Photo compliments of Brittany Cunningham.
“’Son of man, what is the vine-tree more than any tree, the vine branch which grew up among the trees of the forest?’” (Ezekiel 15:2)
What’s the value of a vine? Actually, what’s the value of a vine in Your eyes, God? Hearing this makes me think of Jesus’ words, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…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.” So maybe this whole vine idea wasn’t a new thing. Maybe it was God’s idea that we should find our life in Him from the start and that our purpose on earth is to bear His fruit and not ours.
Thinking of bearing fruit as a vine takes me to Genesis 49:2. Here are the words that Jacob uses to bless his son Joseph, “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine by a fountain; its branches run over the wall.” Why was he such a strong vine? Look at his life. Joseph didn’t act like an oak tree instead of a vine. He didn’t rely on his own strength. He realized that his strength, the strength of his “vine” came from God. He looked to God for help and blessing. He let God fill him with the fruit he should bear. His brothers chose to bear fruit foreign to God, but Joseph clung to that which was of God.
Israel is referred to as a vine in Psalm 80:8,9. “You have brought a vine out of Egypt: you have cast out the heathen and planted it. You prepared room before it, and did cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.” Imagine that the Kudzu vine was a good thing here. It’s a creeping vine that is native to Asia but introduced to the U.S. in the 1800’s as an ornamental and for erosion control. Only it crowds out native species. So here in the U.S. it’s not a good thing. But God chose Israel from among the nations. They were chosen to be a good vine to go into the world and bear God’s fruit to the nations around them. The thing is, they started bearing their own fruit instead of His. They weren’t submitted to the One who gave them life and planted them and gave them what they needed to bear, fruit for the good of others and not just themselves. Israel isn’t the only one that can become like Kudzu. So can we, if we can’t submit and let God have His way in us.
Israel wasn’t always an empty vine, but that was God’s pronouncement in Hosea 10:1. “Israel is an empty vine, he brings forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he has increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.” Read the next verse and we see the problem, “Their heart is divided.” It’s not just focused on God. There is something else that is to be desired. God wasn’t their King of kings. Israel was producing “foreign” fruit, not fruit of God. Israel was producing fruit based on the world around them and not the God who created them and gave them life and sustained them. And the truth is, an empty vine doesn’t have much life in it. It’s fading, no matter how strong it believes itself to be. Take the Life Source away and there goes your life.
In Isaiah 5, God talks about a vineyard that He planted and dressed. The vines were planted on a fruitful hill. It was fenced in from predators. There were no stones. The vines were the best. There was a tower in the middle and a winepress. The vines should have brought forth the choicest grapes but instead brought forth wild grapes. What can be done? The vines must be destroyed and new vines planted. The time for pruning and digging has already been tried, over and over. The problem is that the vines wouldn’t acknowledge God. “[T]hey regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands. Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge” and the ones who ought to know are famished and dried up. They call evil good and good evil and put darkness for light and light for darkness. They’re wise in their own eyes. The wicked are justified and the righteous are treated as wicked. This is not what the vine was created for. Unfortunately, this is what the vine chose.
Isn’t it so sad to have been planted of the true vine but to have chosen “other vineness”? “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter…” (Deuteronomy 32:32) Maybe some introspection is due on the part of every believer. Maybe it’s a good thing to examine our own “vineness.” Whose vine do I resemble? What kind of fruits am I producing? Am I guilty of “other vineness” or am I producing the real and succulent grapes that I was created to produce for the glory of the One who established me in His vineyard? After all, God asks, “Yet I had planted you a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then are you turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jeremiah 2:21) Maybe that question needs to be asked today? Maybe that’s a question I ought not avoid asking myself to make sure that I am who I was created to be and not someone masking as a vine I’m not.
It’s a sad thing to have started out as a vine full of life and fruit and to end up cast down, dried up, fruitless, and in the burn pile. The truth is that none of us have to end up like that. Israel didn’t and doesn’t and neither do any of us. We can choose to submit and stay in the One who gives us life and fruitfulness. I have to remember and submit to being a branch in the Vine I come from. I must bear Your fruit and Your life must course through me. Abiding in You isn’t just about a mental ascension or acknowledgment. It’s about utter dependence. I actually must know that without You I can actually do nothing. Without You I cannot live a real life. Without You I wither and am good for nothing and no one. But abiding in You isn’t just some passive thing. It’s a wholehearted submission and dependence. It’s listening to You and agreeing with You and then doing and acting upon the things of Your heart. It’s not just hearing Your words but it’s soaking up Your words and letting them flow forth in actuality from our life like fruit on a vine. When You say love Your enemies, it’s not just words I speak, but the grapes of love come out and are sweet nourishment to my enemies. When You say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” you aren’t just talking philosophy here. You want us to love as much as Christ loved and honored You and gave His life for us. Is my number one fruit to glorify You in everything? Do I care what grapes I offer my neighbor? Do I give him anything at all?
Being a healthy vine has everything to do with learning submission. God cares that I learn to render “tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.” (Watchman Nee) The life of the vine is in it’s submission. Choosing my own life, my own law, is classified as lawlessness by God, after all, He is the Creator of law, what do we know about it? Do I choose to restrain Your law and hold back Your grapes or do I help Your law and bring forth sweet fruit. We all have something lacking in us, only You fill it up. It’s useless to try to fill it on our own; we can’t do it.
I have the choice like Israel to rebel, but look where it leads. It’s a rejecting of grace and riches. It’s choosing poverty of spirit and life. But I also have the choice to surrender my life to You in love and worship and devotion. It’s my choice if I want to live in the vine and bear Your beautiful fruit or not. Seems like a no-brainer to me. I want to learn to abide in You. I want to be a vine bearing Your fruit.