Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
but behold, an outcry!
– Isaiah 5:1-7 (ESV)
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with gardening since I was young. I’ve always loved to make things grow, but I dislike having to pull weeds. When I was young, sometimes that included poison ivy. Out where I live now, there’s a lot of thorns and stickers. There’s a plant here that makes little hard seed pods called “goat’s heads” (because that’s what they look like). You bring them into your house stuck on your shoes. Later, they let you know they’re there as you walk around barefooted.
Nobody intentionally desires to raise a crop of thorns. In the above parable of the relationship between God and His people, God (‘my Beloved’) had a vineyard that He did everything good and beneficial for so that it would produce good grapes (justice and righteousness)… but instead it only produced sour grapes (murder and oppression). Since it would not respond to His loving care, He said He would remove its protection and allow it to be trampled down, and thorns and briers would grow there.
I was thinking about those thorns. In the Bible, more often than not, thorns are representative of a curse, not a blessing. Adam sinned, and God said the ground would yield thorns and thistles. Moses told the Israelites in the wilderness that if they would not drive out the Canaanites as God commanded, they would be thorns in their sides. Hebrews 6:8 says that what bears thorns and thistles is worthless and very close to being cursed and being burned. (Read the parable of the sower in this light. The concern over worldly things and riches are called thorns, i.e. a curse in disguise. It might not seem that way, but thorny plants start out soft when young.)
I had read this passage in Isaiah before and assumed it meant something like this: The unrighteous of Israel were going to reap the results of their sins. They could have enjoyed good fruit, but now they are going to suffer only thorns and briers. The benefit or the lack thereof was theirs.
However when I read it last time, I noticed I was understanding it wrong, because Israel is not the owner of the vineyard: God is. God planted the vineyard so it would bear good fruit for Him. While Israel was to enjoy blessing, Israel was primarily to be a blessing to Him. So, when God took away the protection, it was not just Israel that was affected; it was God. The vineyard would produce thorns and briers for Him. That seemed so strange… why?
But then I remembered… Jesus became a curse for us. And one aspect of that was the crown of thorns He bore – a symbol of the fruit of our sins.
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.
– John 19:1-3 (ESV)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”
– Galatians 3:13 (ESV)