A Snapshot On Viticulture
I devoured Beth Moore's book, Chasing Vines, when studying Isaiah 5's "Song of the Vineyard." Now in Isaiah 27, we're in the closing chapter of the "Little Apocalypse" (see the post on the start of it here: https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/it-s-just-a-little-apocalypse)
where we also get a little bit on vineyards as well.
The theme of vineyards runs throughout the Bible, and Isaiah 5 and John 15 are two of the most famous vineyard passages. Isaiah 27 is a little less well-known, probably because it's a bit....stranger. In Isaiah 5 we have a beautiful song depicting God's love for His people (see the blog post on this: https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/the-beloved) and while the second half of the chapter does focus on woes and judgments for some very American-like sins, it at least completes the song before embarking on the more negative second half. Isaiah 27...uh...not so much.
First off, the chapter starts about God defeating Leviathan, so it begins with a literal bang. Verse 2 starts the vineyard section:
In that day—
“Sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it. I am not angry. If only there were briers and thorns confronting me! I would march against them in battle; I would set them all on fire. Or else let them come to me for refuge; let them make peace with me, yes, let them make peace with me.” In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit.
Just as in Isaiah 5, we see God as the Keeper of the vineyard. However, descriptions of the vineyard maintenance seem a bit over-the-top here. First off, why is God watering the vineyard constantly? This is a bit controversial in the wine world, apparently. Viticulture, the study of grape cultivation, has working hypotheses like many scientific fields. One has to do with the merits of dry farming versus irrigation, and tensions apparently run high on the merits of each: https://daily.sevenfifty.com/3-myths-about-irrigation-and-dry-farming/ The European Union used to ban irrigation for vineyards and has only recently relaxed this mandate.
The issue is terroir, the full natural environment for the grape growth, which greatly impacts the wine's flavor. Irrigation makes sense in arid climates, as would occur in Israel, but constant watering seems a bit excessive (for example, presently, Israel is known for drip irrigation being the model system for growing grapevines in an arid climate:
https://www.euronews.com/living/2021/01/18/the-future-of-wine-israel-s-desert-vineyards-show-us-how-to-cope-with-a-changing-climate). Grapevines thrive best in well-drained soil rather than boggy or wet soil (https://www.wilsonbrosgardens.com/how-to-fertilize-and-water-grape-vines.html). In Chasing Vines, Beth Moore devotes an entire chapter to rocks; apparently grapevines also love rocky soil (helps with drainage), and Moore draws excellent applications from this important detail in terms of the importance of challenges (i.e. rocks) in one's life contributing to growth.
In addition to constant watering, God is also guarding the vineyard day and night. This also seems a bit excessive for a wealthy landowner to do this personally. God's care far exceeds what would be expected; consistent with His character, it is far more lavish than what is typical.
What else might be going on here? Let's consider what we're picking up from viticulture....and parenting. Yes, parenting. God is the vineyard keeper but throughout Scripture He's also described as a parent. I've been a parent for 16 years now, and I'm wondering whether there's some parental hyperbole in this section. Why? Well, what comes next is God musing over what will need to happen for Israel to fully "bud and blossom." It's the "little apocalypse," after all. So, the vineyard passage is sandwiched in-between cataclysmic events and that middle is describing someone going above and beyond what is even needed for the circumstances. Yep, sounds like a mom. If we switch metaphors from vineyard to parenting, what might it look like?
Oh--and before we do that, the "sing about a fruitful vineyard" verse has to do with "testifying" based on the Hebrew word ("annu") used for "sing."
"Let me tell you how much I have done for you kids.
I gave you everything---all the food, desserts, candy, you could ever want. All the gaming systems, all the play dates, all the extra-curricular events you could ever want or imagine that you wanted.
I also worked myself to the bone making sure you were safe at all times. No stranger danger here! I hovered over you in playgrounds, in stores, in every possible setting. No one was going to harm you or get at you.
No, I'm not mad--I'm just saying it like it is.
If only there was some actual big problem in your life preventing your growth, I would help you. I would get rid of it, root it out, get you the help you need.
But no. It's just you refusing all the good that I gave you. And we're not even on good terms. You refuse to talk to me. I wish we could reconcile, but you need to talk to me to do it. I am determined, though, that someday you will thrive and become the person you were meant to be and you'll make a great impact on the world."
Just putting it that way reminds of the way we Generation X and Millenial parents are living our lives these days. We've gone way over-the-top in our life-revolves-around-our-kids parenting. I sincerely hope we don't reap what can happen in these situations--kids growing up disaffected and disconnected and largely unable to "bud and blossom" in the wider world.
God ultimately placed His people on the more difficult path--finding that they were not thriving spiritually or emotionally, He allowed difficult seasons to enter in so that someday Israel would return to Him and worship Him alone. Beth Moore's rocks come to mind again! At the same time, He also nurtures, protects, and cares for His people. He models both aspects of an ideal parent--allowing a certain level of difficulty to promote growth but providing warmth and care.
Charles Spurgeon, in multiple sermons, was very taken with the "I water it continually" verse as well, and he applied it to the Church and Christians. While the constant watering may be an exaggeration for what a typical vineyard needs, it's exactly what we need. We need constant keeping. If we think we don't, we're deluding ourselves.
Here's Spurgeon on these points, and he even brings compares the passage's description of Israel "fill[ing] all the world with fruit" with Christians living a fruitful life and making an impact on others:
"He who said, “I will water it every moment,” must not be dishonored by your guilty suspicions, for He will do even as He has said. It is true your heart is, by nature, barren and dry, but what has that to do with the promise of free grace so as to render it of no effect? Is not your parched and desolate condition rather to be viewed as a reason why the Lord should open the windows of heaven above you and pour out His blessing? One thing is never to be forgotten—we are the Lord’s... He chose us. He bought us. He delights in us. He put His very glory in pawn concerning us and we may therefore be sure beyond all doubt that he will water us to the end. Does He water us every moment? Then let His praise continually be in our mouths. Does He thus care for us? Let us, then, watch for the advance of His cause, the extension of His kingdom, the good of His people. He who is thus watered should water others. If the Lord puts within us a well of living water through His divine watering, then let us give forth to others rivers of living water. Yet let not this be our first thought, but rather let us go away crying, 'Lord, make my soul as a watered garden. Saturate my fleece. Fill my vessel to the brim and keep it full forever. Fulfill this word unto Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope and water me every moment, even me.' "