Beginning earlier this past week, I started reading through the Book of Isaiah once again. As I did so, a lot of familiar themes stood out to me. For instance, I saw in Chapter One how God hates outward reverence that is nothing more than a cover for inner rebellion. Chapter Two describes the coming Millennial Kingdom. All stuff I had seen before, but a good reminder none the less.
And then I came to Chapter Five, and the Lord directed my attention to a phrase that I had not previously considered. At least, not in this particular light.
In this chapter, Isaiah is singing a song about God’s care for Israel, comparing the Lord to a vinedresser and Israel to a choice vine. Here is what he says—
“Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones.”Isaiah 5:1, 2
As a responsible and wise vinedresser, God had prepared the ground, set everything in order, protected the seed, then awaited the fruit that it produced. That was not what really struck me.
What stood out in bold on the page was the fact that the vine did not simply fail to bear fruit. If it just grew and was fruitless, that would have been a terrible result in and of itself. What Israel did do, however, is even more sobering.
God’s condemnation of His people is that they did produce fruit…only not the kind He had planned, expected, and prepared for. The vine was not weak, unfruitful, or dormant—it was working and producing grapes. The problem was that the grapes it did produce were completely “worthless” (Isaiah 5:2).
What is so striking about this is the fact that God had done everything to care for, nourish, protect, and cultivate His people. In fact, He even goes so far to call the nation to account with the question, “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?” (Isaiah 5:4). He had held nothing back, He had given them everything. It was not because of some failure on the Lord’s part that produced these worthless fruits. Instead, it was all a result of Israel’s own stubborn, idolatrous, and rebellious hearts. That is the real cause they refused to produce the good fruits.
Now it is easy for us to shake our heads at Israel and scoffingly wonder why they didn’t grow good grapes. They had everything going for them, they were set in a perfect situation, but they turned to other things. However, we are far more like the Israelites than we are comfortable admitting. Think about it.
We were commanded to live a life that is pleasing to God, and bearing fruit is one way we glorify Him (John 15:8; Philippians 2:14-16). We have “good works” that “God prepared” for us to do as a result of our salvation (Ephesians 2:10). We do have a work to do, yet our problem is not that we do not work at life. The point is that all too often, we don’t work at the best things.
The things that we invest our time, our money, our resources, and our lives in are either things of eternal value, or of a temporal nature. Cars can’t be carried with you past the grave. Houses can burn down and be left in ashes. The economy collapses and your job is gone. None of those things will last. Even the most intimate human relationships we know will not continue in heaven (Matthew 22:30).
This is why we are told to make sure we are laying “up…treasures in heaven,” rewards that will never pass away (Matthew 6:19-21). In multiple places in the New Testament, we learn that one way we lay up those eternal treasures is by meeting the physical needs of those around us (Luke 12:33; 1 Timothy 6:18, 19). Another way we do this is by building up the church we are a part of (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). We have to consider what is most receiving our focus, attention, and devotion: the things that carry out God’s work in the world, or our own selfish desires?
And the tricky part is that most of the things we become fixated upon are not wrong in and of themselves. There is nothing at all wrong with marriage, work, or a good home. They are all “good” things. The issue is what we live for. If we live for a human relationship, we will never find fulfillment in it. If we live for physical possessions, they will not last. Solomon said he had devoted himself to massive building projects for himself and denied himself no pleasure, but at the end of it all, he said that “all was vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). This world will never, never satisfy.
The fact of the matter is that we only have a short time in life, and it grows shorter with each passing minute. We have to be constantly evaluating what are we investing in the most: the things of God, or the things of our own prideful hearts? Paul said that those who focused upon their own desires were unable to be used by him in ministry (Philippians 2:19-22). We cannot serve both God and ourselves—we can only have one king.
Think of it like this: each of us is producing grapes. Yet it is only those who are living for the Kingdom of God who produce the good ones; those who live for earthly things produce worthless fruit. What a waste to look back on our choices that we made in life and see, not just that we didn’t produce any fruit for God, but that we had spent all our energy, time, and resources—which are all gifts from God—on things that don’t really matter in the end. Like I said, they may be good things, but we cannot idolize them or live for those things alone. We were created to serve God, and we need to fulfill that calling.
As I started thinking about this passage from Isaiah, God began revealing some things in my own life about worthless choices I had made. I had produced some worthless fruit, and even some bad fruit. I didn’t like what I found, but I had to deal with those things in order to be able to grow.
All that to say, as you begin considering this passage, things may get messy…and you may wish that you had never started digging around. But I can guarantee you this—when you surrender your worthless and bad fruit to God and choose to devote yourself to producing those good fruits, the Lord will be pleased and He will give you His peace. He has certainly done that for me, even though I still fail Him every day. We cannot make excuses or skirt around the issue any longer. We are all bearing fruit—which kind are you producing?