VINE, VINEYARD (גֶּ֫פֶן, H1728; LXX ἄμπελος, G306, vine; כֶּ֫רֶמ֒, H4142, LXX ἀμπελον, vineyard).
1. Viticulture in the Near East. The vine has been cultivated in Pal. from the earliest times. The climate of Pal. is peculiarly adapted to viticulture with the country’s bright sunshine and the heavy dew of the late summer nights. The best location of a vineyard for the direct sunshine is on the gentle slopes of the hillside where most of the vines have grown throughout the centuries in the Holy Land (Jer 31:5; Amos 9:13). Of course, not all the vineyards are on hillsides. Important vineyards are on the plains, such as the Plain of Esdraelon and around Jericho.
The watchtower in the vineyard was an ancient institution. It is mentioned frequently in the OT as when Isaiah compares the daughter of Zion” as “a booth in a vineyard” (Isa 1:8). To complete the vineyard the husbandman “hewed out a wine vat in it” (Isa 5:2). This was usually cut out of the solid rock and lined with mortar. Such wine presses have been found everywhere in Pal. There were usually two, sometimes three vats, square, rectangular, or circular in shape and cut on different levels, connected with channels, the upper being the one in which the grapes were trodden out. The lower vats received the juice.
Most of the vines in Pal. trial on the ground, because it is believed that the grapes ripen more slowly under the shadow of the leaves. Too much exposure to the sun in the early period of the growth of the clusters would cause the grapes to ripen before they were fully grown. Sometimes the vines were permitted to climb along the branches of a tree (Ezek 19:11) and in some areas the vines are grown over a trellis providing a cool place where a man could sit under his vine (1 Kings 4:25).
The grapes begin to ripen in July and will continue to bear fruit into October although the harvest usually takes place in September. The fresh grapes are eaten in great quantities during the season between July and September although the early fruit is quite sour so that the “teeth are set on edge” (Jer 31:29, 30; Ezek 18:2). Besides the fresh grapes, the vineyard produces raisins and wine. In an open spot in the vineyard a smooth area is prepared where bunches of grapes are spread out to dry. They are frequently sprinkled with olive oil to keep them moist, and turned over. When the grapes have been dehydrated to the proper point they are stored usually in earthenware jars, becoming an important part of the food supply. Another product of the vine was a grape honey known as dibs by the Arabs and debash, “honey” by the Jews. It was a boiled down molasses-like treacle or jelly and very sweet. It is still used in the Near E but was more important before sugar cane came into use. References to honey in the Bible frequently refer to this product rather than to the honey of the bee.
The OT contains suggestions as to the regulations of viticulture. In accordance with the tithe the first tenth of every crop of grapes belonged to God. The Levitical instructions were that the farmer should leave the corners of his field unreaped for the poor. “And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner” (Lev 19:10). The gleanings were to be left for the needy. Another regulation said, “When you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your vessel” (Deut 23:24). One may take enough to satisfy immediate needs, but no more. The regulations required that the vineyards were to lie fallow in the year of the sabbath (Exod 23:10, 11; Lev 25:3-5). Other kinds of seeds were not to be planted in the vineyard (Deut 22:9). This was in accordance with the general principle of guarding against unnatural combinations which violate the purity of the species (Lev 19:19). Occasionally this regulation was ignored as in the case of the man whose vineyard contained a fig tree (Luke 13:6).
2. Vines and vineyards as symbols. Vines and vineyards were sometimes symbols of prosperity and blessing among the ancient Hebrews. The Messianic blessing of peace and security is frequently symbolized as a time when “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid” (Mic 4:4 cf. 1 Kings 4:25; Zech 3:10). Abundant and fruitful vineyards were an expression of God’s favor as in Hosea 2:15 after Israel’s spiritual restoration. In Genesis 49:22, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall.” The vine is frequently used as a symbol of Israel. Israel is compared to “a choice vine” which God brought from Egypt and planted in the land of promise where “it took deep root and filled the land” with blessing. But she became a “wild vine” (Ps 80:13; Isa 5:1-7; Jer 2:21).
The vine was also sometimes a symbol of adversity and God’s judgment (Deut 28:30; Amos 5:11; Zeph 1:13). The identification of the so-called “vine of Sodom” (Deut 32:32) has been debated. It has been identified with the Colocynth, a herbaceous vine called also “bitter gourd” and “bitter apple,” from which is prepared a powerful cathartic, but this is uncertain. In Deuteronomy 32:15-38, Israel is compared to a vine whose fruit is bitter and poisonous. The thrust of the statement is that Israel’s sins are the inevitable result of their corrupt nature, a stock comparable to the corruption that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Grapes were an important part of the diet of the Hebrews. A part of the harvest was preserved in the form of raisin cakes (1Sam.25.18). Grapes were also their main source of sugar. The juice of the grapes was drunk fresh and fermented.
Figuratively, the vine symbolized prosperity and peace among the ancient Hebrews (1Kgs.4.25; Mic.4.4; Zech.3.10). The vine also symbolized the chosen people, who instead of producing outstanding fruit yielded only wild grapes.
Some of Jesus’ parables relate to vines and their culture (Matt.9.17; Matt.20.1-Matt.20.6; Matt.21.28-Matt.21.33; Luke.13.6-Luke.13.9). Jesus referred to himself as the only true vine with whom his disciples are in organic union (John.15.1-John.15.27).