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From very early times grapes were widely grown throughout the Middle East (Genesis 9:20; Genesis 14:18). Grape growing was well established in Canaan long before the Israelites arrived (Numbers 13:20; Numbers 13:24; Deuteronomy 6:11). The Israelites in turn carried on grape growing as one of their main agricultural activities (Judges 9:27; Judges 14:5; Judges 21:20; Song of Song of Solomon 1:14; Song of Solomon 7:12; Amos 4:9; Amos 5:11; Amos 5:17).


A vineyard was usually a rectangular area planted with rows of grape vines and surrounded by a hedge to keep out animals and thieves. Often it contained a tower where a person could keep watch over the workers (Song of Song of Solomon 2:15; Isaiah 5:1-2; Matthew 20:1; Matthew 21:33). Workers usually pruned the vines in the spring, using specially made pruning hooks (Joel 3:10; John 15:2). They harvested the grapes in summer and, in keeping with Israelite harvesting practices, whatever they did not gather at the first picking they left for the poor (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 24:21; Obadiah 1:5).

People ate grapes fresh and sometimes dried them to make raisins (Numbers 6:3; 1 Samuel 25:18), but most of the grapes they crushed to make wine. They did this by trampling the grapes in a wine press, which was a pit hollowed out of solid rock (Isaiah 5:2; Isaiah 16:10; Isaiah 63:2; Matthew 21:33; Revelation 14:19-20).

Vines and vineyards provided prophets and teachers with useful illustrations. Old Testament writers likened Israel to God’s vineyard. God took Israel from Egypt and planted it in a good land, doing everything possible for it so that it might bear fruit for him. But Israel failed to produce the fruit that God desired. God therefore ceased to look after it, with the result that enemies plundered and destroyed it (Psalms 80:8-13; Isaiah 5:1-7).

Jesus on occasions used illustrations from the vineyard, mainly to contrast the Jews’ rejection of him with the Gentiles’ acceptance (Matthew 20:1-15; Matthew 21:28-41). He also used the illustration of the grape vine, to show that if people truly are disciples, they will demonstrate it by the fruits that their union with him produces (John 15:1-11).


Processes of making wine were well known in the ancient world (Genesis 9:20-21; Isaiah 25:6; Jeremiah 48:11). People kept the fermented wine in earthenware pots or goatskin bags, though when goatskin bags became old and brittle they could not stand the pressure of new wine (Jeremiah 13:12; Jeremiah 35:5; Mark 2:22).

Wine was a common drink of the Israelites, in both Old and New Testament times, and was one article of daily food that they offered to God in sacrifice (Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Deuteronomy 11:14; Deuteronomy 18:4; Judges 19:19; Jeremiah 40:10; Matthew 11:19). They considered a good supply of wine, along with other articles of daily food, to be one of God’s blessings (Genesis 14:18; Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 7:12-13; Proverbs 9:1-6; Isaiah 55:1).

People associated wine with merriment and joy (Psalms 104:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7; Zechariah 10:7; John 2:1-10), though too much wine could lead to dullness of mind, unfitting behaviour and drunkenness (Proverbs 31:4-5; Isaiah 28:7; Hosea 4:11; Habakkuk 2:15; 1 Peter 4:3; Revelation 17:2). Israelite law therefore disallowed wine completely for certain people, such as priests and others who set themselves apart to God for special service (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; Jeremiah 35:8; Luke 1:15). The possibility of drunkenness brought strong warnings concerning the dangers of wine (Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:20; Proverbs 23:29-35; Romans 13:13; Romans 14:21; Ephesians 5:18). Drunkenness disqualified a person from a position of leadership among God’s people (Isaiah 28:1-3; Isaiah 56:9-12; 1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 2:3).

Wine had some medicinal value and was used to help heal wounds and illnesses (Proverbs 31:6; Luke 10:34; 1 Timothy 5:23). When mixed with spices it could help deaden pain. But when such a mixture was offered to Jesus on the cross, he refused it (Mark 15:23). The wine (vinegar) that he drank shortly after was the common wine of the people, not drugged wine. Jesus’ purpose in asking for it was not to deaden his pain, but to moisten his mouth so that he could announce his final triumphant words loud enough for all to hear (Mark 15:36-37; John 19:28-30). (For the significance of wine in the Lord’s Supper see LORD’S SUPPER.)

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Grapes'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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