Ezekiel 15 – The Parable of the Wood of the Grapevine
A. The example of the wood of the grapevine.
1. (1-3) The uselessness of the wood of the grapevine.
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any other wood, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest? Is wood taken from it to make any object? Or can men make a peg from it to hang any vessel on?
a. The wood of the vine: Many times in the Scriptures, God used the vine as an illustration of Israel and later, the community of the Messiah.
· The vine represented the future blessings of the Messiah (Genesis 49:11).
· Vines fat with grapes were an early sign of the fertility and abundance of Canaan (Numbers 13:23).
· A bad vine could illustrate the wickedness of man (Deuteronomy 32:32).
· Jotham used a vine as a figure in a story (Judges 9:12-13).
· Israel was compared to a vine (Psalm 80:8-19).
· Israel was like a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7).
· Israel was like a vine full of fruit (Hosea 10:1).
· Israel started out as a noble vine (Jeremiah 2:21).
· Ezekiel used the image of the vine and vineyard later (Ezekiel 17:5-10 and 19:10-14).
· Later Jesus used the vine to illustrate the rebellious Israel of His day (Luke 20:9-19) and also to picture the relationship He had with His people (John 15).
i. We sense that in using this illustration, Ezekiel answered a question or a protest: God won’t judge us; we are His chosen people, we are His special vine. We have been burned by past crises, but God will deliver us. Ezekiel wanted to destroy this false sense of confidence in Israel’s status as God’s special vine.
ii. “This oracle disputes Israel’s false claims to security based on their being the royal vine, the privileged people of God.” (Block)
iii. “This parable implies that the exiles had asked about God’s consistency. They understood that they were his chosen people, his choice vine. How could he destroy them? They had been through the fire of two invasions and deportations by the Babylonians, but each time they had endured and sprouted up again.” (Alexander)
iv. In fact, Israel’s past status as God’s special vine made them more responsible and accountable, not less. “Grace places high demands on its recipients, and unless one matches one’s claims with adherence to his will, one may well wake up one day to the reality that far from being his or her protector and patron, God has actually become the adversary.” (Block)
b. How is the wood of the vine better than any other wood: God asked Ezekiel to compare the wood of the grapevine to the wood of the trees of the forest. If a grapevine has grapes on it, then there is an obvious use for the vine. Yet if there is no fruit, then the value of the wood itself should be considered.
i. It’s interesting to consider that nowhere in Ezekiel 15 is there mention of fruit, either in the presence or absence of it. This was a dramatic way Ezekiel communicated that at this point in Israel’s history, there was absolutely no fruit to speak of. It was a non-issue.
ii. “He makes no allusion to that which is always the chief idea in the use of that figure, its fruit. He only thinks of it as wood.” (Morgan)
iii. “A vine would never be cultivated for the sake of its wood; it is really worthless but as it bears fruit. What is Israel? Good for nothing, but as God influenced them to bring forth fruit to his glory. But now that they have ceased to be fruitful, they are good for nothing, but, like a withered branch of the vine, to be burnt.” (Clarke)
c. Is wood taken from it to make any object? The wood of the grapevine is useless to make a table, a tool, or even a peg. The wood from the trees of the forest can be used for many things, but not the wood that comes from the grape vine.
i. “Because the vine is crooked, it cannot be used for building. Because it burns so rapidly, it is of little value for fuel. Because it is soft, it cannot be employed where anything needs to hang on it.” (Feinberg)
ii. “It is good for nothing; no, not so much as to make a pin or a peg of to hang a hat or bridle on, because it is a sappy and brittle wood. Think the same of that empty vine, the profligate professor, being abominable, disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” (Trapp)
iii. “Savourless salt is good for nothing: fruitless vines are utterly useless: professors who bear no fruit are worse than useless, they cumber the ground. Let us abide in Christ, that He may bear fruit through us.” (Meyer)
iv. Peg: “It developed the meaning of someone who could be relied upon, as in Isaiah 22:23ff.; Zechariah 10:4; cf. also Ezra 9:8. Israel was neither useful nor dependable.” (Taylor)
2. (4-5) The burning of the wood of the grapevine.
