The Fruitless Vine of God

Son of man, how does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest? Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessel on it?” (vv. 2–3).

- Ezekiel 15

Grape-producing vines were among the most important crops of ancient Israel and therefore key to the old covenant community and its economy. To own a prosperous vineyard was to have a means of supporting oneself and one’s family, and an abundant vineyard came to symbolize prosperity. Genesis 49:11, for example, foresees the prosperity of Judah, stating that his vineyard will be so fruitful that he will be able to use vines as ropes to bind animals to a post. Not using these vines for cultivation will have a negligible impact on the vineyard’s yield because the vineyard will be so productive.

Unlike other trees such as the cedar, a vine’s worth depends on the amount and quality of fruit it produces—not its wood, which cannot be fashioned into sturdy furniture, doors, or other equipment. Knowing this fact enables us to interpret today’s passage rightly. Ezekiel says that procuring wood is not the reason vines are cultivated. In fact, vine wood is good only for producing a fire. Even then, it is inferior to wood from the forest trees God has specifically given to fuel our fires. Obviously, then, no one would want to own a vine that could be used only for wood. Thus, the Lord’s old covenant people were undoubtedly shocked to hear that Jerusalem had become a vine of this type (Ezek. 15:1–6). Jacob’s descendants had been fruitless, and like a non-producing grape vine, the people were good for nothing but fire—for nothing but destruction (vv. 7–8).

Ezekiel’s use of the vine metaphor is common to the prophets. Prophets such as Jeremiah routinely likened Israel to a vine that God planted with the aim of gathering fruit (Jer. 2:21a). But the universal prophetic indictment was that the covenant people had not fulfilled their purpose. They had become wild and unfruitful, and the only solution was to uproot Israel and cast it into the fire of divine judgment.

Knowing that the Lord voluntarily committed His very life and honor to the salvation of Abraham’s seed (Gen. 15), however, helps us see that Ezekiel speaks with a bit of prophetic hyperbole. There was an alternative to wiping out Israel and that was to plant a good, healthy vine from Jacob’s stock, a vine that would be the true Israel because it would bear the fruit that God intended when He established the vineyard of Israel. This vine—this true Israel—is the Lord Jesus Christ, and only as we abide in Him can we be fruitful unto God’s glory (John 15:1–17).

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage, “Those who are not fruitful to the glory of God’s grace will be fuel to the fire of his wrath.” We are not counted as righteous before the Lord because of our service to Him. Nevertheless, if we are not fruitful in serving Him, then we do not abide in His choice vine—the Lord Jesus Christ—whose work alone can save us. By the Spirit, we must continue to abide in Christ and bear fruit unto the Lord’s glory in the form of love for God and neighbor.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 5:1–7
Ezekiel 19:10–14
Hosea 10:1–2
Luke 13:6–9

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