Vine imagery throughout the Bible

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Eric Tully’s Advanced Hebrew Exegesis of Hosea course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Please note: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references below, which can at times be different than what one will find in our English translations.

In Hosea 10:1, Hosea refers to Israel as a vine. In so doing, he finds himself amidst a substantial company of Biblical authors. Vine and vineyard imagery plays a significant role throughout the canon and across redemptive-history. As such, it is a rather important topic within the discipline of Biblical theology. Therefore, interpreters do well to investigate this Biblical theme in greater depth. An understanding of the canonical use of this theme will certainly inform the interpreter’s understanding of its specific use in Hosea 10:1.

Given this theme’s prolific Biblical use (see Gen 9:20; 49:11-12, 22; Ex 22:5; 23:11; Lev 19:10; Deut 20:6; 23:24; 24:21; 28:30, 39; 32:32-33; Jdg 9:13; 1 Kgs 4:25; 21:1-16; 2 Kgs 18:31; Ps 52:8; 78:47; 80:8-11; Prov 24:30-34; 31:16; Song of Sol 1:6; 2:13, 15; 6:11; 7:8, 12; 8:11-12; Isa 3:14; 5:1-7; 16:8-10; 27:2-4; 36:16; Jer. 2:21; 5:10, 17; 6:9; 11:16; 12:10; 31:5; 32:15; Ezek. 17:5-6; Hos 2:12; 10:1; Am 4:9; 5:17; 9:14; Mic 1:6; 4:4; Zeph 1:13; Zech 3:10; Mt 20:1-11; 21:33-43; 26:29; Mk 12:1; 14:25; Lk 20:9; 22:18; Jn 15; Rom 11:16-24; Rev 14:18-20), for sake of brevity, attention will be given to those texts that are particularly significant to the development of this theme and its use Hosea 10:1, i.e., those that use the vine as something like a metaphor for the people of God. Probably the most prominent case of this sort of use of vineyard imagery in the OT occurs in Isaiah 5:1-7. In Isaiah 5:1-7, Israel is depicted as a vineyard God has planted. Instead of yielding good grapes (e.g., justice, righteousness), it yields a bad harvest (e.g., bloodshed, injustice). Therefore, God determines to destroy His vineyard. Such a description may be rooted in the Pentateuch, specifically Deut 32:32-33, which describes Israel’s future, depraved behavior in terms of vile fruit of the vine. Psalm 80:8-11 refers to God’s work of planting and establishing His vineyard (i.e., Israel; cf. “You brought a vine out of Egypt,” v.8; see also Ezek 17:5-6). In Isaiah 27:2-4 YHWH foretells of His “eschatological vineyard.” He will be intimately involved in caring for and protecting this vineyard. In Jeremiah 2:21, although YHWH planted Israel as a choice vine, she has somehow managed to do the unnatural thing of becoming a wild vine. When YHWH punishes Israel in 5:10, He declares that those branches which are to be broken off (i.e., punished; cf. Rom 11) are not His (i.e., not truly His people). But, by implication, a remnant of branches will be preserved.YHWH, who planted this olive tree, will also be its destroyer (Jer 11:17). In Hosea 10:1, Israel is described as a vine that uses its fruit to increase its practice of idolatry. In Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 20:9-18 Jesus told a parable against the Pharisees who here served as an antitype of sorts for historical Israel’s response to God. Jesus describes His Father as the master of a vineyard, Israel (or more specifically in Matthew, the kingdom) as the vineyard, and the vineyard’s tenants as Israelites. To this vineyard the master sent many servants (i.e., the prophets) and finally His own Son (i.e., Jesus)—all are rejected or killed. Jesus then concludes that God will respond in judgment by taking His vineyard away from unbelieving Israel and giving it to a people (i.e., the Church) who will provide Him a harvest. In John 15:1-11 Jesus describes His Father as the vinedresser and then himself as the vine. Jesus—the true Israel—fulfills Israel’s role as YHWH’s vine. Finally, in Romans 11:16-24 Paul depicts the people of God across redemptive history as an olive vine. He states that in this new age in redemptive history God’s people have undergone a transformation of sorts—the unbelieving natural branches (i.e., Jews) having been broken off from the vine, while unnatural branches (e.g., gentiles) have been grafted in it.

In sum, the vineyard serves as a wonderfully descriptive picture of the people of God across redemptive history. The imagery implies a vinedresser, God the Father, who plants, nurtures, and protects His vineyard. This metaphor, therefore, speaks of God’s people as a people established and sustained by God’s grace and initiative. It is His vineyard, His work. And as a vineyard, His people are depicted as extremely valuable to Him. This imagery also wonderfully incorporates God’s concern that His people produce “fruit,” i.e., behaviors attitudes, and dispositions that reflect their true nature as the people of God. Finally, this imagery lends itself to Paul’s use of the concept of “grafting,” which he uses to describe the expansion and transformation of God’s people as the New Covenant community.