Trees of the Bible - Part 3

George Bell

Trees of the Bible

The Vine

'Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees.' Judges 9:12, 13.

In the two previous articles we started from the first mention of each of the trees.  This time we will not follow that rule, but start from the book of Ezekiel.  This may seem odd but by so doing the essential truth connected with the vine will come to light.  Quoting from Ezekiel 15:2 & 3 it will be seen that the vine is only of use for bearing fruit. 'Son of man, What is the vine tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest?  Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon? Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned.  Is it meet for any work?'

There is no mention of fruit in the above passage, but the other Scriptures on the theme of the vine will show that fruit bearing is its purpose.  We will look at some of these passages. The teaching connected with fruit bearing will show that it is for God. When it comes to the matter of works God should have his part. This is borne out by the Apostle Paul's prayer for the Colossians. 'That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, (bearing fruit in every good work, N. Tr.) and increasing in the knowledge of God' (Col. 1:10). Whoever it be that benefits from the good works, the fruit is for God's pleasure.

The Dream of Pharaoh's Butler.

The first mention of the vine in scripture is in Genesis 40. It was while Joseph was in prison that the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord and were put in prison also. Joseph was there through no fault of his own. To put it into New Testament language, he was suffering for righteousness' sake. However, the Lord was with Joseph and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. He committed into his hand all the prisoners and whatsoever they did there he was the doer of it. Both these men, the butler and the baker, had dreams which they recounted to Joseph, but there was no interpreter. As we have noticed the Lord was with Joseph and he said, 'Do not interpretations belong to God?' (Gen. 40:8). He was able to give the meaning of the dreams to both of these servants of Pharaoh. It is the butler's dream which is important to our study. He was the cupbearer to Pharaoh.

'And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me; and in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes: and Pharaoh's cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup.' In every step of the life of the Son of God He glorified the Father, and it was also true in His death. In the passage above the grapes were pressed. We might very well think of the Lord's death and the awful pressure when being made sin. Gethsemane means the 'wine-press', but there it was suffering in anticipation. What can we say of the cross itself? Sinners have been accepted in virtue of that finished work which glorified God. The butler, as we see, was restored to his position again. We who were guilty are justified before God. If we wish to extend the type further, maybe the three branches would remind us of Christ's resurrection. Justification is in a risen Saviour. The dream of the baker tells us that salvation is not of works; he was not restored to his position again, but was executed.

Israel as the Vine

There are many Scriptures which refer to Israel as the vine. Psalm 80 is one of them. It is an outstanding but sad story. 'Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river' (vs. 8-11). The extent of the territory promised by God was reached in the days of Solomon, David's son. Israel achieved its greatest prosperity at that time. The verses quoted here make reference to the borders of the land. The sea refers to the Mediterranean, and the river refers to the Euphrates.

The question is then asked, 'Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.' (vs. 12 & 13).  No actual reasons are given here for this. But it is very clear from many other Old Testament Scriptures why this was so. Reference is made here no doubt to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldean armies because of the unfaithfulness and idolatry of the nation. The faithful among them cry out in their distress, 'Return, we beseech thee, O God of Hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.' (vs. 14 & 15). Time and again the cry is made to God to return and visit the vine.

Psalm 80 is found in the third book of Psalms. The circumstances of the godly remnant are set in the days of the great tribulation. Immediate happenings may be in the mind of the psalmist, but in the main it is a future day. The branch referred to in the verses quoted above is the royal house of David. Their only hope rests in the One referred to as the Son of Man. This is a familiar name throughout the Scriptures given to and used by the Lord Jesus concerning Himself.

'Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself' (v. 17). These are familiar words to Christians. It is our Saviour who is sitting today at the right hand of God. But another psalm tells of God's address to Him: 'The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool' (Ps. 110:1). This is the person whom God will make strong for Himself, not only restoring the nation again as the vine bringing forth fruit for Himself but delivering them from their enemies.

The Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts

Moving further on into the Old Testament, the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 5 refers again to the vine and also the vineyard. The language used by the prophet is very interesting, particularly when compared with the parable of the vineyard in the synoptic gospels.

'...My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill.' (Isa. 5:1) 'Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.' (Mark 12:6).

In Isaiah 5 the wellbeloved is very clearly Jehovah; it is His vineyard. In the parable in Mark's gospel the one sent by the householder into the vineyard is his wellbeloved son. There is a remarkable testimony to the deity of Christ here. It has often been said that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New. There cannot be much doubt that the wellbeloved of the parable pointed to Christ, although He was the teller of the parable.

