I didn’t really want to read at the time, but I managed to open my Bible to catch a chapter before I went to bed. I’ve been trying to read through Ezekiel and so I found myself in chapter 15, which, luckily for me at the time, is probably the shortest chapter in Ezekiel (followed by what is probably the longest chapter).
And so I read through it and then did one of those things where you realized you were almost done with the chapter but had no idea what you had just read. So I read it again. And again. Until finally I started paying attention. But when I started paying attention I was even more confused. I didn’t have the slightest idea what Ezekiel was talking about, perhaps because I’m not much of an agricultural person. Or perhaps because I’m stupid.
Now I figured I could just finish the chapter and never think of it again, resorting to confusion as my answer, but then I realized that I could also do some research on it. After all, I do own Logos, which is a great Bible program for me to do research on since there’s about 500 books in it. And not to become commercial all of the sudden, but if you are pursuing any kind of scholarly degree in any kind of Christian major (or you just like to study the Bible a lot) you might want to look into the program. It’s really pretty great!
And so here I am right now, deciding to take a quick look at this passage that both makes sense and is confusing to me. Let’s take a look:
1Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
2“Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest?
3“Can wood be taken from it to make anything, or can men take a peg from it on which to hang any vessel?
4“If it has been put into the fire for fuel, and the fire has consumed both of its ends and its middle part has been charred, is it then useful for anything?
5“Behold, while it is intact, it is not made into anything. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it still be made into anything!
6“Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘As the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
7and I set My face against them. Though they have come out of the fire, yet the fire will consume them. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I set My face against them.
8‘Thus I will make the land desolate, because they have acted unfaithfully,'” declares the Lord GOD.
Alright, if that made complete and total sense to you, then you can count me an idiot. It’s fine—I typically am.
One of the most confusing parts of this chapter for me is this whole vine-wood to branch comparison. I mean, sure, I know what a branch is and a pretty good idea of what vine-wood is, but I haven’t really been around vine-wood enough to distinguish the pros and cons. Typically I just burn it in a fire to keep me warm—end of story. But one commentary is quite helpful in distinguishing these differences:
Other trees yield useful timber, but vine-wood is soft, brittle, crooked, and seldom large; not so much as a “pin” (the large wooden peg used inside houses in the East to hang household articles on, Is 22:23–25) can be made of it. Its sole excellency is that it should bear fruit; when it does not bear fruit, it is not only not better, but inferior to other trees.
Alright, that helps us set a basis for verse 2. Vine-wood is no good because of its bad form, whereas branches of trees actually have some usefulness. Vine-wood is apparently not even good for making a simple peg. And in reference to pegs, the commentary above brought up Isaiah 22:23-25. Let’s take a look see, shall we?
23“I will drive him like a peg in a firm place,
And he will become a throne of glory to his father’s house.
24“So they will hang on him all the glory of his father’s house, offspring and issue, all the least of vessels, from bowls to all the jars.
25“In that day,” declares the LORD of hosts, “the peg driven in a firm place will give way; it will even break off and fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut off, for the LORD has spoken.”
It seems that that paints a pretty vivid picture of what kind of peg we’re talking about here. You know what else paints a vivid picture?
Believe it or not, that was actually real!
Uh… Anyways… to further this whole peg thing, I have found an entry in one of my favorite research books. It’s known as The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. On a quick tangent, I love this book because it gives you a great insight to the culture of the time. And if you don’t understand the culture of the time, you’ll miss a lot of great and powerful points made throughout the Bible.
The reference here is not to tent pegs that are driven into the ground to hold the tent cords, but to wooden pegs that are driven into the wall to hold clothing and various other items.
Verse 4 and 5 further this useless vine-wood theory. The basic gist is in verse 5. If this kind of wood is already useless, think of how much more useless it will be when it gets charred and burned.
Alright so this is great and all, but what’s the significance? Well we find the analogy in verses 6-8. God is likening the inhabitants of Jerusalem (His people) to the vine-wood. That is their place in this analogy. They are soft, brittle, crooked, and seldom large. They splinter in every which way. They are useless. They can’t even be used to make a peg to hold a jacket, so how on earth are they going to be a great and holy nation?
For this reason, just as one would throw this useless wood onto a fire, so God will throw Israel into their own fire, making them even more useless. Soon, they’ll be burnt, charred, soft, brittle, crooked, small, totally useless pieces of what was already hardly wood.
This whole chapter is summed up well in The Bible Knowledge Commentary:
Israel thought of herself as the vine of God’s blessing, but she had not produced the spiritual fruit God intended (cf. Ps. 80:8-18; Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; Hosea 10:1). In fact Israel had become a wild vine of the forest that had tendrils expanding in all directions but with no fruit of any value. Its only use was as fuel for the fire. In the same way God would treat His people in Jerusalem.
And so there we go. After looking at all of this I realize that I may have very well been an idiot to not get it the first few times through. But now I do have a better idea of what uselessness can look like and I hope you’ve been able to take something away from this as well. We need to learn to be fruitful. We need to live with purpose and reason and offer our usefulness over to God so that He can continue to use us in the ways He wants.
And perhaps you feel like vine-wood right now.
Soft. Brittle. Crooked. Small.
Well the good news is that God has reviving power and He can grow you into something much stronger if you let Him. He will give you reason, purpose, and usefulness. Even more so, He wants and loves to give you reason, purpose, and usefulness!
Ask Him for it. Pray for it. Pursue it.
Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset, David Brown and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997). Eze 15:2.
James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible, Rev. ed.]. (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998). 356.
John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary., The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985). 1:1255.