3.3.9 Grape Vine: Mankind
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 3.9
Grape Vine: Mankind
Man was designed to be fruitful. The very first commandment in the entire Bible is “Be fruitful and multiply—fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) So we should not be surprised to find that a plant upon which delicious fruit grows—the grapevine—should be recruited as a scriptural metaphor for mankind—and what it takes to foster our fruitfulness. It’s a good news, bad news story, I’m afraid. On the one hand, humanity can be fruitful—productive, sweet, and enjoyable, producing good results, being beneficial or profitable. I get the feeling that if everything is as it should be, God finds our company downright intoxicating. On the other hand, it takes hard work, nurturing, and wisdom to make it so, and there are any number of things that can conspire to ruin the harvest—blight, drought, poor soil, cross-contamination with bad seed, or the destructive action of enemies or pests.
In His role as the “Son of Man” (that is, in His capacity as the human manifestation of God), Yahshua compared Himself to a grapevine, the trunk and root, of which we are the branches. It’s roughly the same picture we saw above, in which we are the “poles” (baddim—branches) used to carry the ark of the covenant forth in the world. He said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of Mine that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit….” There are two kinds of people in this world, He says: those who bear fruit, and those who do not. But actually, this is even more focused than that: He’s talking about His branches—those who ostensibly honor Yahweh and His Messiah. Some of us—nominal Christians or biological Jews—don’t bear any fruit at all.
Our Father, Yahweh, is cast in the role of the Vinedresser in this parable. He knows that the trunk and root system is sound, because there is always fruit growing on the vine somewhere. But the branches growing from the vine may or may not be fruitful. God examines each branch to see if it is productive or not. If there is no fruit, He “takes away” that branch. It’s major surgery, but something necessary to protect the fundamental viability of the plant. But even if the branch in question is bearing fruit, the Vinedresser carefully prunes it with an eye toward maximizing the yield. Anything that threatens to sap the life of the vine, compromising its ability to produce fruit, is subject to being “pruned back.”
Yahshua’s point is that the branches (us) can’t survive or produce fruit without a vital connection to the vine’s trunk. “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” It is Christ’s word that makes us clean (Greek katharos, of which Strong’s notes, “in a similitude, like a vine cleansed by pruning and so fitted to bear fruit”). “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you….” There’s sort of a catch-22 here: if we abide in Christ, what we wish will automatically be in perfect alignment with God’s will—which probably doesn’t include spending next month’s rent on a new bass boat or Louis Vuitton shoes. It will more likely have something to do with opportunities for service or our words and deeds finding fertile ground.
“By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love.” Easy enough to say, but how can we do this, in practical terms? “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:1-11) It’s absurdly simple in principle, but at the same time impossible to do in our own strength: keep Yahweh’s commandments, and we will abide joyfully in the love of God. Allow me to reprise my paraphrase of the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Mosaic covenant—“Yahweh alone is God, so don’t worship or serve anything else. Don’t make visual representations of what you think He may be like, for He will provide His own image for you: Yahshua the Messiah. Revere the name of Yahweh, and don’t associate with it anything that is worthless, empty, or deceptive. Observe the Sabbath, for it explains both God’s redemptive program and the timeline He has ordained to bring it about. Honor your maker. And don’t murder, cheat, steal, lie, or covet what others have, for in doing so, you show disrespect for God and lack of trust in Him.”
This is not a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, but rather a way of life, a mindset of spiritual awareness that reveals our relationship with Yahweh—or lack of it. Keeping these commandments—guarding them, honoring them, and living them—is not so much a method for attaining the condition known as “abiding in Christ’s love” as it is an indication that you’re already there. How this ties into the symbol of the vine is revealed by Yahshua’s words at the “last supper.” The “fruit of the vine,” that is, the wine that they were drinking, was said to be a metaphor for the Messiah’s blood that was about to be shed. So He explained to His disciples what was going on. “And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins….” Yahshua thereby symbolically equated the “fruit of the vine” with the “blood of the covenant.” Christians who ignore the Torah are immediately at a loss, for they can’t comprehend that second phrase, though the disciples, being Israelites, knew what He meant. The “blood of the covenant” spoke of all those animal sacrifices that had been instituted in the Law of Moses: innocent blood being shed to atone for the guilty—the Torah’s portrayal of grace. Yahshua was informing His disciples that the blood He was about to shed on their (and our) behalf would fulfill those prophetic Levitical precepts—all of them. He was about to discharge His role as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (as John the Baptist had put it).
But He went on to say, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.’” (Matthew 26:27-29; cf. Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18) To understand this we need to consider the context. He had just told them that He was the vine and they were the branches who, if they were abiding in Him, would bear fruit in the world. But He was about to submit Himself to the cross: He would no longer be physically present among them, but rather would send the Holy Spirit to abide within them forever (John 14:16-17). The connection between vine and branches would therefore remain intact even in Christ’s physical absence. The remarkable thing here is that in saying He would “drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom,” Yahshua was (again) promising to return to them—physically, corporeally, and in unprecedented glory.
It was no fluke, no theological innovation, when Yahshua symbolically compared Himself to the grapevine in Yahweh’s vineyard. One of the earlier Messianic prophecies—the one pinpointing the tribe of Israel from which the Messiah would come—introduced the theme: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to Him.” The word translated “tribute” in this version is the Hebrew shiloh, used just this once in scripture. Strong’s defines it as “he whose it is; that which belongs to him; tranquility.” It is derived (apparently) from the verb shalah: to be at rest, prosper, be quiet or at ease. The meaning of this, then, is that Judah would be the tribe from which Israel’s ultimate King would emerge—He to whom rule naturally belongs. “And to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding His foal to the vine and His donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He has washed His garments in wine and His vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and His teeth whiter than milk.” (Genesis 49:10-12)
Does any of this sound familiar? It should. We read in the Gospel account, “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”’” (Matthew 21:1-5, quoting Zechariah 9:9) Don’t look now, but when Yahshua took the reins of that borrowed donkey, the Genesis prophecy, “Binding His foal to the vine and His donkey’s colt to the choice vine” was literally fulfilled. The scepter and throne of Israel was being claimed by Yahshua, descendant of both King David and the patriarch Judah. (The “washing of His garments in wine and His vesture in blood” speaks of His impending return to this world in furious wrath: see Isaiah 63:1-6.)
Yahshua was not only to be our king—our lord and leader—but also our high priest, the One who would intercede between God and man. So during the post-exilic era (about 520 BC), a high priest named Joshua was recruited as a prophetic stand-in for the coming Messiah—they even shared the same name (the one I’m rendering “Yahshua” in the case of the Messiah, so folks can tell them apart.) “And the angel of Yahweh solemnly assured Joshua, ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts: If you will walk in My ways and keep My charge, then you shall rule My house and have charge of My courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.” “Ruling” and “having charge” are the job of a king, but access to Yahweh is the high priest’s function, by definition. In fact, the role of the high priest is prophetic (as are so many Torah symbols) of the Messiah. “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring My servant the Branch….” Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a Bible narrative is prophetic or merely historical, but here we’ve been told plainly: these things are symbolic of something yet to come—something wonderful.
“For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares Yahweh of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.” The “stone” is prophetic of Yahshua Himself: the stone that the builders rejected had become the cornerstone (see Psalm 118:22). That “single day” of which he speaks will be (if I’m not mistaken) the definitive Day of Atonement—predictive, not coincidentally, of the timing of the second coming of Christ, this time in glory. “In that day, declares Yahweh of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.” (Zechariah 3:6-10) The more generalized “day” that will follow shortly thereafter will be the Millennial reign of the Messiah—beginning on (and prophesied by) the Feast of Tabernacles. This “day” will be characterized by peace and fellowship among the inhabitants of the earth.
