This prophecy echoes stories of the great exodus, when God led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and guided them safely through the barren, rocky crags of the Sinai Peninsula. God was their comfort and sustainer, an ever-present guide and protection. The ancients spoke of traveling beneath the cool shade of a cloud by day and a pillar of warm, bright fire by night. Now the prophet sees ahead to a day when God will provide His people rest and comfort—a new exodus—in His chosen place, Zion.
5 Let me now sing for my dear friend,
a love song about his vineyard.
My friend, whom I dearly love,
had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
2 He labored to prepare the ground, tilling the soil and digging out rocks,
and then he planted it with the best plants he could find.
In its midst, he built a watchtower over it
and cut out a winepress in the hill nearby;
Then he waited, hoping it would be bountiful.
But the vineyard produced only wild, bitter grapes.
3 Eternal One: That’s it. Enough. Now, you who live in My special city, Jerusalem,
you people of this choice country, Judah,
Who’s in the right—Me or My vineyard?
4 What else could I possibly have done to make it flourish?
Why, when I had every reason to expect great beauty and bushels of grapes,
Did it yield only wild, bitter fruit?
5 I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,
what I’ve determined to do to My vineyard:
I’m going to take away its protective fence
and let the deer, raccoons, and rabbits devour it.
I’ll break down its wall,
let the vines be eaten and trampled.
6 I will set it up for destruction—
do no pruning, no tilling—
And it will be overrun with nasty briars and thornbushes.
I will even order the clouds not to water it.
7 See here, the vineyard of the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies,
is the house of Israel, His special people.
And the shoots and buds He nursed so lovingly along
are the people of this choice country, Judah.
He expected a paragon of justice and righteousness—
but everywhere injustice runs bloodred in the streets, and cries echo in the city!
8 Oh, how bad for those who hoard property and wealth,
buying up houses and fields, right and left,
Until there is no place left for anyone else;
you will find yourselves very alone in the midst of this great land!
9 I was there when the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies, told us what to expect.
Eternal One: Make no mistake about it: many houses will be abandoned.
Grand, beautiful houses with all the luxury will echo empty.
10 Huge investments in 10-acre vineyards
will yield tiny dividends, mere gallons of wine.
Prime property planted with plenty of seed
will grow a nearly worthless amount of grain.
11 Oh, I can’t help but groan for people who rise and drink
without stopping from early morning to late evening
Until their passions and emotions burn within them.
12 They entertain themselves with lyres and harps,
tambourines and flutes, and plenty of wine at their feasts.
But they don’t think for a minute about all the Eternal has done.
They don’t stop to consider the work of His hands.
13 Eternal One: Make no mistake: My people are headed for exile
because they never took note;
Even the most honorable among them will endure hunger
while the majority will be parched with thirst.
14 Make no mistake: the force of death is insatiable.
The great gaping grave is opened wide
To swallow whole Jerusalem’s opulence and pageantry—
her noble citizens and her common folk, all the raucous revelry.
15 Human beings will be cut down to size, one after another.
Those who walk around with their noses in the air will be humiliated.
16 By contrast, the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies,
will be high and mighty because He judges fairly.
The holy God will be shown to be so because He does what is right.
17 At that time, Jerusalem will become a pasture where lambs graze,
and foreigners will eat in the ruins where the wealthy once dined.
18 O how terrible for those who drag their guilt around,
worthlessness and wrongdoing in tow—
19 They sneer, “Well, where is He? Let Him be quick about it!
Let’s see this business of the Holy One of Israel;
Let’s see what He has in store so we can know what it is.”
20 O how terrible for those who confuse good with evil,
right with wrong, light with dark, sweet with bitter.
21 O how terrible for those who think they’re so wise,
who consider themselves so clever.
22 O how terrible for those heroes who can outdrink anyone,
those champions who take pride in mixing drinks,
23 Those judges who set the guilty free in exchange for “a little something,”
all the while denying the innocent what they deserve!
24 Therefore, as fire eats up the stubble and dry grass is engulfed by flames,
so it will be for everything they count on for the future—
Their roots will rot, their flowers will wither and fly away like dust,
for they refused to accept the law of the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies;
They derided and disparaged the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25 It’s no wonder the Eternal burns with anger at His people.
He has raised His hand against them and crushed them,
So that the whole earth rang with the blow, and you couldn’t move
without stumbling over their corpses lying like trash in the street.
Despite all this, He’s still very angry;
His hand is still raised; He’s not done yet.
26 He will signal to distant nations,
and whistle for their armies: unleash the dogs of war.
At breakneck speed they come,
a war machine like no other—
27 Never tired, never weak;
no one needs to rest or sleep.
Not a belt needs tightening,
not a sandal strap needs fixing.
28 Their arrows have been sharpened;
their bows have been bent, ready for action.
Their horses’ hooves spark like flint;
their chariots’ wheels spin like whirlwinds.
29 Their roaring is deafening, like a lion, like a pack of roaring lions.
When they attack, they growl and pounce on their prey,
Carrying them away; no chance of a rescue.
30 On that day, they will roar over this people like a roaring, angry sea,
and the land will go sorrowfully dark, the light eclipsed by the clouds of war.