The Adumbrative Grapevine (7-16-17)

Adumbrate (verb): to foreshadow vaguely or to suggest, disclose, or outline partially (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

When Jehovah God called upon His servant Moses to deliver the people of Israel out of Egypt, He promised Moses that He “would bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). This description of a land “flowing with milk and honey” undoubtedly stimulated the imagination of the people of Israel to immediately think about the great fertility the promised land had to offer. Indeed, the Father’s intention was to motivate His people to willingly leave behind the Egyptian lands irrigated by the great Nile they knew so well for a far better land provided by Him. He sought to convince them that the grain provided by the Egyptian lands, paled in comparison with what He had promised them. Once freed from slavery, the twelve spies sent by Moses into the promised land confirmed that “it truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” (Numbers 13:27). A specific fruit brought back by the spies was “a branch with one cluster of grapes; [which] they carried it between two of them on a pole” (Numbers 13:23). To read that a single branch with a cluster of grapes was big enough that it required two men to carry it without a doubt confirms that God’s promise concerning the fertility of the land was not an exaggeration, but an undeniable truth. Fertility that was confirmed by the rather large cluster of grapes. In fact, vineyards have always been used as a symbol of fertility in the Bible. After having led the people of Israel to successfully conquer the promised land, Joshua points to the vineyards that they inherited as proof of God’s favor upon them and exhorts them “now, therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:13-14)! Joshua very astutely used the very fruit that had validated Jehovah God’s claim that the land He had promised to them was far superior to the lands of Egypt to also secure in their memories the proper way to gratefully serve God; in sincerity and in truth. For this reason, among others, it comes as no surprise that Asaph writes, “You have brought a vine out of Egypt; You have cast out the nations, and planted it. You have prepared room for it, and caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land” (Psalm 80:8-9). Undoubtedly, the symbol of the vineyard was often used by several inspired scribes from the Old Testament when speaking about the house of Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21, and Hosea 10:1). The persistent comparison between the nation of Israel and a vineyard eventually led the leaders of the nation to adopt it as their personal symbol. History tells of the Maccabeean coin having the emblem of a vine on them and of how it was that a great golden vine sat upon the front of the Holy Palace where the Temple was located. In the mind of the Jews, to see a vine was to be reminded of Israel. The Jews’ pride in believing themselves to be the vineyard of God, did not go unnoticed by the Master. After Judas Iscariot left the Master and disciples to go and prepare his betrayal, the Lord imparted a series of lessons to the remaining eleven. One of those lessons He begins by expressing “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). Upon examining closely the Savior’s words, one must first recall that this bold claim is exclusive to the Gospel account of John. The purpose of doing so is first to remember that John’s inspired words always contain a dual significance and second, because it is one of the seven “I am’” proclamations spoken by Jesus. We have seen the importance and value that the symbol of the vine or vineyard had for the Jews, and this did not escape the Master’s observation. Therefore, His selection of using the figure of the vine to represent Him is alluding to the fertility that can be found in Him. It is also an allusion to the truth that He is the favor of God that was poured upon the entire world. Let us not forget that Joshua reminded the people of Israel that the vineyards they ate from were not planted by them. Hence the purpose of exhibiting God’s favor through the figure of an abundant vineyard. This, undeniably, is also true in Jesus’ use of this very well known symbol as it relates to Him. However, there is a small word that Christ annexed to this symbol that cannot be overlooked. He did not simply establish Himself as a vine, but revealed that He is the true vine. To further expand the relevance of this adjective, it is logical to go to its original Greek form. The word used by the Master is alēthinos. The lexicon defines this word as something true, real, or genuine (Thayer, G228). However, the lexicon continues to detail that the proper use of this word is when two or more objects are being compared with one another to either determine which is real and which is counterfeit, or which is perfect and which is defective. Once more, this knowledge did not elude Christ’s understanding, and without a doubt His use of the word very likely provoked the thoughts of the eleven. This is very probable because they, too, knew the importance of the figure of the vine and the meaning of alēthinos. So the question arises, what did Jesus mean by calling Himself the true vine? It is clear that the Lord was comparing Himself and the house of Israel because of the symbol He chose and also because this was spoken solely to His disciples, who were Jews. It was their understanding that the Messiah would restore the kingdom to Israel since Israel was often called Jehovah God’s vineyard. Here then lies the motive for Jesus establishing Himself as the true vine to His eleven disciples who would become His apostles. Israel was never God’s true vine due to their idolatrous nature and this God confirms by asking them, “How then have you turned before Me into the degenerate plant of an alien vine” (Jeremiah 2:21b)? Additionally, the house of Israel always “brought forth wild grapes” when Jehovah “expected it to bring forth good grapes” (Isaiah 5:2c). Therefore, what the Lord Christ was explaining to His disciples was that although Israel was a vineyard in name and appearance, its fruit was never abundant nor useful. A genuine vine will produce good grapes and in abundance. For this reason, the Master confirms that a genuine relationship with God can only be found in Him and not in the literal house of Israel.

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