Needless to say, that is not the status quo today, nor is there any chance of it becoming so without some serious cultural transformation. What will have changed? The key is that little phrase we sort of skipped over: “I (Yahweh) will bring My servant the Branch.” We just saw how Yahshua (in His role as God) was the vine, and we who abide in Him are the branches. But in a similar way, Yahshua (in his role as the Son of Man) was the “Branch” to Yahweh’s “vine.” That is, even manifested as a mortal man, He drew his life and strength from the Father. Yahshua the Branch, then, is the one who will remove the iniquity of the land and cause mankind to dwell together in perfect peace.
Two other prophecies make that crystal clear. The first is from Isaiah: “In that day the Branch of Yahweh shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.” (Isaiah 4:2) If you’ll recall from our discussion of palm trees, Leviticus 23:40 listed several types of trees whose boughs were to be used to build shelters to dwell in during the Feast of Tabernacles. These turned out to be indicative of the populations inhabiting the Millennial kingdom of Christ—beginning with the King Himself, characterized as a splendid, beautiful, or glorious tree (Hebrew: hadar). His “branches” (us, those abiding in the Messiah) were the first “booth covering” mentioned. Isaiah doesn’t use the same word to describe the King, but his descriptions are closely synonymous. “Beautiful” and “glorious” are actually nouns personifying the Branch, so perhaps this would be better translated “The Branch of Yahweh shall be beauty and glory.” The Hebrew tsabiy means beauty, glory, or honor. And kabowd denotes glory, honor, glorious abundance, riches, and splendor.
It’s clear to me that no one other than Yahshua the Messiah could possibly fit that description, though the passage is a bit coy in identifying Him. Not so with a parallel passage from Jeremiah, who ties the “Branch” to David’s royal line (of whom Yahshua is history’s only viable candidate for fulfillment). “Behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘Yahweh is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6, cf. Jeremiah 33:14-16) That title (alternately rendered “Yahweh our righteousness,” tells us several things. First, the Branch is actually Yahweh Himself—they share a common identity, though the form of the Branch is diminished for our benefit. Second, it says that we have no righteousness within ourselves, at least none sufficient to allow us to stand vindicated before Yahweh. So He is the righteousness we require. This is one of hundreds of Old Testament confirmations of the principle of grace—imputed righteousness. Nothing changed in the post-resurrection era, just because Paul called a spade a spade.
In all of our examples so far, the grapevine has been used as a symbol of mankind—and specifically, of man in his mortal state. We are designed to bear fruit, but we cannot fulfill that destiny unless we are anchored into and nourished by the source of our life—Yahweh. As we shall soon see, most of the Bible’s references to vines speak either of the judgment mankind will endure for failing to bear fruit in Yahweh’s vineyard, or of the restoration and vindication that can be our destiny if we respond to the Vinedresser’s loving attentions. But first, let us address a few miscellaneous mentions of grapevines in scripture, with an eye toward learning more about the man-centric nature of this symbol.
We’ll begin with Israel’s son Joseph, and a vision he was asked to interpret as he languished, unjustly accused, in an Egyptian prison. “So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, ‘In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.’ Then Joseph said to him, ‘This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer.’” (Genesis 40:9-13) We all remember what happened: the dream’s interpretation was proved correct, and the incident would eventually lead to the salvation of Israel (not to mention Egypt) through the most unlikely series of events you can think of.
Nobody ever thinks beyond the obvious surface meaning of this narrative, for its significance on that level is amazing enough. But given what we now know about the “grapevine” symbol—mortal man—is it possible that there’s more here than meets the eye? The heart of the prophecy is, “The three branches are three days. In three days [the king] will lift you up.” We have already established that “branches” indicate that which is extended from (and dependent upon) the living vine—it’s a term that defines believers. In this context, then, what are the “three days?” I believe this may be a prophecy concerning the progression of God’s revelation throughout the ages of mankind—from the fall of Adam until the commencement of Christ’s Millennial kingdom. The “three days” are three ages: (1) the age of conscience, from Adam to Abraham; (2) the age of covenants, from Abraham to Yahshua; and (3) the age of Christ, which will culminate with His glorious return. At the beginning of each new “day,” Yahweh radically altered the means by which His believers would interact with Him—though the message itself never changed: “trust Me.”
What, then, happens when the “three days” are up? (And don’t look now, but any way you slice it, we are very near the end of the third day.) The prophecy says, the King will “restore you to your office, and you shall place his cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer.” That is, we believers (who must live through the three days in prison) will be brought back to a place of responsibility, service, and honor before the King. The office of cupbearer in the ancient world implied the complete trust of the king, for no one would have been in a better position to influence him (through intimate and prolonged proximity) or, on the other hand, to poison him. The cupbearer (or vizier) was literally the king’s “right hand man.” If you couldn’t trust him, you couldn’t trust anyone. But when were we human believers Yahweh’s cupbearers? In the Garden of Eden, before the fall. Adam got his whole family thrown into prison for his “mistake,” but the King is going to pardon him (us, that is) and restore us to a place of trust and service in His Kingdom. And with what shall we serve Him? With what’s in the cup—the “fruit” that mankind was supposed to be producing in our lives all along: love and everything that flows from it—joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Another facet of the symbol of the grapevine can be discerned from the Nazirite vow. The name of the vow (nazir) simply means one who is consecrated or devoted, from a root verb (nazar) meaning to dedicate, consecrate, or separate. “When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to Yahweh, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.” (Numbers 6:2-4) If our interpretation of the “vine” symbol rings true, then the underlying meaning of the Nazirite vow is that the devotee is actually separating himself from the ordinary concerns of mankind—all of them. This is as close to monasticism as you can get in the Bible. But it doesn’t imply a retreat from the world, only a conscious deliberation to set its blandishments aside for a time in order to devote oneself wholly to Yahweh’s kingdom. The Nazirite didn’t cease interacting with man, but he stopped “consuming” what humanity had to offer in the world. The vow was usually temporary (though there are examples of it being a lifelong endeavor). God knows how we’re wired. Let’s face it, for most of us, being that heavenly-minded would mean we were no earthly good. Still, it would have been a life-altering experience to leave the world behind for a time, seeking only Yahweh and His truth. You’d come back refreshed, restored, and refocused.
In an interesting twist, under the Torah, even the grapevines were to take a Nazirite vow now and then, so to speak. In the law of the Sabbatical year, we read, “But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to Yahweh. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed [nazir—consecrated] vine.” (Leviticus 25:4-5) Once again, symbolically comparing the vine to mankind reveals an essential truth: in the end, we cannot rely upon the opinions and philosophies of men, but only upon God Himself. Yes, for the time being, God’s love is shown to us through the actions of His people, and we are commanded to be the conduits of that love to the whole world. But during the Sabbath—the Millennial Kingdom—no one will be relying on the “grapes of the consecrated vine.” The fruit of the Spirit will, rather, be “picked” directly from the Messiah. Don’t take that the wrong way: it’s not that our love won’t count anymore, it’s only that the Source of our love will be obvious and apparent to every living soul, in stark contrast to the way things are today.
