"I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard..."
This opening to Isaiah 5 can leave you breathless over its poetic beauty. The realization may set in later that the Beloved ("the one I love") is God.
We may be used to saying that we are beloved of God, that God loves us and all His children.
How often do we call God our Beloved?
There is a long history in Christianity regarding using romantic imagery to discuss our union with God. While the Bible talks about the Church as the Bride of Christ, individual Christians have long described their relationship with Christ in fairly intimate terms.
In the 16th century AD, Teresa of Avila wrote in passionate language regarding her relationship with Christ, the Beloved:
Already I gave myself completely,
and have changed in such a way
That my Beloved is for me
and I am for my Beloved.
In the 18th century, Charles Wesley wrote the famous hymn, "Jesus, Lover of My Soul":
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.
More recently, John McMillan wrote, "How He Loves" (popularized by the David Crowder band):
He is jealous for me
Love's like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
John McMillan's original lyrics found some pushback over what some deemed to be overly sensual content:
"When Heaven meets earth in a sloppy wet kiss."
In any case, passionate portrayals of God's love for His children have long been with us. For all that the modern church has emphasized a personal relationship with God, the sterile, emotional-less stance that many seem to take toward God bear little resemblance to Isaiah 5, or the songs and poems that many saints have written.
Sadly, the Song of the Vineyard does not end on a happy note:
"The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress."
We're then shown 6 "woes" of what specifically is going horribly awry in Judah. While numerous commentaries are available to interpret the woe's, I'm relying mainly on MacLaren's Expositions https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mac.html).
Woe #1: "Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land."
Sound like 21st century housing crises?
The issue is that wealth is accumulating in the hands of a few, and these few have removed themselves from the everyday life of the community. They do not see themselves as being responsible for others, and instead are only focused on hoarding wealth. Ellicott's Commentary (https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc.html) adds that we see here the "destruction of the old village life in Palestine" and that "might had taken the place of right."
There are almost too many parallels to draw between Woe #1 and present times. Suffice it to say, that Isaiah (and God) views this issue as BAD.
Woe #2: "Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine."
Drinking makes its first appearance (it gets a double mention in the 6 woes, 1/3!!). It's not that drinking in itself is the issue, but, as MacLaren says, those who "make drinking the business of their lives." Many memes and jokes focus on drinking as coping during the COVID pandemic. Yet, there is a dark side to this. A September 2020 JAMA study found that for 3 out of 4 adults, alcohol was consumed one additional day per month over the prior year, including a 41% increase in days of heavy drinking for women during this time.
It's very telling in a culture what people turn to during times of crisis.
Woe #3: "Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit and wickedness as with cart ropes..."
Sometimes we err and sin thoughtlessly...and sometimes we run to evil with arms wide open. Choosing what is wrong intentionally, pursuing it eagerly, and then scoffing at warnings is the issue here.
Woe #4: "Woe to those 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."
It's unfortunate that such a powerful verse is currently being co-opted by both the American Right and Left to aim at one another. A simple internet search can find people on each side lobbing this verse at the other side. I see articles on the Left saying that the Right is filled with hate, vitriol, bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism....and that they call these evil things good. I see the Right saying that the Left loves critical race theory, gender and sexual identity, and abortion...and that therefore evils are valued as good things.
Perhaps rather than adjudicating this one, I can simply move on to the next Woe...
Woe #5: "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight."
Each extreme on the political spectrum today is filled with such confidence that they alone are right. They are "wise in their own eyes" and they demonize those who don't think like them as pure evil.
It's interesting that this is all Isaiah has to say about this "woe." He leaves it at that and then moves to the 2nd reference to drinking...
Woe #6: "Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilt for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.
So, this 2nd reference to drinking does go in a new direction: drunkenness among professionals and the corresponding slide toward injustice.
The book, Oliver Twist (as well as the musical, Oliver!) features a drunken judge who tries a case where Oliver is falsely accused of committing a crime. Oliver would have gone to prison if an eyewitness hadn't spoken up. It's a perfect scene of justice going awry simply due to someone neglecting their professional duties for personal pleasure.
It's an interesting meshing of impiety and injustice.
Perhaps Americans across the political spectrum can see that it is truly a "Woe" to engage in either one.