Root: גֶּפֶן & כֶּרֶם
Sounds like: geh-fen & kar’ehm
For a few years we lived in the lovely little rural village of Alma, Ontario. In our backyard was a large and prosperous grapevine. The first September in that house we were provided with an abundance of green grapes. We snacked on many of them, shared them, and the rest I made into grape juice… so delicious! But, because I’m a terrible gardener, and I didn’t know anything about pruning, (some weird weather also didn’t help), the following year we barely got enough grapes to produce a single glass of juice.
In the Bible the vine and the vineyard are cherished things which became metaphoric superstars. The house of Israel was like a vineyard; the people of Israel were like a vine. Yeshua (Jesus) was the True Vine, and we are the branches of that vine. The vine metaphor was popular throughout the entire Biblical text, in dream sequences, prophet poetry, and parables, from the earliest writings in the Torah (Genesis 40:9), to John’s vision found in the book of the Revelation (Revelation 14:18-19).
Israel is a luxuriant vine [gephen]; he produces fruit for himself. The more his fruit, the more altars he made; the richer his land, the better he made the sacred pillars. Their heart is faithless; now they must bear their guilt. YHWH will break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars.
Surely now they will say, “We have no king, for we do not revere YHWH. As for the king, what can he do for us?” They speak mere words, with worthless oaths they make covenants; and judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field…
…Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek YHWH until He comes to rain righteousness on you.
There is this feeling, in this passage, that the more prosperous Israel became, the more they forgot YHWH. In their success they became faithless. In times of plenty they forgot where their wealth came from.
But there was a constant fear of losing food security. Life was precarious; it didn’t take much for the tide to turn. War and disastrous weather could quickly lead to famine.
Food Security: Vine & Fig Tree
There’s a common phrase in the Tanakh (Old Testament): when things were good your property would be abundant with vines and figs. It was a phrase indicating solid food security:
“For YHWH your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines [wa-gephen] and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless YHWH your God for the good land which He has given you.”
This was the kind of food security the Hebrew people had under the reign of King Solomon:
1 Kings 4:24-25
For he [Solomon] had dominion over everything west of the River, from Tiphsah even to Gaza, over all the kings west of the River; and he had peace on all sides around about him. So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree [takhat gaphnoh w’takhat t’enatoh], from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.
But a few centuries later Judah was under the attack of the Assyrians. The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, made an offer… surrender and I’ll make sure you have your food security back:
2 Kings 18:31 (See also Isaiah 36:16)
Rabshakeh (on behalf of Sennacherib): “Do not listen to Hezekiah [your king], for thus says the king of Assyria, ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree [ish gaphnoh w’ish t’enatoh] and drink each of the waters of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards [u-k’armeem], a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live and not die.’ But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, “YHWH will deliver us.”
The people of Judah were given a terrible choice: trust in your own king (Hezekiah) and starve, or trust in the Assyrian king and maybe you’ll live, and live with abundance. To live without food security (vine & fig) was a terrible fate.
Read further into the story and we learn that Hezekiah and his people trusted in YHWH and they were delivered. The Assyrian army was annihilated by the Angel of YHWH and Sennacherib returned home where he was murdered by his own family.
The vine & fig symbolism was used when describing God’s actions against those who opposed Israel…
To the enemies of Israel: He [YHWH] struck down their vines also and their fig trees [gaphnam u’te’enatam], and shattered the trees of their territory.
“They will devour your harvest and your food;
They will devour your sons and your daughters;
They will devour your flocks and your herds;
They will devour your vines [gaph’n’ka] and your fig trees;
They will demolish with the sword your fortified cities in which you trust.”
“Yet even in those days,” declares YHWH “I will not make you a complete destruction. It shall come about when they say, ‘Why has YHWH our God done all these things to us?’ then you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken Me and served foreign gods in your land, so you will serve strangers in a land that is not yours.’”
But the good news was that God saved His people, brought them out of exile… and the garden yielded its full bounty:
Do not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, for YHWH has done great things. Do not fear, beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness have turned green, for the tree has borne its fruit, the fig tree and the vine [t’enah wa-gephen] have yielded in full. So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in YHWH your God.