Job’s “friend” Elihu didn’t understand any of that. Granted, he didn’t have the Torah to consult, but his observations fit neither the truth of Job’s predicament nor the reality of the world as he found it. Like so many today, Elihu merely put forth his theory as to how things ought to be, and ignored the way they actually were. Of course, all of us have caught ourselves wishing his philosophy was true, because if it were, justice in the world would fall into our laps like ripe fruit. But life isn’t quite as simple as that. He said: “Let him [the wicked man—presumably his friend Job] not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself, for emptiness will be his payment. It will be paid in full before his time, and his branch will not be green. He will shake off his unripe grape like the vine, and cast off his blossom like the olive tree. For the company of the godless is barren, and fire consumes the tents of bribery.” (Job 15:31-34) Most of us fall into the trap of wanting—even expecting—instant gratification. And wouldn’t it be nice (we think) if all wrongdoing (at least when it’s being done by other people) were met with swift and sure punishment—instant karma, as it were?
That may actually be the paradigm in operation during the coming kingdom, the Sabbath age. But for now—during the six day work week, during the six years preceding the Sabbatical hiatus, during the six thousand years leading up to the Millennial reign of Christ (all of which mean the same thing in God’s symbolic lexicon)—the standard of free will is in play. Not only is God’s love invariably dispensed to the world only indirectly, through the actions of faithful believers, but God’s justice is usually deferred as well—though man’s inadequate version does what it can to pick up the slack. Why? Because if God rewarded good and punished evil instantly and unerringly in this life, our moral choices would be meaningless. Mercy and patience would be reduced to mere theoretical constructs. We would find ourselves behaving ourselves only in order to avoid the wrath of God, not because we loved and honored Him.
But Yahweh is patient and merciful with us—up to a point. We are “allowed” to make mistakes without the stern fist of God automatically (and immediately) descending upon us in wrath and retribution. As Paul phrased the issue, “Do you despise the riches of His [Yahweh’s] goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) Some of us do repent, observing that the sin of our lives (as God defined it) brings us no joy, but only sorrow, guilt, frustration, and a vague sense of unfulfillment. Others, however, noticing that lightning bolts from heaven don’t ordinarily strike us down the instant we’ve committed a crime, conclude that God must be either nonexistent, incompetent, disinterested, or dead. So the rule for them logically becomes “don’t get caught” doing something society universally agrees is evil. But at the same time, they try to shift society’s “narrow minded and bigoted mores” toward tolerance for their particular antisocial proclivities. In America, for example, the cultural ideal used to be prosperity through hard work, thoughtful stewardship of our resources, thrift, open expression faith in God, the sanctity of life, and lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriage. Nobody gave these things a second thought: they were basic and foundational ideas. But now, after half a century of unrelenting satanic onslaught, half the nation prefers a welfare mentality, the despising of our God-given natural resources, deficit spending on a gargantuan scale, suppression of other people’s faith, the practice of abortion as retroactive birth control, unrestrained sexual promiscuity, and the blurring of traditional gender roles.
And since God has not Personally and promptly intervened, imposing His will and standards from the top down, the proponents of these things presume He never will—most likely because He isn’t really there. But Yahweh, through His prophet, told us precisely what His modus operandi was going to be, twenty-seven hundred years ago. “Let me sing for my beloved, my love song concerning His vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” The vineyard is the habitable earth; it’s owner and master is Yahweh; the “very fertile hill” is the good earth in which He planted us (a hill or mountain, symbolically, is a place of strength and security); and the vines are us—mankind—the inhabitants of the vineyard. “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….” When God created the earth, it was deemed “very good,” perfectly suited for its inhabitants. The “watchtower” speaks of God’s care and protection of our race (but at the same time indicates the presence of enemies—like Eden’s serpent); and the wine vat reminds us that we were designed (and destined) to be fruitful.
Anybody who knows anything about human history knows what happened: it didn’t turn out at all as God had wished (though He knew, even before He began, what would transpire, and what He would do to fix the problem). “And He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?...” Yahweh did everything that could have been done—short of repealing free will—in an effort to encourage us to bring forth the sweet fruit He desired of us: love, joy, peace, and all the rest (or, as it’s described a bit later in this passage, justice and righteousness). But we (having been given the freedom to choose) opted to be “cross pollinated,” so to speak, with wild vines. The result was a harvest of sour, stunted, and unsuitable fruit. Wine made from such fruit is a bitter and poisonous vintage—a “very bad year,” as the critics would note (were it not for the fact that most years were equally disgusting). What we’re seeing here is Yahweh’s lament that we humans have not remained holy—set apart from the world for His glory and honor. Rather, we have largely corrupted and polluted ourselves through fellowship with counterfeit “gods” of our own manufacture and imagination.
But Yahweh is omnipotent. Does He have to sit there and “take it?” No, He doesn’t, even though He has until now, patiently encouraging mankind to repent. But state of affairs won’t last forever: at some point, Yahweh will declare, “This ain’t workin’,” or words to that effect. As Isaiah reports it, “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 also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it….” Every one of these strategies is specifically predicted to be characteristic of the coming Tribulation period.
(1) “Removing its hedge” is symbolic of taking away its divine protection, something that will happen when the Restrainer (i.e., the Holy Spirit) is taken out of the way at the rapture of the church (compare II Thessalonians 2:7 to I Thessalonians 4:16-17). (2) The Tribulation will indeed “devour” the world’s inhabitants: between the fourth seal and the sixth trumpet judgments, one half of the earth’s seven billion souls will be slain—and there will be a lot of ways to die not included in these two causes. (3) The one-world government under the Antichrist that’s predicted for the second half of the Tribulation means that any “walls” (whether borders, defensive strategies, or standing armies) that had been erected to defend against outside enemies will have been “broken down,” just as Yahweh predicts here. The whole world will be “trampled down” by the forces of satanic darkness, and the entire earth will become a corpse-strewn wasteland. (4) Being neither pruned nor hoed speaks of famine, predicted in both the Olivet discourse and the third seal judgment. And (5) drought is specifically prophesied for the second half of the Tribulation, as part of the plagues administered by the two witnesses (see Revelation 11:6).
In the near term, though, this parable was spoken to the divided kingdoms of Israel—Ephraim and Judah, declaring the coming judgment that both nations had invited upon themselves. “For the vineyard of Yahweh 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, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:1-7) But it should be clear that the ramifications and symbolic imagery extend the meaning to include the whole world. As I’ve said before, Israel is often used in scripture as a metaphor for, or a microcosm of, the entire human race.
Bottom line: Yahweh is willing to give the human race every opportunity to receive His love. But this is not a perpetual or open-ended proposition: “every opportunity” is, in reality, a limited time offer—six thousand years, if I’m not mistaken, between man’s first tenuous little rebellion in the Garden of Eden, until Yahweh says “Enough!” He will at long last rip out the vine of humanity by the roots, starting over with a few shoots of the pure strain. Who? I’m speaking of the mortals of the seventh Millennium, the Sabbath of God’s plan. These are the gentile “sheep” of Matthew 25:34 and t/emhe redeemed remnant of Israel—the nations who will repopulate the earth under the watchful eye of the Messiah-King, Yahshua.
He Himself told a parable explaining the process: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none….” Just a thought: could these “years” mean the same thing as the “three days” that Pharaoh’s cupbearer dreamed about? If you’ll recall, I hypothesized that the “three days” of his dream were three ages of man: (1) the age of conscience, before Yahweh had given us much instruction; (2) the age of covenants, dominated by the Torah (3) the age of Christ, the church age, characterized by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people.
Anyway, the fed-up landowner had every right to say, “Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?” And he [the vinedresser—who I’d see as Christ in His role as High Priest, the Mediator between God and man] answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’” (Luke 13:6-9) It may seem funny to say it, but when we find ourselves buried in “manure” in this life, we should look at the experience as an opportunity to repent, to begin bearing fruit for the kingdom of God: love, justice, mercy, and righteousness. It isn’t pleasant—in fact, it stinks—but sometimes it’s just what we need. I should point out that technically, the parable’s “fig tree” is (as we’ll discover in the next section) symbolic of Israel, which we see planted in the midst of the vineyard—humanity in general. But scripture’s lessons are where you find them: don’t brush off the admonition just because you’re not Jewish.
