A plant with long, slender twining stems that creep along the ground or climb by means of tendrils, the most common variety being the grapevine (Vitis vinifera). The Hebrew word geʹphen generally refers to the “wine vine” (Num. 6:4; Judg. 13:14), an exception being the “wild vine” that produced wild gourds.—2 Ki. 4:39.
The history of viticulture begins with the statement: “Noah . . . proceeded to plant a vineyard.” (Gen. 9:20) Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out “bread and wine” to set before Abraham, proving that grapes were grown in the land of Canaan before 1933 B.C.E. (Gen. 14:18) Egyptian inscriptions depict grape picking and treading of winepresses in the second millennium B.C.E.; the Pharaohs of the time had official cupbearers. (Gen. 40:9-13, 20-23) The Egyptian wine-making industry, however, suffered a severe blow when Jehovah “went killing their vine” with a plague of hail.—Ps. 78:47; 105:33.
The spies who entered the Promised Land, “a land of . . . vines and figs and pomegranates,” brought back from the torrent valley of Eshcol a cluster of grapes so large that it had to be carried on a bar between two men. (Deut. 8:8; Num. 13:20, 23, 26) Grape clusters from this region are commonly said to weigh ten to twelve pounds (4.5 to 5.4 kilograms). One cluster was recorded as weighing twenty-six pounds (11.8 kilograms); another, more than forty-five pounds (20.4 kilograms).
Besides the torrent valley of Eshcol, other grape-growing regions mentioned in the Bible are En-gedi by the Dead Sea (Song of Sol. 1:14), Shechem (Judg. 9:26, 27), Shiloh (Judg. 21:20, 21), and, across the Jordan, Sibmah, Heshbon and Elealeh.—Isa. 16:7-10; Jer. 48:32.
PLANTING AND CARE
Vineyards were often planted on hillsides. It was customary to fence or wall in vineyards (Num. 22:24; Prov. 24:30, 31), and also to build booths or watchtowers (Isa. 1:8; 5:2) so as to protect the vineyards against thieves or animal intruders such as foxes and wild boars. (Ps. 80:8, 13; Song of Sol. 2:15) The Mosaic law allowed a passerby to eat his fill, but not to carry any off in a receptacle, for this would be thievery.—Deut. 23:24.
For convenience a winepress and vat were dug nearby, since usually the bulk of the crop was crushed to make wine. (Isa. 5:2; Mark 12:1; see WINE AND STRONG DRINK.) Of course, fresh grapes were eaten in considerable quantity and some sun-dried raisins were produced.—1 Sam. 25:18; 30:12; 2 Sam. 16:1; 1 Chron. 12:40.
Ancient vineyards were laid out in several different ways. Sometimes the vines were systematically planted in rows about eight feet (2.4 meters) or more apart in well-prepared soil. No other seeds were to be planted in a vineyard, according to the Mosaic law, though trees, such as the fig, might be planted there. (Deut. 22:9; Luke 13:6, 7) Sometimes the vines were allowed to grow along the ground down a hillside, with only the clusters being raised by forked sticks, but more often the vines were trained over wooden arbors or piles of stones. The expression ‘sitting everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree’ became proverbial of peace and security.—1 Ki. 4:25; 2 Ki. 18:31; Isa. 36:16; Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10.
Pruning is necessary for production of good grapes. Jesus said that “every branch . . . not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans [by pruning], that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2) The pruning of productive branches and the cutting off of fruitless ones allow the plant to use its full strength in producing fruit of higher quality. Pruning in Bible lands began in the spring, about March, and was repeated again in April and May if necessary.—2 Chron. 26:10; Isa. 18:5; Luke 13:7.
A fruitful vine with proper care and good pruning may reach phenomenal age and size. For example, it is reported that one such vine in Jericho was over 300 years old, and had a trunk diameter of nearly eighteen inches (c. 46 centimeters). Sometimes these old vines reached a height of more than thirty feet (9 meters) and were veritable ‘vine trees.’ But in spite of such stature among the trees of the forest, such vine wood is not serviceable either as “a pole with which to do some work” or “a peg on which to hang any kind of utensil,” for it is too soft and not straight enough for lumber. Indeed, vine wood served as a fitting illustration of the unfaithful inhabitants of Jerusalem, good only as fuel for the fire, the eventual destiny, Jesus said, of unfruitful vines.—Ezek. 15:2-7; John 15:6.
