I looked for justice but found bloodshed
“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.”
— Isaiah 5:7 NIV
Isaiah sees Yahweh as a judge of Jerusalem and Judah. The charge is that the elders and leaders of Judah have ruined Yahweh's vineyard. The Song of the Vineyard begins as if we could put ourselves in the place of a viticulturist who has planted a hillside vineyard.
I remember living in Italy as a student in 1987 and walking up the winding roads of Tuscany and seeing beautiful vineyards. The stone walls along the road, the vineyard workers working the rows of vines was all very surreal and picturesque to me, an Okie boy. That's the picture of Isaiah 5:1-3.
Then things change in 5:4. The picture of a lovely vineyard turns into a picture of a wasteland. Yahweh is speaking now, and there's a play on words here in Hebrew. I'll replace the words where the word play happens with the Hebrew word, so we can see it. Wordplays often get lost in translation. "I looked for mishpat but found mispah, for tsedaqah but found tse'aqah." I looked for justice but found bloodshed, for righteousness but found cries of distress.
What is going on? The "Woes" tell the story. Woe to you who add house to house. Your houses will become desolate. Woe to you who rise up early and stay up late to run after addictions like alcohol. You are having a great time drinking, dancing, full of music and laughter, but you disregard the works of God.
Woe to you who call evil good and good evil, who are clever, wise in their own eyes, those of you who are heroes at mixing drinks and who acquit the guilty for a bribe. The Lord's anger burns against you. The Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.
Here is the first inkling (5:13) that Judah is going to be occupied and carried into exile for their sins. What can they do? Is it too late to repent?
If Yahweh judged people for national sins, individuals sins in the days of Isaiah, are we to expect we will not be judged if we do the same or similar things, allow injustice without speaking out? What is our role as Christians? Does the forgiveness of sins by Jesus Christ somehow prevent us from being judged, even if we are guilty of ongoing sins like Judah was?
Lord Almighty the Vineyard Owner, the house of Israel is your vineyard, and the men of Judah are the garden of your delight. Even the nations outside of Israel who call on your name are your vineyard, your delight. But when you look at us, do you see good fruit? Or is the fruit rotting? When you look, do you see justice or bloodshed? When you look for righteousness, do you find it or find cries of distress?
Choose today or another day to only eat fruit. Observe what good fruit looks like, tastes like, the texture, how it grows, and then observe or imagine the same fruit rotting and full of mold or worms. That's the image of the unfaithful in the eyes of God used in Isaiah.
If you save some money by only eating fruit, put the amount of money you would have used to eat lunch or eat out into an envelope and mark it, "Good Fruit" and use it to help someone when you see a person in need.
Greg Taylor, M.Div.
Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.