When we become covenant people, and really do that work, then He is able to make us holy.
“And then will I sing to my well-beloved (His covenant people)…” (verse 1).
This begins a song in which the prophet Isaiah now compares the relationship between the Lord and His people to the relationship between the man and his vineyard. So now, rather than using the symbolic image of a bride, the church is now a “vineyard” (verse 2).
But know that it is the Father singing to the Son, about the “vineyard”. This vineyard is the sacred space in which everything else grows. It is the Garden, the Temple, the people of the covenant. This is the responsibility we have, not just to grow towards Him, to grow in His likeness, to grow as seeds after His kind… but also to create an environment in which others can grow, too. It is a song about the “noble and great ones” (Abraham 3:22-23), a song about the chosen leaders responsible for bringing the rest of the world into the covenant, back to the Lord, even back home to our Father again (verse 3).
Within that context, He rightly demands an accounting of the stewardship of souls (verse 3). What have we done to gather souls back to Him? What have we done to care for them? What have we done to testify?
He has done His part, creating our world and atoning for it. He has provided for us, protected us, nourished us, guided us, corrected us, inspired us, and revealed to us the plan we have already agreed to and taught us how to live up to those promises. “What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?” (verse 4). What else could the Savior have done for us that He has not done?
Yet if we persist in not bringing forth good fruit, if we do not grow because we will not do things His way, then we have chosen to be outside His protection and provision. Worse, when we become “wild grapes” (or even “poisonous berries” as it says in some translations), then the only thing He can do is weed us out.
“I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down;” (verse 5). When we let down our boundaries, we get “eaten up” – used up, overdrawn, disappeared. When we break down the walls (the Laws of God) that protect us, we will be squashed and knocked down and overcome by things that attack us.
“And I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged” (verse 6). Once we remove ourselves from the protection the Lord’s Laws offer, then He lets us choose our own destruction. He stops trying to refine us. He stops trying to warn us. He stops trying to dig out what is not good for us, and dig us out of where is not good for us. Because we will not listen to Him, He lets our consequences come as we choose them.
So instead of natural development like in the Garden of Eden, “there shall come up briers and thorns” (verse 6). This means that instead of it coming to us easily and naturally, we will have to work hard to understand, weed out distractions, and avoid disqualifications.
“I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (verse 6). When we are not living worthy of the Lord’s protection and help, we also are not living worthy of His spirit. His spirit does nourish us like water, and cleanse us like water. His spirit does correct, instruct, and guide. However, we cannot receive these benefits if we do not live worthy of them.
And without the Spirit, there is “no knowledge” (the Spirit brings pure knowledge and revelation both), and so “their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst” (verse 13). They are wasting away because they are not being nourished, not by studying scriptures or prayer or being worthy of the spirit.
Starting in verse 7, He begins to interpret the parable and define the symbols for us. The vineyard is Israel (or covenant people) and the plant is Judah (leadership). Where He should see the covenant people’s righteousness, as evidenced by their care and leadership of the people, instead He sees oppression and the people crying from neglect.
In verse 8, He goes on to describe what He sees when He looks upon this oppression. Instead of righteous priesthood holders, He sees political leaders stealing control of housing so that families cannot even find a place to live. He sees families not even able to get food for themselves. Skousen (p. 180) writes this:
Dr. Monte S. Nyman of Brigham Young University has pointed out… that when God’s people are gathered together, they must set up a society of Zion, just as Enoch did (see Nyman, “Great Are the Words of Isaiah”, p. 44). This can be done only when the people are free to practice the laws of consecration and stewardship (D&C 42:30-32; 51:1-5; 78:14). A Zion society cannot be established where the leaders have monopolized the ownership or control of all the means of production…
Because those chosen to be priesthood leaders have instead become political tyrants, oppressing the people so much that they do not even have places to live, the Lord warns them that justice is coming (verse 23). We choose our own consequences by the laws we keep or break, and these oppressors stole homes from hungry families. The Lord says that because of this, their own homes will be “desolate, without inhabitant” (verse 9) and their farms will barely produce anything (verse 10).
The Lord tells them that He has blessed them in order to provide for their ability and resources to care for those they were premortally chosen to lead. But instead, they are acting like spoiled teenagers. Worse, they are drinking all day long, lazy and idle and accomplishing nothing (verse 22). Not only are they not doing anything, but their minds are so fuzzy from alcohol and their bodies swollen with food that they cannot sense the Spirit’s correction, much less promptings (verse 11). This is a deliberate dereliction of duty (verse 12).
The natural consequences of this will be that not only do they not finish their work, but they will be at a loss as to what to do when the day of judgment comes. There will be no time to make it all up, nor will they have the knowledge or skills or ability to do so. They will be spiritually “famished” because they have not nourished themselves with the power of the Spirit. Hell will claim more souls because of their neglect, as well as their own souls because they have become traitors by default (verse 13). All of them will be humbled (verse 15, 18). While they endure their own consequences, the Savior’s plan will continue until He triumphs in righteousness (verse 16). With the slackers out of the way, His plan would be delivered and accomplished by converts (verse 17). These will receive legitimate revelation after seeking it sincerely and being obedient to what they receive, as opposed to those who wanted signs just for themselves (verse 19, 21).
And so he goes on to describe the difference between those who ignore the Lord and so sell themselves into captivity, and those who acknowledge the Lord and give Him credit for everything, and so in Him find themselves free.
So we must learn the difference between what is good (righteous) because it is of Him, and what is evil (wickedness) because it is not of God.
“Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (verse 20). We can’t play switch-a-roo on what is good and righteous, or on what is evil and wicked.
And we cannot be content with lack of progress, not improving our lives, not growing spiritually, or saying no line-upon-line is sufficient. It is not.
We cannot say darkness is light.
In the same way, when the Lord does work, we must acknowledge His working in our lives. We cannot take what is good and throw it away. We cannot fail to use the gifts the Lord has bestowed upon us. We cannot forget to testify. We cannot be ungrateful, thinking what we have is not good enough in some way
We cannot say light is darkness.
When we do, we are messing with the plan of happiness.
And that messes with other people’s understandings of that plan of happiness.
It’s the knocking someone down while they are already weak.
(This is the opposite of edification, which is uplifting and strengthening.)
“Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people….” (verse 25).
But when we return to Him, He is immediately there – like the father of the prodigal son – already waiting, already watching, so that he see us from “a long way off” (Luke 15:20).