Previously we saw how salvation is related to personal relationship with God and is not as a result of heredity or nationality or any other thing. You must find god for yourself and build that relationship with Him.
In this study we begin by reading another prophecy that the Lord gave Ezekiel about Jerusalem.
The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, how is the wood of the vine different from that of a branch from any of the trees in the forest? Is wood ever taken from it to make anything useful? Do they make pegs from it to hang things on? And after it is thrown on the fire as fuel and the fire burns both ends and chars the middle, is it then useful for anything? If it was not useful for anything when it was whole, how much less can it be made into something useful when the fire has burned it and it is charred?
‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: as I have given the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest as fuel for the fire, so will I treat the people living in Jerusalem. I will set my face against them, you will know that I am the Lord. I will make the land desolate because they have been unfaithful, declares the Sovereign Lord.’
This is quite an interesting chapter of scripture. Yes, once again it is about the unfaithfulness of the Israelites of Jerusalem. And we know that this was about the idolatry and the evil practices associated with honouring these false gods. But it is also about the nature of the people themselves.
It is interesting for me for a different reason. I have read how others try to relate it to the use of the vine as a prophetic image and teaching aid in other parts of the scriptures – and it doesn’t really work. Why? Because in the other parts of scripture the branches are joined to the vine, the sap is running through, and there is a fruitfulness. The picture given to us by Ezekiel is about wood that is taken from the vine – something very different.
Trees and vines need pruning to maintain their vigour and fruitfulness. With trees, if the wood is thick enough, it can nearly always be turned into something useful. Even the thin twigs can be woven together and made into mats, fencing, baskets, and so on. But that which is chopped from a vine is often both too thin and too brittle. It can be burned like any wood, but leaves nothing useful after it.
So there is a kind of double-damnation here. When a branch of a tree has lost it’s fruitfulness, you cut it off. But with the wood you take from the tree, you can now make something useful. Some kinds of wood, if treated with heat, can become useful in different ways. I forget the type of wood, but I know that one kind, after being in the fire, is now useful for flexibility and strength and was used since ancient times for making bows. Not only bows for war and hunting, but bows were also used to spin a potters wheel, or a small milling stone, or spinning wood to light a fire, and of course also for musical instruments.
I wonder if this is the reference when Ezekiel was speaking about the charring of wood and then checking the usefulness? Some kinds of wood lose their inflexibility and become flexible. But the Israelites would not bend, were totally inflexible, and continued stubbornly in their sins.
There is another picture used in scripture that is more in keeping with the suggested meaning here. It is that of gold, which is purified by fire. As you heat it, the dross is brought to the surface and can be skimmed off. The gold is made purer and more valuable. It is also made softer – the purer the gold (the higher the carat number) the softer the gold. But the suggestion in our scripture is that going in the fire only reveals more and more dross. Far from being purified, the heat treatment only goes to show how useless this wood really is!
There is another kind of heat treatment that completely transforms wood. That is the making of charcoal. You do not need the thick and strong branches for this. Twigs will do, and even sometimes quite thin twigs can be transformed in this way. Once you have charcoal, you have the fuel to make a kind of fire that burns much hotter than a wood fire, and from the heat of which you can work hard metals. Or you can use the transformed thin twigs as a material for art and writing. The powder was used in scraping as a method of sanding to make surfaces smooth. The powder was even used for cleaning and whitening teeth.
But have you ever seen charcoal from cuttings from the grape vine? No – this wood will not transform to anything more useful.
From the Lord’s point of view, the Israelites of Jerusalem had lost their fruitfulness, and so he was pruning and burning the branches – something that any who know about viticulture have seen many times. There is nothing to be saved and kept for any purpose other than to be burnt in the fire.
And this matches something that Jesus said in John 15, that if there is no fruitfulness then the branch is only fit to be cut off and cast into the fire.
The pity is that people read verses like this and use them as a basis for judging others. They wrongly associate these verses with another verse from the Sermon on the Mount, “by their fruits you shall know them.” But this is a completely different subject in the context that it is placed. It is about something very specific: false prophets. And most are not called to the ministry of prophecy – and those wrongly judged in the body usually have not even thought about this ministry for themselves. Yet idiots within the body of Christ bring judgement upon themselves by their disobedience to Christ in judging others – and then taking out-of-context scriptures to try to justify themselves.
Listen, brothers and sisters. If you are willing to take verses of the bible out of their context, it is possible to prove that black is white and that white is red and that we should bow down to Satan. I am not joking! I have seen a bible teacher use this very last point and prove it from scripture! And yet, when you look at the same scriptures within their context, there is a much clearer meaning that does not say anything so ridiculous and evil. Context is always key to interpretation. But sometimes it is also good to know history and something about ancient cultures and life.
Here the picture is quite clear when you take the whole context. Once the fruitfulness of the Lord’s people had ceased, then it was time for the pruning. And with the wood of the vine there is no reason to save it for anything, only to place it as fuel for the fire.
And this gives us a choice. We can be fruitful in our relationship with the Lord, or we can be pruned and burned.
And here is the thing about being fruitful, if you are wood in the branch. The wood only needs to do two things to be good wood. First it needs enough strength either to support higher branches or to hold on to something. Most of the branches of a vine hold on to something – the growing trellis or another tree. This is in itself a very good parable and shows how we need to cling to Jesus.
The second purpose of the wood is to allow the sap to pass through. If the wood keeps the sap for itself, or prevents it going further, fruitfulness will cease further along the branch. Worse than that, because from the point of the blockage onwards there will be death. So while the wood is keeping everything for itself and feeling wealthy and happy, there are others that are dying for lack of the food and drink that is needed. And this happiness of the wealthy is short-lived – because the vine-keeper will trim the vine and remove all the dead branches. He will cut below the blockage so that after the cut the vine bleeds. If the vine does not bleed, the cut has not been deep enough.
So what does all this tell us?
First, cling to Jesus. Find that support in His love, and then you will be able to grow and become a support for the plant above you. You will become strong.
Second, allow the sap to flow through you. Do not store up for yourself or be a block to others. In this way there will be fruitfulness. In this way there will be an increase of life, and neither you nor those above you in the vine will die, and so become fuel for the fire.
Take from this what the Holy Spirit breathes into your heart, and let it lead you closer to the Lord.