Friday, July 1, 2011

What Is The Vine In The Jewish Pool of Images?

How do we go about examining the "images" in this pool? It's not as if there is one particular place in the Old Testament (OT) that has all the images in easy to recognize forms. Ideally, we would all be so saturated in the OT that, when the NT used such images, bells and whistles would go off in our minds. But, alas, we are too busy keeping up with our Facebook accounts, celebrity gossip, or running around with too many irons in the fire to slow down and read something as crusty and "irrelevant" as Exodus, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy...right? After all, we are a New Testament/New Covenant Church right? 

Writing to Timothy, Paul said, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16). When he wrote this there was no such thing as a New Testament. He was speaking about the Scriptures that he had grown up studying--Christians call it the Old Testament and Jews call it TaNaKh: Torah ("the Teaching" we know this as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), Nevi'im ("Prophets"--Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi), and Ketavim ("Writings"--Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes [this the Latin term while the Hebrew is Qohelet], Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles. So Paul is saying that the OT is useful and important.

So, back to the original question: How do we go about examining the "images" in this pool? The answer is that we have to go about it two ways simultaneously--we have to study the OT and we have look for possible OT images/references while reading the NT. The first of these we will have to do on our own ( short cuts here). The second one we can start to look at together by examining certain passages to see what images we may find and what they may signify.

 We will start with a passage many of us know well. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus says,
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned"  (Jn 15:1-6)
This image of the vine is just a standard parable right? Or could this be something more when we look at how the image of the vine is used throughout the OT?

Psalm 80: 8-16--

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.
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.
 Turn again, O God of hosts!
    Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
 the stock that your right hand planted,
   and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down;
   may they perish at the rebuke of your face!
 [Here the psalmist is using the vine as a metaphor for Israel.]

The whole of Isaiah 5 depicts Israel as God's vineyard.

Jeremiah 2:20-22--

20"For long ago I broke your yoke

   and burst your bonds;
   but you said, 'I will not serve.'
Yes, on every high hill
   and under every green tree
   you bowed down like a whore.
 Yet I planted you a choice vine,
   wholly of pure seed.
 How then have you turned degenerate
   and become a wild vine?
Though you wash yourself with lye
   and use much soap,
    the stain of your guilt is still before me,

         declares the Lord GOD.

[Again the vine is being used as a symbol for the nation of Israel.]

Ezekiel 15 visualizes Jerusalem (the capital city of Israel) as a useless, dried up vine.

Though Ezekiel 17 is a parable that seems complicated and confusing, it too envisions Israel as a vine that wanders from where it's planted.

Ezekiel 19:10-14--

Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard

   planted by the water,
 fruitful and full of branches
    by reason of abundant water.
Its strong stems became
   rulers’ scepters;
it towered aloft
   among the thick boughs;
it was seen in its height
   with the mass of its branches.
But the vine was plucked up in fury,
   cast down to the ground;
 the east wind dried up its fruit;
   they were stripped off and withered.
As for its strong stem,
   fire consumed it.
 Now it is planted in the wilderness,
   in a dry and thirsty land.
 And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots,
   has consumed its fruit,
 so that there remains in it no strong stem,
   no scepter for ruling.

[This lament is directed to the princes of Israel, which means that the mother/vine is Israel...see a theme here?]

Hosea 10:1--

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.
It is evident that throughout the OT the vine is used as a symbol for Israel. Now that we see this, we can understand that Jesus is claiming to be the one true Israel. If you are skeptical about this point, Matthew 2:15 cites "Out of Egypt I called my son" to refer to Jesus while the original context of the citation, Hosea 11:1, says, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son."

To understand the full implications of this we would have to examine Israel's calling and mission in the world, but we do not have time for that discussion here. N.T. Wright has provided an excellent treatment of this concept of Jesus as the true Israel in his works such as Simply Christian, The Challenge of Jesus, and The Climax of the Covenant.

If we begin to see Israel as the vine and Jesus as the one true Israel, then what new insights might this begin to yield for our study of John 15? Exactly what is Jesus saying to his disciples? And why might it matter for us today? I would love to hear your thoughts.

No comments:

Post a Comment