Food security was really only a certain thing when the community lived outside the threat of war. A life without war and dissidence between neighbours meant everyone could comfortably sit under their own vine and fig tree, and support themselves without being in servitude to others.
And He [God] will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war. Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree [takhat gaphnow w’takhat t’enatoh], with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of YHWH of hosts has spoken.
But YHWH promised that there would be a time when it was not about food security for just yourself (each under his own vine and his own fig tree), but there would be food security for ALL. Everyone would invite his or her neighbour to sit under their vine and under their fig tree:
Zechariah 3:8, 10
‘Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch… ‘In that day,’ declares YHWH of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and under his fig tree. [el takhat gephen w-el takhat t’ehnah]”
The Branch (who came to serve)
The arrival of “The Branch” (the Messiah) would change everything. It would not be about food security for one, it was about food security for EVERY-one.
The vine meant life and abundance… the Branch would bring prosperity for all humans:
Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
Yeshua came as a Servant to lay down his life in servitude, so that humans could have the chance to live fully and abundantly. There’s an interesting parable in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that connects the vine to servitude. The parable is about trees who sought a king.
In Judges 9 we read of a man named Jotham who shared the parable and the timing of it is important. His half-brother, Abimelech, killed Jotham’s 69 brothers in order to claim kingship for himself. Jotham hid himself away and survived the massacre. But he stood up with great risk to himself and called out his half-brother on this terrible crime. He made his point with this parable:
Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and called out. Thus he said to them, “Listen to me, O men of Shechem, that God may listen to you. Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honoured, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come, reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine [l’gaphen], ‘You come, reign over us!’ But the vine [ha-gephen] said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine [tirow’oshi], which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’ Finally all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come, reign over us!’ The bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you are anointing me as king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, may fire come out from the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’”
The olive tree, the fig tree and the grape vine all recognized that their purpose was not to lead, but to serve. It was not surprising that these three trees were the most commonly discussed trees in the New Testament Gospels. Jesus talked about fig trees [Luke 13:6-9, Luke 21:29-33, Mark 11:12-14, 20-25, John 1:48-51], he prayed amongst the olive trees [Mark 14:32], and he announced that he was the true vine:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”
The Messiah was The Branch of YHWH, and we are branches of the Messiah. We are the branches of the true vine and we are meant to bear good fruit. The branches that do not bear good fruit are cut off, dried, and thrown into the fire… much like the bramble; it would be discarded and destroyed. The question is… are we bearing good fruit.
“For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush [brambles]. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
Yeshua announced that he was the True Vine. In relation to Jotham’s parable, he was the vine that produced wine, which brought cheer to God and humanity.
Israel as a vine
The Psalmist used vine imagery to describe the Hebrew people who were guided out of Egypt by YHWH and planted in Israel:
O God of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. You removed a vine [gephen] from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground before it, and it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shadow, and the cedars of God with its boughs. It was sending out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.
Why have You broken down its hedges, so that all who pass that way pick its fruit? A boar from the forest eats it away and whatever moves in the field feeds on it.
O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You; look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine [gephen], even the shoot which Your right hand has planted, and on the Son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.
It is burned with fire, it is cut down; they perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.
Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the Son of Man whom You made strong for Yourself. Then we shall not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name.
O YHWH God of hosts, restore us; cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.
Out of the vine (the Hebrew people) would come YHWH’s Son (“the shoot which Your right hand has planted”), also described as “the man of Your [God’s] right hand” and “Son of Man whom You made strong for Yourself”. He would be the “true vine”… the One that would stand as a representative of the rooted God the Father.
The Ruined Vineyard
We were meant to be branches off the true vine, but we have become degenerate branches and and a choking vine.
“Yet I planted you a choice vine [soreq], a completely faithful seed. How then have you turned yourself before Me into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine [ha-gephen]?”
