Noah appears as its first cultivator (Genesis 9:20-21); he probably preserved the knowledge of its cultivation from the antediluvian world. Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 40:9-11, see Speaker's Commentary) implies its prevalence in Egypt; this is confirmed by the oldest Egyptian monuments. So also Psalm 78:47. Osiris the Egyptian god is represented as first introducing the vine. Wine in Egypt was the beverage of the rich people; beer was the drink of the poor people. The very early monuments represent the process of fermenting wine. The spies bore a branch with one cluster of grapes between two on a staff from the brook Eshcol. Bunches are found in Israel of ten pounds weight (Reland Palest., 351). Kitto (Phys. Hist. Palest., p. 330) says a bunch from a Syrian vine was sent as a present from the Duke of Portland to the Marquis of Rockingham, weighing 19 pounds, and was carried on a staff by four, two bearing it in rotation.
Sibmah, Heshbon, and Elealeh (Isaiah 16:8-10; Jeremiah 48:31) and Engedi (Song of Solomon 1:14) were famous for their vines. Judah with its hills and tablelands was especially suited for vine cultivation; "binding his foal unto the vine and his ass' colt unto the choice vine he washed his garments in wine and his clothes in the blood of grapes, his eyes shall be red with wine" (Genesis 49:11-12). Both Isaiah (Isaiah 5) and the Lord Jesus make a vineyard with fence and tower, the stones being gathered out, the image of Judah (Matthew 21:33). Israel is the vine brought out of Egypt, and planted by Jehovah in the land of promise (Psalm 80:8; compare Isaiah 27:2-3). The "gathering out of the stones" answers to God's dislodging the original inhabitants before Israel, and the "fencing" to God's protection of Israel from surrounding enemies.
"The choicest vine" (sowreq, still in Morocco called serki, the grapes have scarcely perceptible stones; Judges 16:4 mentions a town called from this choice vine Sorek) is the line of holy patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, etc. The square "tower" was to watch against depredations, and for the owner's use; the "fence" to keep out wild boars, foxes, jackals, etc. (Psalm 80:13; Song of Solomon 2:15). The "fence" may represent the law, the "stones" gathered out Jerome thinks are the idols; the "tower" the temple "in the midst" of Judaea; the "winepress," generally hewn out of the rocky soil, the altar. The vine stem is sometimes more than a foot in diameter, and 30 ft. in height.
"To dwell under the vine and fig tree" symbolizes peace and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25). When apostate, Israel was "an empty vine," "the degenerate plant of a strange vine," "bringing forth fruit unto himself" not unto God (Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 10:1). In Ezekiel 15:2-4 God asks "what is the vine wood more than any tree?" i.e., what is its preeminence? None. Nay the reverse. Other trees yield good timber; but vine wood is soft, brittle, crooked, and seldom large; "will men take a pin of it, to hang any vessel thereon?" not even a "pin" or wooden peg can be made of it. Its sole excellence above all trees is its fruit; when not fruit bearing it is inferior to other trees. So, if God's people lose their distinctive excellency by not bearing fruits of righteousness, they are more unprofitable than the worldly, for they are the vine, the sole end of their being is to bear fruit to His glory.
In all respects, except in bearing fruit unto God, Israel was inferior to other nations, as Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, in antiquity, extent, resources, military power, arts and sciences. Its only use when fruitless is to be "cast into the fire for fuel." Gephen is a general term for the vine, from whence the town Gophna, now Jifna, is named. Nazir is "the undressed vine," one every seventh and 50th year left unpruned. The vine is usually planted on the side of a terraced hill, the old branches trailing along the ground and the fruit bearing shoots being raised on forked sticks. Robinson saw the vine trained near Hebron in rows eight or ten feet apart; when the stock is six or eight feet high, it is fastened in a sloping direction to a stake, and the shoots extend front one plant to another, forming a line of festoons; sometimes two rows slant toward each other and form an arch.
Sometimes the vine is trained over a rough wall three feet high, sometimes over a wooden framework so that the foliage affords a pleasant shade (1 Kings 4:25). The vintage is in September. The people leave the towns and live in lodges and tents among the vineyards (Judges 9:27); sometimes even before the vintage (Song of Solomon 7:11-12). The grape gatherers plied their work with shouts of joy (Jeremiah 25:30). The finest grapes in Israel are now dried as raisins, tsimuq. The juice of the rest, is boiled down to a syrup, called fibs, much used as an accompaniment of foods. The vine was Judaea's emblem on Maccabean coins, and in the golden cluster over the porch of the second temple. It is still to be seen on their oldest tombstones in Europe. The Lord Jesus is the antitypical vine (John 15).
Every branch in Jesus He "pruneth," with afflictions, that it may bring forth more fruit. So each believer becomes "pure" ("pruned," katharoi, answering to kathairei, "He purgeth" or pruneth). The printing is first in March, when the clusters begin to form. The twig formed subsequently has time to shoot by April, when, if giving no promise, it is again lopped off; so again in May, if fruitless; at last it is thrown into the fire. On the road from Akka to Jerusalem, Robinson saw an upper ledge of rock scooped into a shallow trough, in which the grapes were trodden, and by a hole in the bottom the juice passed into a lower vat three feet deep, four square (Bib. Res. 3:137). Other winepresses were of wood; thus the stone ones became permanent landmarks (Judges 7:25). The vine is the emblem, as of Christ, so of the church and each believer.
Vine of Sodom. Deuteronomy 32:32; Isaiah 1:10; Jeremiah 23:14. frontAPPLES OF SODOM.) J.D. Hooper objects to the Calotropis or Asclepias procera, the osher of the Arabs, that the term "vine" would scarcely be given to any but a trailing or other plant of the habit of a vine, and that its beautiful silky cotton within would never suggest the idea of anything but what is exquisitely lovely. He therefore prefers the Cucumis colocynthis. Tacitus writes, "all herbs growing along the Dead Sea are blackened by its exhalations, and so blasted as to vanish into ashes" (Hist. 5:7).
Josephus (B. J. 4:8, section 4) says" the ashes of the five cities still grow in their fruits, which have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them they dissolve into smoke and ashes." The Asclepius gigantea or Calotropis has a trunk six or eight inches in diameter, and from ten to 15 ft. high, the bark cork-like and grey. The yellow apple-like fruit is yellow and soft and tempting to the eye, but when pressed explodes with a puff, leaving in the hand only shreds and fibres. The acrid juice suggests the gall in Deuteronomy 32:32, "their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter."
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