The Lord had a vineyard that He planted by bringing His people into the Promised Land. He gave them everything necessary for them to prosper there as His special possession, but they did not yield good fruit. He would not put up with this forever, so He sent prophets to them in order to demand their holy obedience. “He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry” against oppressive rulers.
What would God do to the corrupt leaders among His chosen people? He would bring great discipline upon His vineyard. The Lord would eventually use foreign powers to send many of His children far away to other lands.
God spoke six words of woe, particularly against those who should have been setting the example in servant leadership for the whole nation. First, they were ignoring the laws concerning property in Israel. The Lord was the owner of the land. He commanded that they should follow the rules of the year of Jubilee. According to those instructions the poor would not lose their homes forever. Instead of obeying God’s Word, many people were amassing large tracts of property for themselves just as people all over the world might do. Second, those who had money were becoming experts at drinking rather than in bringing joy to the downcast. Third, the great men of that day were using their energetic schemes to fill their lives with sin. Through it all they imagined that God would not notice. Fourth, they claimed that evil was good, and good evil (Romans 1:32). Fifth, they were “wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight.” Finally, they were “valiant men” only “in mixing strong drink.” They lived as kings who did not have to answer to the Almighty. They would “acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right.”
God’s sentence upon them was clear. Their “root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust.” Why? Because they paid no attention to the Word of the Lord. Therefore God would send well-equipped fighting men from other nations to teach them a painful lesson.
While this surely happened in the sixth century before Christ through the agency of the Babylonian empire, there can be little doubt that the indictment of Jesus against Israel would make use of a similar parable during the turning of the age between the Old Testament and New Testament. In Matthew 21:33-46, our Lord spoke of the Pharisees and chief priests of His day as heirs to the same judgment that had fallen upon Judah and Jerusalem so many centuries before. First century men of renown had also forgotten who really owned the land. When the Son of God came looking for fruit in the Lord’s vineyard, they sought to kill Him, and thus to rid themselves of God’s sovereign justice.
As the years of the New Testament age progressed, foreigners would again come into the house of the Lord, not just as agents of God’s discipline against His chosen people, but to be grafted into the Old Testament vine through faith in Jesus Christ. In every era, the Lord’s church must always remember that we are owned by God Himself. We do not exist to amass our own properties and to host raucous parties for our rich friends. We have been called by the true Servant of the Lord who gave His life as a ransom for many. It is our privilege to serve others. He still demands that there must be good fruit in His vineyard.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father, we are Your vineyard. You have provided everything necessary for us that we might be a fruitful harvest for You. Yet we have yielded wild grapes in our rebellion against You. Like Your people of old, we have violated Your Law, and we are in danger of being swept away. Despite our sin, You will surely keep a remnant according to grace. You will build Your church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Sanctify us for Your purposes. Teach us to understand the time and place in which we serve You. We long to live as Your beloved sheep, grazing peacefully in Your pasture. Bring about the day of lasting peace. Only You can accomplish such a great blessing. Help us to endure through this time of trouble. You will not be angry with us forever, for You will not turn away from Your promise of grace. We need You now, for enemies come against us, and they are too strong for us. You can scatter them with one word.