Coming back to the fifth chapter of Isaiah, the same sad story unfolds. In the vineyard God had planted the choicest vine. All had been done to obtain fruit, a winepress was put therein in order that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. There was no fruit for God! 'What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?' (verse 4). Light is given as to the kind of fruit that God sought. '... he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.'

This passage in Isaiah 5 describes the sad results of the lack of fruitfulness. The hedge was taken away, the wall was broken down, it was laid waste, thorns and briers came up, and there was no rain upon it. Everything that God commits to men ends in failure. God had taken up one nation as a test case, providing every privilege possible, but to no avail. It is interesting to see that the choicest vine is also referred to as the pleasant plant in v.7. Added to this is the fact that this pleasant plant represents the men of Judah. Isaiah prophesied about the time that the ten tribes were taken into captivity, and his prophecies concerned kings of Judah, (Isa. 1:1). In spite of the privileges shown them, because of God's covenant with David, they were no better than the other tribes. When the Lord Jesus came to earth as we well know, He was of the royal line. Matthew's gospel begins with the words: 'The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David'. We remember too that He is called, 'The Lion of the tribe of Judah' (Rev. 5:5). This is all very interesting and will call for our attention when we come to look at John 15. Is the pleasant plant of Isaiah 5 the True Vine of that chapter?

The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen

The parable told by the Lord Jesus and recorded by each of the three synoptic evangelists, alludes to the passage in Isaiah 5. It refers to the ill-treatment meted out to the servants sent by the householder to receive the fruits from the vineyard. They refer to the Old Testament prophets. As well as the lack of fruitfulness from the vine, there was also the cruelty shown to the prophets sent by God. Jeremiah is one example. However, in the parable a further stage is described. The householder had 'one son'. This was the final attempt to receive fruit from the vineyard. The response is very clearly given, 'But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard and slew him' (Matt. 21:38-39). What is put in parabolic language was enacted actually at the cross. Every detail of the parable is full of meaning.

The question is asked as to what the lord of the vineyard will do unto those husbandmen? The answer is worth quoting in full, '... He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons' (v. 41). The period of probation was ended and the nation was guilty. There was no fruit for God. Only judgment from God could come upon them. It is difficult to say who it is that shall render fruits for God. It may be a reference to the present day, or it may look on to the time when Israel will be restored. However, for the moment Israel is set aside. The Lord Jesus quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures with which His hearers would be familiar. 'Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?' (v. 42). They found no place for Him in their schemes; He did not fit in! But God was to reverse their attitude and make him the head of the corner. They fell on the stone and were broken. Paul puts it in another way, 'For they stumbled at that stumbling stone' (Rom. 9:32). The parable goes on to say, 'but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder'. It is this same parable that Peter uses to charge the nation with their guilt (Acts 4:11). However, the door was opened to those who would repent and believe. Salvation was available to them.

The True Vine

It is in the gospel of John that we meet with this name given to the Lord Jesus. To quote His words He says, 'I am the true vine'. First of all let us isolate the words, 'I am'. The reason for doing this is to underline the truth of His person. The expression 'I am' is a divine name. It occurs on many occasions in John's gospel. 'I am the light of the world', 'I am the bread of life', and there are others. In every case His divine person is underlined by the words 'I am'. This name is given to God in the Old Testament scriptures. One example is in the book of Exodus 3:14: 'And God said unto Moses, 'I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you'. Therefore when it is used by the Lord Jesus Christ He is asserting His deity. This is not unexpected in the gospel of John where His person as the Son of God is the theme.

We come now to a consideration of the Lord Jesus as the true vine. In the previous part of this article we looked at Israel as the vine, but the nation failed to bring forth fruit. First, there was fruit in His life. There was never a word out of place and every act was perfect so the Father was glorified. The words of the first Psalm with their application to the Lord Jesus, are helpful here: 'And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season' (v. 3). His season may be likened to the many and varied circumstances in which he was found. In every one God was honoured. The expression 'true' is used on a number of occasions in John's gospel with regard to the Lord. It does not mean true in contrast to false. It would not be right to say that Israel as the vine was false, because God had planted her. One Old Testament scripture quotes God as addressing Israel and saying, 'Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into a degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?' (Jer. 2:21). As we have said, they failed, but there could be no fault in the planting. The word 'true' then as applied to the Lord Jesus means that he was the reality. In many ways it may be substance in contrast to shadow. The Lord Jesus as the true vine filled Israel's place, and there was fruit for God.

