A dear friend and contributor to Psalm11918.org shared some insight into the parable of the vineyard and brought in various other Scriptures to elucidate the passage. In doing so it sparked a rather exciting discussion about vines, vineyards, vine dressers, and wine as metaphors used throughout the Apostolic Writings. This article highlights the points of that discussion along with other insights Brent provided. I would like to credit him for inspiring this article in the spirit of Proverbs 3:27. And as always, we give thanks to G-d Most High who "gave the heart understanding to distinguish between day and night".
Let us take a journey together through Scripture once again and see what it says about vines, vineyards, vine dressers, wine and more... a "walk in the Word". As we take this walk, may we say, believe, and do what is right, be merciful in our speech and actions, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).
Scriptural quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted. Bolded text or other emphases in the Scriptural references are the author's.
The Parable of the Vineyard
In Matthew 21 (and its parallel in Mark 12 and Luke 20), Yeshua gives a parable regarding a vineyard:
Matthew 21:33- 46
"Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?"
They [the chief priests and elders of the people] said to Him, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons."
Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of G-d will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.
Let's unpack the parable and examine its elements more closely:
- The landowner
- The vineyard
- The wall
- The winepress
- The tower
- The vine growers
- The harvest time
- The produce
- The first group of slaves
- The second group of slaves
- The son
- The inheritence of the son
- The consequences
The first part of the parable speaks of a landowner planting a vineyard. This is a quote from Isaiah 5. This chapter in Isaiah is the key to unlocking the parable. Yeshua is taking a passage from Scripture that was well known in his day and bringing it bear again on his time in history. In this chapter we are given the interpretation of several pieces of Yeshua's parable. Isaiah speaks of G-d planting a vineyard... so we see that the landowner in the parable is G-d.
Isaiah 5:7 gives us the interpretation for the vineyard as well.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant.
The vineyard is Isra'el... both the native-born Jew and Gentile who has been grafted in as well (see Psalms 80:8-9, Isaiah 5:1-7, Romans 3:29).
Vine and Branches
Although they are not specifically mentioned in this parable we can include "vine" and "branches" in our examination of the vineyard. In John 15 Yeshua uses these elements in a metaphor to describe the relationship between Himself, the Father, and the talmidim:
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
Yeshua tells us that He is the vine and his disciples are the branches. The job of the branches is to abide in Him and bear much fruit. We abide in Him if we keep his commandments and his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). Yeshua's commandments are not his own but those of the Father (John 12:49).
The wall is the first element not clearly explained in Isaiah. In a practical sense a literal wall around a literal vineyard serves to separate and defend the things inside the wall from those outside the wall. It provides some measure of delineation and protection so the beasts of the field will not come in and devour the plants and the fruit of the vineyard. A vineyard wall would often include a hedge of thorns to keep animals out.
Dennis Bracher of CRI/Voice, Institute provides some background on ancient Near Eastern vineyards:
The images used in this allegory were all taken from common practices of raising grapes in the Ancient Middle East, many of which are still in use today (cf. Matt 21:33). Especially in the hill country of Israel, grapes were often grown on hillsides terraced by retaining walls and backfilled with fertile soil. On more level ground, the hard earth was plowed or dug and the numerous stones that are a common part of the Near Eastern landscape were removed and used in walls around the fields or to build a watchtower in the middle of the field. Since grapes were a staple food, used both for wine and preserved as raisins for use throughout the year, the grape harvest was extremely important and needed to be protected from animals, birds, and even theft. During the grape harvest, the vineyard owner or men hired for the job would man the watchtower to protect the vineyard. 1
Isaiah tells us that, in His anger, G-d will "remove its hedge" and "break down its wall" referring to the vineyard. This provides further insight into what the wall can and cannot be.
Walls are a defensive measure. Although it is a tradition that began in antiquity even today the sovereign of England is called "the defender of the faith". In this we can see a picture of the rulers of Isra'el... the king and his court officials. If a physical wall protects its physical contents then a wall in matters of faith would be responsible for defending that faith. The king is responsible for defending the nation. Thus the wall represents the royal rulers of Isra'el.
Wine presses have two parts: the upper part where grapes are crushed and "pressed"; and the lower part into which the juice of the grapes drains. In the rocky environment of the Near East wine presses were often hewn into the rock. This fits with Isaiah 5:2 in which G-d "hewed out a wine vat" in the vineyard. The winepress is the place where the harvest of grapes are crushed and tested to determine the quality of the fruit when they are made into wine. The winepress is the place where the fruit of Isra'el is pressed and tested (see "The Produce" below).
