Parable of the Vineyard
“For the exquisite beauty of language and consummate skill in effective communication, this parable is virtually peerless. One difficulty of a literary masterpiece is that a would-be translator who is not the literary equal of the author faces an impossible task . . . It is, in fact, an outstanding example of the way the inspiring Spirit employed human language to convey the divine message.” (Grogan)
This is the story of a vineyard that had many advantages as it belonged to a loving person. The ground of a fruitful hill was carefully dug-up and cleared of its rocks. The seed that was planted came from the choicest stock. For protection, there was a tower in its midst which had a winepress to process the grapes. “No possession is dearer to a man than a vineyard, and there is none that demands more constant and persevering toil. Not only, therefore, does the Lord declare that we are his beloved inheritance, but at the same time points out his care and anxiety about us.” (Calvin) “I have been thinking of the advantages of my own position towards the Lord, and lamenting with great shamefacedness that I am not bringing forth such fruit to him as my position demands. Considering our privileges, advantages, and opportunities, I fear that many of us have a need to feel great searching’s of the heart.” (Spurgeon)
With all this provision for his vineyard, he was surprised that it did not bring forth good fruit. It was unexpected that the vineyard brought forth wild grapes. “We are dealing here with something worse than unfruitfulness. The New Testament also speaks of a faith that brings forth fruit, but the fruit is dead works, which pollute the air like a cadaver. The wolf’s bane or wild vine does bear beautiful berries, but they are bitter, foul-smelling and poisonous in nature. This is a precise description of the self-willed and false religion of the unfaithful covenant people.” (Bultema) (2 Kings 4:39) The wild grapes are what is to be expected if nothing had been done to prepare the vineyard. All the love, care, time, work and investment had amounted to nothing.
This is a simple question, who is at blame for the vineyard bring forth worthless grapes? Is it the fault of the owner of the vineyard? Or, is it the fault of the vineyard itself? For the farmer, it is a matter of cause and effect. In truth, one can never blame the vineyard for its lack of production. But in the Lord’s vineyard, the will of man becomes a factor.
In this parable, there is nothing left undone for the vineyard. The owner did all that he could do for the vineyard. The point is that God cannot be blamed for all the wild grapes that came forth from Israel. God did all that He could do with the exception of taking away the free will of man. The fault then lies with the man, not God. “It will be seen then . . . that every soul of man had the chance of becoming a fruitful vineyard; and if it became the reverse, it was due to no failure in either the wisdom or grace of God.” (Meyer) “O you that profess to be his people, what more could Christ have done for you? What more could the Holy Spirit have done? What richer promises, what wiser precepts, what kinder providences, what more gracious patience?” (Spurgeon)
It is possible that God will do a good work for His people but the people will receive it in vain. Paul gave this warning to the Corinthians, “And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Corinthians 6:1)
A vineyard really doesn’t do anything for the Kingdom of God. We as God’s children are His vineyard and called to do the good works by His grace. We are not to receive His grace in vain. Grace is not given to us because of any works, past, present, or promises we have made for the future. Grace is given to us to encourage our work that it may glorify His name. Jesus used this same image in His parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard. (Matthew 21:33-36) “Has it been so with us? Have we rewarded the Well-beloved thus ungratefully for all his pains? Have we given him hardness of heart, instead of repentance; unbelief, instead of faith; indifference, instead of love; idleness, instead of holy industry; impurity, instead of holiness?” (Spurgeon)
The owner of the vineyard will withdraw his protection and it will be burned and the walls will come down and the vineyard trampled. In the church age the responsibility of “taking away the hedges.” When a professing Christian becomes stubborn and unrepentant it may be the job of the Church to discipline them. Then they will feel the pain of their sin and repent. “Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:20) The unrepentant sometimes need to be put outside of the spiritual protection that is found among the Christian people.
Nothing form the Lord will the vineyard receive. The vineyard had resisted the pruning and gigging and watering the owner had done. So the owner of the vineyard said fine and withdrew his care. Then the vineyard will know what is better. They will learn that justice is better than oppression and righteousness is better than weeping.
