Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Wall painting. Tomb of Nakht, Thebes, Egypt.
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.
— Psalms 80:8-11
Throughout the Old Testament Israel is compared to a vine,1 and the vine metaphor is continued in the New Testament to describe God's people more generally.2 The vine was an important part of the Israelite economy, thus a plant all could relate to for its economic value. It is also a plant that needs great care to flourish. Left alone it will run rampage but in terms of fruiting be quite unproductive. As George Horne writes,
"The vine is a plant weak and lowly, and needing support; when supported, wild and luxuriant, unless restrained by the pruning-knife; capable of producing the most valuable fruit, but if barren, the most unprofitable among trees, and fit only for the flames."3
Of particular interest here is the idea that the vine did not grow in these lands from seed, but was transplanted from Egypt. A transplanted tree needs special care that it may adapt to its new environment, and if not nurtured will likely grow sick and die. The soil we plant into must be compatible with the needs of the plant, and if not it will take even more work to support it. This brings to mind the transplanting of ideas and methods in the corporate world today. Thoughtful companies, those that care about their workers and their customers sometimes come up with innovative methods of production, or systems of work that reduce waste and engage people more fully in what they do. Other companies learn about these new methods and want to copy them. Consultants make a lot of money selling (e.g.) "the Toyota way" or "the Spotify model" to companies that are not Toyota or Spotify. They attempt to transplant an idea. But often the soil of these other organisations is toxic, and there is no one there to act as the gardener. The ideas are expected to just work, by magic or something. Such companies seek the rewards without doing the work. They will always fail. God provides, yes, but man must do the footwork.
Israel felt they had a God-given right to be in the land of Canaan, but without nurturing their soil—i.e. the Mosaic law—they were unable to grow as a healthy nation, their fruit cut down before becoming ripe, and disease spreading through its roots and branches. In this psalm David is lamenting the turning away of the gardener, recognising that without the love of God the vine will surely die.
1 e.g. Isaiah 5:1, Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 17:5-6 and Hosea 10:1
2 e.g. the parable of the absent landowner in Matthew 21 and Mark 12
3 A Commentary on the Book of Psalms p.235, by George Horne, 1833