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God’s Lavished Grace Tragically Rendered Fruitless


God’s Lavished Grace Tragically Rendered Fruitless

Isaiah 5

What more could I have done for my vineyard than I did? Why, when I expected a yield of good grapes, did it yield worthless grapes? (Isa 5:4)

Main Idea: God exposes the many sins of his richly blessed people in a parable of a failed vineyard, and he predicts the coming judgment on these sins by his righteous wrath.

  1. God’s Lavished Grace: What More Could He Have Done (5:1-7)?
  2. Six Clusters of Bad Grapes (5:8-23)
    1. Woe 1: Aggressive greed (5:8-10)
    2. Woe 2: Sinful excess (5:11-12)
    3. Woe 3: Self-deceived enslavement and mocking of God (5:18-19)
    4. Woe 4: Redefining of truth (5:20)
    5. Woe 5: Arrogant false wisdom (5:21)
    6. Woe 6: Drunken, corrupt justice system (5:22-23)
  3. “Therefore” Judgment Comes (5:13-17,24-30).
    1. “Therefore” is the reasonable justice of God.
    2. The basic sin is rejecting God’s Word.
    3. Resultant judgments
  4. The Sweet Fruits of God’s Terrible Judgments (5:15-17)
    1. The Lord Almighty exalted and displayed
    2. Sheep peacefully grazing
  5. The Gospel of Christ: Consummation of These Themes
    1. “What more could I have done?”—Sovereign grace produces its own harvest.
    2. Judgment of all sins at the cross
    3. An eternity of peace in the presence of God

God’s Lavished Grace: What More Could He Have Done?

Isaiah 5:1-7

In 2 Corinthians 6:1 the apostle Paul made a powerful appeal to the talented but troubled Corinthian church: “We also appeal to you: ‘Don’t receive the grace of God in vain.’” What does it mean to “receive the grace of God in vain”? This is a troubling and often misunderstood concept. In order to answer the question we have to understand the doctrine of God’s grace, which is his determination to do good to people who deserve his wrath. Common grace is lavished on the world in a variety of ways: sunshine, rain, food, clothing, shelter, families, friends, health, scenic vistas, education, the written Word of God, and many others. But all of these forms of grace can be received “in vain”: if we fail to make the most of our opportunities, if we rebel and follow a lifestyle of sin, we have received God’s grace in vain.

This is exactly what happened to the Israelites of Isaiah’s day. Having been lavished with an astonishing array of blessings from God historically—the promises to Abraham, the exodus under Moses, the manna in the desert, the conquest of the promised land under Joshua, the joy of eating harvests they did not plant and living in houses they did not build, the patience of God through the rebellions in the time of the Judges, the gift of leadership by David, the repeated warnings and encouragements from many prophets—Israel responded with a shameful array of sins for generations. They had “received the grace of God in vain.” Isaiah 5 unfolds the anguish of that reality in powerful terms.

Isaiah begins in verses 1-7 with a parable about a vineyard. It is couched in the terms of a love song that the prophet sings for the one he loves (the Lord; v. 1). Intense heartbreak is in the prophet’s words, but that only dimly reflects the anguish the Lord feels at the failure of Israel’s harvest. Isaiah unfolds the lavish grace of the Lord on Israel: a well-chosen site, hard labor invested, skillful gardening, diligent protection. All this is done with a clear expectation of a rich harvest, for the Gardener has hewed out a winepress. He expected it to yield good grapes, but instead it yielded worthless grapes.

Having granted these rich blessings with such wretched results, the owner is angry and brings his vineyard to court, calling on the residents of Jerusalem and men of Judah to render the same verdict he will render. This is the second time this courtroom image is used in Isaiah (see 1:2). God wants to bring these people to see the justice of his judgments concerning the scandal of such lavish grace resulting in such a tragically disappointing harvest. The haunting question hangs over Israel’s entire history: “What more could I have done for my vineyard than I did?” And the secondary question: “Why?!” It is the unanswerable question in all of history: Why do we choose sin instead of God?

God has already rendered his own verdict (vv. 5-6): He is going to destroy it completely. He will personally remove its hedge of protection, and it will be consumed. He will make sure the clouds do not rain on it. He will turn it into a wasteland, not pruned or weeded, and thorns (the symbol of God’s curse on the earth in Eden) will grow up. God will remove his grace from this fruitless people.

