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God's Messianic Vineyard - the Coming of the True Vine

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Del Potter

OT 524




        This paper examines        the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-24 and its relationship to messianic prophecy. It discusses the origin of the vine (Genesis 2:8-17) and the condition of the vine (Isaiah 5:1-24; Matthew 23:13-33). It also discusses the restoration of the vineyard and the coming of the true vine as fulfillment of Old and New Testament prophecy (Matthew 21:33-45; John 15:1-11).

        The parable of the vineyard is both an admonition to the people of Israel to adhere to God's laws and Messianic prophecy with implicit references to the coming of Christ to free all people from the burden of sin. Isaiah consistently uses the metaphor of vines and a vineyard to explain how God tends to the needs of the people of Israel as long as they remain faithful to their covenant with Him. To understand the nature of sin, Isaiah sings of a vineyard made perfect by the Lord only to produce worthless grapes because of the transgressions of the people of Israel. The parable ends with a promise that God's wrath will be turned away if the people of Israel return to following God's law. This can be interpreted as an immediate salvation for Israel as well as the long-term salvation for Israel from the coming of Christ to save people from sin.


        Isaiah's parable or song of the vine could be compared to the original garden or type of vineyard found in Genesis 2:8-17. This passage notes that "The Lord planted a garden in the east, toward Eden" (Gen. 2:8) and "Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9)."  God placed man in the garden with the command to tend and cultivate the garden with the admonition not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God further warned man if he ate of the tree of knowledge, he would surely die (Gen: 2:17).

        This passage introduces an interesting concept of a garden or gan (H1588) in Hebrew. The Hebraic meaning of gan is a fenced off enclosure that particularly involves a garden that is protected from outside forces by the fence.[1] The gan also refers to a well-tended garden plot that is valuable and deserving of care because of its potential to provide a bountiful harvest. Some translations of gan adopt the term pardes or paradise from the Persian, which includes the concept of a pleasure garden that is surrounded by an earthen or stone wall to protect it from intruders. From this perspective, the Garden of Eden is a special place that is separate from the world and under the dominion of God. The garden functions as a model to which the rest of the world that exists in some form of chaos or discord can aspire.

        The mention of the tree of life indicates that the source of life is found within the boundaries of the garden. The tree of life stands next to the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the center or midst of the garden. The positioning of the two trees suggests that the power of God is to grant life and to give humans the ability to choose life by following God's commandments these are at the center of human existence.[2] To enjoy eternal life, humans must eat from the fruit of the tree of life (Jesus being that life giving fruit). Eating from the tree of knowledge, however, is a transgression against the commandments of God. The transgression results in separation from the garden where the tree of life is located, thereby severing the individual's connection to the source of life. In this context, the tree of knowledge is equivalent to the tree of decision, with humans required to decide either to obey the law of God and enjoy life or to transgress and experience death. We begin to see that same type of decision confronting both Israel and Judah in Isaiah 5.  

        One of the connections between the garden in Genesis and the vineyard described by Isaiah comes from the mention of a hedge and wall (Isaiah 5:5). The hedge functions as one enclosure while the wall functions as a second enclosure as in the Persian custom, which was common for gardens in the Middle East. There is also some similarity between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge with the tower and wine vat positioned in Isaiah's vineyard (Isaiah 5:2). Both the tower and the wine vat may represent the source of life and the need for humans to make a decision between adhering to God's laws and transgression although this comparison is not explicit in the parable of the vineyard. The tower could also symbolize the temple and the wine vat the alter sacrifices were made.


        A vineyard or kerem (H37654) in Hebrew is a place where grapes are grown. Because grapes do not produce abundant fruit when left to grow wild, the concept of a vineyard implies that someone is tending the vines to ensure that the vines are well cultivated. The description in Isaiah 5:1-2 emphasizes the care in the cultivation of the vineyard. The detail suggests that no effort was spared in providing conditions to allow the domesticated vines to thrive. The detail also makes it clear that the ability of the vineyard to thrive depends on God's willingness to tend the vineyard, with God as the caretaker looking after the needs of vineyard.[3]

        Isaiah 5:3 suggests that the men of Judah are the vineyard, the plants of the Lord. Isaiah 5:7 also directly identifies the Lord as responsible for tending the vineyard and associates vineyard with the house of Israel. Using the concept of a vineyard as a metaphor for people or groups is not unique to Isaiah. Micah prophesizes that the Lord will punish Samaria: "Therefore I will make Samaria as a heap of the field, [and] as plantings of a vineyard" (Micah 1:6). Solomon describes his beloved as "a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi” (Sol. 1:14). Referring to the people of Israel as a vineyard is also found elsewhere in scripture. Jeremiah suggests that the people of Israel are the vineyard of the Lord. "Many pastors have destroyed My vineyard, they have trodden My portion under foot" (Jer. 12:10).



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