In the Isaiah 5 passage we just reviewed, the vineyard owner (Yahweh) was bemoaning the fact that his purebred vines had been contaminated through interbreeding with “wild grapes.” This is a call for holiness—being called out and set apart from the contamination of the world (which is why He built a wall around us in the first place). This very same picture is in view in a Torah precept: “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.” (Deuteronomy 22:9-10) These are all variations on the same theme. The comparison is between godly life and unrighteousness, the clean vs. the unclean, or works-based religion vs. imputed righteousness. In every way, we are to remain separate from the world, uncorrupted by its influence and immune to both its pleasures and pressures.
You may be asking, “What’s so wrong with wild grapevines? Aren’t they just as good, in their own way?” I don’t know about the literal horticulture of the thing, but Moses clarifies what the difference is, from a spiritual perspective. “For their [i.e., the rebels’] vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter; their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps.” (Deuteronomy 32:32-33) Yahweh’s grapes yield a wine that brings joy, peace, and contentment. Satan’s grapes are poison—offering only pain, madness, and death.
These rebels of whom Moses spoke eventually brought the nation to its knees, first in the north, and later in the south. Just before Judah’s well-deserved destruction at the hands of Babylon, Jeremiah, one last time, contrasted the cultivated vine with the wild, corrupt variant they had become. “Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake Yahweh your God.” That’s precisely what Moses had said. “The fear of Me is not in you, declares the Lord Yahweh of hosts. For long ago I broke your yoke and burst your bonds; but you said, ‘I will not serve.’ Yes, on every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down like a whore. Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:19-21) As we are about to see, the “degenerate vine” is a common theme among Yahweh’s prophets. In the end, there is only one thing God can logically do with it: plow the whole vineyard under and start over.
When we were studying the acacia tree, we noted how unusual it was that the wood of the tree was the basis of its symbol. That is, it had to be cut down before it could be useful in Yahweh’s plan. In contrast, the vine (ideally) is symbolically significant because of its fruitfulness: it bears grapes. Like man, the grapevine is useless if it doesn’t bear good fruit. Ezekiel reports Yahweh’s thoughts on the matter: “The word of Yahweh came to me: 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?” No, that would be the acacia—the symbol signifying mortal life. But if the vine—mankind—bears no fruit, it is worthless: “Behold, it is given to the fire for fuel. When the fire has consumed both ends of it, and the middle of it is charred, is it useful for anything? Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it ever be used for anything!...” It’s a pretty bleak picture: the fruitless vine doesn’t even make very good firewood.
The prophet now ties the metaphor to its immediate object: Judah, and specifically, the city of Jerusalem, at the height of its apostasy. “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will set My face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am Yahweh, when I set My face against them. And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 15)
Jeremiah too takes Jerusalem to task for their rebellion against Yahweh. “Be warned, O Jerusalem, lest I turn from you in disgust, lest I make you a desolation, an uninhabited land.” Alas, the warning went unheeded. “Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘They [Babylon] shall glean thoroughly as a vine the remnant of Israel; like a grape-gatherer pass your hand again over its branches.’” The Babylonians weren’t operating under Torah rules. The Israelites had been instructed not to harvest every last grape from their vines, but rather to leave something for the poor to collect. But the Chaldeans endeavored to grab every last grape, leaving nothing behind. That was to be the fate of Jerusalem if they didn’t heed Yahweh. But they wouldn’t hear it: “To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of Yahweh is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.” (Jeremiah 6:8-10)
Judah had fallen a long, long way from “I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.” (Psalm 119:16) But they aren’t alone, are they? Just because we Americans weren’t warned—specifically and by name—of a similar fate, don’t assume the prophet’s warnings aren’t for us. As in Judah of old, the word of Yahweh, once revered by our populace from the leadership on down, has become to many in America “an object of scorn.” Many of my countrymen “take no pleasure in it.” So we shouldn’t be shocked to discover that an unnamed nation (but one whose description bears a striking resemblance to the United States) was warned by Isaiah of what would happen to them in the latter days: “For thus Yahweh said to me: ‘I will quietly look from My dwelling like clear heat in sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.’ For before the harvest, when the blossom is over, and the flower becomes a ripening grape, He cuts off the shoots with pruning hooks, and the spreading branches He lops off and clears away.” (Isaiah 18:4-5)
The harvest comes at the end of the prophetic year (that is, at the time of the last of Yahweh’s seven convocations). It is the conclusion of the growing season, when the bounty of the earth is brought into the storehouse. The harvest of the church is doubtless the rapture, that monumental and transformative event foreseen in the Feast of Trumpets (the fifth of these seven convocations). But notice when Isaiah says the “pruning” will take place: before the harvest, when the vine (humanity) is showing promise, when the efforts of mankind (for good or ill) are already beginning to come to fruition.
We can see this “pruning” process taking place in America before our very eyes. Sometimes it looks like “natural disaster”: forest fires, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and blizzards. Sometimes it’s “man-caused” disaster: terrorist events, gang violence, oil spills, corporate greed, and so forth. Sometimes it’s insanity (or treason) in the halls of power: divisiveness for political gain, the imposition of onerous taxes, profligate spending far beyond our means, crushing regulations, the building of a nanny state in which sloth is rewarded and industry is punished, and the systematic persecution of anything that even resembles traditional Christian values, while pandering to voting blocks openly antagonistic to God. The result of all this is stagnation, depression (in the psychological, not financial, sense), fear, and malaise.
Should we take this as a sign that God has forsaken us? No. (Not yet, anyway.) He’s “pruning the vine” in an effort to make us more fruitful, cutting away some of the dead wood that was distracting us and weighing us down. It matters not that some of the sprouts He’s trimming off had promising buds growing on them already: removing them is for our own good, an opportunity to focus our spiritual energies on what really matters: Him. The pruning process is roughly the same thing as what we saw above in Yahshua’s parable: we’re being confronted with crap (that is, fertilized with manure) in the hope that our productivity in God’s vineyard may improve. This should all be taken as a fragrant reminder that the harvest is coming. If it were not, there would be no point in God going to all this trouble on our behalf. It also means that He holds out hope for us—something I find very encouraging. And what follows the harvest? The threshing, the winnowing, the grape crushing, the olive pressing—the violent parts of the agricultural metaphor, all of which are designed to separate the “food” from its worthless byproducts.
All of Yahweh’s pre-harvest pruning and fertilizing are calculated to deliver the greatest harvest possible. But here and there in scripture, we get hints that our God is in anguish over just how pitiful He knows the harvest will be. For example, “When I would gather them, declares Yahweh, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree. Even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.” (Jeremiah 8:13) Yahweh seems to be in agony that the love and care He has lavished on the human race in general (the grapevine), and Israel in particular (the fig tree), has yielded so little in return. And yet, He persists. I get the feeling He would work just as hard on behalf of mankind, even if He knew there were only going to be two “success stories”—you and me.
