The opening chapters of Isaiah (1-5) are the book’s preface, in which Isaiah exposes the spiritual condition of Judah and Jerusalem and announces the book’s main themes. His spiritual diagnosis is bleak and chapter 5 is a song of lament for Israel’s desperately sinful condition. The song portrays Israel as the Lord’s vineyard, which is producing wild grapes and will be destroyed. The song concludes on this hopeless note: “if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and distress” (Is 5:30).
Immediately preceding this lament for the Lord’s vineyard, Isaiah sounds a note of messianic hope, which rests in the Branch of the Lord: “In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel” (Is 4:2). This note of hope is sounded following Yahweh’s verdict and sentence on his people’s sin. They’re arrogant and immature, and through economic oppression of the poor, they’ve become rich and flaunt their wealth (Is 3:1-15). Yahweh promises to take away all their adornments, luxury goods, and tokens of vainglory (Is 3:16-26).
The judgment is purifying, however. Isaiah calls it “the Spirit of judgment” and “the Spirit of burning” (Is 4:4b). Jesus promised that when the Spirit comes, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). And when the Spirit came, he came as fire: burning, convicting, and turning our hearts to Christ, whose shed blood on the cross cleanses us from all our sins (Is 4:4a). Isaiah tells us those whom the Lord washes and purifies “will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life” (Is 4:3). We’re holy and have life because Christ bore our sin and received God’s sentence for our sin on the cross.
When the Spirit turns our hearts to Christ, he unites us to Christ. He grafts us into the Branch of the Lord, who is glorious and beautiful (Is 4:2). As we abide in him, we become glorious and beautiful, and we bear fruit. The church is the Lord’s restored vineyard, which is why the Apostle Paul prays for us to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:11). I’ve often repeated the apostle’s prayer for our church, but now I pray these words with Isaiah’s prophetic imagination: for “in that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious . . . Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy.” (Is 4:2a, 5)