Truth, Understanding, Insight

The Grape Vine

8th October 2007, hej


2) Israel's symbol is a Grape Vine

Israel as a nation is not specifically related to the grape vine in its early history. The patriarch Israel did, however, associate the grape vine with Judah when blessing his sons. This indicates that even though Abraham and Isaac had been herdsmen, Israel's expectation was that his son's descendants would be possessors of land to allow them to work of vineyards.

Judah is a lion's whelp: ...The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. (Gen 49:9-12 KJV)

Judah's inheritance was not to be one of milk and honey, but rather of wine and milk. Plentiful wine is likely to result in plenteous honey in any case. The relationship between wine and the lawgiver from Judah will be returned to later, firstly the association of the vine with the houses in Israel will be explored.

For the commercial production of wine a large number of grape vines must be maintained occupying a large area and it tends to be away from the house, yet in the following passages grape vines are closely associated with the Israeli dwelling.

And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon. (1Ki 4:25 KJV)
Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus said the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern: (2Ki 18:31 KJV)

And in the future the prediction is they will repeat this pattern:

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it. (Micah 4:4 KJV)
In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree. (Zech. 3:10 KJV)

The perfect and ideal dwelling of the person blessed by Yahweh is one with a fruitful vine by the house and and olive trees nearby.

<A Song of degrees.> Blessed is every one that fears the LORD; that walks in his ways. .. happy shalt thou be... Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. (Psa 128:1-4 KJV)

In all of these pictures the grape vines are not in a distant field, but growing against or over the house. Why in a temperate climate is there an advantage to having a grapevine on or over the house? In summer the abundant and fast growing foliage contains moisture and the large leaves provide shade to the occupants and the house. It would work best planted to the equator facing side of the house. In winter the same vine would be leafless and provide the maximum solar access. The grape vine, apart from being a source of fruit, had a very practical advantage of providing welcome climate control and much needed summer shade. The climate of Israel is much like the temperate zone of Australia. It says of Yahweh that he is their 'shade'.

The LORD is thy keeper.. thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day....... (Psalm 121:5-6 KJV)

This indicates the importance of shade. It is likely the advantages of the grape vine, including its thermal benefits, were the reason it became inextricably associated with the Israeli dwelling by the time of David and Solomon. It seems it was a saying that they dwelt 'under a vine' as shown above reference in 1Kings 4:25. By the time of Hezekiah even their enemies knew the saying.

There seems corroborative evidence of the prevalence of grape vines for eating in a saying reported by Jeremiah.

In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. (Jer. 31:29 KJV)

Solomon features the grape and the vineyard as a thing of beauty in his song.

This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes. I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves. (Son 7:6-12 KJV)

This song shows two things. That grapes were considered something sweet close to the heart and that wine was associated with love. It shows also how close the grape vine was intertwined in the Israeli culture of the time of Solomon.

The psalmist takes this inevitable association of the Israeli with the grape vine and likens the nation of Israel to a vine.

Psalm of Asaph: Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou prepared room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? .. and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: ...., and visit this vine; And the vineyard which thy right hand has planted, and the branch that thou made strong for thyself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou made strong for thyself.(Psa80:7-17 KJV)

If this was the first instance where Israel as a nation is likened to a grape vine, there is a remarkable outcome, in that Yahweh seems to respond to this association and uses it to address Israel through the prophets. Isaiah reports a lengthy passage where Yahweh talks to Israel calling them his vineyard.

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well beloved has a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also 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 his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgement, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. (Isa 5:1-7)

Jeremiah continues this theme. Note that in all cases the association is an analogy.

I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me? (Jer 2:21)
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall throughly glean the remnant of Israel as a vine: turn back thine hand as a grapegatherer into the baskets. (Jer 6:9)
I will surely consume them, saith the LORD: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them. (Jeremiah 8:13).

Ezekiel uses the image of Israel as a vine in a number of parables. The first is damning. For the first time the vine has a less than positive characteristic. The timber of the vine is useless.

Son of man, What is the vine tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon? Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devours both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned. Is it meet for any work? Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work: how much less shall it be meet yet for any work, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned? Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 15:2-6)

In Ezekiel 17:2-10 Israel features as a vine searching for the wrong water in a parable styled a riddle. By Ezekiel chapter 19 the vine is first a great plant but is destroyed, having lost its fruit and its strength which is its “sceptre to rule”. Israel before Babylon was great among the nations.

Thy mother is like a vine in thy blood, planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters. And she had strong rods for the sceptres of them that bare rule, and her stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with the multitude of her branches.
But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up her fruit: her strong rods were broken and withered; the fire consumed them. And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground. And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation. (Eze 19:10-14)

Hosea also uses this image and writes:

Israel is an empty vine, he brings forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images. (Hos 10:1).

Interestingly a vine that is left unpruned or unkempt produces heavily for a few years, but gradually the size and quantity of fruit is greatly reduced.

Joel and Nahum both also use the image of Israel as a vine that is stripped to describe the effect of invaders.

For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion,.. He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white. (Joe 1:6-7 KJV)
For the LORD hath turned away the excellency of Jacob, as the excellency of Israel: for the emptiers have emptied them out, and marred their vine branches. (Nah 2:2 KJV)