I want to start today with a scripture passage. It’s a bit long, but it sets the stage perfectly for what we’ll be talking about in this post.
Let me sing for my well beloved a song of my beloved about his vineyard.
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up,
gathered out its stones,
planted it with the choicest vine,
built a tower in the middle of it,
and also cut out a wine press in it.
He looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
“Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
please judge between me and my vineyard.
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?
Why, when I looked for it to yield grapes, did it yield wild grapes?
Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will take away its hedge, and it will be eaten up.
I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled down.
I will lay it a wasteland.
It won’t be pruned or hoed,
but it will grow briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.”
For the vineyard of Yahweh of Armies is the house of Israel,Isaiah 5:1-7, WEB
and the men of Judah his pleasant plant:
and he looked for justice, but, behold, oppression;
for righteousness, but, behold, a cry of distress.
Love songs like this are one reason I love the book of Isaiah so much. It starts out sounding like something from Song of Solomon, with someone singing to Yahweh, their beloved. Then the song turns sour (like the grapes in this vineyard) as Israel turned their hearts away from their lover. God Himself interjects to finish the story. They turned their back on Him even though He did everything right, and for Him this isn’t an empty claim. No one can do more than God to show love and to provide fertile ground to grow in. It wasn’t unreasonable of Him to look at a people He “planted” and expect they’d yield fruits of justice and righteousness instead of oppression and distress.
I recently started reading a new one-year devotional called Worship The King by Chris Tiegreen. January 15-19 are all based on Isaiah 5:1-7, and one of the things Tiegreen points out is that, God’s question, “What more could I do?” is in some ways rhetorical. There was one more thing He could do, and He did it when He sent Jesus to die for our sins (p. 18). If you’ve ever wondered why Jesus spent so much time talking about agriculture and vineyards in His parables, this is it. He’s continuing a metaphor God started using in the prophets to show how He fits into God’s love story.
There are three primary vineyard parables that Jesus shared during His ministry. One is focused on reward for workers in a vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), and another on two sons whose father told them to work in his vineyard (Matt. 21:27-32). Then, right after that parable where only one son did his father’s will by working in the vineyard, Jesus says this:
“Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a wine press in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country. When the season for the fruit came near, he sent his servants to the farmers to receive his fruit. The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first; and they treated them the same way. But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard, then killed him. When therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”Matthew 21:33-40, WEB
The people Jesus is talking with are pretty sure they know the answer to that last question. The master will kill the servants and “lease out the vineyard to other farmers who will give him the fruit in its season.” In response, Jesus points them back to a scripture predicting the Messiah would be rejected by the people who should have been looking for His arrival (Psalm 118:22-23). The other servants who came before Him were prophets like Isaiah and many others whom Israel ignored. Now, the Master’s Son is here.
Jesus doesn’t point His listeners back to Isiah’s song about the vineyard, but we can easily see the parallels. Here in Jesus’s parable, though, the link between Him and the vineyard is made more explicit. God has a vineyard like the one Isaiah sang about. Jesus coming as the Master’s Son is the one thing more that God can do to receive the fruit His vineyard owes Him. And then the leaders of His people killed Him just like the wicked workers in this parable. Jesus points beyond that death when He says, “God’s Kingdom will be taken away from you and will be given to a nation producing its fruit” (Matt. 21:41-46). That doesn’t mean Jewish or Israelite people won’t be in God’s kingdom (as Paul points out using another agricultural example in Romans 11). It does mean that staying in a fruit-producing relationship with God is far more important to your long-term spiritual wellbeing than whether or not your ancestors had a covenant with Him.
Our Role as Vines
Fruitfulness is something God comes back to again and again. In another vineyard song from Isaiah, God speaks of a time when “Jacob will take root. Israel will blossom and bud. They will fill the surface of the world with fruit” (Is. 27:2-12, WEB). Even in this song, though, it speaks of issues with the vineyard that must be forgiven before the vines can thrive. As other prophets point out, the vines that God cultivated for thousands of years weren’t always as fruitful as they should have been (Jer. 2:19-22; 12:10-11; Ezk. 19:10-14). It’s an issue that could really only be solved by Jesus’s sacrifice. Even after that sacrifice, though, fruitfulness requires our participation. Jesus addressed this idea in another parable, this time about a fig tree.
He spoke this parable. “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none. He said to the vine dresser, ‘Behold, these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and found none. Cut it down. Why does it waste the soil?’ He answered, ‘Lord, leave it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine; but if not, after that, you can cut it down.’”Luke 13:6-9, WEB
As vines and trees in God’s vineyard, we have a say in whether or not we produce fruit. He provides fertile ground where we can thrive. He prunes and forgives us, keeping us spiritually healthy. He feeds everyone connected to Jesus–the Root that we all rely on as branches who are part of Him as the Vine (John 15:1-16). But we’re human beings, not vines that always stay exactly where we’re planted. Whether or not we stay in that good soil is our choice. We need to keep seeking God’s correction and forgiveness as we grow to be more and more like Him. And we need to stay rooted in the vine. Only then will the Father be glorified by the fruit that we produce and the love song that we sing to Him.
Featured image by alohamalakhov from Pixabay
Song Recommendation: “Dance With Me” by Paul Wilbur