In Isaiah 5, the prophet sings a song (“Song of the Vineyard”) to the Lord (“my Beloved”) for the people to hear. Perhaps Isaiah resorts to singing a folk song because the people have ignored his customary sermons thus far. The lyrics begin this way:
“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.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1–4, ESV).
The song continues, revealing that the farmer is the Lord, and the vineyard represents God’s people in Judah. The Lord, the Keeper, expects His vineyard to yield good grapes, representing “justice” and “righteousness” because He has deeply and painstakingly cared for it (showering His people with His goodness, love, and grace). But, instead, the vineyard produces only wild grapes. Wild grapes are sour, inedible, and entirely useless for making wine. The original Hebrew word translated as “wild” here is associated with “stinking” or “worthless” things that are only fit for destruction.
Rather than producing justice and righteousness, the people of Israel responded with violence and bloodshed (Isaiah 5:7). They broke God’s laws and defiled the land given to them by the Lord. Yahweh had established Israel as a model among nations. He desired His people to produce fruit for His glory (John 15:8), but they yielded only sin—characterized as wild grapes in Isaiah’s song. The Keeper’s only recourse was to bring judgment on the fruitless vineyard by destroying it (Isaiah 5:5–6).
Isaiah outlines six “woes,” naming the six sins that have provoked God’s anger and brought His judgment upon the land. These six sins form a summary, not an inventory, of the wild grapes of Isaiah’s song. They are predominately the sins of the proud and arrogant: greed, covetousness, and extortion (Isaiah 5:8–10); drunkenness, revelry, and fleshly self-indulgence (verses 11–17); carelessness, hardheartedness, and mockery (verses 18–19); deception and perversion (verse 20); pride and conceit (verse 21); injustice and corruption (verses 22–25).
In Matthew 21:33–44, Jesus tells a parable using language and structure that directly connects with Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. Just as Isaiah’s lyrics serve as God’s case against ancient Judah, Jesus’ parable presents God’s argument against first-century Jewish leaders. In Matthew 23, the Lord lays out seven woes for the scribes and Pharisees and pronounces judgment on them in the end. Israel’s leaders’ sins (pride, greed, deception, injustice, etc.) sound eerily like the wild grapes produced by the vineyard of Isaiah’s day.
Wild grapes are grave sins with severe consequences. Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes, “Wild grapes are the fruits of the corrupt nature, fruit according to the crabstock, not according to the engrafted branch, from the root of bitterness. . . . Wild grapes are hypocritical performances in religion, that look like grapes, but are sour or bitter, and are so far from being pleasing to God that they are provoking. . . . Counterfeit graces are wild grapes” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 1,086).
For those who have experienced new birth in Jesus Christ, wild grapes are equivalent to the worthless deeds of our past: “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them” (Ephesians 5:8–11, NLT).
The most important lesson we learn from the wild grapes of the Lord’s disappointing vineyard is that God is serious about sin. The Lord expects His people to be filled with the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11) and produce fruit that brings glory to His name: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22–23, NLT). God has chosen us as His own possession to become a holy nation who will show others the goodness of God (1 Peter 2:9–11). We can only do this by producing a harvest of good fruit and not one of worthless, wild grapes.