1 And the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, how does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest? 3 Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessel on it? 4 Behold, it is given to the fire for fuel. When the fire has consumed both ends of it, and the middle of it is charred, is it useful for anything? 5 Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it ever be used for anything! 6 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 have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 7 And I will set my face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them. 8 And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 15:1-8 ESV
Where was the fruit? God had planted Israel as His choicest vine and had placed them in a position of prominence among all the nations of the world. He had blessed them and designated them His own prized possession. The Almighty had great plans for them that included their prosperity and fruitfulness so that they and the nations around them might know that Yahweh is Lord. But Israel proved to be fruitless and unfaithful.
“But I was the one who planted you, choosing a vine of the purest stock — the very best. How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine.” –Jeremiah 2:21 NLT
“The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The people of Judah are his pleasant garden. He expected a crop of justice, but instead he found oppression. He expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence.” – Isaiah 5:7 NLT
Israel had a singular purpose: To produce the fruit of righteousness. The nation of Israel was to be the conduit through which God would work, displaying His glory through adherence to His holy and righteous law. As they lived in keeping with His commands, they would enjoy the benefit of His blessings through His abiding presence, power, and provision. Their unique relationship with Yahweh would serve as visual evidence of His existence and demonstrate to the rest of the world that He alone is God. There is no other.
But Israel’s track record was far from stellar. Its history as a nation was filled with countless episodes that featured blatant disregard for God’s law and repeated examples of spiritual adultery. The nation’s kings had led the people into idolatry. The priests had abused their God-appointed positions, promoting their own prosperity over the spiritual needs of the people. And despite God’s calls to repentance and His warnings of pending judgment, His chosen people had continued to do as they pleased.
And even as Ezekiel declared God’s intentions to destroy the city of Jerusalem and its glorious temple, the exiles in Babylon refused to believe any of it would happen. They lived in a state of denial, clinging to the belief that God would never allow the Babylonians to destroy the house that bore His name. He would never permit the destruction of His chosen people.
But God wanted them to know that their assumptions were wrong. Since they had failed to fulfill their purpose as a nation, they had forfeited their usefulness to God. They had been given a chance to display His glory but had failed to do so. Now, God was going to display His glory through them in a completely different way.
In this brief chapter, God exposes the uselessness of His chosen people. Using the analogy of a grapevine, God declares them to be good for nothing.
“Son of man, how does a grapevine compare to a tree? Is a vine’s wood as useful as the wood of a tree? Can its wood be used for making things, like pegs to hang up pots and pans? No, it can only be used for fuel, and even as fuel, it burns too quickly. Vines are useless both before and after being put into the fire!” – Ezekiel 15:2-5 NLT
God makes it clear to Ezekiel that the wood of a vine is worthless for anything but the production of grapes. A fruitless vine is of no value. As wood, it is too weak and crooked to be of any use. Even as fuel, it burns too quickly to be of any benefit. And God’s point is painfully clear. If His people were not going to do what He had chosen them to do, they were of no use to Him. Because Israel had failed to bear fruit, it had forfeited its right to exist as a nation. There was no need for Israel to be a great nation if it was not going to remain dedicated to God alone and committed to its job of bearing the fruit of righteousness.
But the people of Israel desired greatness. Even the exiled living in Babylon longed for the day when Israel found itself restored to power. Any hopes they had of returning home were dependent upon God protecting and promoting the success of Jerusalem. But spiritual fruitfulness was not high on their list of priorities. Repentance was not on their radar screen. They saw no need for change on their part. Instead, they believed that God was somehow obligated to prosper them regardless of how they treated Him.
But in God’s eyes, Israel had become expendable. They were no longer doing what they had been created to do. From the day God had called Abram out of Ur, He had communicated a clear plan for His chosen people.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT
Ultimately, the blessing God promised would be fulfilled through Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior of Israel. But even before the coming of Christ, Israel was expected to be a beacon of light in the midst of the darkness of sin that permeated the world. They were to reveal the existence of the one true God as they lived in faithful obedience and dependence upon Him. He was to be their God and they were to be His people.
God was their vine keeper. He had planted them, nourished them, cared for and protected them. But when all was said and done, something was missing: Fruit.
“What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not already done? When I expected sweet grapes, why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?” – Isaiah 5:4 NLT
For centuries, God had been looking for fruit – the byproduct of a relationship with Him. But He had repeatedly found His vine to be fruitless and, therefore, worthless. That led God to inform Ezekiel that vines make lousy trees.
“The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest. Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned.” – Ezekiel 15:6 NLT
Having rejected their God-ordained role to bear the fruit of righteousness, the people of Israel were destined for the fire of destruction. Those living in Jerusalem would soon suffer the deprivations of yet another Babylonian siege, then experience the devastation of their homes and livelihoods as the enemy destroys their city. Their fruitfulness will leave them destined to the flames of God’s righteous wrath.
Yet, God will not completely annihilate His chosen people. He will keep a remnant alive. The faithful will be spared and one day return to the land of Judah to rebuild the city and restore the temple. And He will once again call them to live faithful and fruitful lives.
And God expects the same thing from His chosen people today. He longs for us to produce fruit so that we might demonstrate to a fallen world the power of His presence. As His children, His power resides in us in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And the apostle Paul reminds us that the Spirit exists to make us fruitful.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
Paul reminded the Ephesian believers that this fruit was to be visible and tangible. It was to produce a lifestyle that stood in stark contrast to the rest of the world.
For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:8-9 NLT
Producing fruit is the purpose for which we exist. We have been chosen by God for that purpose and that purpose alone. Christians who fail to bear fruit in their lives are like grapevines that no longer produce grapes. They are no longer fulfilling their God-ordained purpose. But while believers don’t need to fear God’s judgment or worry about suffering the flames of His fury, they should loathe the idea of missing their calling.
May we come to realize that we are here for one reason alone – to allow God to produce His fruit through our lives so that we might be a blessing to those among whom we live. Jesus expressed both the key to and importance of our fruitfulness.
“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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:4-8 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
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