The word for choice vine (soreq), found here in Jeremiah, only shows up three times in the Bible, along with Isaiah 5:2 (see below) and Genesis 49:10-11. It is a vine that stands out and is extremely special to YHWH. In Genesis 49 it is connected to the line of Judah. But even YHWH’s choicest vine can become a disappointment. So often people have destroyed themselves by turning away from God and towards the brambles of life- wanting power, and notoriety, money and affluence. But those are things which destroy the vineyard:
“Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard [karmi], they have trampled down My field; they have made My pleasant field a desolate wilderness.
It has been made a desolation, desolate, it mourns before Me; the whole land has been made desolate, because no man lays it to heart.”
Power and affluence became more important than mercy and justice:
YHWH arises to contend, and stands to judge the people.
YHWH enters into judgment with the elders and princes of His people, “It is you who have devoured the vineyard [ha-kerem]; the plunder of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the face of the poor?” declares the Lord YHWH of hosts.
The vineyard wasn’t meant to be a tool for wealth, or a way to oppress the poor… it was meant to provide for everyone. The Jewish laws were particular:
“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard [w’kar’m’ka], nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard [kar’m’ka]; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the YHWH your God.”
The vineyard of our Inheritance
The metaphor of a vineyard pops up all over the Tanakh and it tends to represent the house of Israel, God’s beautiful dwelling place. It is the home and inheritance of YHWH’s people and the garden where LIFE flourishes. There’s a story in the Tanakh about a beautiful vineyard that happened to be beside the king of Israel’s palace. King Ahab confronted the owner of the vineyard (Naboth) and asked to buy it:
1 Kings 21:3-4
But Naboth said to Ahab, “YHWH forbid me that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” So Ahab came into his house sullen and vexed because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and ate no food.
So Ahab had a little tantrum, and he pouted about the situation. But Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, had a plan. She set up a false accusation of treason against Naboth and he was found guilty and stoned to death.
Naboth’s only “crime” was that he had refused to sell out his inheritance. The vineyard was the house of Israel, and Ahab’s treachery had lost him any claim he had to it. Even when he forcibly took it as his own, he was denied the gift of God’s vineyard:
1 Kings 21:25-26
Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of YHWH because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom YHWH cast out before the sons of Israel.
Ahab was cast out of the vineyard before the sons of Israel, never to partake in the inheritance of God. But Ahab wasn’t the only one to disappoint God through disobedience:
Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard [l’kar’mow]. My well-beloved had a vineyard [kerem] on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine [soreq]. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones.
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? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?
So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard [karmi]: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.
For the vineyard of YHWH of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.”
Because humanity turned from God and tried to become gods themselves, YHWH let the garden grow wildly by its own will. The weeds and chaos grew in the garden and it was left unpruned and parched. God had offered to fence in the garden, prune and hoe it, and process the grapes, but we turned our Gardener, and He respected our decision. We were left to live unguided and uncultivated.
Jesus knew this passage (of Isaiah 5) well and he incorporated it into one of his parables:
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”
They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone;
This came about from YHWH and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.”
Producing Fruit and Becoming a Blessing
Israeli, or Canadian, American or Malasyian, the kingdom (or vineyard) of God is for anyone producing the fruit of God. We are the branches of the Messiah, and the Messiah, as the true vine, is the Branch of God. If we truly live as offspring of this divinely rooted plant, then we will produce good fruit.
However, sometimes there are weeds and sometimes there are worms… and sometime we whither because we are so parched for the Word of God. But with the help of YHWH, Yeshua, and the Spirit, we can overcome anything. God chastised the Adversary, the devourer of the vineyard, so he can’t stop us from producing good fruit, if that’s what we choose to do. And those who do choose to be a producer in God’s garden, they will be called blessed:
“Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will
your the vine [ha-gephen] in the field cast its grapes,” says YHWH of hosts. All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says YHWH of hosts.
Zechariah prophesied about the peace and prosperity that would happen when YHWH came back to Jerusalem to dwell among the people:
Zechariah 8:2, 12-13a
“Thus says YHWH ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of YHWH of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain… For there will be peace for the seed: the vine [ha-gephen] will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things. It will come about that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you that you may become a blessing…’
You are a blessing, and no longer a curse; you are a valued branch of the True Vine, yielding the fruit of the Spirit. Never forget that you are an important and precious part of YHWH’s life-giving Garden.
Next week: Precious