Our fascination with grapes continues, as these “berry” special angels in the kitchen “speak” to us! What’s the latest gossip? Wine grapes (cultivated especially for winemaking) have thicker skins and are sweeter than table grapes. According to the grapevine, table grapes, like some people we know, aren’t nearly as sweet and have rather thin skins! …Okay, we should behave now.
Grapes were first cultivated in the Middle East about 8,000 years ago. The climate and soil conditions, particularly in regions of Israel, are ideal for growing grapes. In fact, the Holy Land has been called “The Land of the Grapes”!
When the Hebrews left Egypt and eventually returned to Canaan — the land of milk and honey the Lord first promised to the Patriarch Abraham, and which is now Modern Israel — God’s people encountered enormous clusters of grapes. (Numbers 13:23) They reported that a single berry was the size of a plum! Imagine how impressive the fruit must have seemed to the Hebrews: in Egypt, grapes were the size of raisins; in Canaan, they could barely lift a cluster of the plump fruit!
Grapes quickly became the chief agricultural product of the region. The fruit is used to create a multitude of products: wine, raisins, and grape seed extract being just a few. Grape juice is also boiled down to the consistency of molasses to create a “honey” called debash (which may be the honey God spoke of in Genesis 43:11). Even the leaves are used in Mediterranean cuisine. Here in America, stuffed grape leaves can be purchased in cans at most food markets, and we sometimes serve them as appetizers.
As we previously discussed, grapes and grapevines were a large part of life in the Middle East, so God frequently used them as visual aids to teach important spiritual lessons. In the greatest of these lessons, in which He explains “How to lead a victorious life,” God actually compares Himself to a grapevine. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NASB)
When God states “I am the vine,” He is reminding us that He is the Creator and the Provider of every good thing. He’s our Deliverer, our Healer, our Shepherd, our Peace, our Comfort in times of trouble, and the God who provides everything we need. And He tells us we are to be like the branches used in the vineyards, to lift the grapevines from the ground. In other words, we are to “lift Him up”!
If we could take a walk through a vineyard during the time of Christ, we’d see the branches of small trees being used the way gardeners use trellises today: the thick woody grape vines wrap around the branches of the trees, until it’s hard to tell where the tree stops and the vine begins; or what belongs to the vine and what’s part of the tree! This inseparable tangle of wood is a beautiful illustration of how we can become a part of God. As His “branches,” we become His extended arms — and we grow to resemble Him in deeds and character. After all, we are created in His own image!
God then declares that if we “abide” in Him, we’ll lead fruitful lives. The word abide means: to dwell and to rest; to remain, stay, or continue permanently in the same state or condition; to be firm and unmovable. God wants us to dwell with Him, to rest in His strong arms, and above all to stay connected to Him. We do this by fellowshipping with Him through prayer and Bible study. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV). That sounds impractical and perhaps even impossible, but it’s neither. It simply means to stay in constant communication with God, conscious that He’s always there, submitting all one’s thoughts and deeds to Him.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t daily set apart special quality time to spend with God, during which time He receives our undivided attention: in prayer, worship and scripture reading. Our attitude should be like that of King David, who wrote “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee….” (Psalm 63:1 KJV) We must keep God as our first priority — our first love (Revelations 2:4) — always giving Him the first fruits of each day.
Abiding in God also means being humbly and wholly dependent upon Him. Our efforts are generally pretty pathetic anyway. But God declares that if we remain with Him, confidently relying on His strength and abilities, we will bear “much fruit”! How? Remember the illustration of the branch wrapped in grape vines? The vines are bearing grapes the size of plums, but since we can no longer determine where the branch ends and the vine begins, it looks like the branch is heavy with delicious fruit!
The fruit we “bear” through God comes in the form of good character, kind deeds, answered prayers, and the fulfillment of our greatest hopes and dreams; because God is able to “do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine, according to the power that is working among us — to Him be glory”! (Ephesians 3:20 ISV) In other words, we get the grapes, God gets the glory!
It’s a sweet arrangement, because left to our devices, and with all our human frailties, we “can do nothing” of lasting, eternal value. And yet, when we abide in God, we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us].” (Philippians 4:13) So, how do we look wrapped in God’s loving vines? We look absolutely GRAPE!