A Love Song, of Sorts: Reflections on Isaiah 5:1-7

And in addition to the revelation of the identity of the vineyard owner comes the revelation of the identity of the vineyard itself: "Without a doubt, the vineyard of YHWH of the Armies is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are YHWH's delightful planting" (Is. 5:7a). These revelations make the love song even more interesting. We now see that YHWH has been the singer from the beginning, composing a song for the beloved Israel who is the vineyard of YHWH. The song begins in hope, labor, and expectation. Unfortunately, the song slips into a harsh minor key as YHWH sums up in a dark coda the sadness and frustration of YHWH's relationship with the beloved vineyard.

"I expected justice, but look! Bloodshed! Righteousness, but look! An outcry!" (Is. 5:7b) A horrifying pun is locked into this musical coda. YHWH expected mishpat from these chosen Israelites, but instead witnessed mispach. YHWH expected tsdakah from these chosen Israelites, but instead heard ts'aqah. This latter word is often connected with places of oppression; instead of helping the oppressed as YHWH and the prophet have urged from the people (see Is. 1:16-17 for one of numerous examples), these foul people have created more oppressed people. And instead of witnessing a constant search for justice, for equality for all of YHWH's people, YHWH sees an ocean of blood pouring from those who have been denied that very justice.

Is this a love song at all? It is, if we remember that love comes in many forms. Sometimes love means not sweetness and light and kisses and hugs but a challenge to the beloved to cease destructive behaviors and return to the paths of justice and righteousness. No true prophet longs for the destruction of those to whom the prophet speaks. True prophets want conversion to the ways of YHWH, and for the prophet Isaiah, those ways are best exemplified by actions of justice and righteousness. Could this be the sort of love song you and I need in our 21st-century world, a world in which we too often witness more bloodshed than justice and more cries of anguish than acts of righteousness? Let us sing such a love song for the beloved in our congregations, for it may well be the song they and we need to hear and that we need to sing.

8/11/2013 4:00:00 AM
  • Progressive Christian
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.