Bonnie Raitt had a huge hit in the early 1990s with the song"I Can't Make You Love Me" (interestingly, co-written by Mike Reid, who played defensive line for Penn State and the Cincinnati Bengals before becoming a country songwriter). It is hauntingly beautiful, as the singer has realized that her feelings for the other person in the relationship are stronger than that person's feelings for her. In her beautiful vocal performance we can feel with her the emptiness of that disproportionate relationship, that she's not receiving back the depth and passion that she is giving, and that no matter how much she wants that to change, she is resigned to the reality that it's not going to. The song's refrain goes:
I can't make you love me if you don't.
You can't make your heart feel something it won't.
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I'll feel the power
But you won't, no you won't
'Cause I can't make you love me, if you don't
"I can't make you love me if you don't" sound like they could be words in Isaiah chapter 5, which begins "1Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard". We discover that this so-called "love song" is about how God has loved the rebellious Israelites, who have not responded in kind to the love and care that the creator and nurturer of the mythical vineyard has shown to them. "He expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes," we are told in verse 2. So far, it seems that God in Isaiah 5 has realized what the singer in "I Can't Make You Love Me" realized--that the relationship is disproportionate, and God isn't getting back anything like the care and nurture and attention that God has been giving.
And here is where the "tune" changes. In "I Can't Make You Love Me' the singer seems resigned to the end of this relationship, and acknowledges that "Morning will come and I'll do what's right; just give me till then to give up this fight, and I will give up this fight". This kind of classy exit doesn't seem to be how God reacts, however. God decides not to graciously withdraw, but to lash out. Isaiah 5:6-7 says:
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it".
There is not a lot of hope in this passage. Perhaps that's why it is paired with Psalm 80, which also uses the image of the vineyard, seemingly to refer to this Isaiah passage. It ends with a plea to God to restore things, to restore what has been devastated. And in so doing, it affirms that no matter how angry God gets with us--and that our behavior might warrant--we still can, with confidence and yet with humility, approach the throne of God's grace and ask for forgiveness and restoration: "But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:17-19).
1 Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
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;
but heard a cry!
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.