We tend to assume that God only cares about “His own” people—Christians and Jews, while remaining ambivalent about those who never pretended to revere Him. But the following passage should help correct that misperception. “We have heard of the pride of Moab—how proud he is!—of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence; in his idle boasting he is not right. Therefore let Moab wail for Moab, let everyone wail.” At first, this sounds like a typical “wrath of God” passage: Yahweh is heard berating the pagans for behaving like pagans. So He says, in effect, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” But then (amazingly, to some of us) Yahweh expresses His own grief over the pagans’ self-imposed fate. “Mourn, utterly stricken, for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth. For the fields of Heshbon languish, and the vine of Sibmah; the lords of the nations have struck down its branches, which reached to Jazer and strayed to the desert; its shoots spread abroad and passed over the sea. Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah. I drench you with My tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh; for over your summer fruit and your harvest the shout has ceased….”
All of these place names are either Moabite or Amorite strongholds. They’re all located on the east side of the Jordan River, in territory that was never promised to Israel. (See Numbers 34 for God’s detailed description of eretz Israel.) You may protest that Moab (whose patriarch was Lot, the nephew of Abraham) might have retained some vicarious favor with Yahweh (see Deuteronomy 2:9). But the evil Amorites were never under the protection of God. In fact, they were among the nations whose territory (west of the Jordan, anyway) was promised to Abraham because of their persistent wickedness (see Genesis 15:16, 21). And yet, Yahweh is in anguish over their impending demise. “And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field, and in the vineyards no songs are sung, no cheers are raised; no treader treads out wine in the presses; I have put an end to the shouting. Therefore My inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab, and My inmost self for Kir-hareseth.” (Isaiah 16:6-11; cf. Jeremiah 48:28-33) It’s true: it doesn’t matter whether you’re an Israelite or an Amorite, whether you’re Mother Teresa or Adolph Hitler: Yahweh desires your repentance and fellowship. He wants you to live. “[God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (II Peter 3:9) “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord Yahweh; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:32)
Referring to our current symbol, the grapevine, we are able to pinpoint Moab’s problem. “Joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field, and in the vineyards no songs are sung, no cheers are raised; no treader treads out wine in the presses; I have put an end to the shouting.” Having forsaken Yahweh and treated His people as enemies, Moab ceased bearing fruit. They became proud, self-centered, and insolent. There was, therefore, nothing to harvest, no obvious reason to thank the God they despised for His provision, no shouts of joy that their labors had been rewarded. Once again, it’s beginning to sound like latter day America—increasingly unholy, unfruitful, unthankful, and ultimately unblessed. It’s not too late to repent, my beloved countrymen, but it soon will be.
There are several places in scripture in which Yahweh focuses on women and their unique perspective on what it means to be fruitful. Through the prophet Isaiah, He took Israel’s women to task for being smug and self-centered, so focused on their own pleasure and prosperity, they lost sight of the God who had provided it. “Rise up, you women who are at ease, hear My voice; you complacent daughters, give ear to My speech. In little more than a year you will shudder, you complacent women; for the grape harvest fails, the fruit harvest will not come. Tremble, you women who are at ease, shudder, you complacent ones.” The brutal Assyrians were on their very doorstep, sent by God to scatter and enslave Ephraim for her apostasy and idolatry. Yet they refused to see the peril of their self-imposed situation. “Strip, and make yourselves bare, and tie sackcloth around your waist….” When the Assyrians came, these women would no longer prance about without care for God or man, adorning themselves with silks and spices, jewels and elaborately plaited hair. They would be stripped naked and hauled off with fishhooks in their noses, reduced to shame and mourning in a foreign land.
Call me boringly predictable, but I can’t help but see a parallel between the complacent pleasure-mad women of pre-conquest Israel and the myriads of women in America today who define themselves by their insistence on the “right” to kill their unborn children so they can live their lives unencumbered by the burden of children. (Men aren’t guiltless in this regard, of course, but our present passage is focused on women, so I am as well.) Children are expensive to raise and nurture, both in terms of psychological investment and finances. (As the parent of eleven children, I know whereof I speak.) What women are doing when they abort their children is not only murder (something they brush off with questionable semantics and wishful thinking), it is also theft: they are stealing from the next generation and taking the loot for themselves. So forget about “a woman’s right to choose.” If abortion is okay, then so is armed robbery. Do women have the right to kill family members and take their stuff? ’Cause that's what abortion is—no more, no less. Abortion is not healthcare, not for the mother, and certainly not for her child.
But I digress. It’s all a question of whether your life is fruitful or not. So Isaiah says, “Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine, for the soil of My people growing up in thorns and briers, yes, for all the joyous houses in the exultant city. For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks.” Up until this point, it’s all bad news. But then Yahweh instructs His prophet to offer a ray of hope. “…until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (Isaiah 32:9-17) In English, it sounds like a contradiction: first the fruitful vines are destroyed forever, but then there will be righteousness and peace forever. Can both things be true? “Forever” (in both verses) is the Hebrew phrase ad ‘owlam, meaning “until a time of indefinite duration” (from the verb ‘alam, to conceal, hide, or make secret). The point: though it may take what seems like forever to bring about, Yahweh intends to restore Israel—all twelve tribes—to a place of blessing. When? When “the Spirit is poured upon us from on high.” But the Holy Spirit’s anointing is a matter of our choice, our invitation. The Spirit will descend upon Israel only when she acknowledges her God and her Messiah.
But alas, until that time (marked prophetically by the Day of Atonement), Israel will find herself fruitless and forsaken, though not forgotten, by Yahweh. Ezekiel draws a direct comparison between Israel and the grapevine—once blessed but now (apparently) abandoned. “Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard planted by the water, fruitful and full of branches by reason of abundant water. Its strong stems became rulers’ scepters. It towered aloft among the thick boughs. It was seen in its height with the mass of its branches….” The maternal reference reminds us that Israel was characterized metaphorically as Yahweh’s “wife.” It’s a symbolic theme that Hosea (in particular) used to explain the relationship of Yahweh with His people—and their subsequent divorce in light of her unfaithfulness to Him.
“But the vine was plucked up in fury, cast down to the ground. The east wind dried up its fruit; they were stripped off and withered. As for its strong stem, fire consumed it. Now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land. And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots, has consumed its fruit, so that there remains in it no strong stem, no scepter for ruling. This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation.” (Ezekiel 19:10-14) One result, Ezekiel notes, of Israel’s refusal to bear fruit (love and trust) in Yahweh’s vineyard was that she would no longer even be able to rule over her own affairs as a nation. While that is patently obvious for the “ten lost tribes” of the northern kingdom, scattered by the Assyrians among the nations until this very day (though their identities are not lost to Yahweh), it is no less true of Judah, Israel’s southern kingdom. Even after their Babylonian captivity, after the Persians (who “inherited them” from the Chaldeans) had decreed that they could return to the Land if they wished, the Judeans were, from that point forward, never completely autonomous. There was always a gentile power wielding heavy-handed influence, if not outright suzerainty, over their affairs. And of course, since the Roman one-two punch of 70 AD and 135 AD, the Jews had no “official” home in the Land at all until 1948. From the original destruction of Jerusalem until Israeli independence, that’s 2,534 years of “no scepter for ruling.” And even now, unlike any other nation on the planet, the state of Israel is apparently considered by the United Nations to exist at their pleasure—perhaps because they brought it into being by partitioning Palestine. No other nation on earth lives with such a cloud looming over them (not to mention having a billion implacable enemies as next-door neighbors).
