgment-seats, and points out the reason why there is no room for justice in these places, namely, that they are under the influence of gifts. For covetousness blindeth the eyes of the wise, and perverteth all regard to what is good and just, even among those who would otherwise be disposed to follow what is right. (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19.)

It may be objected that there are other methods, and that it is not by gifts only that judgments are perverted; for favor, hatred, friendship, and other sinful passions, often blind the understanding. This is undoubtedly true; but the Prophet had in his eye what happens for the most part, (ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ,) and at the same time did not intend to spare those vices which he did not express by name. Following this example, godly teachers ought to be wise and careful in observing and correcting the vices which most extensively abound among the people, and most of all to oppose everything which appears to be sanctioned by wicked custom.

Now this corruption which is mentioned is that which most frequently of all is to be found in judgment-seats; and, therefore, it ought to be most carefully avoided by those judges who wish to form an upright judgment. Nor ought we to listen to what is affirmed by many, that gifts are not bestowed on them for that purpose, or that, after having accepted them, they are as free as ever to give a just decision; for where gifts are allowed, the regard to what is just and right must be corrupted, and it is impossible for your mind not to be favourably disposed towards him from whom you received them. In short, we should hear the Lord, who declares that the understanding of the wisest man is corrupted, and the disposition of the most upright man is perverted, unless we choose to be thought wiser than God.

24. Therefore as the flame of fire devoureth the stubble. Lest it should be thought that he has so frequently cried out without good reason, he again shows what grievous and dreadful punishment awaits the nation, and threatens utter destruction to the stubborn, because they did not permit themselves to be brought back to the right path, but obstinately resisted instruction. He employs metaphors exceedingly well adapted to express his meaning, and better fitted to affect their hearts than if he had spoken plainly and without a figure. He begins with a comparison, but immediately slides into a metaphor, attributing a root and branch to the nation as to a tree. Under those two words he includes all the strength, either hidden or visible, that belongs to the nation, and says that the whole will be destroyed; for when the root, which alone gives strength and nourishment to the tree, becomes rotten, it is all over with the tree; and in like manner he threatens that it is all over with the nation, and that its whole strength is wasted and consumed.

Because they have rejected the law of Jehovah of hosts. He does not now enumerate, as formerly, the particular kinds of crime by which they had provoked the wrath of God, but assigns a general cause, namely, contempt of the law of God; for this, as all men know, is the source of everything bad. And it is no small aggravation of their crime that, when the will of God had been made known to them in his law, it was not through ignorance or mistake, but through inveterate malice, that they shook of the yoke of God, and abandoned themselves to every kind of licentiousness; which was nothing else than to reject so kind a Father, and to give themselves up to be the slaves of the devil. Besides, he accuses them of open revolt; as if he had said that it was not in one or a few instances that they were rebellious, but that they might be regarded as treacherous apostates, and had altogether forsaken God.

And loathed the word of the Holy One of Israel. He complains that they not only despised the word of God, but — what is far more shocking — turned away from it, or threw it away in wicked disdain. But if contempt for the law of God is the source, head, and accumulation of all that is evil, there is nothing against which we ought more carefully to guard than that Satan should take away our reverence for it; and if there are any faults to which we are liable, we ought, at least, to allow a remedy to be applied to them, if we do not choose, by wickedly rejecting it, to draw down upon ourselves everlasting destruction.

25. Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled. In this verse the Prophet relates the former punishments which the Jews had already endured, and shows that they are not near an end; but that, on the contrary, heavier judgments await them, if they do not return to the right path. I readily acknowledge that the past tense is frequently employed instead of the future, but the meaning which I have stated will best agree with the context; for there are two things quite distinct from each other, which he lays down, on account of the resolute obstinacy of the people. First, how God perceives their crimes. Secondly, since there are no signs of repentance, he has other scourges within his reach for chastising the people. Thirdly, he describes what those scourges are, and forewarns them that the Assyrians will come at the bidding of the Lord, as soon as he shall express it by merely hissing to them, (verse. 26.)

Such is the connection of what the Prophet states; and hence it ought to be observed that the great body of men, as soon as they have escaped any calamity, forget their chastisements, and no longer regard them as the judgments of God; and that, though experience be the instructor of fools, still they grow hardened by strokes. This insensibility Isaiah sharply rebukes; as if he had said, “Have you so quickly forgotten the calamities under which you lately groaned? Whence came the distressful casting out of dead bodies, but because God had raised his arm against you? And if God has discharged the office of a judge, why do not those recent chastisements induce you to fear him, and to refrain from drawing down a succession of chastisements by new crimes?”

Accordingly, he repeats the term על-כן, (gnal ken,) therefore; as if he had said that those distresses are not accidental, but are manifest tokens of God’s vengeance; and so he expressly says that God was angry with his people; for if the Jews had not fallen from their own rank, their condition would have been happier than that of any other nation. When God’s chosen people, therefore, are treated by him with so much sharpness and severity, it is beyond all doubt that he has been provoked by heinous crimes. At the same time he refutes the false boasting by which the Jews were wont to vaunt and exalt themselves, as if they ought to be exempt from chastisements on the ground of their being God’s peculiar people.

And the mountains trembled. By this comparison the dreadful nature of those punishments to which they were insensible is described in such a manner as to prove more clearly the stupidity of the people. They were more stupid than inanimate objects, if they did not perceive the wrath of God, and the dreadful vengeance which had been inflicted on the kingdom of Israel.

For all these things. He threatens heavier chastisements in future, as we have already said; for although wicked men acknowledge that the Lord has punished them, still they think that they have no right to expect anything more than one or two chastisements. As if therefore nothing worse could befall them, and as if God’s power to punish them had been exhausted, they wrap themselves up in blind indifference. This is the reason why he exclaims that the wrath of God is not yet appeased, and that, although it has inflicted on them many calamities, still it has within its stores many weapons from which they have reason to dread innumerable wounds.

The copulative ו (vau) may be taken as a disjunctive, so as to mean, but, on the contrary, his hand is stretched out still. He refers to what he had formerly said, that the hand of God is stretched out. He tells them that it is not yet drawn back, and that it may yet pursue them, and inflict plagues of the same kind, or even of greater severity. We ought diligently to meditate on these statements, in order to shake off that drowsiness to which the greater part of men are frequently liable, even after having received chastisements.

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