on Isaiah 5 :2
And gathered out the stones "And he cleared it from the stones" - This was agreeable to the husbandry: "Saxa, summa parte terrae, et vites et arbores laeduct; ima parte refrigerant;" Columell. de arb. 3: "Saxosum facile est expedire lectione lapidum;" Id. 2:2. "Lapides, qui supersunt, [al. insuper sunt], hieme rigent, aestate fervescunt; idcirco satis, arbustis, et vitibus nocent;" Pallad. 1:6. A piece of ground thus cleared of the stones Persius, in his hard way of metaphor, calls "exossatus ager," an unboned field; Sat. 6:52.
The choicest vine "Sorek" - Many of the ancient interpreters, the Septuagint, Aquila, and Theod., have retained this word as a proper name; I think very rightly. Sorek was a valley lying between Ascalon and Gaza, and running far up eastward in the tribe of Judah. Both Ascalon and Gaza were anciently famous for wine; the former is mentioned as such by Alexander Trallianus; the latter by several authors, quoted by Reland, Palaest., p. 589 and 986. And it seems that the upper part of the valley of Sorek, and that of Eshcol, where the spies gathered the single cluster of grapes, which they were obliged to bear between two upon a staff, being both near to Hebron were in the same neighborhood, and that all this part of the country abounded with rich vineyards. Compare Numbers 13:22, Numbers 13:23; Judges 16:3, Judges 16:4. P. Nau supposes Eshcol and Sorek to be only different names for the same valley. Voyage Noveau de la Terre Sainte, lib. iv., chap. 18. See likewise De Lisle's posthumous map of the Holy Land. Paris, 1763. See Bochart, Hieroz. ii., Colossians 725. Thevenot, i, p. 406. Michaelis (note on Judges 16:4 (note), German translation) thinks it probable, from some circumstances of the history there given, that Sorek was in the tribe of Judah, not in the country of the Philistines.
The vine of Sorek was known to the Israelites, being mentioned by Moses, Genesis 49:11, before their coming out of Egypt. Egypt was not a wine country. "Throughout this country there are no wines;" Sandys, p. 101. At least in very ancient times they had none. Herodotus, 2:77, says it had no vines and therefore used an artificial wine made of barley. That is not strictly true, for the vines of Egypt are spoken of in Scripture, Psalm 78:47; Psalm 105:33; and see Genesis 40:11, by which it should seem that they drank only the fresh juice pressed from the grape, which was called οινος αμπελινος; Herodot., 2:37. But they had no large vineyards, nor was the country proper for them, being little more than one large plain, annually overflowed by the Nile. The Mareotic in later times is, I think, the only celebrated Egyptian wine which we meet with in history. The vine was formerly, as Hasselquist tells us it is now, "cultivated in Egypt for the sake of eating the grapes, not for wine, which is brought from Candia," etc. "They were supplied with wine from Greece, and likewise from Phoenicia," Herodot., 3:6. The vine and the wine of Sorek therefore, which lay near at hand for importation into Egypt, must in all probability have been well known to the Israelites, when they sojourned there. There is something remarkable in the manner in which Moses, Genesis 49:11, makes mention of it, which, for want of considering this matter, has not been attended to; it is in Jacob's prophecy of the future prosperity of the tribe of Judah: -
"Binding his foal to the vine,
And his ass's colt to his own sorek;
He washeth his raiment in wine,
And his cloak in the blood of grapes."
I take the liberty of rendering שרקה sorekah, for שרקו soreko, his sorek, as the Masoretes do by pointing עירה iroh, for עירו iro, his foal. עיר ir, might naturally enough appear in the feminine form; but it is not at all probable that שרק sorek ever should. By naming particularly the vine of Sorek, and as the vine belonging to Judah, the prophecy intimates the very part of the country which was to fall to the lot of that tribe. Sir John Chardin says, "that at Casbin, a city of Persia, they turn their cattle into the vineyards after the vintage, to browse on the vines." He speaks also of vines in that country so large that he could hardly compass the trunks of them with his arms. Voyages, tom. iii., p. 12, 12mo. This shows that the ass might be securely bound to the vine, and without danger of damaging the tree by browsing on it.
And built a tower in the midst of it - Our Savior, who has taken the general idea of one of his parables, Matthew 21:33; Mark 12:1, from this of Isaiah, has likewise inserted this circumstance of building a tower; which is generally explained by commentators as designed for the keeper of the vineyard to watch and defend the fruits. But for this purpose it was usual to make a little temporary hut, (Isaiah 1:8), which might serve for the short season while the fruit was ripening, and which was removed afterwards. The tower therefore should rather mean a building of a more permanent nature and use; the farm, as we may call it, of the vineyard, containing all the offices and implements, and the whole apparatus necessary for the culture of the vineyard, and the making of the wine. To which image in the allegory, the situation the manner of building, the use, and the whole service of the temple, exactly answered. And so the Chaldee paraphrast very rightly expounds it: Et statui eos (Israelitas) ut plantam vineae selectae et aedificavi Sanctuarium meum in medio illorum. "And I have appointed the Israelites as a plant of a chosen vine, and I have built my sanctuary in the midst of them." So also Hieron. in loc. Aedificavit quoque turrim in medio ejus; templum videlicet in media civitate. "He built also a tower in the midst of it, viz., his own temple in the midst of the city." That they have still such towers or buildings for use or pleasure, in their gardens in the East, see Harmer's Observations, 2 p.
