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TitleIsaiah 5
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsParry, Donald W.
EditorHalverson, Taylor
Book TitleOld Testament Minute: Isaiah
PublisherBook of Mormon Central
CitySpringville, UT

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Isaiah 5

Isaiah 5:1–7 The Song of the Vineyard

Isaiah composes a song (similar to a parable) in order to teach the relationship between the Lord and His covenant people, the house of Israel. Two chief symbols in the song are the vineyard’s owner (the Lord) and the house of Israel (the vineyard) (see also Doctrine and Covenants 33:4; 43:28). The song consists of two parts—the song (5:1–6) and its interpretation (5:7).

Isaiah 5:1

let me sing to my beloved. Isaiah sings a song to his beloved, who is the Lord. My beloved had a vineyard in a fertile hill. The Lord owns the vineyard, speaking symbolically, in “a fertile hill,” a possible reference to the promised covenant land, which God gave to His people.

Isaiah 5:2–3

The Lord did everything He could to ensure the success of His vineyard (His chosen people): He planted it in a “fertile hill,” “hoed it,” “cleared it of stones,” planted a “choice vine,” “built a watchtower” to protect it, and then “waited for it to yield grapes.” Moreover, the Lord built a winepress, anticipating a successful harvest and the pressing of the grapes. Surely, since God was in charge, His vineyard would produce fine grapes. In fact, the Lord asked, “What more could have been done to My vineyard?” But, sadly, the vineyard “yielded stinking things,” meaning the house of Israel became a wicked people.

Isaiah 5:2

built a watchtower in it. A place that God’s watchmen, or prophets, could watch for impending danger and evil and warn Israel (Ezekiel 3:17; 33:1–7; Doctrine and Covenants 101:43–62). a winepress, too. The song contains powerful images that point to Jesus’s Atonement: the winepress (63:1–6; Doctrine and Covenants 76:107), the fertile hill, and the grapes (John 15:1–7).

Isaiah 5:4

After doing all things possible for the success of His vineyard, the Lord asks, “What more could have been done to My vineyard?” Similarly, in the allegory of the olive tree, “The Lord of the vineyard wept, and said . . . What could I have done more for my vineyard?” (Jacob 5:41). to yield grapes. Grapes symbolize people (Hosea 9:10; Revelation 14:18). Plump, juicy grapes represent righteous individuals, and worthless, sour grapes symbolize the wicked. Similarly, in another setting, we recall that Jesus taught that He is the “vine,” and His disciples represent the “branches” bearing fruit: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The ancient Israelites did not “abide” in the Lord, so they were scattered and destroyed.

Isaiah 5:5

what I will do to My vineyard: Inasmuch as the Lord’s vineyard produced “stinking things,” He “remove[d] its hedge” and broke “down its fence,” meaning He removed the very things that were supposed to protect His vineyard, which is the House of Israel. It therefore became a “wasteland,” with “briars and thorns.”

Isaiah 5:7

vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel. Isaiah elegantly created a play on words (note the words in parentheses): “He waited for justice [mishpat] but, behold, bloodshed [mispat]! for righteousness [tsedaqua], but behold a cry of distress [tseaqua]!” This verse summarizes some of Israel’s major sins: a lack of “justice” and “righteousness” and “bloodshed.”

Isaiah 5:8–25 A Listing of Sins and Woes against the Wicked

This section presents six woes, all of which are pronounced against the wicked. A woe—a demonstration of God’s love—is designed to encourage people to repent: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19; see also Hebrews 12:6). The characteristic woe oracle consist of two parts: (1) the addressee, or group to whom the woe is directed; and (2) the promise of judgment, or, the calamity or misfortune that will befall the wicked if they do not repent. A “woe” example exists in Isaiah 3:11: Part 1: “Woe unto the wicked!” Part 2: “For they will perish.” Another straightforward instance of a woe exists in Isaiah 33:1: “Woe, O destroyer” (Sennacherib, Assyria’s king). Part 2: “You will be destroyed.”

Isaiah 5:8–10

Woe #1. An accusation against the improper use of land and houses in order to obtain wealth unethically, perhaps at the expense of the poor or others. Verses 9–10 set forth the judgments—“many houses will be desolate” and “cities without occupants.” Also, the land will produce a fraction of the food it has the potential to produce: “Ten acres of vineyard will yield nine gallons” rather than scores of gallons. Ironically, those who improperly utilized the land will end up with neither house nor food. JST and 2 Nephi 15:8 omit the phrase “and join field to field.”

Isaiah 5:9

[cities] = JST, 2 Nephi 15:9.

Isaiah 5:11–17

Woe #2. An accusation against revelers and carousers who “pursue strong drink” and allow wine to “inflame them.” These revelers “do not behold the deeds of the Lord,” and “they lack knowledge.” Verses 13–17 set forth the judgments: the revelers will be hungry and thirsty (literally? or spiritually? See Amos 8:11). The revelers will descend into Sheol (the world of spirits), which is portrayed as a person with a “throat” and a “mouth.” Thus note Isaiah’s artistic expression: “Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure” to receive the “revelers” and “their roar.” The Prophet Joseph Smith’s definition of Sheol is important: “Hades, the Greek, or Sheol, the Hebrew, these two significations mean a world of spirits. Hades, Sheol, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one: it is a world of spirits.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings, 310–11).

Isaiah 5:17

Reading gedayim (“goats”) (compare LXX) instead of the graphically similar garim (“strangers”).

