In Isaiah’s famous Vineyard Song (Isa 5:1-7), on which Jesus’ Vineyard Parable is based (Matt 21:33-41; Mk 12:1-9), God likens Israel to a horticultural paradise. Unfortunately, due to the peoples’ sins, this magnificent vineyard will be destroyed in the tragedy of exile. In order to highlight the heights from which God’s people have fallen, the prophet ends his song with a wordplay that contrasts the nation’s iniquitous behavior with the Lord’s righteous desires. The conclusion of Isaiah’s Vineyard Song uses Hebrew words that are remarkably similar, but have very divergent meanings that underscore the theological art in the prophet’s poetry.

Isaiah 5:7 states, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting. He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, outcry.” The Hebrew of this verse pronounces the problems among the Israelites. In particular, the Hebrew word for “justice” is משׁפט (mishpat) and the word for “oppression” is משׂפח (mispach). More, the Semitic spelling of “righteousness” is צדקה (tsedaqah) and “outcry” is צעקה (tse’aqah). In each case, the linguistic variation between these words is a matter of only one letter—but what a difference a letter makes! Isaiah’s wordplay shows the reader that, sometimes, it doesn’t take much to stray from God’s will.

Despite Israel’s shortcomings, however, Isaiah clarifies that God does not abandon the chosen people. In the very next chapter (Isa 6:13), the Lord promises Isaiah that a “holy seed” (זרע קדשׁ; zera’ qodesh) will remain after the wreckage of exile, out of which will come a “branch” (נצר; netzer) who helps to rebuild the vineyard of Israel (11:1). The Gospel of Matthew follows Isaiah’s proclivity for wordplay when it equates Jesus of Nazareth with this messianic “branch.” Matt 2:23 states that Jesus “went to live in the town of Nazareth (Ναζαρέτ; Natsarét), so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: that he would be called a Nazarene (Ναζωραῖος; Natsoraios).” The phonetic similarity between the Hebrew “branch” (נצר; netzer) and the town of “Nazareth” (Natsarét) shows that Yeshua fulfills God’s ultimate plan of salvation for the vineyard of Israel proclaimed in Isaiah.  

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Could my Brother Jesus of Nazareth be the Branch of Judah from Ezek-37? Then He could be the Root of David fulfilling Isaiah-11:10&53:2, Romans-15:12, Revelation-5:5&22:16. So the Branch in Isaiah-11:1 can build the Temple, Zechariah-6:12, being the Stick of Ephraim, joined through apostolic-succession,-two into one in Father’s hand, Ezekiel-37:19, fulfilled?

    • Thanks for your question. There’s no “branch” in Ezekiel 37 — there’s a “piece of wood” or “stick” (עץ; etz; 37:15-20); the “sticks” of Judah and Ephraim do not represent individuals, but rather collective people groups. More, the “branch” (נצר; netser) of Isa 11:1 doesn’t “build the Temple,” since the Temple is still standing in the time to which Isaiah 11 refers. The “branch” of Zech 6 builds the Temple, but that’s a different word (צמח; tsemach) than that which appears in Isa 11:1. Thus, the Hebrew text doesn’t allow us to conflate these “sticks” and “branches” — they are discussing different entities and time periods.

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      • The point I was hoping to raise is that if we see the Branch and the Root as two different people, then we can follow these two mysterious individuals as they get refered to at other points in Scripture. If we leave them as one it raises extra questions. Shalom.

        • Also, I was considering there could be wordplay between stick and branch. Insights like this could end the blindness of Romans 11:25. Imagine the joy if the Jews and Christians were each waiting for the same two witnesses before the second coming, only using different names for one of them.

          • Thanks for your clarification. There’s no linguistic relationship between “stick” (etz) and “branch” (tsemach, netzer) in Hebrew, so there can’t be a “wordplay” between the two. They symbolize the people of Israel and/or Judah (Ezekiel’s sticks) and the Messiah (branch). The two witnesses of Revelation 11 are separate figures whose identities are unrelated to the stick/branch imagery. Also, Paul doesn’t mention “blindness” in Rom 11:25, but rather “callousing” (porosis), meaning that God has “calloused” Israel “for a short time” (apo merous) in the sense of “protecting” them, just as a broken branch is “calloused” at the location of the break. Rom 11:25 doesn’t describe a negative phenomenon (i.e., Israel’s “blindness”), but a positive one — God’s protective “callousing” of the broken branches of Israel until the time when “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).

  2. Its interesting to know that there is a very thin line between obedience and disobedience, life and death etc. Thanks for shearing.

  3. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing. I love to do word studies and often find them fascinating and always instructive.

  4. Per John 15, we are the branches, netzerim(I probably misspelled), and therefore also watchmen per Jeremiah 31 with high accountability per Ezekiel 33.

  5. Also please explain the nuance in meaning between netzer branch and tzemach branch – as the word choices must have deep significance. I suspect the tzemach is a “plant” that might be mistaken as Messiah due to building the Temple and/or bringing the hoped-for peace

    • It’s just a stylistic difference between Isaiah (who uses netzer) and Jeremiah (who uses tsemach). In Jer 23, the tsemach (branch) symbolizes the Messiah (or future Davidic ruler), and the netzer fulfills a similar function in Isaiah 11:1.

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  6. God bless your teaching ministry! I read Isaiah.4:2 use tsemach also. Two Moshiach theology is clarified with the single letter “s”. “In that day” references ben David, who never dies, while “in those days” references his twelvth apostle, ben Joseph who does-Rev.11:4 Christian branches identifies Zechariah.4:12-14 Rabbi branches. Temple Time!

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