In our reading for today Isaiah employs what is commonly labeled the “rhetoric of entrapment.” More familiar to us is when Nathan employs the rhetoric of entrapment as he confronts David after his sin with Bathsheba. The prophet crafts a parable for David that is about a rich man with many flocks who steals a poor man’s ewe lamb. Nathan’s rhetoric is effective because David immediately recognizes injustice has been done by the rich man and promptly pronounces judgment. At this point, Nathan has Daivd dead-to-rights and springs his trap when he says to David, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). It is the king who is guilty of gross injustice. David recognizes God’s word in Nathan’s parable and immediately repents, trusting in God’s forgiveness even with the death of his son.
Again, Isaiah’s “Song of the Vineyard” (5:1-7) is also in this category of Old Testament texts which employ the “rhetoric of entrapment.” Like Nathan, Isaiah uses a “judicial parable” within the rhetoric of entrapment. By employing a rhetorical trick, judicial parables are designed to get listeners to pass judgment upon themselves. The narrator crafts his story in such a way as to elicit his listeners’ outrage at some hypothetical injustice. These censures are then taken up and reapplied to a real situation involving the audience. Only then do they realize the “bad guys” in the story are, by their own admission, themselves!
In his Song of the Vineyard, Isaiah is probably speaking at the Feast of the Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-15). At this time Israel celebrated her harvest and rejoiced before God for seven days. Joy and expectations were high! The good grapes would usher in a new season of abundance!
Isaiah expertly parallels “grapes” (verses 2 and 4) with “wild grapes” in the Song of the Vineyard. The assonance in the original Hebrew between עֲנָבִים (a-na-Vim) and בְּאֻשִׁים (be-u-Shim) plays on how these grapes on the outside “sound” virtually the same, but inwardly they are something else (Isaiah 29:13). In verse 3, Isaiah virtually disappears as the owner of the vineyard begins to speak. Having been hooked with a “love song,” we are now curious as to why this love has soured. In this verse the adverb וְעַתָּה (ve-at-Tah) “and now” identifies a turning point in the discussion. This same adverb indicates that the owner of the vineyard is inviting us into his world, specifically by using the imperative of “please judge” שִׁפְטוּ־נָא (shif-tu na) and two rhetorical questions in verse 4: “What more was there to do?” and “When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
The second usage of וְעַתָּה (ve-at-Tah) “and now” in verse 5 signals the parable is going to move in a different direction. Now, the prophet declares what the owner will do with his vineyard. He will demolish it and turn it into thorns and thistles, reminiscent of the curse from Genesis 3:18. Using an “inclusio,” just like he began the sermon, Isaiah also ends it with the word כֶּרֶם (Che-rem) “vineyard.” In doing so, he reiterates what he wants us to remember. The issue revolves around God’s vineyard which He planted. Isaiah then ends with this shocking statement: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah.” We are surprised by this last declaration. We have met the enemy, and he is us! As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:24, “Who will save us from this body of death?”
We have met the enemy, and he is us! As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:24, “Who will save us from this body of death?”
A perfect structure for this sermon is one developed by Eugene Lowry, in his book The Homiletical Plot. He suggests you create a “rhetoric of entrapment” by using the sequence of the sermon to create experiences on the part of the hearers which mirror the experiences of a typical plot form. So, like Isaiah’s song and Nathan’s parable, the sermon moves from a false lead that leaves the hearers conflicted through a deeper complication of the understanding of the text, to crisis, and finally to resolution. A “Lowry Loop,” as it is often called, has five sections:
- Upsetting the equilibrium (“oops”).
- Analyzing the discrepancy (“ugh!”).
- Disclosing the clue to the resolution (“aha!”).
- Experiencing the Gospel (“whee!”).
- Anticipating the consequences (“yeah!”).
“Just as in a narrative, the climax of the story often arises from a surprising discovery of a new way of looking at things. So too in this sermon, the reversal is something unforeseen by the hearers and, therefore, a surprise or, as Lowry calls it, an “aha!” experience.”