The tower is only briefly mentioned in Isaiah but it is noted that the tower was built "in the middle of" the vineyard. The Temple was at the center of religious life in the days of Yeshua. It was the place where the "vine growers" could watch over the vineyard and protect it. It also served as visible marker for the surrounding area as to the location of the vineyard. The tower of the parable is the Temple.
The Vine Growers
Matthew chapter 21 provides us with the identity of the vine growers:
When the chief priests and the chief Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.
The vine growers were hired to do the work of tending the vineyard. They were not the owners of the vineyard. The leadership of Isra'el were "hired" to tend and care for the people of Isra'el (the vineyard). When they failed to serve as they had been hired to do they were replaced and the landowner "will rent out the vineyard [Isra'el] to other vine-growers [authorities]." The vine-growers of the parable are the chief priests and Pharisees: the leadership of the day.
Examination of this element of the parable should dispel any notion of replacement theology in which Christians replace Jews as G-d's people. The replacement is of the vine-growers... not the vineyard.
The Harvest Time
- The harvest time implies the harvest itself:
- It is something produced by the vineyard
- It is expected from the vine growers
- It belongs to the land owner
- The time of the harvest is at a specific time and occurs at regular intervals. In a literal vineyard there is an annual harvest. In the Land of Isra'el grapes are harvested in the late spring and during the summer months between June and September. (See the timeline of harvests and holy days in Isra'el at right. Click to enlarge the image.) This fits with the Scriptural holy day of Yom Kippur (the Day of judgment) where there is an annual accounting for the activities of the previous year.
Vineyards produce grapes, raisins, grape juine, and wine. Since the people of Isra'el are the vineyard of the parable, what is it that G-d would expect to be their fruit? I believe it is the living example (the teaching) of a G-dly people. It is in the winepress where the fruit is pressed and tested: is the fruit sweet and good or is the fruit bitter and useless?
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 tells us that our work (our deeds) will be tested although it uses a different metaphor of "trial by fire". I believe that our deeds (our fruit) will be tested in G-d's winepress to determine whether they are good or bad... sweet and pleasing to the Lord or bitter and worthless to Him.
The First Group of Slaves
G-d is the land owner. Isra'el is the vineyard. The religious leadership (chief priests) are the vine-growers. So who are the first group of slaves that the landowner sends to the vine-growers? The first group of slaves are the prophets that G-d sent prior to the Assyrian diaspora. The prophets were servants of the Most High sent with a message of the expectation of the fruit (good deeds) being delivered. The prophets came with the message, "Repent! Stop sinning and transgressing the Torah of G-d and instead turn back to G-d and live within the covenant relationship He has required."
The Second Group of Slaves
The second group of slaves is similar to the first. They are the prophets sent by G-d prior to the Babylonian exile with the same clarion call as the first: "Repent!". As an interesting note... the slaves were sent to the vine-growers (the priests) not to the vineyard (the people of Isra'el).
For believers in Messiah this element is the easiest to identify. The son of the landowner in the parable is Yeshua... the Son of G-d:
- He was sent by the land owner (G-d).
- The vine-growers wanted his inheritence (ownership of the vineyard).
- The vine-growers threw him out of the vineyard (separated Him from the rest of the people of Isra'el... and gave Him over to the Gentiles).
- The vine-growers killed him to get his inheritence.
What is the only thing mentioned in the parable that the son of the landowner would inherit? The inheritence of the parable is ownership of and authority over the vineyard:
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
The false priesthood that had been installed by Rome realized that it did not truly have authority from the One and Only Source that could provide it: G-d. They sought to destroy Him to whom had been "given all authority" (Matt 28:18) so they could seize that authority for themselves.
Rather than spell out the consequences Himself, Yeshua asks the question, "When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?" The answer is that he will bring those "wretches" to a "wretched" end and then "rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons."
Modern English defines wretched as "characterized by or attended with misery or woe".2 The Greek word that is translated "wretches" is the noun kakos. A literal translation of this word might be "worthless" or "depraved". The Greek word translated as "wretched" is an adverbial form of kakos which has a strong sense of bad, evil, or sickly. These "wretches" murdered the son and the Scriptural penalty for murder is death: Exodus 21:12.
