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Isaiah 5:1-7 1
1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Background 2

Isaiah may have sung this song at the week-long harvest festival known as the Feast of Tabernacles, where his singing would have fit naturally into the festive atmosphere and would have caught the attention of the crowds. The song and its underlying story would draw the people in. The song then asks them to serve as judges, thereby drawing them in further (v. 3-4). The last verse, though, has a barbed hook. The listeners learn to their surprise that the song is not really about a vineyard but instead is about them—their sins—the judgment that has been pronounced on them.

The care of the Lord over the church of Israel, is described by the management of a vineyard. He planted it with the choicest vines; gave them a most excellent law, instituted proper Laws. The temple was a tower, where God gave tokens of His presence. He set up His altar, to which the sacrifices should be brought; all the means of grace are noted here. God expects fruit from those that enjoy His privileges. Good purposes and good beginnings are good things, but not enough; there must be good fruit; thoughts and affections, words and actions, agreeable to the Spirit. Israel brought forth bad fruit.

The song is like the story of the rich man and the poor man told by Nathan the prophet to King David (2 Samuel 12). When Nathan told that story, David didn’t realize that he was listening to a parable. He thought that Nathan was presenting an injustice which he, as king, had power to remedy. It was only after David rendered judgment on the rich man that Nathan said, “You are the man,” revealing that his story was really about David’s liaison with Bathsheba and his treachery at having Uriah killed.

Isaiah’s song follows that same format ­­—a story that draws the people in, invites them to pronounce judgment, and then reveals that the story is not about someone else, but is about them. The mood of the song shifts by stages. It begins on a joyful note as it tells about the person who developed the vineyard (vv. 1-2). It darkens slightly as it asks listeners to judge whether the owner did all that needed to be done (vv. 3-4). It then takes on a threatening tone as the owner of the vineyard reveals his decision to destroy the vineyard (vv. 5-6). Finally, it reveals the listeners to be the vineyard (v. 7).

Wild grapes are the fruits of the corrupt nature. Where grace is not working, corruption is working. But the wickedness of those that profess religion, and enjoy the means of grace, must be on the sinner alone. This is often shown in the departure of God’s Spirit from those who have long worked against Him, and the removal of His gospel from places which have long been disappointed in its message. Instead of the grapes of humility, meekness, love, patience, and contempt of the world, is what God looks for. The wild grapes are pride, passion, discontent, and malice, and contempt of God. Instead of the grapes of praying and praising, the wild grapes are of cursing and swearing.

Items for Discussion

  • What do you find most frightening about verses 5 and 6?
  • How should society assess itself against this story?
  • What do you see happening to society, to the people, when God withdraws His Spirit?
  • What are the contemporary ways we curse and swear, literally and figuratively?

 

Hebrews 11:29-12:2
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. 31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. 32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Background

Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter of the Bible, first defining faith (v. 1) and then using well-known Hebrew people to show faith in action. These people heard God’s promises and believed them in spite of waiting a very long time to see the promises fulfilled—some promises never having been fulfilled in their lifetime. For instance, Abraham didn’t live long enough to see the nation that sprang from his seed. The chapter defines faith as the assurance (hupostasis—reality) of things hoped for and the proof (elegchos—proof or certainty) of things not seen.

Then the author relates the faith journey of a number of the Old Testament greats:

  • Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses.

Our reading continues the list:

  • The people of Israel at the Red Sea, Rahab the harlot, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel and the prophets.

The author concludes that all of these mentioned in Hebrews 11 are worthy of praise. They have been attested (with a passive verb he implies that God, through Scripture, commends them) throughout their faithfulness. This applies to their lives when they trusted God for various things, and also to their faithfulness that has continued beyond the pale of death. They have not yet taken possession of the promise, the promise to remain with God and his people in his city forever (Hebrews 4:1; 6:17; 9:15; 10:36; 11:16). Hence God continues to attest to their faithfulness because ultimate perfection remains ahead for them.

God looked ahead and made provision for something better, something better that concerns not just the faithful of the past, but also the faithful of the present, for both the author and his readers. The forebears in faith cannot reach that place of perfection without the present generation of the faithful. Until everyone joins the party (Hebrews 12:22), until everyone resides in the household (Hebrews 3:6), the promise remains unobtained.

And so, the baton passes to them by. The author paints a scene of the close of a race. As runners enter the stadium, they are surrounded by the crowd all around. The “cloud of witnesses” both proclaims the story of their own faith, and expectantly waits for those running to endure in theirs. Get rid of anything that would trip you up, the author commands. With the cloud around you, keep your eyes before you on the ultimate runner — the one who created the race of faith and the only one who has reached its perfect end. Jesus endured an excruciating death and did not let the shame of his death destroy the joy that kept Him going. This was the same joyful promise to which all God’s children, all of us look forward to. And what is that goal? Residing with God and His people forever. Jesus is there now, at God’s right hand, and through His prayers (Hebrews 7:25) He not only cheers the church on but sustains them along the way.

Items for Discussion

  • What is the hardest part about keeping your faith, remaining faithful?
  • What are the ways that we are cheered on and what are the ways we cheer others on?
  • The idea of being witnesses is brought out in these verses – what are the things we to be witness to?
  • If we do not do this as a church, as a body of Christians, what are the risks to the church and to ourselves?

Discussion Challenge

  • How can we tell that we are not only good witnesses to God’s Spirit but are engaged with others to pass it on?
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