In verse 7 he makes it plain who he is talking about: “the house of Israel and the men of Judah.” He declares plainly what he sees: “He expected justice but saw injustice; he expected righteousness, but heard cries of despair.” And God was enraged over it.

Six Clusters of Bad Grapes

Isaiah 5:8-23

Through Isaiah, God gets quite specific about the “worthless grapes” he saw in Israel and Judah. We can trace out these clusters of bad grapes by seeking the word woe in verses 8-23. Woe is a word of prophetic judgment used again and again in the Scriptures. It means, “Beware of the judgment about to come on you for your sins!” Isaiah uses the word six times in this chapter, and these six woes speak plainly of the corruption of the Israelite nation in the promised land:

Woe 1: Aggressive Greed (vv. 8-10)

These are economic empire builders, ruthlessly taking over the property of the poor and needy, like evil King Ahab, who had Naboth murdered and took over his vineyard.

Woe 2: Sinful Excess (vv. 11-12)

These people live for sensual pleasures rather than God: zealously dedicated to pursuing excess, waking up early just to run after drinks, lingering at it throughout the day; calling for the next new tune on the harp.

Woe 3: Self-Deceived Enslavement and Mocking of God (vv. 18-19)

They have deceived themselves, but they are enslaved to sin, as though they are beasts of burden serving sin and they cannot escape it. Yet they mock God, question God, challenge God, defy God. They arrogantly demand that God carry out his plan on their timetable.

Woe 4: Redefining of Truth (v. 20)

Long before the postmodern assertion that everything is relative, people have questioned truth and sought to redefine it. God alone is the absolute standard of good and evil, and the ultimate evil is to deny him his glory, to fail to love him with all our hearts. Lesser evils come when people call actions “good” that God has called “evil” and call actions “evil” that God has called “good.” This is the evidence of a depraved and arrogant mind.

Woe 5: Arrogant False Wisdom (v. 21)

In the garden of Eden, Eve perceived that the fruit was good for making her wise and she ate it. This kind of wisdom is rooted in self-worship, the ultimate form of idolatry. In the same way, the Israelites of Isaiah’s day were truly impressed with themselves. Technology, achievement, and affluence tend to make us wise in our own eyes, forgetting the immeasurable wisdom that God displayed in creating the universe to begin with.

Woe 6: Drunken, Corrupt Justice System (vv. 22-23)

One of the fundamental functions of government is to assure justice for all its citizens, that neither the rich nor the poor will get any preferential treatment but that everyone will be judged fairly. The symbol of this for the United States Supreme Court is Lady Justice personified, a blindfolded woman carrying scales and a sword, representing fair trial and justice meted out with authority, irrespective of persons. In Isaiah’s day judges loved the lush life, were champion wine drinkers, and sold their services to the highest bidder.

So there we have a sixfold woe, six clusters of bad grapes—a detailed and comprehensive description of the harvest of sins that breaks the heart of God.

“Therefore” Judgment Comes

Isaiah 5:13-17,24-30

Each of the woes describes a horrendous sin pattern on the part of God’s people, and each of them results in a “therefore”—a corresponding judgment from our reasonable and righteous God. In verses 9-10 God swears that luxurious homes of the economic empire builders will become desolate and their vineyards will experience massive crop failure. In verses 13-15 God makes it plain that the pleasure-loving drunkards will either die or go into exile to starve. In verses 24-25 God describes the fiery indignation of his wrath consuming the people who have despised and rejected his holy Word, and it is terrifying: the ground shaking and corpses filling the streets. It is very clear from verses 26-30 that the primary means of judging this people will be an invasion by a highly skilled and magnificently equipped army from distant Gentile nations (the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and then a series of Gentile invaders after them).

The Sweet Fruits of God’s Terrible Judgments

Isaiah 5:15-17

God does not delight in bringing these judgments on his people, but he does delight in the outcome described in verses 15-17: arrogant humanity is humbled, God alone is exalted by his justice and righteousness, and sheep may graze peacefully in the ruins of the rich. God’s judgments are designed to bring about final salvation for his elect, and the focus of their eternal joy will be the radiant attributes of God so plainly put on display throughout redemptive history.

