People were created to love God and neighbor. They were created to care for and keep the world [Genesis 2:15]. To create flourishing.
They were not created to sow power and reap abuse.
Imagine for a moment that you have purchased a vineyard. You tenderly care for the vines, providing ample water each week, making sure it goes a foot deep into the rich soil. You daily walk through the rows pulling weeds and watching for nasty pests. You fertilize it and prune it yearly to remove all growth except new 1-year-old fruiting canes and renewal spurs.
But then, you discover the grapes are smaller and less sweet than you had expected. They are more prone to disease. They are “wild” grapes.
You did everything to care for the vineyard but the grapes have gone their own way.
God’s Wild Grapes
Apparently, in Isaiah’s time, God’s people had done the same.
God, the one true God, who created all things, is perfectly just and righteous. He is loving in all His ways. He is extraordinarily merciful to a broken people. Despite seeing His love and care, watering and pruning in the lives of His people, they have been more interested in joining “house to house” and adding “field to field” as the prophet Isaiah said of the wild grapes [Isaiah 5:1-10].
The picture Isaiah paints is of a greedy and oppressive people who are more concerned about their wealth than the care of their fellow man. If you ever wanted to know where our anti-monopoly laws come from, you need look no further than Isaiah’s prophetic witness.
However, this picture does not stop with monopolies. Isaiah is presenting a broader principle that cuts to heart of American Christian culture: power and oppression. We are a deeply broken people in the West where fame, fortune, and building at all costs rules so many of our decisions and is used as a means to oppress rather than bless. Consider how we protest a corporation who operates in a way we think is morally repugnant. We boycott. We shoot for the pocketbook. We know money makes the world go ’round.
Because we know that to get to the heart, you go to the bank.
Because people are more concerned about power and comforts than anything else. As long as the stock market is doing well . . . we are doing well. As long as the church’s image is larger than life . . . we are doing well.
The ends justify the means.
But God says there will be a reckoning. Isaiah goes on to say,
The LORD of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
“Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”
God told Israel (and Judah) He would take away the very thing they were so driven to attain: wealth and power. All those houses they built for themselves, after taking everyone else’s land, will end up empty. The land they invested in, taking it from all the “little guys,” would produce very little fruit.
The oppression they practiced would come back on them.
and Toxic Leadership?
It is in the context of grabbing after wealth and power that the toxic leader rises up and survives in our power and image-driven world. If the expectations of followers is that there be much cake, then the leader is driven by such demands. If a leader shows an accute ability to build the image of the church, the members greedily hang on his every word.
It does not matter if he is a liar or a sexual predator, or any other kind of toxic personality. If he creates something we can take pride in or supports our priority projects, we are good to go and will support him.
And I am not talking about the government or secular workplace. This is the church.
But if God’s people expect love and care for all of God’s creation, there is more likely to be a use of our resources for care and concern by those in leadership. There is more likely to be a use of power for care and concern. If Christian organizations hold leaders accountable, power becomes the means by which those organizations and churches take care of people. And that power is held very loosely remembering that the first will be last.
Money, social presence, and power are only tools. And they are not to be tools used for an individual’s pathological self-love.
Not at all.
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
but behold, an outcry!
We all need to evaluate what we look for in leaders and those of us who are leaders, consider the cost of self-love.
Only the humility found in the Gospel can save us.