Of this valuable and familiar plant there are several varieties, the natural products of warm climates, where also it has been cultivated from the earliest times. Hence the early and frequent mention of its products in Scripture, Genesis 9:20 14:18 19:22 Job 1:18. The grape-vine grew plentifully in Palestine, Deuteronomy 8:8, and was particularly excellent in some of the districts. The Scriptures celebrate the vines of Sibmah and Eshcol; and profane authors mention the excellent wines of Gaza, Sarepta, Lebanon, Sharon, Ascalon, and Tyre. See SOREK.
The grapes of Egypt, Genesis 40:11, being small, we may easily conceive of the surprise which was occasioned to the Israelites by witnessing the bunch of grapes brought by the spies to the camp, from the valley of Eshcol, Numbers 13:23. The account of Moses, however, is confirmed by the testimony of several travelers; and even in England a bunch of Syrian grapes has been produced which weighed nineteen pounds, was twenty-three inches in length, and nineteen and a half in its greatest diameter. At the present day, although the Mohammedan religion does not favor the cultivation of the vine, there is no want of vineyards in Palestine. Besides the large quantities of grapes and raisins which are daily sent to the markets of Jerusalem and other neighboring places, Hebron alone in the first half of the eighteenth century, annually sent three hundred camel loads, or nearly three hundred thousand pounds weight of grape juice, or honey of raisins, to Egypt.
In the East, grapes enter very largely into the provisions at an entertainment, and in various forms contribute largely to the sustenance of the people. See GRAPES. To show the abundance of vines which should fall to the lot of Judah in the partition of the promised land, Jacob, in his prophetic benediction, says of this tribe, he shall be found
Binding his colt to the vine,
And to the choice vine the foal of his ass;
Washing his garments in wine,
His clothes in the blood of the grape.
In many places the vines spread over the ground and rocks unsupported. Often, however, they are trained upon trellis-work, over walls, trees, arbors, the porches and walls of houses, and at times within the house on the side of the central court. Thus growing, the vine became a beautiful emblem of domestic love, peace, and plenty, Psalms 128:3 Micah 4:4.
The law enjoined that he who planted a vine should not eat of the produce of it before the fifth year, Leviticus 19:23-25. Nor did they gather their grapes on the sabbatical year; the fruit was then left for the poor, the orphan, and the stranger, Exodus 23:11 Leviticus 25:4,5,11. See also Leviticus 19:10 Deuteronomy 24:21. At any time a traveler was permitted to gather and eat grapes in a vineyard, as he passed along, but was not permitted to carry any away, Deuteronomy 23:24. Another generous provision of the Mosaic code exempted from liability to serve in war a man who, after four years of labor and of patience, was about to gather the first returns from his vineyard, Deuteronomy 20:6.
Josephus describes a magnificent and costly vine of pure gold, with precious stones for grapes, which adorned the lofty eastern gate of the Holy Place. It was perhaps in view of this that our Savior said, "I am the true Vine;" and illustrated the precious truth of his oneness with his people, John 15:1-8.
In the expression, "The vine of Sodom," Deuteronomy 32:32, there does not seem to be an allusion to any then existing degenerate species of vine. The writer means rather to say that their vine, that is figuratively their corrupt character, instead of yielding good grapes, bears only poisonous fruit, like that for which the shores of the Dead Sea have always been famed- such as "the apples of Sodom," for example, said to be beautiful without, but nothing but shreds or ashes within.
For the "wild grapes" in Isaiah 5:2,4, see under GRAPES.
The Jews planted their VINEYARDS most commonly on the side of a hill or mountain, Jeremiah 31:5, (See MOUNTAIN,) the stones being gathered out, and the space hedged round with thorns, or walled, Isaiah 5:1-6 Psalms 80:1-19 Matthew 21:33. Vineyards were sometimes rented for a share of their produce, Matthew 28:20; and from other passages we may perhaps infer that a good vineyard consisted of a thousand vines, and produced a rent of a thousand silverlings, or shekels of silver, Isaiah 7:23, and that it required two hundred more to pay the dressers, Song of Solomon 8:11-12. In these vineyards the keepers and vinedressers labored, digging, planting, propping, and pruning or purging the vines, John 15:2, gathering the grapes, and making wine. They formed a distinct class among cultivators of the ground, and their task was sometimes laborious and regarded as menial, 2 Kings 25:12 2 Chronicles 26:10 Song of Solomon 1:6 Isaiah 61:5. Scripture alludes to the fragrance of the "vines with the tender grapes," Song of Solomon 2:13, and draws from the vineyard many illustrations and parables, Judges 9:12 Matthew 20:1 21:28.
The vineyard of Naboth, 1 Kings 21:1-29, has become a perpetual emblem of whatever is violently taken from the poor by the rich or the powerful. The deserted hut or tower, in which a watchman kept guard during, the season of ripe grapes, Psalms 80:12-13 Song of Solomon 2:15, becomes, when all are gathered, an apt image of desolation, Isaiah 1:8. A beautiful allegory in Psalms 80:1-19 represents the church as a vineyard, planted, defended, cultivated, and watered by God.
The VINTAGE followed the wheat harvest and the threshing, Leviticus 26:5 Amos 9:13. The "first ripe grapes" were gathered in June, or later on elevated ground, Numbers 13:20; and grapes continued to be gathered for four months afterwards. The general vintage, however, was in September, when the clusters of grapes were gathered with a sickle, and put into baskets, Jeremiah 6:9, carried and thrown into the wine-vat or wine-press, where they were probably first trodden by men, and then pressed, Revelation 14:18-20. It was a laborious task, lightened with songs, jests, and shouts of mirth, Jeremiah 25:30 48:33. It is mentioned as a mark of the great work and power of the Messiah, that he had trodden the figurative wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with him, Isaiah 63:1-3 Revelation 19:15. The vintage was a season of great mirth, Isaiah 16:9,10, and often of excesses and idolatry, Judges 9:27; while the mourning and languishing of the vine was a symbol of general distress, Isaiah 24:7 Habakkuk 3:17 Malachi 3:11. Of the juice of the squeezed grapes were formed wine and vinegar. See PRESS.
Grapes were also dried into raisins. A part of Abigail’s present to David was one hundred clusters of raisins, 1 Samuel 25:18; and when Zibah met David, his present contained the same quantity, 2 Samuel 16:1 1 Samuel 30:12 1 Chronicles 12:40. Respecting other uses of the fruits of the vine, see GRAPES, HONEY, VINEGAR, and WINE.