Abiding in Christ: What Does it Mean? part 5 of 9, Old Testament Background to the Vine Image of John 15
The Old Testament repeatedly presents the nation of Israel as Jehovah’s vine, as well as comparing the nation to a vineyard (Isaiah 5). The vine is to bring forth fruit—although Israel failed to do so, and thus was burned up, in contrast to those who abide in Christ as the vine in John 15. Israel’s failure brought the nation into judgment. If all Israel was “in the vine,” part of the metaphor, the metaphor was not limited to the genuinely converted. Consider:
6 And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. (Isaiah 5:6-7)
21 Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me? (Jeremiah 2:21)
10 Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. (Jeremiah 12:10)
16 Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. 17 My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations. 1 Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images. (Hosea 9:16-10:1)
1 In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea. 2 In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. 3 I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day. 4 Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together. 5 Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me. 6 He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit. 7 Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him? 8 In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind. 9 By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up. 10 Yet the defenced city shall be desolate, and the habitation forsaken, and left like a wilderness: there shall the calf feed, and there shall he lie down, and consume the branches thereof. 11 When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour. 12 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. 13 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:1-13)
21 Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. (Isaiah 60:21)
1 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2 Son of man, What is the vine tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? 3 Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon? 4 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? 5 Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work: how much less shall it be meet yet for any work, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned? 6 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 7 And I will set my face against them; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I set my face against them. 8 And I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass, saith the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 15:1-8)
Note in Ezekiel 15 that the vine that is good for nothing is cast into the fire and burned up, so that it will be useful in some way. The vine here represents the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who are associated with the people of God, naturally. They are burned up, in the sense that they are given over to various awful judgments for their sins. While this writer believes these judgments fall upon unconverted Israelites who are given over to judgment, thus, with those who are not genuinely part of the people of God, although they are such in name, one could also argue that this passage deals with converted individuals who were disobedient.
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. 2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us. 3 Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. 4 O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? 5 Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. 6 Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves. 7 Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. 8 Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.
It would appear that this deliverance of the vine from Egypt is a physical deliverance, but the spiritual is tied in with the physical for the nation of Israel.
9 Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. 10 The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars.
This speaks of the physical spread of the “vine” through the land in the conquest of Canaan. Of course, this was also a time of spiritual revival and blessing for Israel.
11 She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. 12 Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? 13 The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.
Here, of course, the Psalmist describes the contraction of the nation at the hand of her enemies. Although Jehovah is the Shepherd of Israel, now the wild beasts are Israel’s “shepherd” (devour is from the same verb as to shepherd/feed). This is a physical contraction, but it is a result of a spiritual affliction, as one can see from v. 18ff.
14 Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; 15 And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.
God is to view the children of Israel with mercy; yet the nation is still Jehovah’s ben, His son (this is the word here rendered branch.). The unconverted are cut off out of the true Israel of God, and Judas, to whom the passage in John 15 seems to allude in the branch that is cast off, was certainly unconverted. Consider as well that here the branch is Israel, but it also alludes to the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus, as the vine, for Israel was in the Lord (Isaiah 45:17, 24, 25) in the OT, as the saints are in Christ in the NT; so a comparison to John 15 is the more apt, for there the Lord is explicitly said to be the vine, yet the text bears reference to the saints, or the company of professed saints, as the members of the vine. So in Psalm 80 we can consider Israel as the vine, yet the Lord, the Divine Messiah, is not out of view.
16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.
This is physical judgment upon the nation, metaphorically represented as a vine. There is no specific mention here of a remnant in the nation who is faithful and a portion that is unfaithful; the nation is viewed as a whole. Nevertheless, such an idea is not excluded; it is simply not mentioned.
17 Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.
Through the Messiah, who was certain to become incarnate, the nation of Israel would find complete and ultimate deliverance, as they would in part through the human types of the Christ who sat on the throne of David.
18 So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name.
The nation would find physical and spiritual deliverance when Jehovah would bless them for the sake of the Anointed One. Being quickened, they would receive spiritual blessing.
19 Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
Spiritual blessing and physical deliverance are intimately united here.
These many Old Testament chapters and verses employing the vine metaphor are very important general background information to the metaphor in John 15. The verse-by-verse exposition of John 15 will begin in the next part.
See the complete study on meno or "abiding," which includes the passages not only in the KJV but also in the Greek NT (not present in this series of blog posts), by clicking here.