As Yahweh’s symbolic “wife,” Israel had been given everything. There was no logical reason she couldn’t have borne fruit in the kingdom of God. But Hosea points out that she didn’t have a clue who her Benefactor was: “And she [Israel] did not know that it was I [Yahweh] who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” Israel took what Yahweh had provided, and squandered it on the worship of false gods. Like a broken record, I must once again reiterate that America too has been given unprecedented blessings, and we too have—to a great extent—used that bounty to honor false deities: power, wealth, pleasure, and pride. We should therefore not be surprised if the same thing happens to us that happened to Israel: “Therefore I will take back My grain in its time, and My wine in its season, and I will take away My wool and My flax, which were to cover her nakedness.” Interesting symbology here: wool indicates work, while flax (the source of linen) speaks of grace. If Israel (or anybody else) would not honor Yahweh, He would remove both their undeserved, unearned blessings and their ability to solve their own problems as creative human beings, leaving them naked—vulnerable and unprotected. “Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of My hand….” Who would attack them in this defenseless state? Their “lovers,” the very people who had been honored instead of Yahweh—in our case, socialists and Muslims.
“And I will put an end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts….” Wait a minute! Yahweh had commanded Israel to keep all of these ordinances. But in response to her faithlessness and fruitlessness, God was prepared to make it impossible to do what He’d told them to do. He had promised them as much in Deuteronomy 4:27-28. The same principle applies to Christians who unthinkingly assume they’re honoring God through their man-ordained traditions and feast days, while ignoring what Yahweh actually said through His scriptures. I’m not talking about differences in style or shifts in cultural context; I’m talking about taking God at His word. When Yahshua says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” do we? When He says, “Do not resist an evil person, but turn the other cheek,” can we honestly say we agree? Do we really love our fellow human beings as we do ourselves?
Remember the principle being taught here: if we do not “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11), God reserves the right to remove from us the ability to do so. So the prophet concludes, “And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.’ I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall devour them.” (Hosea 2:8-12) Hosea harshly (though correctly) characterizes the unfaithful “wife” of Yahweh as a whore, a prostitute, who sold her favors to illicit “lovers” in exchange for what she considered valuable—orchards and vineyards. But the grapevine symbolizes mankind, and the fig tree (as we shall see) indicates Israel. So symbolically, what the whore/wife hoped to gain through her infidelity was (1) autonomy for herself, and (2) peace and harmony with the surrounding nations. But there is no security outside of a familial relationship with Yahweh. Israel should have known that. Autonomy is the last thing one should wish for. And peace with people who are operating in league with the Adversary is at best an illusion. So by destroying the “wages” of unfaithful Israel, allowing her to be scattered among the nations (who were themselves to be “laid waste”) Yahweh was actually providing mercy (severe though it was) for His people. They would henceforth enjoy no shelter, no safety, no illusory prosperity. The world’s hatred would force them to band together—enforced holiness, as it were—until such a time as their estranged God would regather them into their own Land (a process that has now begun, but is by no means complete).
Although the collective animosity of the world against Israel has served to preserve their national identity through the better part of two millennial in exile, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Yahweh is happy with what the nations have done. When the time is right (and soon, I’m convinced) He will take the earth to task for their shabby treatment of his people, unfaithful though they were. Isaiah writes, “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants, for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left….” The word translated “earth” sixteen times in this one chapter is eretz, which (as you no doubt know) can mean a lot of things: land, earth, a country or region, ground or soil, The Land (i.e., Israel), the surface of this planet (as opposed to heaven above it), or the people living upon it, etc. The definition of eretz is so broad, we must rely upon the context to determine the writer’s intended usage. Although it’s remotely possible that Isaiah had the impending Assyrian invasion of Ephraim in mind, it’s clear (to me, anyway) that the primary meaning intended by Yahweh was the whole world, planet earth. (For example, in verses 21-23, He speaks about punishing the kings—plural—of the earth, and even the sun and moon will be disgraced.) There is more to this than just Israel.
Beyond that, we can see the fulfillment of this curse beginning to come true before our very eyes. The earth does lie defiled under its inhabitants as never before; we have broken the covenant of trust with our Creator. True, we’re not “scorched” yet, but for the first time in man’s history, we have the means to make that happen: Pandora’s nuclear box got opened in 1945, and we’ve been fiddling with the contents ever since. More to the point, the first Trumpet judgment (Revelation 8:7) describes a plague that sounds precisely like all-out nuclear war. Just because the principle of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) kept the cold war cold for forty years, don’t assume the nukes will never be used. There are Muslims in the mix now, laboring under the lie that their god will reward them with perpetual sex and low-hanging fruit if they get killed trying to kill other people: all bets are off.
The nukes won’t be deployed (in all-out war, anyway) until the Tribulation, the last seven years of Yahweh’s program for Israel (see Daniel 9:24). God intends to use this time to right all the wrongs that have been perpetrated during the last age, and to give mankind one final chance to do the right thing. And once again, we see that the symbol of the grapevine has been recruited to inform us what sort of trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into. “The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing. Strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.” (Isaiah 24:5-9) No more wine, women, and song: the time has come to sober up and pay the piper.
You may complain that Isaiah is a little short on specifics, and perhaps you’d be right. But what God lacks in prophetic detail (since after all, only His children are expected to understand what He’s talking about), He makes up for with redundancy. Anything we need to know about our future is covered by many different prophets in many different ways. But the symbols are remarkably consistent. You want to know what will happen to mankind? Look at the symbol of the grapevine. John did: “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud One like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in His hand.” The one using the clouds as His throne is obviously the glorified Messiah, Yahshua. He’s equipped with a sickle: something is about to get whacked. “And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe….’” The angel isn’t telling Yahshua what to do, of course. He’s merely announcing what He will do, and why. God’s patience with mankind is at an end. The human race is ripe for judgment.
“So He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.” The vine (man) has been subjected to flood, blight, exile (call it “transplantation”) and drought in the past, but he has never before been summarily “mowed down” by God. That’s all about to change. “Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle….” Rarely has Yahweh used His angelic messengers to slay men, no matter how evil they were. The slaying of the 185,000 Assyrians before the gates of Jerusalem stands out as an exception to the rule (see Isaiah 37, II Kings 19). Judging from the scant historical evidence, it seems the only reason Yahweh would ever employ angels as soldiers against men is to protect the remnant of Israel from annihilation.
The remainder of the passage offers us enough clues to verify that this is indeed the case: “And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the One who had the sharp sickle, ‘Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’ So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.” (Revelation 14:14-20) He’s speaking of a specific climactic event, not a generalized display of divine righteous anger. The clues to what this is (and when) are provided in the details: Judgment is to be dispensed (1) outside the city, i.e., Jerusalem, (2) Yahshua the Messiah-King will be personally “treading upon” God’s enemies, and (3) their blood will flow in prodigious quantities over the space of 1,600 stadia—about 180 miles, pretty much the entire north-south length of eretz Israel. These facts leave us only one possible explanation: John has identified the event as the “battle” of Armageddon, coming at the very end of the Tribulation, in which the armies of the entire earth, under the banner of the Antichrist, have gathered to exterminate the Jews once and for all.
Yahweh, of course, has other ideas. In truth, “Armageddon” won’t be much of a battle at all, just a one-sided slaughter. Isaiah prophesied the very same event: “Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, He who is splendid in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength? ‘It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.’” It’s the Savior, the Righteous One, Yahshua the Messiah. In Person. This “battle,” then, takes place after the “second coming of Christ” but before the commencement of His Millennial kingdom. If my observations are correct, that would pin the timeline down to within the five days between the definitive Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles—between Yahshua’s return to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4, Acts 1:11) and His assumption of the throne of planet earth (Daniel 7:9). The prophet asks, “Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like his who treads in the winepress?” And the Messiah replies, “‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. I trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath. Their lifeblood spattered on My garments, and stained all My apparel. For the day of vengeance was in My heart, and My year of redemption had come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold. So My own arm brought Me salvation, and My wrath upheld Me. I trampled down the peoples in My anger. I made them drunk in My wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.’” (Isaiah 63:1-6)
Alone? He will make war alone, but He won’t be alone. Back in John’s account, we see the introduction of the conquering King, accompanied by armies (plural) of redeemed saints: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The One sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but himself.” This can be none other than Yahshua the Messiah, a.k.a. Jesus Christ. But He bears little resemblance to the first-advent Savior who offered Himself up as the Lamb of God to take a way the sin of the world, if only we’d receive the gift. The time for exercising our free will has expired. Now is the time for humanity to reap what we have been sowing for the past six thousand years. “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God.” (See John 1:1 and 14, where that is precisely what He’s called.) The description of His blood-soaked apparel is a perfect match for Isaiah’s squishy narrative. “And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him on white horses….”
