No plant is mentioned more times in the Bible than the grape and its products, chiefly wine but also raisins and vinegar. The grape vine is grown solely for its fruit; there is no other use for the vine in the Scriptures. Even the wood of the vine is worthless (Ezekiel 15). The Scriptures emphasize several features of the grape plant that should help us understand its use in Bible imagery.
Pruning is essential if the vine is to produce grapes. This is referred to in several Scriptures including Isaiah 5:6 and John 15:2.The Greek word for prune and cleanse is the same.
Vineyards in the Bible are often referred to as being hedged. Protection is important when the vines are flowering. The flowers of the grape are greenish and inconspicuous. But they are very fragrant. It is likely that the "blossoming vine" mentioned in Song of Solomon 2 is the grape. It is at the flowering stage that the grape is especially vulnerable to damage. If the flowers don't develop, there will be no fruit.
Foxes are common in the Middle East where at least three different species occur. One species is so secretive that its presence in Israel was discovered only a few years ago! These sly creatures are usually nocturnal in their behavior. In parts of Galilee it is possible to hear them at night--their haunting howls coming from the forests and vineyards. Foxes are slight animals about the size of a small dog. Their agility is mentioned in Nehemiah 3 where Tobiah with sarcasm suggests that the lightest animal would break down the wall. They can climb up even the smallest vines and are still considered a menace in vineyards by modern farmers.
The character of the grapevine is to spread and climb. For example, Joseph was likened to a fruitful vine (Genesis 49:22). The image is used in a negative sense of Israel (Hosea 10:1). In Bible days, grapes were usually not grown on trellises as they are today. Rather, a large rootstock was allowed to develop and from this the branches would spread across the ground. Many vineyards of this type are still found near Hebron (not far from the Valley of Eschol, Numbers 13:23).
I visited the large vineyards of a friend at Mamre near Hebron. It was in August, just as the grapes were beginning to ripen. The rains had stopped in April so the surrounding hills were dry and brown. The dry hills set the deep green of vines in relief. Some of the vines we examined were more than a century old with large gnarled stems contrasting with the delicate, well tended branches. If left unprotected, they are subject to being ravaged by animals (eg, Psalm 80: 13, Song of Solomon 2:15).
Figs and grapes are often mentioned together (eg, I Kings 4:25). The fruits of both develop about the same time in mid-summer. The grape harvest and the winepress are often associated with judgment as in Genesis 49:11 and Revelation 14:18-20.
Grape, Grapes, Vine, Vines, and Wine References
Click here for additional images of Vitis vinifera and its products. Note that some of these images may not be from the Middle East.