Weekly Meditation: 14th August 2016
When God wanted to warn his unfaithful people, he beguiled them into thinking they were about to hear a love song. ‘I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard’ (Isaiah 5:1).
His song was about a vineyard, ideally situated, prepared and cared for, ‘but it yielded only bad fruit’. The owner had done all he could for the vineyard, but when he expected a crop he was disappointed (5:2-4).
By this time in the history of God’s chosen people, the nation was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel’s unfaithfulness was already leading her towards defeat by the Assyrians, but Judah was also proving unfaithful and God sought to warn the people of Judah through the prophecies of Isaiah.
Some Bible scholars consider that the ‘bad fruit’ of this passage refers to the hoary nightshade, a plant that sometimes invaded vineyards and bore a fruit that resembled grapes but was, in fact, poisonous. This counterfeit fruit could make a crop of grapes worthless.
God’s people were also bearing counterfeit fruit. They seemed like faithful worshippers of the Lord, they attended the festivals, offered the sacrifices that were required, observed the Sabbaths, demonstrated the outward appearance (1:11-14).
But God is not looking for counterfeit worship. He does not want lip-service. Throughout the Bible, we find examples of those who remained faithful to God through all difficulties and dangers, and they contrast sharply with the unfaithful people of Judah of whom God could say, ‘What more could have been done for [them]?’ (5:4).
In his letter to the Hebrews, the anonymous writer lists some of those who served God with extraordinary zeal in the face of great opposition and temptation – those who, like Gideon, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, ‘through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames…’ (11:33-34). Even those who lost their lives – ‘stoned … sawn in two … put to death by the sword’ (37) refused to compromise their faith, putting their trust in ‘a better resurrection’ (11:35), hoping in the promise of a future in which they would be ‘made perfect’ (11:40).
Jesus expects the same devotion from his disciples. He warned his hearers that to follow him was not an easy option. It could lead to strife, even within families, even between those individuals where devotion and loyalty would be expected, as in the relationship between a father and son, or a mother and daughter (Luke 12:51-53). He challenged them, also, not to be complacent, resting on their laurels or undisturbed by the events happening around them. Like those who watch for changes in the weather, they should be alert to the times in which they were living. Those alive at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry had to be able to recognise the Messiah in him so that they were ready to respond to his call; they needed to be aware of the spiritual apathy in Israel and the way in which the religious leaders focused on the outward display of their religion but proved false to its power – like the bad grapes of Isaiah’s prophecy. They also had to recognise the volatile political situation and the danger that Rome posed.
We face comparable dangers and challenges today. There is no value in ‘going through the motions’ of our faith. We must be fruitful, aware of the opportunities and mindful of the difficulties we have to meet. We are called, therefore, to shake off any hindrances, to persevere in our faith and to focus on our Lord and saviour, ‘the author and perfector’, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2).
By Susan Thorne