As the chief priests and Pharisees answer Yeshua's question we might imagine them thinking of themselves as the land owner and giving the answer with an air of almost self-righteous indignation: "how dare they kill my son! I will kill those vine-growers and replace them with someone who will give to me what is rightfully mine." It is tempting to cast them in that light, however, to do so we must contend with Scripture that tells us we should not do so:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as G-d has allotted to each a measure of faith.
This concludes the list of the elements. Taking this understanding of the parable and its elements and applying them to other passages referring to vineyards, vines, and wine provides some interesting insight. Part 2 of this article will summarize the elements of the parable and examine other passages from Scripture using this parable as a key.
Summary of the Parable Elements
Now that we have taken apart the Matthew 21 parable of the vineyard in part 1 of the article, let's summarize the elements:
- The landowner = G-d
- The vineyard = the people of Isra'el (both Jew and Gentile)
- Vine = Yeshua
- Branches = disciples
- The wall = royal rulers of Isra'el
- The winepress = a place of testing the fruit (deeds)
- The tower = the Temple
- The vine growers = chief priests and chief Pharisees
- The harvest time = the appointed time to gather and test the fruit
- The produce (grapes/wine) = deeds; our living example/teaching of who G-d is.
- The first group of slaves = pre-Assyrian-captivity prophets
- The second group of slaves = pre-Babylonian-captivity prophets
- The son = Yeshua
- The inheritence of the son = ownership of the vineyard and the authority that came with it.
- The consequences = "the wretched end" points to the removal of the vine-growers from their position of acting with authority on behalf of the land owner.
Here are a few additional observations regarding the parable elements:
- In the traditional Hebraic betrothal process the potential groom offers a cup of wine to the potential bride. If the bride accepts the cup and drinks of it then they are betrothed. If the bride accepts the cup and then passes it back to groom without drinking of it then that signals her rejection of his proposal of marriage.
- Vineyards need water in order to produce fruit. Water symbolizes both the Spirit of G-d as well as the Torah. The vineyard [Isra'el] requires both the Spirit of G-d and the Torah to produce any fruit.
Providing additional clarity
The examination of one particular part of 1 Timothy 5 offered such significant additional insight into the whole wine/vineyard imagery that I have separated it here for additional inspection.
1 Timothy 5:17-25
1 Timothy 5:17-25
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of G-d and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.
Is Paul being scatter brained and just throwing in a off-handed comment to Timothy in verse 23 about drinking a little wine for his stomach? Knowing Paul to be the brilliant man that he was, likely not. The context of the verse speaks of how to deal with elders accused of sin. So how does the sentence about drinking wine fit into the greater context?
There are 4 elements to his sentence.
- Frequent ailments
Let's examine them to see how they fit into what Paul is saying:
In the mind of a Hebrew (such as Paul), water symbolic of Torah and, by extension, the whole of G-d's Word. This Hebraic concept is seen in numerous places throughout Hebraic literature of the period and the comparison is based upon Isaiah 55:1:
Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost.
Here are some parallels between water from Song of Songs Rabbah3:
Just as rain water comes down in drops and forms rivers, so with the Torah; a man learns two chalakahs today and two tomorrow, until he becomes like a flowing stream.
Just as water has no taste unless one is thirsty, so the Torah has no taste unless one labors at it.
Just as water leaves a high place and flows to a low one, so the Torah leaves one whose spirit is proud and cleaves to one whose spirit is lowly.
Just as water does not keep well in a vessel of silver or gold but in the commonest of vessels, so the Torah resides only in one who makes himself like a vessel of earthenware.
Just as with water a great man is not ashamed to say to a lowly man, 'Give me a drink of water,' so with the words of the Torah, a great scholar must not be ashamed to say to a lesser one, 'Teach me one chapter, or one statement, or one verse, or even one letter.'
Just as water restores the soul, as it says, "But G-d cleaved the hollow place which was in Lehi and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk... he revived" (Judges 15:19), so does the Torah, as it says, "The law [Torah] of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul" (Psalms 19:8).
Just as water cleanses the body, as it says, "He shall bathe himself in water" (Leviticus 17:15), so the Torah cleanses the body, as it says, "Thy word is purifying to the uttermost" (Psalms 119:140).
Thus we can equate water and the Torah.
In our examination of of the Parable of the Vineyard we found that wine represented the pressed (tested) fruit (deeds).
Although in Western cultures the heart is the source of our emotions to the Hebrew mind the stomach is the seat of our emotions. Consider emotions like anger, fear, bitterness and jealousy and how they can tie our stomachs "in knots". Intense emotion can literally make one sick to his stomach.
