John Goldingay in The Theology of the Book of Isaiah begins with a survey of the contents of the Isaiah. In a later section he will deal with Isaiah’s theology in a more comprehensive way.
He talks about the content of the first few chapters and summarizes them as having three recurring points:
1. Judah is living as if it can ignore Yahweh’s demands on its life (Isaiah 1:2-20; 5:1-24)
2. Yahweh will therefore take action against it (Is. 1:21-24, 28-31; 2:6-4:1; 5:25-30)
3. But Yahweh will restore it and turn it into what it should be (Is. 1:25-27; 2:1-5; 4:2-6)
Number 2 is not inevitable. The people can choose to start heeding the divine call.
The song in 5:1-7 gives us a good handle on Isaiah’s message. This is one of the short pieces that make up these chapters. It starts off like a love song that uses the common image of a vineyard. It reminds us of the Song of Solomon. But the beloved rejects the lover’s advances. Then the lover is angry and abandons her. This was no doubt addressed to a male audience that would have sympathized with the pain of romantic rejection.
But the point of the little piece comes at the end if verse 7:
. . .he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry (KJV).
This contains two plays on words in Hebrew. The word for justice and the rare word translated as oppression sound just alike. The same is true of the words for righteousness and a cry.
We are likely to take judgment (mishpat) and righteousness (sedaqa) as conveying the concept of social justice. That is not far off, but Goldingay explains the Hebrew meaning as more precise. Both words have more to do with faithfulness than a secular concept of social justice would. Goldingay suggest that the oracle addresses the men who exercise power and judgment in the city. They pass judgment in legal cases. But they also control the worship life of the people. Both of these kinds of power must remain faithful to God’s way.
An irony here is that Isaiah seems to recall the Exodus story of slavery in Egypt. The word for “cry” is the same used for the Israelite slaves crying out under oppression.
Isaiah 5:1-7 mixes the idea of romantic love with that of seasonal agricultural hope. The vine keeper expects a crop. He carefully tends his vineyard. He has no wish to abandon it to nature. But his disappointment that it does not produce edible grapes is deep and emotional. However, there also is the rational profit-loss assessment. What good is a vineyard that does not produce?
So, for Isaiah, the situation of Judah was that God deeply wanted his vineyard, Israel, to produce a harvest of faithfulness and fairness. But he found violence and hurt. He deeply wanted his beloved to respond to his love with love in return. But he found indifference.
Under these circumstances, just what did the people think was going to happen?