And also made a wine-press therein. "And hewed out a lake therein" - This image also our Savior has preserved in his parable. יקב yekeb; the Septuagint render it here προληνιον, and in four other places ὑποληνιον, Isaiah 16:10; Joel 3:13; Haggai 2:17; Zechariah 14:10, I think more properly; and this latter word St. Mark uses. It means not the wine-press itself, or calcatorium, which is called גת gath, or פורה purah; but what the Romans called lacus, the lake; the large open place or vessel, which by a conduit or spout received the must from the wine-press. In very hot countries it was perhaps necessary, or at least very convenient, to have the lake under ground, or in a cave hewed out of the side of the rock, for coolness, that the heat might not cause too great a fermentation, and sour the must. Vini confectio instituitur in cella, vel intimae domus camera quadam a ventorum ingressu remota. Kempfer, of Shiras wine. Amaen. Exot. p. 376. For the wind, to which that country is subject, would injure the wine. "The wine-presses in Persia," says Sir John Chardin, "are formed by making hollow places in the ground, lined with masons' work." Harmer's Observations, i., p. 392. See a print of one in Kempfer, p. 377.
Nonnus describes at large Bacchus hollowing the inside of a rock, and hewing out a place for the wine-press, or rather the lake: -
Και σκοπελους ελαχηνε· πεδοσκαφεος δε σιδηρου
Θηγαλεῃ γλωχινι μυχον κοιληνατο πετρης·
Λειηνας δε μετωπα βαθυνομενων κενεωνων
on Isaiah 5 :2
And he fenced it - Margin, 'Made a wall about it.' The word used here is supposed rather to mean "to dig about, to grub," as with a pick-axe or spade. - "Gesenius." It has this signification in Arabic, and in one place in the Jewish Talmud. - "Kimchi." The Vulgate and the Septuagint understands it of making a hedge or fence, probably the first work in preparing a vineyard. And as 'a hedge' is expressly mentioned in Isaiah 5:5, it seems most probable that that is its meaning here.
And gathered out the stones ... - That it might be easily cultivated. This was, of course, a necessary and proper work.
And planted it with the choicest vine - Hebrew, 'With the sorek.' This was a choice species of vine, the grapes of which, the Jewish commentators say, had very small and scarcely perceptible stones, and which, at this day, is called "serki" in Morocco; in Persia, "kishmis." - "Gesenius."
And built a tower - For the sake of watching and defending it. These towers were probably placed so as to overlook the whole vineyard, and were thus posts of observation; compare the note at Isaiah 1:8; see also the note at Matthew 21:33.
And also made a wine-press - A place in which to put the grapes for the purpose of expressing the juice; see the note at Matthew 21:33.
And he looked - He waited in expectation; as a farmer waits patiently for the vines to grow, and to bear grapes.
Wild grapes - The word used here is derived from the verb באשׁ bâ'ash, "to be offensive, to corrupt, to putrify;" and is supposed by Gesenius to mean "monk's-hood," a poisonous herb, offensive in smell, which produces berries like grapes. Such a meaning suits the connection better than the supposition of grapes that were wild or uncultivated. The Vulgate understands it of the weed called "wild vine - labruscas." The Septuagint translates it by "thorns," ἄκανθας akanthas. That there were vines in Judea which produced such poisonous berries, though resembling grapes, is evident; see 2 Kings 4:39-41 : 'And one went out into the fields to gather pot herbs, and he found a field vine, and he gathered from it wild fruit.' Moses also refers to a similar vine; Deuteronomy 32:32-33 : 'For their vine is as the vine of Sodom; their grapes are grapes of gall; their clusters are bitter.' Hasselquist thinks that the prophet here means the "nightshade." The Arabs, says he, call it "wolf-grapes." It grows much in vineyards, and is very pernicious to them. Some poisonous, offensive berries, growing on wild vines, are doubtless intended here.
The general meaning of this parable it is not difficult to understand; compare the notes at Matthew 21:33. Jerome has attempted to follow out the allegory, and explain the particular parts. He says, 'By the metaphor of the vineyard is to be understood the people of the Jews, which he surrounded or enclosed by angels; by gathering out the stones, the removal of idols; by the tower, the temple erected in the midst of Judea; by the wine-press, the altar.' There is no propriety, however, in attempting thus minutely to explain the particular parts of the figure. The general meaning is, that God had chosen the Jewish people; had bestowed great care on them in giving them his law, in defending them, and in providing for them; that he had omitted nothing that was adapted to produce piety, obedience, and happiness, and that they had abused it all, and instead of being obedient, had become exceedingly corrupt.
on Isaiah 5 :2
5:2 He gathered - He removed all hindrances, and gave them all the means of fruitfulness. A tower - For the residence of the keepers.