Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Israel: A Tree and a Vine and How They Help us Understand the Bible

In order to understand a number of passages in the scriptures it is necessary to understand certain symbolisms also found in God’s word.  Among those is that Israel is represented as a vine, and as a fig tree.  The last symbol is really a key to the prophetic series I just wrote since the whole point was that the fig tree, Israel, was budding, a symbol of both her restoration as a nation and the big clue that we are in the last days of this human society, or world (Matt. 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-31, Luke. 21:29-33).

There are a number of places in the Old Testament where Israel is likened to a vine, or vines in a vineyard.  The first place we are going to look at is found in Isaiah:

“Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” (Isa 5:1-7)

This is actually a prophecy of Israel’s exile from its land as well as the negation of his covenant with them (vs. 5; Eph. 2:14-15).  So this points towards the exile of the Jews which began in 70ad.  Yet we see that Israel here is present as a vineyard which produces no fruit.  Jeremiah takes the symbol a step further, “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jer 2:21), thus we see Israel identified as a vine.

This knowledge is important because it helps us to understand more fully Paul’s words to the Romans regarding Israel and the Church:

“For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree…” (Rom 11:15-17)

Thus we see as regard’s the promise to Abraham Israel couldn’t fill the number of the Church, so Gentiles were “grafted into” the vine of Israel to replace her cutting off.  That doesn’t mean that Israel was replaced in God’s plan by the church completely, Paul informs us that God will return favor to Israel:

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.”  (Rom 11:25-28)

Now we look at some of the scriptures which refer to Israel as a Fig Tree.  We find our first on in Hosea:

“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.” (Hos 9:10)

Note the “grapes” reference here, evoking the symbol of the vine we already saw in the form of the fruit of the vine.  In this verse we see Israel also likened to the first fruits of the Fig, and, by extrapolation a fig tree.  However, to nail the symbolism down properly we must go to the prophet Joel:

“He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.” (Joe. I: 7)

So both the vine and the fig tree are used here as symbols of an Israel lid waste, again a reference to the exile which began in 70ad.  Knowing this helps us to recognize the significance of Jesus’ words to his disciples when he was asked about the last days to watch for the beginning of the restoration of the Jews to their homeland to know that they are in the last days, as we mentioned in the first article in our series on Israel in Prophecy (Matt. 24:32-35; Mk. 13:28-30; 21:29-33).

Thus we see how symbols relate and help us to come to a deeper understanding of important truths.

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