Forming Faith Blog

Injustice Stinks (Isaiah 5, 11)

God’s expectations for the people of Judah do not match reality. Instead of justice, God sees oppression and injustice. So, God promises to send a king to establish true and lasting justice.

Grapes on vineyard during daytime. God expected the sweet fruit of justice but found the stinking fruit of injustice.
Photo by Jill Wellington on
Our Sin, God’s Faithfulness

Last week, we began our unit theme “Our Sin, God’s Faithfulness” with a reading from the prophet Hosea. Hosea lived in the northern kingdom of Israel after the united kingdom broke in two (1 Kings 12). In Hosea 11, God speaks to the people of Israel using the imagery of parenting. A loving parent doesn’t let their child get away with everything. A loving parent guides their child with rules and uses negative consequences for misbehavior when needed. So, it is with God.

We know that the northern kingdom did not heed Hosea’s warning (or the other prophets God sent), and Israel was conquered by Assyria in 722 BCE. Now we travel south to Jerusalem, where the prophet Isaiah addresses the people of the southern kingdom of Judah. While the southern kingdom behaved a little better than their sibling, the Judahites also abandoned God’s ways.

Two Passages

The reading assigned for this week in the Narrative Lectionary includes two different passages from two different chapters: Isaiah 5 and 11. While I don’t know what the great minds at Working Preacher intended by grouping these two passages, I can see how they fit together. They balance each other. Chapter 5 is an accusation, a warning. Chapter 11 is a promise. The first identifies a problem, and the second provides a solution.

A Love Song…but Not

Isaiah 5:1-7 is a message from God set as a love song using the extended metaphor of a vineyard and a vineyard owner. The love song goes off the rails almost immediately. The audience might expect…well…a love song. Instead, they get an accusation against the beloved. And that sets the pattern for the passage: what is expected is not what is received—and we’re not talking about good surprises.

The Stinking Fruit of Injustice

In this metaphor, the vineyard owner works hard to ensure a good harvest. The owner does all the right things and expects juicy, sweet grapes (as one would). But the vineyard doesn’t produce sweet grapes. The NRSV translates the actual product received as “wild grapes,” though the Hebrew word beushim means “stinking things.” It doesn’t matter what genus or species the plant is; it only matters that the harvest is worthless, or worse than worthless.

But what is God really talking about here? That becomes clear in verse 7:

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected

justice, but saw bloodshed;

righteousness, but heard a cry [for help]!

It isn’t surprising to hear that the vineyard—God’s beloved—is the people of God. God cared for the people and expected justice and righteousness. These are the fruit of those who follow God’s way. But that is not what the people produced. They produced bloodshed and cries for help. The stinking fruit was injustice. And this injustice would lead to the consequences of pain and suffering like their northern neighbor.

The Future King of Justice

But injustice—and the pain and suffering it brings—is not the end of the story. God’s people are not lost forever. After the accusation comes the good news: God will fulfill the promise God made to David about an heir on his throne. God will send a king who will bring justice and righteousness back to the people.

This is good—no, great—news, but not for everyone. For those who have been mistreated and oppressed, to whom justice has been denied by selfish cruelty or apathy, this is a relief. Like their enslaved ancestors in Egypt, God has seen the bloodshed and heard their cries for help, and will send a leader even greater than Moses to bring justice, freedom, and peace.

But, to those who have been in comfort, who have benefited from the acts and systems of injustice, this is a different sort of news. The structures of injustice will be destroyed and their worlds will be turned upside down.

Faith Formation Connections

The readings from the prophets are difficult to teach to our younger disciples, and even our older ones. They are so often abstract and require quite a bit of background information to understand (which, if you can give that information, please do!). But pretty much all your faith formation participants are aware that sometimes people do bad things and other people get hurt. You can explain that God doesn’t like it when this happens and has promised to set everything right, through Jesus, through our Spirit-empowered actions, and through a new creation at the end of the age.

May God help us be on the side of justice,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the Weekly Devotional Resource from our Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home (NL) resource. If you are in the United States, this is a great opportunity to keep households connected to the Word over Thanksgiving break! (And if you are outside of the U.S., it’s still a great thing!)

Order Faith Formation Resources

The Winter quarter begins on December 3, 2023 with the first Sunday of Advent! Did you only order the Fall quarter and need to complete the year? Are you still looking for easy-to-use, theologically sound, and effective resources for the Narrative Lectionary, as well as for the Revised Common Lectionary, and even classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)?

Looking for a resource for intergenerational events, whole-church series, or even something new for Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are quite affordable with variable pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries, family or churchwide events, and even a whole-church Advent series!

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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