‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.’ John 15:1
Many people have commented that spring this year has been beautiful. Of course, it is always beautiful, but are we noticing it more because we are less busy and more open to what is going on around us, and more eager to find that beauty wherever we find ourselves? The beautiful weather must also help with its clear blue skies and warmth of sunshine. With this in mind, we will look at the beauty of nature this week in our blog, particularly focussing on some plants found in the Bible and their meaning for our spiritual lives.
One of the things that lockdown has prompted is a renewed interest in ‘growing your own’. In Bible times, there was no handy supermarket down the road to pick up your weekly shop from, so everyone had to spend some of their time providing for themselves and their families, or trading their goods for other things they could not produce. This was especially true of drink, because most water was unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst. Most Israelites solved this problem by making wine, and therefore grew their own grape vines, which flourished in the hot climate; the report of Moses’ spies prove this (Numbers 13:23).
Grapevines became a symbol of settled life (1 Kings 4:25), and were a handy source of shade during the heat of the day if you had a trellis running alongside your house. More often, whole villages would communally plant a vineyard, as it was an expensive undertaking and demanded a lot of man-hours to set up and maintain (see Isaiah 5:1-2 for an idea of what was involved). During the grape harvest in summer, the village would often move wholesale into the vineyard until the vintage was gathered in, accompanied by singing, dancing and celebration. The absence of this party spirit was seen as a mark of God’s judgement on the land and its inhabitants (Isaiah 16:10).
The Israelites, in common with every society, enjoyed the fruit of the vine. When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, it is estimated that He provided the equivalent of over 850 of our standard bottles for the feast (perhaps containing a much lower alcoholic content)! An abundance of new wine was seen as a blessing from God.
It is natural, therefore, that Jesus would use the vine as a picture of remaining in His blessing. Squeeze a grape and watch the juice bubble out. The beauty and goodness of it is self-evident. In order to produce this goodness we must remain in Him, and we must not worry when He prunes some branches off, branches that contain good grapes that would have made even better wine, because His purpose is for us to produce yet more fruit.