Song of the Vineyard
by B. Davie Napier


In the common but not the technical sense of the word, this is an introduction to the Old Testament. I have tried to restrain my professional instincts by constant address to the question, "What is essential to a genuine understanding of the Old Testament?" This is a short introduction; and, since every "problem" of Old Testament study is faced only in the context of the Old Testament itself, the method is always inductive. As a short, inductive introduction the emphasis is on meaning and especially on the meaning of the ancient text in the life and faith of that ancient people, Israel.

I hope I have made some suggestions which will be profitable or stimulating to my colleagues in the biblical field. But in writing this book I have had in mind primarily the formal student, both the college and the seminary student. I have also found myself looking into the faces of that diversified company of informal students embracing, for example, my colleagues teaching in other fields, as well as those other friends from all walks with whom I spend sustaining nonworking hours and who, ever and again even in the midst of play, put me back to work with "simple" innocent questions about the Bible. I have also remembered former students at Judson College, Alfred University, the University of Georgia, Wesleyan University in Middletown (in a gratifying interim), the hundreds of men in Yale College who elected Religion 21 a in the decade of the fifties and the more than a thousand men and women at Yale Divinity School who have had no choice. I have remembered gratefully all of these who "saw the movie" and who may have some interest now in "reading the hook." 1 have thought of still others in writing this: Sunday school teachers, that brave breed, who give so much and are so often given too little; and that wonderful, ubiquitous "man in the street" who wants his questions answered without theological indoctrination and in such fashion as to be spared from professional initiation. And always I have found myself in conversation with the working clergyman whose hard and rewarding role I have known in my own parishes and to whom biblical meaning is of the essence.

Whoever reads this must know that it is not and cannot be a substitute for the Old Testament. The reader’s time and my own effort are wasted if this is attempted. The book is conceived and written as a "companion" (that abused word), a knowledgeable companion whose sole reason for existence is to aid in understanding the text of the Old Testament. In the life of learning nothing is so injurious as the usurpation of the role of the subject of instruction by the medium of instruction, whether the medium be the lecturer on the subject or the book about the subject. Here is another reason why this is, as such books go, a short introduction. Many a student in many a course has been discouraged from reading adequately in primary sources by the sheer bulk of the secondary material pushed in his direction. Courses in Bible are, alas, all too often courses about the Bible. Let Old Testament study be the study of the Old Testament.

The reviewer of a previous book of mine very kindly complimented my total appearance in the book but regretted that my "Christian slip was showing." I suspect this condition persists — which is only to say, or which is at least to say, that I affirm the essential continuity of Old and New Testaments. I also insist that the Christian is fundamentally ignorant of the New Testament who does not know and understand the Old. On the other hand, and most emphatically, I have tried here not to reduce the Old Testament — as it never should be — simply to an introduction to the New Testament. For the most part I have left the reader to draw his own conclusions on the relationship in meaning of the Old to the New. The story of ancient Israel is a story worth knowing in and for itself, and the most ardent Christian interpreter does himself and his own faith a disservice if he fails to see this and acknowledge it.

My debts are so extensive as to defy specific acknowledgment, but the range is from my own instructors here, my family, my present colleagues, this university and its students to men in the biblical field in scores of cities in this country, this hemisphere, and around the world.


Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

Christmas, 1961


Let me sing for my beloved

a love song concerning his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard

on a very fertile hill.

He digged 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;

and he looked for it to yield grapes,

but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem

and men of Judah,

judge, I pray you, between me

and my vineyard.

What more was there to do for my vineyard,

that had not done in it?

When I looked for it to yield grapes,

why did it yield wild grapes?

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 briers and thorns shall grow up;

I will command the clouds

that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts

is the house of Israel,

and the men of Judah

are his pleasant planting;

and he looked for justice,

but behold bloodshed;

for righteousness,

but behold, a cry!

ISA. 5:1-7

In that day:

"A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!

I, the Lord, am its keeper;

every moment I water it.

Lest anyone harm it,

I guard it night and day;

I have no wrath.

Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!

I would set out against them,

I would burn them up together.


In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots,

and fill the whole world with fruit.

ISA. 27:1-5,7