JERUSALEM AS THE WORTHLESS VINE CAN’T ESCAPE THE CONSUMING FIRE OF GOD’S JUDGMENT
Constable: This is the first in a series of three parables designed to impress on the overly optimistic exiles that there was no possibility that Jerusalem would escape destruction (cf. chs. 16—17).
David Thompson: In the next three chapters, God has Ezekiel tell His people three parables designed to communicate the truth to them in a pictorial way:
1) The parable of the unfruitful vine (15:1-8);
2) The parable of the unfaithful wife (16:1-63);
3) The parable of the two eagles (17:1-10).
These parables are not nice little earthly stories designed to warm the heart. These are parables designed to warn and inform a rebellious people that they are useless, immoral and doomed.
This parable communicates a very simple message – but one that the Jewish exiles have been resisting. Despite all of her covenant privileges, Jerusalem is headed for certain and imminent destruction. God’s hand of judgment will not be removed and the pagan forces will return to burn the city and finish the deportation program. This judgment is deserved and inescapable.
Block: This oracle disputes Israel’s false claims to security based on their being the royal vine, the privileged people of God.
Peter Pett: In the past Israel was likened to a vine that should have been fruitful, but sadly revealed itself as a wild vine (see Genesis 49:22; Deuteronomy 32:32; Psalms 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 10:1). This is the end of the process.
Lamar Cooper: Jerusalem was the vine that God had consigned to the “fire” of judgment, a reference to the coming Babylonian destruction. While Jerusalem was only charred in the earlier invasions, the coming judgment was to be decisive. The city and its people would be severely punished for their unfaithfulness and treachery (v. 8).
John Taylor: Implicit in the parable is the prophet’s response to those who imagined that Israel, as the vine of the Lord’s planting, was indestructible. Cut down she might be, they thought, but it was only a temporary setback: before long the stock would shoot again and Israel would flourish as she had done in days gone by. Such naive optimism was the object of Ezekiel’s incessant condemnation. Israel and Jerusalem were finished.
Leslie Allen: As Wevers (117) has stated, though he still wrongly calls the vine’s uselessness the point of the analogy and the burning an incidental element (118), “The real comparison is: as the wood of the vine is good for nothing but fuel, so Jerusalem is fit only for the fire.” It is debatable what links the prophet’s analogy has with the regular covenant metaphor of Israel as the grapevine, which earlier prophets used negatively, in criticism of the nation’s purely economic success (Hos 10:1) or of its poor vintage in terms of social ethics (Isa 5:1–7) or of its religious degeneration (Jer 2:21). Here nothing is said about fruit or lack of it. Instead, the focus is on a stage after the grapes have been harvested, when the branches that have fruited are pruned away. The most one can say is that the present analogy is ironic, in its concentration on a negative element of viticulture that did not otherwise feature in theological metaphors. The precise focus is on Yahweh’s purpose for the residents of Jerusalem, who stand as representatives of the people of God. A parallel is drawn between the grapevine prunings and the role destined for the capital.
I. (:1-5) ALLEGORY OF THE WORTHLESS VINE
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
A. (:2-3) Relative Intrinsic Worthlessness of Vines = Not Good for Much Except Burning
1. (:2) Compared to the Superior Wood from Other Trees
“Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest?”
David Guzik: 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.
2. (:3) Compared to its Lack of Utility
“Can wood be taken from it to make anything,
or can men take a peg from it on which to hang any vessel?”
Feinberg: 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.
B. (:4-5) Reduced Value After Burning = Good for Nothing
1. (:4) Combined Fires Degrade its Value
“If it has been put into the fire for fuel, and the fire has consumed both of its ends, and its middle part has been charred, is it then useful for anything?”
David Thompson: So it is with Israel. The whole nation was charred by sin and not useful for anything. The image of being burned at both ends and in the middle is an image of total judgment throughout the entire Promised Land. God’s judgment would hit at both ends and also in the middle. No one would be unscathed.
Douglas Stuart: Northern Israel was already “burned up” by the Assyrian invasion and exile of 722 b.c. Most of Judah and many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were “burned up” by the Babylonian invasion and exile of 598 b.c., the one in which Ezekiel had been taken. What was left in Jerusalem could be compared with a mostly burned grapevine. If an unburned vine has no use, a mostly burned one certainly has none (v. 5). Jerusalem is not only like a grapevine destined for fire (v. 6) but like a charred portion of a vine that did not get completely consumed in the first fire (598 b.c.) but will be consumed totally when thrown into a second fire (586 b.c.), that is, the second Babylonian invasion and exile. In this manner God will have rejected His people (“set My face against them”) because of their unfaithfulness (v. 7) as manifested in the many evils identified in earlier chapters of the book.
2. (:5) Consuming Fire Eliminates any Possible Utility
“Behold, while it is intact, it is not made into anything.
How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it still be made into anything!”
II. (:6-8) APPLICATION TO FIERY JUDGMENT UPON JERUSALEM
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God,”
A. (:6-7a) Divine Decision to Consume Jerusalem with Fiery Judgment is Final
1. (:6) Jerusalem Destined to be the Fuel for God’s Fiery Judgment
“As 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;”
2. (:7a) No Possibility of Escape
“and I set My face against them.
Though they have come out of the fire, yet the fire will consume them.”
Alexander: Just as the vine was unsuitable for anything but burning, so Israel was only suitable for the burning fire of God’s judgment.
David Guzik: In the strongest terms, God promised to oppose the people of Jerusalem with His very presence.
B. (:7b) Divine Vindication for Unleashing Wrath
“Then you will know that I am the LORD,
when I set My face against them.”
Daniel Block: According to this verse, Yahweh’s hostility toward Jerusalem has reached its limit. He must pour out his fury on the city. As in 14:22–23, the survivors may not treat their escape as a sign of his goodwill. His face is set against them as well, and the fire of his fury will inevitably catch up with them and consume them. The escapees will continue their apostasy, and Yahweh’s wrath will continue to hound them. The concluding recognition formula declares that when this happens, the present exiles will recognize in the destruction of Jerusalem a manifestation of Yahweh, who has set his face against his own people.
C. (:8) Desolation Due to the Nation’s Persistent Unfaithfulness
“’Thus I will make the land desolate, because they have acted unfaithfully,’ declares the Lord God.”
Iain Duguid: Ezekiel 15 is a brief parable, a pictorial story with a sting in the tail; the interpretation of the parable that the prophet adds develops the message of chapter 14 concerning the inevitability of Jerusalem’s destruction. The link with the preceding section is apparent in the concluding verse (15:8), which picks up the idea of a land acting unfaithfully (māʿal maʿal; 14:13), that is, breaching the covenant relationship, and consequently becoming desolate (šemāmâ; 14:16). This acts as a kind of inclusio, rounding off this section (14:12–15:8) with its focus on Jerusalem’s forthcoming annihilation.
Feinberg: It is clear from Matthew 21:33-41 and other passages that God desires fruit. This is spiritual fruit, fruit of the spiritual life. Instead, God finds sour grapes or none at all. Unless men come into vital relationship with the true vine [cf. John 15:1], there can be no fruit. The vital link must be formed by faith.
Poole: Not one single trespass, but they have been so perpetually trespassing that it seemed a continued act, and all done with greatest aggravation.