Reading through the Bible together
Chapters 15-17 are three parables. A parable is a truth wrapped in a memorable story or word picture. Jesus gave much of His teaching through parables. So did several of the Old Testament prophets, including Ezekiel.
This is a parable of a vine tree. What does the vine tree have to make it pre-eminent above other forest trees? Nothing! Other trees yield useful timber, but the vine tree is soft, brittle, crooked, and seldom large. Sometimes it is used to make a "pin" (the large wooden peg used inside houses in the East to hang household articles on). However, the sole purpose of any tree is to bear fruit. When it does not bear fruit, it is inferior to other trees. So if God's people lose their distinctive purpose by not bearing fruits of righteousness, they are more unprofitable than worldly people. From this standpoint, except in their being planted by God, the Jews were considered inferior to other nations.
The Hebrew word here for vine indicates a branch that is only useful when it is bearing fruit. The wood is not useful enough for any other purpose except to fuel a fire. Therefore, when Israel is not bearing fruit, the fire of God's judgment is imminent. Ezekiel 15:8 says, "And I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass, saith the Lord GOD." If a vine be fruitful, it is valuable, but if not fruitful, it is worthless and useless; it is cast into the fire. This is symbolized by the way in which Judah had become useless to the Lord and now served no other purpose than to be burned up in judgment.
Ezekiel now turns the biblical metaphor of the vine upside down. This usually is a positive image in the Bible (cf. John 15). When used negatively, only its bad fruit is condemned. But now this prophet criticizes the vine’s very nature: the worthlessness of its wood, as compared to the wood of trees. The people of Jerusalem are worthless, he says, by their very nature! Ezekiel enlists the metaphor of the vine three times, all in the space of five chapters (15:1–8; 17:5–10; 19:10–14).
Thus man is capable of yielding precious fruit, in living for God and others; this is the purpose of his existence; and if he fails in this, he is of no use but to be destroyed. It speaks of those who live in the total neglect of God and of true religion! This similitude is applied to Jerusalem. Let us beware of an unfruitful profession. Let us come to Christ, and seek to abide in Him, and to have His words abide in us.
Mohanraj Israel, D.Min. Dean
School of Religion
Spicer Adventist University, Pune India