By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology
There are many agricultural images used in the Bible, but the one image that has major implications for the church today is that of the vineyard, for Jesus in one of His “I am” statements referred to Himself as the true vine.
In Part 1, we will look at how the Old Testament used the vineyard imagery to describe rebellious/idolatrous Israel as God’s spoilt vine. In Part 2, we will look at how God’s precious vine has been restored in Christ, and in Part 3 what that means for restructuring churches today in the light of Israel’s mistakes.
Israel as Yahweh’s Special Vineyard
Israel is referred to as Yahweh’s special vineyard which He lovingly established and tended by:
- transplanting a vine of pure seed as He plucked it up out of Egypt (Psalm 80:8; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 17:1-6);
- clearing ground for it on an exposed fertile hillside so it could take root as He drove out the Canaanite nations before Joshua (Psalm 80:8-9; Isaiah 5:1);
- digging up the soil and removing its stones (Isaiah 5:2);
- taking delight in planting it as good vines besides plentiful water (Psalm 80:8, 15; Isaiah 5:2; Ezekiel 19:10); and
- building a watchtower in its midst and hewing out a wine vat (Isaiah 5:2).
The emphasis is on the lavish effort Yahweh went to in the expectation of producing a crop of good grapes.
Israel as Yahweh’s Fruitful Vine
As a result of Yahweh’s tender care, Israel became a vine which:
- filled the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates River (during the reigns of David and Solomon when Israel’s borders were extended the furthest as promised in Deuteronomy 11:22-25), covering the mighty cedars (literally the cedars of God) with its branches and the mountains (of Lebanon) with its shade (Psalm 80:10-11); and
- was fruitful and full of thick foliage from which strong prominent branches, i.e. world-renowned rulers, emerged (Ezekiel 19:10-11; compare Genesis 49:9-12; Hosea 10:1).
The Spoiling of Yahweh’s Vine
However, when Yahweh went to examine the produce of His vineyard, Israel, all He found were sour/putrid “wild” grapes, i.e. oppression instead of justice, crying instead of righteousness (Isaiah 5:3-4, 7; Jeremiah 2:21-22; compare Deuteronomy 32:28-33), because of their:
- greed, haughtily acquiring parcel after parcel of land to establish large land estates/vineyards, land which belonged to Yahweh as landlord and must be automatically returned under the law of Jubilee to the heirs of the tenants Yahweh originally gave it to (Isaiah 5:8, 15; Leviticus 25:23-28; compare Ezekiel 46:16-18; 2 Chronicles 7:20; Psalm 85:1; Hosea 9:3; Joel 2:18), incorporating the sin of covetousness into their greed which is at the heart of idolatry (Deuteronomy 5:21; Colossians 3:5);
- excessive indulgence in wine and music by the wealthy in the day-to-day haughty pursuit of pleasure, completely disregarding how God might be at work in the world (Isaiah 5:11-12, 15);
- arrogance which mockingly denies God’s moral counsel and activity in the world so that they can be free to consciously indulge in iniquity and sinful behaviour (Isaiah 5:18-19, 24; compare Jeremiah 2:34-35; 5:7-13);
- idolatry, forsaking and rejecting Yahweh with His righteous demands, the fountain of living waters who faithfully led them into His land of plenty (compare John 4:7-14), to pursue other unprofitable spiritual sources like the prophets of Baal which are not morally demanding, enabling them to live their own selfish lives, redefining themselves by hewing out cisterns for themselves (Jeremiah 2:4-8, 20, 23, 26-28, 31; 17:13; compare Proverbs 5:15-23; Deuteronomy 32:15-18);
- spiritual adultery and covenant insincerity, for despite their oaths to Yahweh, the more affluence they established for themselves, the more they improved their pagan altars and the pillars at their pagan shrines in order to seek more wealth from Baal (Hosea 10:1-2, 4);
- failure to seek and put their trust in Yahweh as their only security, the fountain of living waters, by turning to political manipulation to secure an advantage from (the waters of) Egypt and Assyria (Jeremiah 2:13, 18-19, 24-25, 36-37; Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1-3; compare Psalm 3:3-7; 28:7-8; 84:5-12; Hosea 7:11-13);
- perversion in justifying their dark, bitter, evil behaviour by determining that it is good, being wise in their own eyes, thereby rejecting the word of Yahweh, the Holy One (Isaiah 5:20-21, 24; compare Jeremiah 4:22; Isaiah 29:13-21); and
- injustice, being champion drink-mixers freeing the guilty and condemning the innocent if the price is right, rather than being champions and heroes of the weak and defenceless (Isaiah 5:22-23; compare Jeremiah 2:33-34; 5:26-31).
