In the Old Testament the vine is a common symbol for Israel. Most remarkable is the fact that whenever historic Israel is referred to under this figure it is the vine’s failure to produce good fruit that is emphasized, along with the corresponding threat of God’s judgment on the nation.
-Don Carson from his commentary on John
For example, on Sunday we prayed through Psalm 80 which refers to the unique specialness of Israel as a vine that God himself rescued and cultivated:
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.
But then immediately refers to the judgement that Israel is facing because of her infidelity and apostasy:
Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
You were my choice, chosen people– the vine I brought out of Egypt. But you have wandered from me and not followed my good instruction. So I have allowed you to experience the consequences of those choices– just like a vine that is not tended becomes overgrown and ineffective for bearing fruit.
Every time Israel is compared to a vine, it is for the purpose of showing Israel the consequence of her failure, shortcomings, and disobedience. Take a look at: Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21, Jeremiah 12:10(ff), Ezekiel 15, 17, 19. And maybe most poignantly to us in the most expensive county in the United States…
Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.
Hosea 10: 1-2
Every time that Israel was compared to a vine, it was a teaching moment to show them their shame.
So can you imagine what it was like when Jesus said to his friends, in the last evening he had with them, ‘I am the the true vine.’ Their impulse must have been to expect a lecture on how they had failed– that’s what prophets did when they compared God’s people to a vine.
But Jesus doesn’t bring up this ‘vine-word-of-their-shame’ to criticize them. He calls himself the vine because He wants to re-write and re-orient the experience of their shame. We are fundamentally creatures that want to attach. We want to connect and to be in a vine. And, like Israel, we are all aware of the ways we have failed in our attachments.
So Jesus explains: I am securely attached to my Father. And you can be securely attached to Him through Jesus by the Holy spirit that lives in us.
Abiding in the vine can re-write our story, can re-orient us to what is true, and can attach us to what brings life– forever.
JESUS is the vine. We are branches. Our shame is gone. Thanks be to God.
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