Isaiah 5:18–19

Woe #3. Woe to those who are deceitful and who sin, who challenge God and His works. Again, observe Isaiah’s creative expression: “Woe unto them that pull iniquity with cords of falsehood, and sin with a cart rope.”

Isaiah 5:20

Woe #4. Woe to those who confuse issues that pertain to truth and morality. To express this “woe,” Isaiah devised three small chiastic units: “Woe unto them that call evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil,’ who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

Isaiah 5:21

Woe #5. Woe to those who think they are wise and have understanding, according to their own opinion.

Isaiah 5:22–23

Woe #6. A woe against intemperance, drunkenness, unrighteous partying—all of which take people away from God and His holiness. The woe also pertains to those who excuse bribery and “deny justice.”

Isaiah 5:24–25

A description of God’s judgments against the wicked. their blossoms will go up as dust. The wicked, symbolically compared to a plant, will not bear fruit because their blossoms will not develop into fruit.

Isaiah 5:24

rejected/despised. Isaiah summarizes the state of the wicked: they “rejected” the Lord’s law, and they “despised” God.

Isaiah 5:25

the anger of the Lord kindled. This expression is repeated in the Doctrine and Covenants (1:13; 5:8; 56:1; 82:6). He has stretched forth His hand against them. When God executes these judgments, people are “smitten,” mountains tremble, and the dead are like trash in the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still. A five-time repeated refrain, (5:25; 9:13, 17, 21; 10:4), which gives prominence to the words that are repeated.

Isaiah 5:26–30 The Lord Lifts an Ensign to the Nations

Isaiah scholars have assigned two very different interpretations to Isaiah 5:26–30: (1) The Assyrian invasion, conquest, and deportation of Israel. This interpretation has merit because of the military language that is found in these verses—bows and arrows, horses and wheels (chariots?), “seize the prey” (conquering enemies?), “darkness and distress,” and more. Or, (2) the gathering of Israel in the last days. For this interpretation, see the chapter heading for Isaiah 5, “The Lord shall lift an ensign and gather Israel—Compare 2 Nephi 15.” This second possible interpretation, a little more difficult to comprehend, goes something like this: Isaiah prophesies concerning Israel’s gathering in the last days using terms that depict the military and warfare—an army banner, bows, arrows, horses and chariots, girding the loins for battle, “seize the prey,” and more. Isaiah’s military imagery is aligned with other prophets’ words that depict the Lord’s covenant people as a great and powerful army. For example, the Lord spoke of “the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (Doctrine and Covenants 5:14; emphasis added). Later, concerning His church, He revealed, “I say unto you, my friends, in this way you may find favor in the eyes of the people, until the army of Israel becomes very great. . . . But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:26, 31; emphasis added). Isaiah 42:13 presents the Lord as “a man of war”: “The Lord goes forth like a warrior; He stirs up fury, like a man of war. He cries out, yea, He roars; He prevails over His enemies” (see also Exodus 15:3). And, we recall that the expression “Lord of Hosts” can also be translated “Lord of Armies,” meaning Lord of Armies of angels.

Isaiah 5:26

He will lift up an ensign/He will whistle. God, the subject of this verse (see the previous verse) takes a personal, active role in the gathering—He lifts an ensign (or flag or banner), which is visible from a great distance, for all nations to see. The ensign symbolizes the gospel of Jesus Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 45:9; 105:39), its light (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4–5), and the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 29:2–3; Moroni 10:27–28), all of which work together to gather Israel to Jesus Christ and His gospel. In addition to raising the ensign, God whistles, which is audible from a great distance. Zechariah 10:8 also connects God’s whistling to the gathering of Israel: “I {God} will whistle for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them.” The lifting of the ensign and whistling are symbolic; these actions encourage the Saints to “come quickly, swiftly” to the gospel. In addition to the ensign and whistling, Isaiah 18:3 deals with a third symbol that pertains to the gathering—the blowing of a trumpet.

Isaiah 5:26–28

Isaiah symbolically portrays the gathering Israel to warriors on horses: “They will come quickly, swiftly” with horses and chariots; “none are tired/none will slumber”—returning Saints, like warriors, are watchful and diligent. belts of their waists/straps of their sandals. The Saints’ loins are girded for action and prepared for battle. arrows sharp/bows bent. The Saints are ready for action and prepared for battle (i.e., spiritual battle) against both their mortal and diabolical adversaries. horses’ hooves . . . like flint. The Saints sit on war horses, geared for battle. Their horses are supernormal, with flint-like hooves, ready for war. their wheels like a storm. “Wheels” refers to chariots, the premier vehicle of war in the ancient world. The Saints will move forward in battle in chariots, moving quickly and powerfully, “like a storm.”

Isaiah 5:29

roaring is like a male lion. Isaiah symbolically compares the gathering of Israel to mighty lions in their prime (“like young lions”); points of comparison between lions and Israel’s gathering include speed, power, might, majesty (king of the jungle), and more. And Isaiah writes, “They growl, and seize the prey, and will carry it off, and none can rescue it.” In other scriptural passages, Israel is compared to lions (3 Nephi 20:15–16; 21:12; Mormon 5:24). With God’s divine direction and His Holy Spirit, returning Israel will be a mighty force in the last days.

Isaiah 5:30

like the growling of the sea. Isaiah presents yet another symbolic image of Israel—the sea. Just as no mortal force can stop the sea in its perpetual movements and its constant, rhythmical ebbs and flows, even so, no mortals can stop the gathering of Israel. if one looks to the land. A reference to the land where the wicked live, where there exists “darkness and distress.”


Scripture Reference

Isaiah 5:1