The Loved One is God, and Israel is the vineyard. It’s just like John 15, where God is the gardener and we are the branches. The image is one of care, and the result is growth, health, and productivity. The Gardener did everything he was supposed to, and he did it well. He fulfilled his responsibility to the letter. There is no rational reason this crop would fail. It was destined for greatness, productivity, and health. But it yielded only bad fruit. How’s that possible? People are so quick to blame God. But the failure of the crop was no fault of the Gardener’s. He had done everything to yield good fruit. Then (v. 3) Isaiah aims the rifle of his teaching right between the eyes. “It’s YOU, Jerusalem!” This is the same kind of prophetic trap that Nathan sprung (sprang?) on David in 2 Samuel 12. What would you decide if you were judge and jury? GUILTY! When it comes right down to it, your judgment would be the same as God’s, showing Him to be fair and you to be guilty, even in your own eyes.
“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? 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.” Hey, wait a minute. Why destroy it? Why not try again? God won’t try again because there was no hope for productivity. If the crop was in good soil with good sun, nurture and protection, with obstacles for growth removed, this vine could not produce fruit, then there was no hope and the only reasonable recourse was removal. Any gardener knows that.
This is consistent with the picture of God we see in all of Scripture. He is not of infinite patience and forgiveness. He draws his line where there is absolutely no hope. So God is no fool and no fanciful dreamer. Where there is hope, his patience and forgiveness and grace abound. When hope is gone, he cuts bait.
“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.” God doesn’t curse it or ruin it; he merely withdraws his care and protection. The way to return land to the wild is just to stop weeding, planting, and pruning. It’s amazing how quickly trees establish themselves, and the wild reclaims the land. Stop mowing your lawn and it will be a jungle by the end of summer. Within a few years small trees will be there. Even pavement and roads start to break up, and within twenty years you can hardly tell a road was there.
Then in verse 7 the parable is explained, just as Jesus did with the Parable of the Sower. Also look at Jn. 15 (again), where believers are the branches in the vineyard. The image is an organic, not a corporate or technological, one. We as believers have more similarities to plants than to industry: living things, organic relationships, growth and not just performance, lifeblood and not oil and grease. The church isn’t a business; it’s a body. There are some things we have to do following business principles, but the church is MORE than a business. So yes, we do business things, and we follow business principles, but the church goes beyond them. Just as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.” And then he says something beyond what the Law said. So also in the church. “Business says this…but this church adds to that with…”
But here Israel was really messing up. God was not looking for trouble, nor was he a pessimist. He was actively looking for justice and righteousness. See Gn. 19 where he was looking for five righteous people in Sodom, and if they could be found, he would spare the city. See also Jer. 18.1-12 where God changes his mind, his plans, his judgments and rewards based on the behavior of the people.
Notice what God was looking for: not just religious issues, but social/economic ones as well. He cares about our relationship with Him, but he also cares how we treat each other. And since he ordained government (Rom. 13 et al), how we govern is a reflection on Him, so it’s doubly important to him that we govern justly, in the community, and in the church.