Stinking Grapes and Unmet Expectations

determination disappointment expectations habits hebrew bible inspire isaiah 5 metaphor mindset motivation old testament viticulture Feb 15, 2022

Habit Formation and Unmet Expectations

There are moments in life when we get a glimpse of how our daily habits reap some benefit. A degree earned, a skill mastered, a mindset broadened. It is the little things we repeat daily that add up to exponential growth in the long-term. These moments don’t occur frequently, but they do offer some validation. However, what happens when our daily commitments don’t come to fruition? What do we do with expectations unmet?

Wholehearted Yet Deep Disappointment

The Bible is a collection of books written over a thousand year time period which examine expectations at various levels. There are prospects placed on biblical leaders, on the people as a whole, and even on the land itself. But I would like to narrow our focus to the link between wine-making in ancient Israel and unmet expectations. We can give our all to something we value, add all the right ingredients, remain consistent, and still experience deep disappointment.  

Wine Production and the Bible

The depiction of God as vintner, someone who tends to the grape vines, is a metaphor found within the text. Metaphors often mirror the natural world of the writers, so it should not surprise us that wine-making is a metaphorical concept used frequently in the Bible. Viticulture was a fundamental component of the agricultural backbone of ancient Israel. The topography and climate made this area primed for wine production. Archeological excavations have revealed countless wine presses and vineyards, and there are several references from neighboring cultures that this land was known for being a place for wine production. Did you know that there are almost 300 references to the word “wine” in biblical literature? Wine production was an inherent part of the culture.

Isaiah 5 and Worthless Grapes

Isaiah 5 is a love song depicting this metaphor in detail. The speaker is an enchanted storyteller equipped with descriptive and poignant language intended to stir emotion. According to the text, the vintner took every precaution to create an ideal habitat for the grapes, yet the harvest burgeoned into odious and worthless wild grapes. Instead of sweet wine, sour and bitter wine ensues. 

Hard Work With Little Success

This is not how the listener thought the song was going to go. We were expecting an epic love story, and we are instead left with disappointment. The vintner expected the grapes to be sweet and luscious because they had dutifully followed all the necessary steps to ensure the harvest was a success. Unfortunately, the end result is not the choice wine that had been anticipated. Instead, the vintner calls on the audience to reflect on what went wrong. 

What more was there to do for my vineyard

that I have not done in it?

When I expected it to yield grapes,

why did it yield wild (stinking) grapes

The Fine Line Between Security And Devastation

In ancient Israel, there was a fine line between security and abundance and famine and devastation. The forces of chaos were never completely at bay in a world dependent upon not only the agricultural calendar, but the threat of enemy attack as well. What happens when we carefully tend to our goals and we come up with stinking grapes instead of a choice wine? How do we continue to make choices each day when we may never know if we will see the outcome we desire?

Finding Comfort With Uncertainty

If there is one thing the events of the last few years have taught us, is that we are all learning to be more comfortable with uncertainty. Some have hunkered down and stayed home, some have raged, some have coped with crippling anxiety, but we have all felt disappointment and frustration. The song writer, overcome by anger and disappointment, begins to question the end result. What more could I have done? 

Asking Questions Can Lead to Greater Clarity

What questions do we need to ask? What frustrations do we need to express? Expressing our doubts and setbacks is an important step in recognizing where our true passions lie. Unfortunately, this is an uncomfortable experience and most do not want to peer into this mirky place. But, asking questions is important for clarity. 

Asking Questions Can Also Lead To Anger and Frustration

The vine grower asks the questions, but then allows anger to overtake the critical reflection process. This vintner becomes so enraged, that the decision is made to stop tending to the vineyard all together. 

I will make it a waste;

it shall not be pruned or hoed,

and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;

I will also command the clouds

that they rain no rain upon it.

We Can Find Clarity Through Disappointment: Tend To Your Vineyard

Too often, our disappointments along the way hinder us from pursuing our dreams. We allow that nagging deep within to lie fallow because we don’t want to deal with the setbacks. We even go so far as to stop our minds from even daring to dream again; the rain is no longer allowed to come and water our deepest desires. Instead of dismissing our labor and expectations as the wine grower does, perhaps we could choose to protect, prune, water, and celebrate our vineyard, no matter the outcome.

Next week, we will look at the Shulammite woman in the Song of Songs as a model for tending to our own vineyard.

                                         Jennifer Metten Pantoja, author

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