This element of Paul's instruction is not even vaguely clear from the plain meaning of the text. With some measure of conjecture we might consider Timothy's "frequent ailments" (since they are related to his "stomach") to be matters in which he is in emotional turmoil. This could well be the case where Timothy is being called upon to deal with matters of sin among the elders of the community.
In the context of dealing with sin among the elders:
- No longer drink water exclusively = No longer make use of the Torah only (perhaps "the letter of the Law"?)
- But use a little wine = But use the tested deeds [of the elders]
- For the sake of your stomach = For the sake of your emotions
- And your frequent ailments = And your frequent emotional turmoil
Examination of other Scripture
[Note: everything that follows is conjecture on the part of the author. Applying the fixed meaning of one parable to other passages of Scripture may or may not be entirely accurate. In some verses the fit between the meaning of the parable and the text of the verse is good. In other verses there is an incomplete fit. The intention of the author is to lead others in considering these following verses in light of the elements of the parable. -Ed]
"Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved."
- New wine = new living examples (teaching)
- Old wineskins = individuals previously filled with old wine (teachings)
- New wineskins = individuals not previously filled with old wine
The parallel passage in Luke 5 includes an additional reference in verse 39: "And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.'"
- Once accustomed to the "old teaching" does not desire to try the new.
It seems this is precisely the reason Yeshua chose "uneducated and untrained men" (Acts 4:13) as his disciples. They would not have been indoctrinated beyond what He wanted them to learn.
"But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
The "fruit of the vine" is wine that is created from putting the produce of the vineyard through the winepress and allowing it to ferment. To "drink of it" is to enjoy the results of that produce. We might see this as a picture of Yeshua not enjoying the blessings of bearing fruit in this world until He returns.
And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.
- Wine = our living examples; teaching
- Gall = literally, something bitter; figuratively, something that causes one to become inured to pain (i.e. discipline or correction)
There is nothing bitter about good wine (teachings). The two should not be mixed.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus *said to Him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." Now there were six stone water pots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, "Fill the water pots with water." So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."
- Wedding = "wedding feast of the Lamb"?
This happens after the Judgment where the deeds of all are judged (i.e. the grapes are "tested" and pressed).
- Old wine running out = no more of the old deeds (performed with a spirit of guilt or burden?)
- Miryam turns to Yeshua for more wine = Isra'el returning to the Word for further mitzvot?
- Yeshua turning water into wine = turning water (G-d's Word) into wine (living examples of G-d's character)
- Good wine saved until the end = deeds done with joy and the Spirit
It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
- Eat meat = study the weightier matters of the law (see Hebrews 5:12-14)
- Drink wine = partake of a specific teaching (chalakah)?
- Brother stumbles = not walking (chalak-ing) well... struggling in his walk
This observation does not in any way intend to negate the plain meaning of the text but to additionally illuminate a spiritual meaning.
So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to G-d, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
- Getting drunk = partaking too much of chalakah?
- Dissipation = being filled too much with the wrong thing (the goal is not to be filled with chalakah but with G-d's Word)
- Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns = using the right sources (i.e. Torah instead of chalakah)
- Making melody with your heart to the Lord = melody of living our lives; (remember that the "heart" to a Hebrew is the mind)
Again... this is an observation in addition to the plain meaning of the text: don't get drunk.
1 Timothy 3:2-3 (also Titus 1:7)
1 Timothy 3:2-3
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
- Not addicted to wine or pugnacious [belligerent or eager to fight] (notice the two are grouped together) = Not so "addicted to "on a specific chalakah that he is combative about it?"
The same imagery might apply to deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of G-d will not be dishonored.
- Not enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good = not enslaved to chalakah but teaching what is good (Torah)
And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality."
- Wine of the passion of her immorality = the teaching of the strong desire for immoral deeds.
Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe." So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of G-d. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses' bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.
- Clusters of the vine = groups of individuals
- Wine press of the wrath of G-d = a place where the wrath of G-d was used to test their deeds?
This is just a sample of wine/vine/vineyard related passages in Scripture. Consider other passages cautiously considering that the singular meaning of one parable is likely not applicable in every other passage of Scripture.
Footnotes1. Copyright © 2007, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved (as of 12/28/2007) at http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Cproper15ot.html [back]
2. 'Wretched' - Excerpted from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation; further reproduction and distribution in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved. [back]
3. 'Like Water, Like Torah' from The Texas Talmud (12/30/2007) at http://web.wt.net/~cbenton/water.htm [back]