With only eight verses, Ezekiel 15 is one of the shorter chapters in the book. The Lord makes one powerful point through one simple illustration. The chapter opens with the Lord asking Ezekiel a question about a wild vine that grows in the forests. The Lord asks Ezekiel how the wood of this wild vine surpasses the wood from the trees among which (and on which) it grows (1-2).
Before Ezekiel can answer, the Lord asks a pair of follow-up questions that essentially answer the first: “Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessels on it? (3). The obvious implied answer to both questions is “No.” So the answer to the first question is that the wood from the wild vine does not surpass the wood from forest trees (which can be used to supply wood for building).
But the Lord isn’t finished with the point he is making about how useless the wood of a wild vine proves to be. He has Ezekiel consider that the vine is burnt by fire and then asks again how useful the vine would be. The Lord also provides a definitive answer to the series of questions when He says, “Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing.” How much less once it is burned on both ends and charred in the middle (5).
The Lord then explains the point of the word picture: the vine represents the inhabitants of Jerusalem whom the Lord will give “to the fire for fuel.” (6). The Lord will “set my face” (a phrase used twice in verse 7) against the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Fire will consume the city and even the survivors (7).
The outcome of God’s judgment is once again described in familiar terms: “you will know that I am the LORD” (7). They will learn (experientially) the truth they have ignored or denied: The LORD is the sovereign ruler who protects and judges.
The reason for this fiery judgment is that they “acted faithlessly” (8). The phrase “acted faithlessly” speaks of being disloyal and disobedient. It also implies they have acted “without faith” (or trust). They have trusted in something/someone else for their security and salvation. They have been un-faithful; the opposite of what is required by those in a covenant relationship with the living God.
Visions of God
The Lord knows the humbling truth about His people. By calling His people a wild vine in the forest that has no productive value compared to other trees, the Lord is essentially saying that Israel is nothing special in and of themselves. Vines are good for fruit (John 15) or fuel. They aren’t sturdy or strong; unlike some wood, vines not used to make objects or hang things on. Here is an echo of the true proclaimed in Deuteronomy 7:7. The Lord did not choose Israel because they were impressive. Here is an O.T. preview of John 15:1-6. Unless the vine “abides” in the branch, it bears no fruit and is only good for fuel. The application for us: God’s people have no innate glory or goodness. He set His affection on His people for His own purposes. Thus, there is no room for hubris or presumption.
The Lord set His face against (“turn against”—CSB) His faithless people. The frightening truth of this short parable is that God’s people can be the object of His fiery judgment. If they persist in being “unfaithful”, He will go from being their defender to their attacker.
The Lord views sin as treachery. The Hebrew word translated “faithlessly” (8) carries the idea of “treachery.” Sin is double crossing God by being unfaithful to the covenant promises and demands. As such, sin is no small matter but high treason. It involves a wanton disregard for the covenant relationship into which we’ve been graciously brought.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen can use word pictures and metaphors to communicate spiritual truth. Ezekiel’s communication style is more colourful and creative than almost any other prophet. The Lord’s messages to him often come in vivid word pictures or involves mini-dramatizations. Here is a reminder that (at least some of) God’s watchmen can effectively use imagery and metaphors to convey serious, spiritual truth. Jesus picks up on the vine/burning theme in teaching His disciples (John 15).
Watchmen aren’t always long-winded. While chapter 16 is lengthy, chapter 15 is brief. God’s message comes in longer and shorter installments. At times, the point can be made in a succinct, punchy way. Length is not always an indicator of gravitas. Preachers need not have the reputation for being long-winded (at least not all the time).