Fruit Bearing

We come now to the subject of fruit-bearing. The Lord Jesus teaches the disciples how they will be able to bear fruit during His absence. At the end of chapter 14 it would seem that the Lord left the upper room to make his way to the garden of Gethsemane. The communications of chapter 14 were given inside, but the teaching about fruit-bearing was given outside. This is of importance. Fruit-bearing, which is likeness to Christ, must be in evidence in the world out of which He was cast. Verse 2 of chapter 15 says, 'Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.' We will look at what the Lord says about the branch that does bear fruit. The purging may be washing or it may be pruning, but whatever it is, it is the husbandman who does it. We are told very clearly 'my Father is the husbandman'. This pruning may refer to discipline, but done in love in order that there is further fruitfulness. Usually in the New Testament it is the Father who chastens. If it is washing, it is by the word in its cleansing power. They were already clean through the word, this was done once for all and had no need to be repeated (v. 3), but there was also the need for an ongoing washing.

In what way would the disciples be able to bear fruit while he was absent from them?  Let us look at verse 4 of our chapter. 'Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.' The word 'abide' is used by John very frequently. It is rendered in different ways. Sometimes it is 'remain' and at other times it is 'continue', but all having the same basic meaning.

The Lord Jesus begins by alluding to the actual vine. There can be no fruit produced unless the branch abides in the vine. If the branch is severed from the tree there is no life or vitality and therefore no fruit. He then turns from the illustration from nature to the real spiritual meaning for the disciples. Fruitfulness is promoted by abiding in Christ. What does it really mean to do this? It may be more easily understood if we say, 'Keep close to the Lord! Draw all resource from Him.' In the book of Acts 11: 23 one of the Lord's servants, Barnabas by name, exhorted the saints 'that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.' The word 'cleave' is also the same word as 'abide' in the original. Verse 5 carries on the same theme. 'I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing'. The matter of abiding is two way, 'abideth in me and I in him'. Two very important truths come out here. Firstly, it speaks of communion and intimacy. Secondly, 'I in him' suggests that Christ is expressed practically in life. Verse 6 refers to a branch with no vital connection with the vine; we would say in our day, a professor.

Following on to verse 7, the subject of the vine, which in a particular way, related to Israel, is discontinued. The theme is very simply that of 'abiding in Christ' into which we may fit as Christians. Also another theme is introduced here. 'If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.' 'my words' is a very important addition. The expression used does not mean the whole Word, but rather the Lord's words which are applicable to a particular situation. The subject of our praying comes in here. That which the Lord says is very striking, 'ye shall ask what ye will'. Of course if His words are abiding in us our asking will be according to His will. It is because of this that we have the assurance that 'it shall be done unto you'. Verse 8 completes this section of John 15. Bearing fruit glorifies the Father. When the Lord Jesus was here, He glorified the Father in every way. All the Father was in nature and character was seen in Him. The concept is very wonderful: if we are living Christ-like lives then the Father is glorified. This marks us out as Christ's disciples. Our words are so poor, the Scripture is so much better, 'Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples' (v. 8).

The truth of fruit-bearing is by no means restricted to John 15. At the beginning of this article we referred to Colossians 1:10: 'being fruitful in every good work'. One of the best known passages from the pen of the apostle Paul is Galatians 5:22 & 23. 'But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.' These are all features that are seen in Christ. Let us endeavour to excel in bearing fruit. We will not do it in our own strength. We must remember the Lord's words already quoted, '. without me ye can do nothing'. The passage in Galatians gives us the secret for bearing fruit. 'This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh' (v. 16). Instead, the fruit of the Spirit will be seen. Another scripture dealing with producing fruit is Hebrews 12:11. This time it is the Father's chastening. 'Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby'. Let us be concerned about bearing fruit. We have already pointed out that fruit is for God's pleasure, but all around us will benefit, whether saint or sinner.

As we bring to a close this paper on the Vine may we be concerned about bearing fruit in our lives. Thinking of the passage of scripture at the head of this article, '. the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?' Let us not seek a place here, but rather be occupied with that which brings joy to God's heart as well as to others. Bearing fruit is walking as Christ walked. The real secret is to abide in Christ. However, we need to beware of 'the little foxes, that spoil the vines.' (Cant. 2:15). Things that may even be legitimate can be a hindrance to our abiding in Christ. The flesh is always active bringing the need of constant self-discipline.  Soon the Lord will come and the opportunities will be past.  We rejoice that in His presence we will be like Him for we will see him
as He is.

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