A Reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7 N.A.B.
By: Larry T
In the 1999 romantic comedy film Runaway Bride Julia Roberts plays Maggie Carpenter and Richard Gere plays Homer Eisenhower (Ike) Graham. Maggie is a spirited and attractive young woman who has a long history of unsuccessful relationships. She has been engaged three times, but anxiety over the permanence of marriage has caused her to runaway each time on the morning of her wedding day. On three occasions husbands-to-be, parents, bridesmaids, groomsmen, ministers, friends, musicians and caterers have gasped in shock at her failure to appear.
Meanwhile, in New York, columnist Homer Eisenhower Graham or "Ike" writes an article about Maggie that contains several factual errors, supplied to him by a man he meets in a bar who Ike later learns was one of Maggie's former fiancés. Ike is fired for not verifying his source, but is invited to write an in-depth article about Maggie in a bid to restore his reputation. He travels to Hale, Maryland, where he finds Maggie living with her family. And once again she’s engaged to be married. The fourth husband-to-be is Bob Kelly, played by Christopher Meloni, a football coach at the local high school.
Maggie predictably runs away the fourth time deserting Bob and the wedding party at the church. Eventually Maggie and Ike fall in love, marry, and live happily ever after.
The screenplay authors could have looked to the Bible for inspiration because of the Prophet Isaiah’s song about a runaway bride.
1 Let me now sing of my friend,
my friend’s song concerning his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside;
2 He spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
Within it he built a watchtower,
and hewed out a wine press.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes,
but what it yielded was wild grapes.
3 Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard:
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes,
did it bring forth wild grapes?
5 Now, I will let you know
what I mean to do to my vineyard:
Take away its hedge, give it to grazing,
break through its wall, let it be trampled!
6 Yes, I will make it a ruin:
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
but overgrown with thorns and briers;
I will command the clouds
not to send rain upon it.
7 The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah are his cherished plant;
He looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed!
for justice, but hark, the outcry!
- Isaiah 5:1-7 N.A.B.
Isaiah’s sang his song about a vineyard at a gathering of some sort, possibly at the annual harvest Feast of Tabernacles. All sorts of performances would have been going on in the area between the booths built of leaves and branches; I can visualize the Prophet mingling with the celebrating people and announcing a love song about his friend and his vineyard.
To his listeners the vineyard was an image for a bride (Song of Solomon), so they were looking forward to a ballad suited to the festive atmosphere. And Isaiah’s song does get off to a good note. His friend’s vineyard was on rich soil; he planted the choicest vines on it, and did everything he could to make them flourish. The audience must have settled back smiling in anticipation of Isaiah’s next words, but the mood suddenly changed; instead of choice fruit, the vines produced nothing but inedible sour grapes, small, hard smelly things - the vineyard was a bitter disappointment.
The group immediately understood the point of Isaiah’s song: the bride was unfaithful - trust and hope were betrayed - his friend’s love was rejected. How will the song end? The terribly saddened friend handed over his vineyard to be plundered - he renounced the bride, leaving her in the dishonor for which she had no one to blame but herself.
The stunned audience suddenly realized the deeper meaning of Isaiah’s song: The vineyard, the bride, is Israel – the very people who are present. God gave them the way of justice in the Torah, he loved them, he did everything for them, and they answered him with unjust action and a regime of injustice. Isaiah’s love song was a threat of judgment. It finished with a gloomy prospect – that of God’s abandonment of Israel, with no sign at this stage of any further promise.
In the movie Maggie ran away from four bridegrooms on the morning of her wedding day. Engaged couple’s excitement and anticipation rise incrementally with the purchase of wedding rings, selection of a wedding dress, mailing of wedding invitations, rehearsal dinners, and all of the detailed planning that goes into even the simplest of weddings. Emotions on the morning of the wedding are at a feverish pitch ranging from joy, elation, worry, to hope. But what if our loved one, that person that we planned to spend the rest of our lives with, failed to show? Wouldn’t we be overwhelmed by disbelief, shock, shame, dismay, and betrayal? How does God feel when he is left standing at the altar by his people? His anguish is expressed through the Prophet Jeremiah’s lament:
2 Go, cry out this message for Jerusalem to hear!
I remember the devotion of your youth,
how you loved me as a bride,
Following me in the desert,
in a land unsown.
3 Sacred to the LORD was Israel,
the first fruits of his harvest;
Should anyone presume to partake of them,
evil would befall him, says the LORD.
4 Listen to the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob!
All you clans of the house of Israel,
5 thus says the LORD:
What fault did your fathers find in me
that they withdrew from me,
Went after empty idols,
and became empty themselves?
6 They did not ask, “Where is the LORD
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
Who led us through the desert,
through a land of wastes and gullies,
Through a land of drought and darkness,
through a land which no one crosses, where no man dwells?”
7 When I brought you into the garden land
to eat its goodly fruits,
You entered and defiled my land,
you made my heritage loathsome.
- Jeremiah 2:2-7 N.A.B.
Still, we know that God never gives up on his people. It’s in the New Testament where we get a sense of His love for us. Allegorically in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37 N.A.B.), “the road from Jerusalem to Jericho turns out to be an image of human history; the half-dead man lying by the side of the road is an image of humanity. Priest and Levite pass by; from earthly history alone, from its cultures and religions alone, no healing comes. If the assault victim is the image of Everyman, the Good Samaritan can only be the image of Jesus.” (Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict).
In the gospel of Luke we read about God’s joy when just one of his children accepts his love:
7 I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
- Luke 15:7 N.A.B.
The Heavenly wedding party is waiting. Will I be a runaway bride leaving God standing at the altar lamenting over me, or do I have the humility to reconcile myself to him? This is an unavoidable decision that we all have to make.