It is highly significant that part of the spoiling of God’s vineyard included:
- taking ownership over what properly belonged to God for personal use and benefit, something senior church leaders can be prone to do today (compare the imagery of Jeremiah 2:3 where all who ate of Israel as the firstfruits of Yahweh’s harvest incurred guilt because the firstfruit offering was holy and belonged to Yahweh — Deuteronomy 26:1-19);
- losing passion for God, His truth and His righteous purposes and activity in the world because passion for pleasure had become uppermost in a person’s life, something so many Western world Christians can also stumble into today in their pursuit of financial security and entertainment (compare Isaiah 17:7-11; Matthew 16:24-27);
- determining what is right and good according to human reason out of self-interest to justify sinful behaviour, something the church frequently does today in resolving ethical dilemmas like gay marriage, rather than seeking the command of the only One who is truly good (Mark 10:17-18; compare Proverbs 1:7; 3:7; 9:10);
- incorporating pagan religious practices into the life of the nation, which so many churches do today to either bolster flagging spirituality or to increase appeal by compromising with an existing culture;
- denying the manifest presence of the living God in the midst of the assembly to challenge sinful behaviour (compare 1 Corinthians 5:1-8), something most churches do today by denying, ignoring or neglecting the supernatural expression of the charismatic gifts of speech; and
- seeking the security of the world’s protection with its hierarchical structures and distorted, ungodly scientific knowledge to make alliances for gain or influence, rather than seeking the mind of Christ who is the embodiment of truth and wisdom.
God’s Spoilt Vine under Judgment
- broke down the vineyard’s walls and hedges (of His protection) so that boars and wild creatures (i.e. unclean foreign passersby) could root out and feed on the vine, ruining it (Psalm 80:12-13; Isaiah 5:5-6; Jeremiah 2:14-15; 12:7-11);
- had the vine cut down and uprooted, hurling it to the ground where the east wind of judgment ripped off and dried up her putrid fruit, after which all its branches and dried-up fruit were consumed with fire (Ezekiel 19:12-14; Psalm 80:16; Isaiah 5:24-25);
- prevented rain so that thorns and thornbushes grew up in its place (Isaiah 5:6; Jeremiah 3:2-3);
- caused wealthy vineyards/properties to become unproductive/infertile and eventually uninhabited, so that flocks will quietly graze over the ruins of the once fine houses (Isaiah 5:9-10, 17, 24; Jeremiah 2:15; 8:13-14; compare Leviticus 26:14-15, 19-20); and
- figuratively transplanted His vine to a desert where it lost all its strong branches (i.e. the Davidic dynasty) by sending His wayward people with their haughty, self-exalted leaders and their idols into exile where death will swallow them up, rich and poor alike, because they lacked knowledge of who God really is, replacing justice and righteousness which exalts and characterises God as holy with violence and oppression (Ezekiel 15:1-8; 19:13; Isaiah 5:13-14, 16, 26-30; Jeremiah 2:15-17, 19; Hosea 10:2, 4-6; compare Hosea 4:1-2; Jeremiah 9:23-25; 22:15-16; Micah 6:6-8).
Yahweh not only abandons His worthless vineyard, but actually assists in its destruction (note especially Isaiah 5:25; Ezekiel 17:19-21).
But judgment and indictment is not the last word on Israel’s spoilt vine, for in Part 2 we will look at how this vine comes back to life in Christ.
To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.
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Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell. He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life. In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide. He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.
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