Woes for the Wicked
We may see here a picture of greed. People buying up the real estate for development. “For it cannot be condemned as a thing in itself wrong, if a man adds field to field and house to house; but he looked at the disposition of mind, which cannot at all be satisfied, when it is once inflamed by the desire of gain. Accordingly, he describes the feelings of those who never have enough, and whom no wealth can satisfy.” (Calvin) “Covetous persons are of the dragon’s temper, who, they say, is so thirsty, that no water can quench his thirst. Covetousness is a dry drunkenness, says one, insatiable dropsy, and like hell itself.” (Trapp)
Their real estate deals will be fruitless in the time of God’s judgment and many of the houses will be vacant. “When men are covetous after the things of this world, God has a way of making them to be filled with disappointment and with bitterness.” (Spurgeon)
This is a picture of those who labor at parting and endless celebration. They live a life of substance abuse and music. They have no thought of the work of the Lord, nor consider the work of His hands. What could be wrong with the party and the addiction to an entertainment lifestyle? To say it plainly it is a life that had no regard for God. Though they may in some way claim to regard the Lord they do not consider His work. One who does consider these things would live a life that is real towards God and not a life filled with parting and entertainment.
“Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; And their honorable men are famished, And their multitude is parched with thirst. Therefore Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure; And Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it. So the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased, The eyes of the proud also will be abased. But the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, And the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. Then the lambs will graze as in their pasture, And strangers will eat in the waste places of the wealthy.”
They pull themselves into sin with ropes that are empty. “They flatter themselves by imagining that what is sin is not sinning, or by some excuse or idle pretense they lessen its enormity. These, then, are cords, wicked ropes, by which they draw iniquity.” (Calvin) “That are not only drawn to sin by the allurements of the world, or by the persuasions of wicked men, being surprised and overtaken by sin, as sometimes good men are . . . but are active and industrious in drawing sin to themselves, or themselves to sin; that greedily and steadily pursue sin, and the occasions of it, and are not at rest until they have overtaken it; that sin willfully, and resolvedly, and industriously.” “With vain and deceitful arguments and pretenses, whereby sinners generally draw themselves to sin.” (Poole)
“Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; And let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near And come to pass, that we may know it!” These are empty words which show their contempt for the Lord. It is the words of a fool who say go ahead God and show me your judgment. “He either cannot or will not do us any harm: we do not fear him, let him do his worst; let him begin as soon as he pleases. Not that any of the Israelites were so impudent as to use these expressions; but this was the plain language of their actions; the lived as if they were of this opinion; their presumption and security showing their desperate contempt of God, and of all his judgments.” (Poole)
They use their clever language to blur the moral issues and excuse their sin. They see their evil yet call it good and see the good in others and call it evil. Here the Prophet Isaiah describes a deepening state of moral confusion.
They were filled with self-pride and rejected the wisdom and standards of God. All of their thinking is to exalt their wisdom over the Word of God.
These are men of accomplishment, of high achievement – in sin! “Nothing is more base or disgraceful than for a man to make trial of his strength in swallowing food or in guzzling wine, and this struggling with himself so as to cram down as much as his belly can hold. Such men keep 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.” (Calvin) Those who will justify the wicked for a bribe are those who care nothing for others but their own pleasure and entertainment.
The stubble and chaff are both flammable and will burn quickly. This is a warning from God that His judgment will be severe sudden and complete. All of the sins of Judah can be traced to their rejection of God and despising of what He has said. Their own opinion was far more important than the truth of God’s Word.
The call of God to foreign nations will bring them quickly to invade Judah. These nations will be instruments of His judgment upon them. If the enemy is strong and focused on us should we not be strong for the Lord? Should we not be focused on the Lord that we can overcome such a strong enemy?
Judah finds itself in a dark place. Why would the Lord place His people in such a dark place? It is because He loves them. This may seem harsh, but it is merciful. The words of the Lord may be seen as a slap in the face of His people but they were to prevent total and eternal destruction. The quest is then will we listen to God’s warning? “God’s woes are better than the devil’s welcomes.” (Spurgeon)