Instead, it is thrown into the fire for fuel; the fire devours both ends of it, and its middle is burned. Is it useful for any work? Indeed, when it was whole, no object could be made from it. How much less will it be useful for any work when the fire has devoured it, and it is burned?
a. It is thrown into the fire for fuel: This is the only real use for the wood that comes from a grapevine. This is especially true if it is already partially burned (the fire devours both ends of it). It is then no longer useful for any work.
i. “Ezekiel’s contribution to the ‘vineyard story’ is to point out the worthlessness of the vine if it doesn’t bear fruit. If a tree becomes useless, you can at least cut it down and make something useful out of the wood; but what can you make out of the wood of a vine?” (Wiersbe)
ii. “Unlike metal, firing wood does not enhance its intrinsic value.” (Block)
iii. “God, the Divine Carpenter, has not been able to make anything out of the vine nation. Now that it has been partly charred by the fires of judgement, it is even more useless, and it must be burnt up.” (Wright)
b. When it was whole, no object could be made from it: If the wood had no value before it was partially burned, surely it has less value when partially burned.
i. “This is notoriously useless, not being firm enough even for making a peg to hang a pot from, and it is of even less value when it has been charred in a fire.” (Taylor)
ii. “Ezekiel takes a traditional figure connoting the ‘messianic’ character of Israel as the repository of God’s favor and turns it against itself in almost cynical fashion as a symbol of discarded worthlessness.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
B. Jerusalem is like the wood of the grapevine.
1. (6-7) The people of Jerusalem are like the useless wood of the grapevine.
“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will set My face against them. They will go out from one fire, but another fire shall devour them. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I set My face against them.
a. So I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem: God said that the people of Jerusalem were like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest. They had no fruit and the remaining wood was of no use. Like the wood of the vine they were fit only for burning.
i. Which I have given to the fire for fuel: “Yahweh is the one who throws the wood into the fire, and the wood represents their own compatriots, the residents of Jerusalem.” (Block)
b. I will set My face against them: In the strongest terms, God promised to oppose the people of Jerusalem with His very presence.
c. They will go out from one fire, but another fire shall devour them: Like the partially burned piece of grapevine wood, the people of Jerusalem would emerge from one calamity only to be devoured by another.
i. “The application is then made to Jerusalem: insignificant and not worthy to be compared with the nations and cities round about; then charred in the fires of enemy invasion in the days of Jehoiachin; spared from total destruction in 597 BC, but fit for nothing more than to be thrown back into the fire to be utterly consumed.” (Taylor)
ii. “There can be no failure in Him Who is the True Vine; but if a branch in Him beareth not fruit it is taken away, cast forth, and burned in the fire. Such is the teaching of our Lord.” (Morgan)
d. Then you shall know that I am the LORD: By telling them the severity of the judgment before it happened, this work through the prophet would help reveal God to the people of Israel when the great judgment came upon them.
2. (8) The reason for the coming desolation upon Jerusalem.
Thus I will make the land desolate, because they have persisted in unfaithfulness,’ says the Lord GOD.”
a. Thus I will make the land desolate: God promised to depopulate the land of Israel, make the land virtually empty of His covenant people.
i. “The disintegration of the spiritual relationship between Yahweh and Israel will result in the desolation of the land. As if further guarantees were necessary, the concluding signatory formula seals the Jerusalemites’ fate.” (Block)
b. Because they have persisted in unfaithfulness: It wasn’t only the sin of Israel that brought God’s judgment, but their persistent sin. They wouldn’t stop their idolatry and wickedness.
i. “The reason for this fiery judgment was once more made clear: Judah had been unfaithful to the Lord and his covenant. They had failed to be a blessing to the world.” (Alexander)
ii. Persisted in unfaithfulness: “Not one single trespass, but they have been so perpetually trespassing that it seemed a continued act, and all done with greatest aggravation.” (Poole)