The vintage season was one of song and gladness participated in by the grape gatherers and the treaders of the winepresses. (Judg. 9:27; Isa. 16:10; Jer. 25:30; see PRESS.) It was also a joyful time for the poor and alien residents of the land, who were permitted to glean the vineyards after the general harvest. (Lev. 19:10; Deut. 24:21) The converse was also true—when the vines had withered, or when they produced no grapes, or the vineyards became desolate wastes of thorns, these were calamitous times of great sorrow.—Isa. 24:7; 32:10, 12, 13; Jer. 8:13.
Sabbatical laws required owners to leave their vineyards uncultivated, unpruned and unharvested every seventh year and during the Jubilee. (Lev. 25:3-5, 11) But during those years any persons (owners, slaves, aliens, the poor), as well as the animals, were welcome to eat freely of what grew by itself.—Ex. 23:10, 11; Lev. 25:1-12.
ILLUSTRATIVE AND FIGURATIVE USE
The familiarity of the grapevine—the general knowledge people had of its cultivation, productivity, the vintage and the gleaning activities connected therewith—made it an object of frequent reference by Bible writers. Vineyards producing an abundance of fruitage reflected Jehovah’s blessing (Lev. 26:5; Hag. 2:19; Zech. 8:12; Mal. 3:11; Ps. 128:3); unproductive vines would be a manifestation of his disfavor. (Deut. 28:39) Israel was like grapes in the wilderness, but became like a degenerate vine (Hos. 9:10; 10:1), like a foreign vine producing wild grapes. (Isa. 5:4; Jer. 2:21) A common proverbial saying in the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel referred to the fact that unripe grapes set the teeth on edge, due to their sourness.—Jer. 31:29, 30; Ezek. 18:2.
Attempts have been made to link the “vine of Sodom” with various plants found native to the Dead Sea area, but the setting of this expression in its only occurrence (Deut. 32:32) clearly indicates a figurative use. Sodom is repeatedly used in the Bible to represent moral corruption and wickedness.—Isa. 1:10; 3:9; Jer. 23:14.
Jesus spoke on a number of occasions about vineyards and their grapes. (Matt. 20:1-16) Just three days before his death he gave the illustration of the wicked cultivators.—Mark 12:1-9; Luke 20:9-16; see ILLUSTRATIONS.
When instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal, Jesus used wine, the “product of the vine,” as a symbol of his “blood of the covenant.” On that final night of his earthly life he also spoke of himself as “the true vine” and his Father as “the cultivator.” His disciples he likened to “the branches” who would be either pruned so as to bear more fruit, or lopped off completely.—Matt. 26:27-29; Mark 14:24, 25; Luke 22:18; John 15:1-10.
When Jacob blessed Judah, there was prophetic meaning in his words: “Tying his full-grown ass to a vine [geʹphen] and the descendant of his own she-ass to a choice vine [so·re·qahʹ], he will certainly wash his clothing in wine and his garment in the blood of grapes. Dark red are his eyes from wine.” (Gen. 49:8-12) The Hebrew word so·re·qahʹ denotes a red vine yielding the richest or choicest fruit. (Isa. 5:2; Jer. 2:21) A few days before the sign reading “The King of the Jews” was posted above him on the torture stake (Mark 15:26), Jesus Christ, who was of the tribe of Judah, rode into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of an ass, thereby being presented to Jerusalem as her king. (Matt. 21:1-9; Zech. 9:9) While Jesus did not tie the colt of the she-ass to a literal vine, he did bind his kingly claims to a symbolic vine, a spiritual one, namely, God’s kingdom.—Compare Matthew 21:41-43; John 15:1-5.
In addition to this greater significance, Jacob’s prophecy had a literal application in the inheritance given to the tribe of Judah in the Promised Land. This included the mountainous region, the elevated ‘fruitful hillsides’ that were terraced in vineyards with their productive valleys cutting across the region.—Isa. 5:1.
In the book of Revelation, after the mention of “the harvest of the earth,” an angel is heard giving the command: “Gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, because its grapes have become ripe.” Thereupon “the vine of the earth” was gathered and hurled “into the great wine press of the anger of God.” This vine is different from the “true vine,” which produces fruit to God’s glory. The “vine of the earth” evidently produces hurtful fruitage, for it is destroyed at God’s command.—Rev. 14:18, 19.