Summary: God asks a series of rhetorical questions designed to get the people facing the sad fact that despite being called by God they were no better than the nations around them. In fact, because they refused to bear proper fruit they were worthless to God.
VERSES 1-5: Israel as a Vine
Ezekiel was not the first prophet to refer to Israel as a vine. We see this in the song of the vineyard that is found in Isaiah 5. Also, as we study this chapter, it would be good to remember Jesus offered a reference of Himself as the true vine and the need for us to remain in Him in order to bear fruit.
The Jewish people were arrogant. They believed that God choose them because they were better than the pagan nations that surrounded them. Yet in this passage, as God describes the worthless wood from the vine, we are reminded that the purpose of the vine is to bear fruit.
God asks some rhetorical (self-answering) questions. I’m going to paraphrase them here and separate them out from our text individually.
Is the wood from the vine better than the trees of the forest?
The answer to this question is obviously an unqualified “no.” The Nation of Israel (as evidenced in the people of Judah) were not better than the nations around them, regardless of what they thought.
Does wood taken from the vine make anything useful?
No, it isn’t the wood that makes a vine worth planting, it is the grapes.
Do people even make pegs from that wood to hang things on?
No, it doesn’t have the strength to hang things on. In other words, you cannot count on its strength to hold anything heavy at all. In the same way, the nation of Israel could not be counted on to be strong, especially against the overwhelming force that King Nebuchadnezzar was sending against them.
Is it worth anything after it is burned?
Once again, the answer is no—it is even MORE worthless after it is burned.
Now that we’ve looked at the questions and their obvious answers, let’s look just a touch deeper into the allegory that God is using to make His point to and through Ezekiel.
The people of Judah were not better than the pagan nations around them. In fact, there were nations around them that were stronger and seemed to be worth more in some ways. They weren’t strong and they weren’t dependable. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do—bear fruit! Therefore, God was judging them by pruning them and placing them into the fire.
It is interesting to note that there were two annual pruning events that took place for grapevines. One took place in the late winter and the other took place in the Summer. Nebuchadnezzar would be used to “prune” and “burn” this nation, not once, but twice. It is interesting to see how the allegory holds up.
VERSES 6-8 God Applies the Allegory to His people
God speaks very clearly to his people. Because they have continued in unfaithful living God is going to allow them to be pruned and burned. The people living in Jerusalem have no hope. God is responding to their failure to fulfill their created purpose and to bear fruit.
APPLICATION FOR MODERN BELIEVERS
I believe that the major application of this allegory for modern believers is found in John 15. Those that abide in Christ bear fruit. It is the natural result of a walk with Christ. If you are a fruitless believer then you are not really abiding in Christ. Even your salvation is in question.
In John 15, the husbandman will take away those branches that APPEAR to abide in Christ, but which really, don’t. They will be taken away and burned.
This separation of believers and those who LOOK LIKE believers is further described in several parables in Matthew 13. In the parable of the sower we have those who look like they are receiving the word, but really aren’t. In the following parable of the wheat and the tares we find that the Christian community (the church)often has some unbelievers (tares=weeds) sown within and that there WILL come a day of separation and judgment. How important it is then, that we have a firm grasp on our salvation and evidence it by abiding in Christ and thus bearing fruit. God’s purpose for the believer is to bear fruit.
Are you bearing fruit by abiding in Christ?