Who are these “armies of heaven”? Their linen garments indicate that their righteousness is imputed to them—it’s a picture of grace. And the white horses (like that upon which their Master rides) indicate that victory is a fait accompli, even if the battle hasn’t yet been engaged. These people must, then, be the previously raptured saints, the immortal believers from ages past, who now inhabit their Christ-like spiritual bodies. They are described as “armies” (plural) because they include not only the church age saints, but also those of pre-Christian Israelites (and gentiles) who worshiped the God of Israel—the God of Adam, Noah, Job, and Abraham. But they (we) aren’t here to assist the Messiah in fighting the Antichrist’s forces. We are, rather, here to watch, to witness first hand (as no one ever has before) the awesome power of God wielded by Yahweh’s Messiah: “From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod [or scepter] of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16)
Until this moment, we will have necessarily taken a lot of things on faith. None of us (except for a few hundred eyewitnesses right after the resurrection) have ever actually seen the risen Christ. And no one has ever seen Him “rule the nations with a rod of iron.” We’re here at the last battle riding white horses because we believed Yahweh’s promises, because we trusted in Him to be as good as His word—not because He’s ever offered us concrete proof of His deity. The world ridiculed us, calling Yahweh “our imaginary friend,” or they claimed suzerainty for some other god, Allah perhaps. My point is that if Yahweh is indeed God, He cannot let things continue as they have for the past age indefinitely: He must bring things to the conclusion He has prophesied. Our paradigm of faith cannot persist forever.
But ask yourself this: is it conceivable that a holy and loving God would tell us what He would do, and how, without giving us any indication as to when? I think not. Consider this: “When you come into the land that I give you, the land [eretz] shall keep a Sabbath to Yahweh. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to Yahweh. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired servant and the sojourner who lives with you.” (Leviticus 25:2-6) Each time the “land” is specified here as the beneficiary of the Sabbath rest, the word used is eretz—which can also, in addition to the Promised Land of Israel, denote the entire earth. If the law of the Sabbath isn’t a prophecy of Yahweh’s timetable for our world (six thousand years of “working,” followed by one Millennium of “rest”), then I am of all men the most confused. But if I’m right, we’re almost out of time. Any way you calculate it, the sixth millennium of fallen man will draw to a close very, very soon.
At the risk of nitpicking, allow me to draw a subtle distinction between the “vine” in prophetic symbolism (mankind) and the “grapes” that grow upon it—the “fruit” of that vine. First, we saw the returning Christ taking a sharp sickle and hewing down the vine—reaping the earth. This can mean nothing less than the severe depletion of the world’s rebellious population. But then, almost immediately, the focus shifts to dealing with the clusters of grapes that had been growing on the vine, cutting them down, throwing them into the winepress of God’s wrath, and stomping the “lifeblood” out of them. What we’re seeing (perhaps) is that not only are the rebels removed from the earth in the process of God’s judgment, but the “fruit” of their labors is dealt with as well. That is, the mindset that characterized them, the attitudes that drove them, will no longer be found in the earth.
What are these attitudes? Paul lists them, though he himself admits the list is incomplete: “Now the works of the flesh [set in contrast to the “fruit of the Spirit”] are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19:21) I’d say “things like these” might include greed, a thirst for power, a lack of mercy, laziness, ingratitude, and self absorption—things that are characteristic of our age. Of course, all of these attributes are the result of refusing to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The point is that when King Yahshua takes the throne of earth, He will purge the planet of its rebels. After the separation of the sheep from the goats (see Matthew 25:31-48), no one will be left alive whose life is characterized by these “works of the flesh.” Not only will the wild vine have been cut down, the grapes of wrath that grew upon it will have been crushed and poured out onto the ground as a drink offering.
And everyone left on earth—the branches growing from Yahshua’s vine—will bear instead the fruit of the Spirit, described by Paul as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24) But such behavior won’t be forced in Christ’s kingdom. It will require no effort at all. These attitudes will, rather, be as natural as breathing to the redeemed Millennial mortals. After all, Satan, our adversary and tempter, will be locked up. Neither he, his demonic horde, nor his human accomplices will be able to influence events on earth, as they have been for the past six thousand years. It’s true that these citizens of the kingdom will still have their Adamic fallen natures: sin will still be possible, especially for the offspring of the initial generation of Millennial mortals (those who, like men today, have yet to choose to honor Yahweh). It will be like Eden—where sin was possible, but by no means inevitable. The good news is that the sort of cultural pressure that characterizes our pitiable world today will never again be brought to bear.
Remember, the Law of the Sabbath stated that “You shall not…prune your vineyard. You shall not…gather the grapes of your undressed vine.” In the context of our present symbol, I’d take that to mean that (1) the natural life span will be greatly extended during the Millennium (an idea that’s confirmed elsewhere in scripture). That is, mankind—the vine—will not be cut back, for whatever reason. And (2) the “fruit” of the lives of those living under the scepter of Yahshua will no longer have much of an effect on their neighbors. What I mean is, enhancing or detracting from Yahweh’s truth will be equally difficult, for everyone will be living under His personal care: we will know as we are known. Man’s opinions will be no more effectual in illuminating the situation than a candle outdoors on a bright summer’s day. As the prophet said, “The government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
For all of scripture’s use of the grapevine symbol to illustrate the coming judgment, there is an equally large body of prophecy stressing the vine’s role in man’s restoration. The Psalmist Asaph both looks back upon Israel’s history and forward to her glorious destiny, and uses the vine to illustrate the transition. “Restore us, O God of hosts; let Your face shine, that we may be saved! You brought a vine out of Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it. It took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River. Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?... The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it....” The Psalmist notes all the trouble Yahweh went to in planting Israel in the Land—from the Mediterranean Sea to the mountains, and all the way to the Euphrates River (just as He had promised Abraham), and he laments God’s subsequent abandonment of His people. Why, he asks. He knows why, of course: Israel has refused to bear fruit: the love, mercy, and justice that Yahweh required of His vineyard.
So Asaph pleads with God for restoration and salvation. “Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that Your right hand planted, and for the Son whom You made strong for Yourself.” His plea is based on the prophetic fact that the Messiah—the Son of God—would come from Israel (see Deuteronomy 18:15). “They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down. May they perish at the rebuke of Your face!” No doubt without realizing it, Asaph has confirmed that Israel would reject and crucify their Anointed One, which would earn them the well deserved wrath of Yahweh for two thousand years (see Hosea 6:1-2). Their salvation, however, would be found in the very object of their initial rejection: “But let Your hand be on the man of Your right hand, the Son of man whom You have made strong for Yourself!” He’s speaking, of course, of Yahshua the Messiah, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father (see Luke 22:69, Colossians 3:1). “Then we shall not turn back from you. Give us life, and we will call upon Your name! Restore us, O Yahweh, God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!" (Psalm 80:7-19) Notice the order of events: first, “Give us life,” and then “we will call upon Your name.” It’s another Old Testament confirmation of the concept of grace. I’m sure Asaph was hoping that Israel would receive their Messiah (“the Son of man whom You made strong for Yourself”) when they first saw Him; but it was not to be. As Israel had learned through the Levitical sacrifices, life for the guilty (us) could only be secured through the death of an innocent one—the innocent One—the Messiah. Neither Israel nor anybody else could be restored, saved, or empowered to call upon the name of Yahweh if that didn’t happen.
