photo by Lucy Rogers
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
Isaiah 5:2 NIV
Dear ICB family,
The Hebrew word for ‘bad fruit’ is be'ushim—‘stinkers’—over-ripe, maggot-ridden, mouldy, rotten fruit. All the hard work had been put in by the singing gardener: he found a fertile space, cleared the land, dug it and prepared the soil, planted choice vines, built a watch tower, planted a hedge, built a wall, dug a wine-press. But then when he came looking for fruit he found just little stinkers. They looked bad, tasted bad and smelled bad.
But this is not the only place we find God looking for fruit. His first command was, ‘be fruitful and multiply!’ But more often we read about unacceptable fruit being offered to God. The whole creation turned sour underneath a fruit tree when humankind decided that living according to the manufacturer’s instructions was not the way to go. Our ancestors chose to eat the forbidden fruit and were sent out of Eden into exile.
The whole creation turned sour underneath a fruit tree when humankind decided that living according to the manufacturer’s instructions was not the way to go.
Cain offered ‘fruit of the ground’ but that was unacceptable to the Lord for reasons that are not entirely clear. What is clear, however, is that Cain was not in a good place and his sour grapes turned to anger and his anger to murder and his murder to exile.
Noah planted a vineyard, brewed wine, got drunk and for more reasons that are not entirely clear, something evil happened in the tent during his drunken stupor. Nevertheless, what is clear is that Noah was very angry and his anger turned to cursing and his cursing turned his son into a slave and cut him off, effectively in exile.
Isaiah sang this song about a vineyard, but the vineyard produced only little stinkers. The disappointed singing gardener pronounces judgment on the ‘finest vine’ with seven woes in which culminate in Isaiah 6:12 with the people of God being sent ‘far away’ into exile.
John the Baptist preached that people should ‘produce the fruit of repentance’ and not rely on their ethnic group or any other superficial badge of identity. “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Which would be like being sent into exile.
Jesus told many stories and parables about planting things and expecting a harvest. Jesus talked about good trees producing good fruit and bad trees yielding bad fruit. Jesus came to a fig tree looking for fruit, but found none and cursed it. Jesus said he was the vine, his Father was the vine-dresser (gardener), and that his followers are the branches. He is looking for fruit, and the only way his followers can produce fruit is by staying connected to the Vine: ‘Abide in me!’. Those branches that bear no fruit are cut off, like being sent into exile.
He is looking for fruit, and the only way his followers can produce fruit is by staying connected to the Vine: ‘Abide in me!’.
Paul in Romans 9-11 picks up the same theme about us gentiles being grafted onto the olive tree (just to vary the tree in the metaphor) of Israel, but to hold faithfully to the Lord and avoid being ‘cut off’ which would be like exile.
Are we seeing a pattern here? Goodness, it appears that the last seven paragraphs all end with the word ‘exile’—now how did that happen? The good news is that there is a way home from ‘exile’ and that there is a way to stay ‘grafted in’ and connected to the Vine, abiding in Christ. For without him we can do nothing. As Pastor Sasha Kim said, “We need to take responsibility for our walk with God, otherwise there are going to be consequences.”
Like the fruitless, prodigal son, wallowing in a stinking pig-sty in self-imposed exile, let us come to our senses and start heading towards home. Before we get there with our prepared speeches and explanations and bargaining positions, we shall find the Father waiting for us, running towards us, then sweeping us up in his arms, lavishing on us kisses and honour and welcome. He will put on us a robe in place of those stinking rags from the pig-sty, a ring for our stinking fingers and sandals for our stinking feet.
Dear stinking brothers and sisters, let us come home from exile.
Let us be joined to Christ!
Let us bear much fruit!
Grace and peace,