The Song of the Vineyard (Isa. 5.1–7) describes the different steps that were required to plant a vineyard and successfully harvest its grapes. First the soil had to be cleared of stones before planting the vine stocks in it. The stones could be used to build a wall to keep out animals such as boars (Ps. 80.13) and foxes (Song of Sol. 2.15). A watchtower might also be constructed to ensure the safety of the crop, especially at harvest time (Isa. 5.2). The vinedresser would prune away the new small shoots so that the main fruit‐bearing stems would obtain greater nourishment (Lev. 25.3; Isa. 18.5; John 15.2). A wine press would be constructed (usually hewn of rock), for the main purpose of raising grapes in ancient times was for the making of wine.
The symbolic use of the vine occurs throughout the Bible. In Psalm 80.8 Israel is identified as a vine: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.” While this imagery is used positively to indicate how Israel will bear fruit as a vine (Hos. 14.7; cf. Ps. 128.3), more commonly Israel is described as an unproductive vine (Jer. 8.13; cf. 6.9), a vine that is plucked up and left to wither away (Ezek. 19.12), a choice vine that has become wild (Jer. 2.21). Closely related to this imagery is the portrayal of Israel as a vineyard, as in Isaiah 5.1–7. Here Israel, whom Yahweh planted looking for choice grapes, has yielded wild grapes (Jer. 12.10–11). Many have understood John's image of Jesus as “the true vine” (John 15.1) as a deliberate contrast to the portrayal of Israel as a vine/vineyard that has not proved fruitful.
In the Gospels, Jesus is quoted as using the vineyard in two parables: the parable of the laborers in the vineyard who were hired at different hours of the day (Matt. 20.1–16), and the parable of the wicked vinedressers (Matt. 21.33–41 par.); the description in the latter of the work done in the vineyard is derived from Isaiah 5.1–7.
Edgar W. Conrad