Growing grapes, I am told, is no easy task, and one that must be undertaken with the greatest care. The farmer does not randomly select a site and haphazardly sow seed in the hopes that it will turn out alright in the end. Grapes will not grow if it is too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. The site must be carefully selected, the vineyard deliberately designed, and viticultural practices closely scrutinised in order to achieve a healthy harvest. Simply put, if the farmer wishes to obtain a healthy harvest, he must do all he can to provide the necessary environment to ensure healthy growth.
One of the most frequent metaphors the Scriptures use when describing the waywardness of God’s people is that of a vine. Psalm 80 is a case in point. This psalm, like many of those surrounding it, was written following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. It is a plea for God to restore his fallen people (vv. 3, 7, 19). But in the midst of that plea, the psalmist recognises that the fault lies with the people, not with God.
As he reflects on the goodness of God toward his people, he draws on vine imagery:
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.
The writer highlights the great care that God took to provide an environment in which his people—his vine—could flourish. Like a careful vigneron, he carefully selected the ideal location for his vineyard. He painstakingly prepared the soil and ensured that it had sufficient sunlight and water to prosper. He could do nothing more than he did to ensure that his people prospered.
The point of highlighting this is simple: to show that failure lay not with God but with his people. If the vine failed to grow, the farmer could not be blamed. He had done everything he needed to do in order to ensure healthy growth. He provided and protected, but the people did not respond in kind.
The writer asks, “Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it” (vv. 12–13). God had been so careful in preparing his vineyard; why had he now removed his protection? The answer is straightforward: to each his people a lesson. The Babylonian exile was designed as a wakeup call to God’s people who had, for far too long, ignored his calls to change their ways. He did not take this step lightly. He did not delight in their suffering. But it was necessary to ensure greater fruitfulness.
There is a crucial lesson for us in this. God does not delight in the hardship that he must sometimes bring on his people. He is a God who does all he can to provide the optimal environment for growth. The failure of his people to grow is never his fault, but sometimes he makes the painful decision to break down the walls of protection so that his people will learn to heed his voice of correction. If we will not learn within the safety of the vineyard, sometimes we will only learn in the wilderness.
As you had into your day today, take heart that God does not gleefully afflict his people. He wants you to grow and has provided all the means for you to do so. But when you ignore those means and fail to heed his constant appeals for repentance, sometimes he breaks down the walls to help you heed his calls for repentance and growth.
Are you willing to heed God’s calls to repent and change, or will it become necessary for him to break down his walls of protection to secure the change he wants?