Zechariah reports fundamentally the same thing. “Thus says Yahweh of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath.” “Jealousy” in Hebrew parlance indicates zeal for what belongs to you. Thus the enthusiastic fervor of Yahweh toward Israel is matched only by the depth of His anger at her rebellions. “Thus says Yahweh: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of Yahweh of hosts, the holy mountain….” He speaks of His “return” as if it had already happened, for in God’s mind, these prophecies are a fait accompli. The form Yahweh will take when He “return to Zion” will be that of the glorified Messiah, Yahshua: this is a second-advent prophecy; it doesn’t apply to Yahshua’s first-century sojourn among us because He never “dwelled” in Jerusalem.
Our “vine” symbol reveals a striking difference between the Israel who rejected Christ and the remnant who will (finally) receive Him as her Messiah: “For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing.” (Zechariah 8:2-3, 12-13) Not only will Israel and Judah be reunited (see Ezekiel 37), but their national character will be transformed from one of cursing, exile, and barrenness to fruitfulness, prosperity, and peace: “The vine shall give its fruit.” All’s well that ends well.
The restoration of Israel is not unique, however. The same sort of thing is within the reach of anyone who honors Yahweh. “Blessed is everyone who fears Yahweh, who walks in His ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands. You shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house. Your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears Yahweh.” (Psalm 128:1) Yahweh has defined temporal blessing here: “you shall enjoy the fruit of your labors.” This is set in direct contrast to “cursings” passages such as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, in which a lack of reverence for Yahweh would result in one’s labors being frustrating and fruitless, falling victim to blight, pestilence, and sword. Yahweh then describes the ideal: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house.” It’s the golden rule all over again: He desires for us the same thing He desires for Himself. That is, God’s “wife” is Israel; Christ’s “bride” is the church. However you state it, Yahweh wants us to be fruitful. If we are, our “offspring” will be like “olive shoots”—the place where the Spirit of God can be found. I can think of no greater blessing.
Potential blessings and cursings are again in view in this admonition from Malachi: “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. And thereby put Me to the test, says Yahweh of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says Yahweh of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says Yahweh of hosts.” (Malachi 3:10-12) To my knowledge, this is the only time in the Bible where God instructs us to put Him to the test. The tithe (Hebrew ’asar—literally “tenth”) is greatly misunderstood today. It was to be given to the tribe of Levi in exchange for their having received no inheritance in the Land. If you do the math, each of the twelve tribes (including the double portion of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh) received their own lands, plus 8.3% of what would have been Levi’s share, to hold in trust for them. (That’s thirteen shares, divided twelve ways.) God instructed that the produce of that 8.3% of the lands they held to be given back to Levi as the tithe, plus 1.7% of what “their own” increase had been, for a total of ten percent. So the Levites were to receive only what was rightfully theirs anyway, plus less than two percent of the increase (not the principle) from everybody else. Bear in mind that the Levites were to provide for Israel’s poor from “their share,” and they were also to render a tenth of their tenth to their brothers the priests—one clan (Aaron’s) within one family (Kohath’s) of the tribe of Levi.
So the principle of the tithe is: “give back to God everything He has entrusted to you (since it isn’t yours anyway), plus a tiny percentage of whatever increase you’ve enjoyed because of His blessing.” Suddenly the parables of Yahshua concerning the talents (e.g. Matthew 25:14-30) and His statement about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s, have come to life. It’s another test in the schoolroom of life: we are being asked to identify anything in our lives that belongs to God, anything that we are holding for Him “in trust.”
Think of it this way: if you have a safety deposit box at a bank, what you put into it doesn’t belong to the bank—it’s yours. Say (as long as we’re speaking in hypotheticals) that you’ve got a ten-pound ingot of gold in your box. If it goes up in value, that increase belongs to you—all of it. None of it belongs to the bank, even though they’re holding it for safe keeping, at your request. At the same time, let’s say you have a savings account at that same bank. You deposit money with them, with the understanding that they are going to lend it out at interest, and in return, they pay you interest—a rate of return somewhat less than they hope to make on it, of course. In the case of Israel’s tithe, the interest rate you’re getting is 1.7%, by mutual agreement. Now you should have a feel for Yahweh’s principle of the tithe, for “you” have been playing His part. “The bank,” meanwhile, is playing your part. How would you feel if the bank broke into your safe deposit box and shaved off a couple of ounces of gold from your ingot every time the price went up, or if they refused to pay you your pitiful little interest rate on your savings account? You wouldn’t be very happy with them, would you? Now you know how Yahweh feels when we withhold His “tithe.”
But if the bank (that’s you) does its job properly, everything remains safe and prosperous. The client (that’s Yahweh) will continue to do business with you, deposit more “valuables” with you, and so forth. Or as Malachi put it, “Your vine in the field shall not fail to bear.” That is, the people in your care will tend to be fruitful, for Yahweh will provide His protection over you and yours—if you honor Him with your tithes as a matter of trust and responsibility. As in the “bank” metaphor, both parties (God and man) benefit from a relationship based on mutual trust. It’s important to remember who’s in charge, however. The client, Yahweh, holds all the cards. He can take His business elsewhere if He chooses to. And He’s got such limitless financial clout, He can precipitate a “run on the bank” if they (i.e., we) have been mishandling His affairs.
All of the accounts will be settled when Yahshua reigns on the throne of planet earth. As we have seen, some of the vines—the unfruitful ones—will be lopped off and thrown into the fire. But the faithful, fruitful remnant, those who respond to Yahweh’s attentions, will thrive under His rule. “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of Yahweh shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills.” Mountains or hills are symbolic of power, of authority. The “high ground” can be defended against all enemies. “And peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths….’” Here we’re given a glimpse of how Israel will relate to the gentile nations during the Millennium. Contrary to one popular myth, redeemed humanity will not all be absorbed into Israel. Nor will Israel be a mere euphemism for all of the world’s redeemed. Yahweh will maintain a distinction between Israel and the nations, though both are greatly blessed. As has been the case for thirty-five hundred years now, this distinction is one of function, not of favor—of job description, not of importance in God’s plan.
And for Christians who have misread Paul and have concluded that the Torah is obsolete, God announces, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law [torah], and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off.” Read that carefully: both the “Torah” and the “word of Yahweh” are, in the very next sentence, referred to by the personal pronoun “He.” Who? Yahshua the Messiah, the Word made flesh, who dwelled among us as God’s servant, and will again dwell among us as King, reigning over the whole earth from Zion. The result of His judgments shall be perfect peace: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
What does any of this have to do with grapevines? Read on: “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of Yahweh of hosts has spoken.” (Micah 4:1-4) Because Christ will bring real peace to the world, enemies will be a thing of the past. To “sit under your vine” is to be at peace with all mankind; to “sit under your fig tree” is to joyfully prosper under the Messiah’s Millennial government, whose throne is in Israel. Just because it hasn’t happened yet—just because it looks utterly impossible—don’t assume this won’t happen. The eventual restoration of Israel under the reign of her Messiah is the single most often repeated prophecy in the entire Bible.
(First published 2014)