“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” — Ezekiel 15:6
Some years ago, an elderly gardener friend of mine gave me a gift of a trumpet vine after I admired the shiny green foliage and clusters of trumpet-shaped peach flowers on the plant in his yard. I am far from being a skilled gardener and am not hesitant about admitting that. So when my friend first offered the plant, I demurred, declaring that I had vast experience in turning the healthiest of plants into dry twigs in a matter of weeks. However, he pressed the baby plant upon me, insisting that trumpet vines were exceptionally hardy, resistant to disease, could tolerate hot or dry conditions, and provided a beautiful and fast-growing covering for fences or trellises.
That last comment was what persuaded me. I had a bare spot on the fence in my backyard that desperately needed something green growing up it.
So I succumbed to his friendly pressure and accepted the vine.
That was about seven or eight years ago . . . and there is still a bare spot on that fence in the backyard. Oh, I planted the trumpet vine. The brown woody stem is still visible next to the fence as proof. Not only that, but I watered the vine, fertilized it, and watched over it. I may have even talked to it! However, my efforts were to no avail. While the vine has produced a few wimpy leaves and straggly tendrils every year, it has never had a single flower. As a fence covering, it has proved to be totally worthless.
Today’s text made me think of that trumpet vine. Many times in the Scriptures, God used the vine as an illustration of Israel. In today’s text, God’s chosen people were compared to a useless vine that would soon be consumed by fire because nothing could be constructed from it — not a table, a tool, or even a peg. A vine would never be planted for the purpose of obtaining wood; it is without value unless it bears fruit. God had planted Israel to bring forth fruit to His glory, but the people had failed to do so. Like a dried up branch, the nation was suitable only for burning, and the devouring “flames” of the Babylonian armies would soon overcome the city of Jerusalem.
In spite of the approaching judgment and the perilous political situation in Jerusalem, the prevailing message from the false prophets was, “God won’t judge us; we are His chosen people — His special vine. There is no reason to fear, because God will deliver us.” God wanted Ezekiel to destroy this false sense of confidence. Ezekiel had foretold the desolation of Jerusalem many times, but the picture of a useless vine in today’s text reinforced not only that judgment would come, but that the judgment was completely deserved.
Jerusalem had been positioned by God as a choice planting; He had given it unusual blessings and opportunities. If it had produced fruit suitable to its character as a holy city, it would have been to the glory of God. However, the chosen city had failed in this purpose. Thus, Jerusalem was as deserving of destruction as the dead branches of a vine were deserving of being cut off and thrown into the fire.
Ezekiel’s pronouncement to Jerusalem is a warning for us as well. Man was created for the purpose of yielding precious “fruit” for the honor and glory of God. Those who do not fulfill that purpose — who neglect God and ignore their responsibility toward Him — are set for destruction like the worthless vine in today’s text. For those who fail to repent, judgment is certain. Thankfully, by the grace of God, that does not need to be true of us. As we yield our lives to God and follow His instructions and plans for our lives, we will bear spiritual fruit, and our lives will bring glory to Him.
To reconcile Ezekiel as well as his hearers to the rightness of God’s coming judgment, in this short chapter, God used the example of an unfruitful vine to illustrate Israel’s disobedience.
In Scripture, God’s people of Israel are frequently likened to a grapevine (for example, see Isaiah 5). When Ezekiel relayed God’s words picturing a useless vine, the elders of Israel would have known immediately that the allegory was about them. This message dismissed Israel’s false claims to security based on their being the privileged people of God — His choice vine.
The question asked in verse 2 in essence was, “How can the wood of a grapevine be better than the branch of any other tree among the trees of the forest?” The wood was not durable enough to make anything useful, not even a peg for a wall hanger (verse 3).
In verse 4, the branch that was burned on both ends and in the middle represented the condition of Israel. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been overthrown and taken into captivity, much of the Southern Kingdom of Judah existed as a tribute nation under Babylon, and the city of Jerusalem itself soon would be overthrown. Like the partially burned piece of grapevine, the people would emerge from one calamity only to be destroyed by another. Verse 5 points out that the fruitless grapevine which was of little use before it was burned would have even less value after it was burned. Like a partially burned branch snatched from burning flames, Jerusalem had been previously spared from destruction and the “fire” of judgment. However, this time it would be completely consumed (verses 6-8).
II. The condemnation of Judah and Jerusalem
C. The cause of Judah’s destruction
3. Parables of Judah’s condemnation
a. The parable of the vine (15:1-8)
(1) The parable stated (15:1-5)
(2) The parable explained (15:6-8)
Just as God had a purpose for Israel, He has a purpose for each one of us. Are we fulfilling that purpose? Today’s text warns of the result of failing to do so.