Earlier this week I was drawn into a story by my friend David that serves as a wonderful example of the “rhetoric of entrapment.” This could also serve as the opening example for a sermon on the Isaiah text using the Lowry Loop. He told me about an experience he had over the summer when he went to his first “roadside” oddity experience. Of course, you know what these are, things like the “World’s Largest Ball of Twine” in Kansas or the “Cabazon Dinosaurs” in California. He did not go to those but, instead, he went to the “Garden of Eden” in Lucas Kansas. This roadside attraction boasts the unique artwork of the eccentric artist S.P. Dinsmoor. When you get there, it is a series of trees like an exposed framework which are superimposed like a facade over the house. The carvings are detailed and as they draw you in, you also notice that some of the animals are even mythic in their appearance, as if you are being told a forgotten story of our planet’s zoology. This is the oldest, intact, folk-art environment in the United States, and it forces you to wonder about the original “Garden of Eden” itself. Intriguing and beautiful, the art welcomes you into a place where you consider the perfection of God’s creation displayed for us on wood and trees. Then something strange happens. At this point, they offer you an opportunity to buy a ticket to see the “rest of the museum.” My friend David goes on to explain that, if you want to, you can see the inside of the house where they actually have S.P. Dinsmoor’s corpse on display. To say I was shocked when he told me this is an understatement. How morbid and archaic and almost unheard of among the myriad of roadside attractions in America! Here you are invited into a reflection on the beauty of God’s perfection at Eden, and yet what remains inside is nothing but a corpse.
This roadside attraction is the “rhetoric of entrapment” as a lived experience of folk art. It is also exactly what Isaiah is doing in our reading. With the beauty of Isaiah’s love song, he draws his listeners into an experience and a moment to reflect on the beauty of God’s perfect vineyard. But when you look closer at this vinery, you see how inside this planting of the Lord is nothing but sour grapes; something to set our teeth on edge (Jeremiah 31:30). God looks for beauty in His people and all He finds is a corpse. Cursed and cut off like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we are nothing more than a façade compared to what God had originally made us to be. “Who will rescue us from this body of death. Thanks be to God though Jesus Christ” (Romans 7:24-25).
Jesus hung on the wood of Calvary’s tree on the roadside outside of Jerusalem. There the beautiful Son of God took Eden’s curse and your sin and was laid a corpse in the Garden tomb for you. There the Devil, the world, and our sin are entrapped by God Himself, not just rhetorically, but literally for you. Drawn by the beauty of His sacrifice for us we are shocked to be confronted like David was with our sins put on Jesus. But “it was the Lord’s will to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10) for our sin as fruit is crushed in the winepress so we might receive the finest of vintages of grace (Isaiah 25:6-12). There God turns a song meant to catch us in our sin into the love song of our Savior. Easter’s distant triumph song (Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 677, verse 5) that morning is where the good news remains for us. It was the death of David’s greater son who would die for his sin and our sin in order that we might know the mercy of God to cover all our sin and sour grapes. Christ took the grapes of wrath (Revelation 14:19-20) and drank the cup to the dregs (Isaiah 51:17; Psalm 75:8) so we might enjoy a restored relationship with God and Paradise restored forever, not in some passing attraction on this journey of life, but kept for eternity in Heaven with God for those of us who trust in Him by grace through faith (Revelation 21-22).
Here is a possible sermon structure on this text using the Lowry Loop:
Oops - The Garden of Eden is in Lucas Kansas story.
Ugh - Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7, Nathan’s Story with David from 2 Samuel 12:1-15, and Matthew 21:33-46 where we are the people who sent Jesus to a cross.
Aha - The Cross and Empty tomb are the entrapment for sin and death (Jesus reverses the curse of Eden that we brought on ourselves).
Whee - Through the Cross and Empty tomb we have forgiveness and eternal life.
Yeah - Our life is turned around in the living Christ for us.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Isaiah 5:1-7.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 5:1-7.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 5:1-7.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
Lectionary Podcast- Rev. Christopher Maronde Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Isaiah 5:1-7.