The Gospel of Christ: Consummation of These Themes

Let us return to the question of this chapter: What more could he have done? God’s grace lavished on Israel is astonishing, and the advantages they enjoyed as God’s people were vast. One thing, however, was lacking: the internal transformation of their hearts by the sovereign grace of God. Without that transformation, all those external blessings would only corrupt them and harden their hearts. Their hearts of stone needed to be removed and hearts of flesh given instead; God’s Spirit could have been poured out on them from on high, moving them (indeed, compelling them by his sovereign power) to follow his statutes and ordinances (Ezek 36:26-27). The experience of Israel in history puts plainly on display two types of grace: that which can be resisted and turned to judgment and that which cannot. The second type of grace is sometimes called “irresistible,” but it is better to call it “effectual.” It is a grace that cannot be “received in vain”:

  • It was by grace that Lazarus was raised from the dead. He could not receive that in vain; he would most certainly breathe again.
  • It was by grace that the man born blind received his sight. He could not receive that grace in vain; he would most certainly see light.
  • It was by grace that God revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. He could not receive that grace in vain; he would most certainly understand who Jesus is and trust in him (Matt 16:16-17).
  • And it is by grace that all genuine Christians in history have been born again by the Holy Spirit of God; that their hearts of stone were removed and the hearts of flesh put in; that each one saw the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Not one of them could receive that grace in vain, but God’s grace would produce salvation in their hearts.


Isaiah 5 and the whole experience of Israel in the old covenant stands as a warning to the church in the new covenant. We have been given far greater privileges through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ than Israel experienced under the law of Moses. And this chapter stands as a warning to all nations in which the gospel has long flourished, not to take lightly the many blessings of the Christian faith that have surrounded them for centuries. Isaiah 5 speaks a word of warning to the American evangelical church, for no church in history has had as many spiritual advantages as Christians in America: Bibles in a variety of translations; good seminaries teaching the truths of the Word of God; publishers, book distributors, Internet resources; good preaching in tapes, CDs, digital downloads, and streaming; godly role models, men and women openly living for Christ; opportunities to serve the Lord in short- and long-term missions; good, Bible-believing churches.

And yet, for all the avalanche of God’s grace, it is amazing to many observers how little fruit is being produced here. We must be warned not to receive these graces from God in vain but live to display his holiness in an increasingly corrupt age and to spread the name of Jesus from shore to shore. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

We should learn to love God as passionately as Isaiah did (v. 1) and to grieve over what breaks God’s heart. We should look at the sins listed in Isaiah 5 and see roots of those same sins in our own hearts. We should look to the cross of Christ as our only righteousness and to the empty tomb of Christ as the only power for new life by the Spirit. We should proclaim the coming wrath of God, for the exact same sins that plagued Isaiah’s society plague our own. We should expose the moral relativism of postmodernism by the light of verse 20 and courageously call what is evil to be evil and what is good to be good. Finally, we should long for the societal righteousness that Isaiah yearned for, in which the poor and needy are not deprived of justice.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How does Isaiah’s obvious love for God and compassion with God in his grief over Israel’s failure to produce good fruit set an example for us as Christians (v. 1)?
  2. How is the parable of the failed vineyard a powerful tool for exposing the Israel’s sins and God’s disappointment over the failed harvest?
  3. How did Jesus use this parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-41? What are the similarities and differences between Isaiah’s parable and Jesus’s?
  4. What is the answer to the question, “What more could I have done for my vineyard than I did?” How do you understand various types of grace from God? What is the difference between “resistible” and “effectual” grace? What are some examples of each?
  5. How many of the sins exposed by the six woes are still obvious in our culture today? How should this make us fear for the future?
  6. How is verse 20 especially vital for us in the postmodern, relativistic world today? What are some examples of the ways that people call evil good and good evil today?
  7. How are the materialism of verse 8 and the love of pleasure of verse 22 obvious today?
  8. Why does God want the residents of Jerusalem and men of Judah to understand God’s justice in bringing these severe judgments on the nation (v. 3)? How is it vital for us to see how reasonable God is for bringing these judgments?
  9. How does the gospel of Jesus Christ draw out many of these same themes and give us the only hope for salvation from God’s coming wrath?
  10. What aspects of the “Application” section spoke most powerfully to you?