THE “VINE” (VITIS VINIFERA)
God chose the vine and its fruit to typify Israel because He yearned that the nation, on which He had set His love, should cling to Him and derive all its light, wisdom, strength, needs, and joy from Him. Jacobs experience at Peniel has a valuable lesson for us today. Jacob clung to his God, saying, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me”. God said to Jacob, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Gen 32.26,28). From that day forward Jacob halted upon his thigh, for God had touched him there to ensure that for the remainder of his life he would be a dependant man. Yes, Jacob prevailed by clinging to his God. Referring to the time when the days of his pilgrimage drew to a close, the Spirit of God has recorded a wonderful and unique accolade about him: “By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff” (Heb 11.21). The closer we walk with God, the more dependent on Him we become; we learn to cling to Him for strength, to lean on Him for support, to look to Him for guidance, and to be in communion with Him day by day. This is the fruit of our lives that glorifies the Father (Jn 15.8).
God wanted to stand as the one great pillar of support and strength for His choice vine. God knew the vine would never be able to support itself and be fruitful if left in Egypt, so He brought His vine up out of Egypt, He planted it, and it took deep root so that it filled the land (Ps 80.8-9). When God planted His vine in His garden, He did it with a specific objective in view, that there would be on earth a people who would love, follow, and worship Him, and thereby minister joy to His heart. God looked to the vine He had planted to yield good fruit and sweet wine. Alas, through disobedience and idolatry, Israel soon became “an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself (Hos 10.1). The nation had departed from the divine support God had provided in Himself, and chose to climb up among the trees of the forest; i.e. the Gentile nations of the world, adhere to them for support, and worship their gods. Having turned aside from its high calling, the nation ministered only sour grapes and undrinkable wine to the God of their salvation. The nation “brought forth wild grapes” (Is 5.2). The fruit of the once favoured vine was only sour grapes so that “the childrens teeth are set on edge” (Jer 31.29).
The vast majority of trees and shrubs have more than one pleasing and useful feature, such as decorative form, flowers, fruits, foliar tints and timber. The vine on the other hand has no desirable symmetry in its form of growth, its flowers are a non eye-catching green, the foliage has no seasonal beauty, and its timber has no commercial value. Indeed, the wood is devoured so quickly that when fired it provides very little warmth. God was not looking to Israel to do or be anything spectacular; simply that they should be faithful to His word and thereby minister joy to His heart. The vine does, however, have one very special attribute: from its fruit we have the: “wine which cheereth God and man” (Judg 9.13). Today, God wants hearts whose affections will cling tenaciously to Him; that the branches should not only adhere to Him for support, but abide in Christ to derive all their spiritual nourishment from the root and stem of the vine which is Christ Himself the source of all goodness. Only then will we bear the kind of fruit that will bring joy to the heart of God.
In John 15.1 the Lord says, “I am the true vine”. The allegory introduces an entirely new concept when set against the teaching in the Old Testament where Israel the nation was typified as the vine. When God chose Israel to be His choice vine He purposed to nourish them with the fruits of the land, the land that flowed with milk and honey. The nation as a whole rather than the individual was blessed. Gods direct dealing in judgment was with the nation in general; the priest dealt with individuals. It was from the nation that God looked for the sweet fruit of the noble vine, and it was the overall testimony of the nation that influenced Gods dealings with them. Furthermore, Israel was a corporate body with collective responsibility before God. Take for example the narrative of Achans sin as recorded in Joshua 7. One man secretly and grievously sinned, but God allowed the whole nation to suffer at the hands of the men of Ai. The Lord said to Joshua, “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them” (Josh 7.11). Then there was the occasion when David unwisely numbered the people of Israel (2 Sam 24). The act of numbering the people was to recognise the nation as belonging to the Lord; this fact was confirmed by the taking up of the “redemption money” (Ex 30.11-16). Davids action was one of bravado; not taking up the redemption money was a manoeuvre tantamount to claiming the people as his, to do with them as he wished. Gods judgment for Davids folly fell on the people (2 Sam 24.15). In the teaching of the “true vine” in John 15 the individual saint is viewed as a branch in the vine, and the husbandman deals with each branch separately. The first eight verses of John 15 do not speak of our salvation through repentance and faith in Christ, neither do they refer to Gods sovereign grace to the sinner, nor do they relate to our security in Christ, and certainly not to the Church and its testimony on earth. The verses highlight a most important truth, that the Lord Jesus, “the true vine”, root and stem, is now the only source of life and the only channel for nourishment whereby the saints are able to bear fruit for God. The fruit refers more particularly to that in our lives which flows out naturally as a result of our walking in communion with the Lord day by day.
When we first surrendered our souls to God in repentance and put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that was fruit for God. As we progress in our Christian experience the husbandman prunes away the barren appendages in our lives that would hinder fruit production so that we bear “more fruit”. The enduring test of discipleship is, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (Jn 15.8). During the growing season of a vine the husbandman will prune back the branches to ensure that all the goodness from the root goes into the development of the fruit. So with us, our Father will constantly prune out those developments in our lives which hamper the production of fruit for God. At the end of the season the vine branches which have borne fruit will be pruned back severely to ensure the production of a new crop the following year. There will be many such pruning experiences during each year in the fruitful life of a Christian. “My son, despise not thou the chastening hand of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Heb 12.5-6). “Chastening ... yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb 12.11).
For we who are “in Christ”, there is absolutely no risk of forever being lost (Jn 10.28-29). But if we, being in Christ, do not bear fruit for God we may be removed as a fruitless branch from this sphere of service and testimony. Gods governmental dealings with the saints at Corinth (1 Cor 11.30) confirms the action the husbandman will take toward the branch in the vine that does not bear fruit (Jn 15.2). However, in John 15.6 we have the individual who is “not in the vine”, in other words “not in Christ”, and therefore “none of his” (Rom 8.9). The Lord would remind us of the lot of all in Christendom not born of God. Like Judas Iscariot, many make pretence of following Christ, but in name only. In a coming day the Lord will say to all who are void of that life which is “hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), “I know you not” (Mt 25.12). The Lord has chosen us that we should bring forth fruit for the glory of God and that our fruit should remain (Jn 15.16). May we daily seek the Lords help to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1.10).
To be continued.