Love Song

Love Song January 26, 2016

In Isaiah 4, the Lord describes the glory over Israel as a “bridal chamber.” Yahweh’s glory is the place where Yahweh and His bride will meet. Then Isaiah begins a song, a song of the vineyard. But the nuptial imagery continues. The Song of the vineyard is a song about Yahweh as a vintner, but it is also a song about Yahweh the “beloved,” the “well-beloved” who plants and vineyard and cares for it and loves it. Yahweh who plants the vineyard is a lover, and the vineyard is His beloved.

Isaiah, in short, draws on the imagery of the Song of Songs. There, the vineyard is the Bride, her love is the wine that is sweeter and more intoxicating than wine. “May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,” the Bride says at the beginning, “for your love is better than wine.” We will extol your love more than wine,” the daughters of Jerusalem echo. “How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!” says the bridegroom, “How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than all kinds of spices” and “I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride . . . I have drink my wine and my milk.” Toward the end, the bride promises to “give you spiced wine to drink from the juice of my pomegranates.”

The vineyard is not only a vineyard but a bride; and the wine that Yahweh hopes for is not only wine but the intoxication of love. This Song is a love Song. This is not merely an allegory of planting and harvest; it’s an allegory of love.

But it’s an allegory of disappointed love. If it’s a love song, it’s a country song – about an unfaithful bride, about a bride who does not produce the wine of love for her lover. The song turns suddenly into a summons, into an indictment. The lyrical beginning records the lover’s disappointment, and then turns into an accusation. This ceases to be a love song; it becomes a lament over a divorce.

The song of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7) is an Edenic song – Yahweh and his Bride humanity, deceived into going astray. Yahweh forms Israel as His garden, and waits eagerly for it to produce grapes and wine to bring joy to His heart. The creation motif is reinforced by the structure of the passage.

Isaiah 5:2 is a sevenfold sequence of clauses. Six describe Yahweh’s care of His vineyard, and the last describes the disappointing results: 1) He dug; 2) He removed stones; 3) He planted; 4) He built a tower; 5) He hewed a wine vat; 6) He looked for grapes; 7) the vineyard produced only worthless grapes. He has done all He can for His vineyard; devoted a sixfold labor like the labor of the six days of creation, but the vineyard doesn’t produce fruit (v. 4).

In response (v. 5), Yahweh describes what He plans to do to His vineyard, a sequence that parallels the humiliation of the bride that we find in other prophetic passages. This sequence is organized by four first-person clauses, each of which has a subordinate clause describing the consequences. Yahweh says, I will will 1) remove the hedge and leave it to be burned; 2) break down the wall to be trampled; 3) lay it waste so that it is not hoed and briers grow; 4) charge clouds to give no rain. The sevenfold creation is undone by a fourfold, global judgment. And the hope in the joy of the vine is, for the moment, unfulfilled.

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