Take Care of the Vineyard of our Soul
Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 24, Oct 2019
Scripture Reading: Psalms 80:8-13
‘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. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.’
‘You brought us from Egypt as though we were a tender vine and drove away the heathen from your land and planted us. You cleared the ground and tilled the soil, and we took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with our shadow; we were like the mighty cedar trees; covering the entire land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River. But now you have broken down our walls, leaving us without protection. The boar from the forest roots around us, and the wild animals feed on us.’
This portion of scripture uses the vineyard as a metaphor for the covenant people. We should note a few things YHWH did for the covenant people.
a. YHWH brought them out of Egypt as He Promised Abraham in Genesis.
b. YHWH defeated the Canaanite tribes through Joshua’s conquest. If he had to stop the sun from going down, if he had to send hailstones, if he had to cause the walls of our enemies to come crumbling down just by a trumpet blow and a shout, he will do it. And he did all these to defeat the Canaanite tribes for his people.
c. YHWH planted them in the good soil of the Promised Land. A cluster of grapes were so gigantic that it took two men to carry one with a stick.
But within with all these divine blessings they were unfaithful. So, the curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27:30 came into effect. The two ways states that there will be blessings if they are faithful but there will be a string of curses if you do not obey God’s commands. What happens to them?
a. His protection was removed. The wall of the vineyard collapsed.
b. He allowed invaders to take Canaan. As the Israelites drove out the sinful Canaanites, so now the sinful covenant people are removed from Canaan.
What can we learn from this portion of Scripture?
1. The Vine
Psalms 80:1 is so clear. It says, ‘‘Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.’
The vine in verse 8 refers to all of the covenant people. In the New Testament the vine applies broadly to the people of God in general. Each and every one of us is that vine. We are the vine as a church but also individually. YHWH uprooted a vine (us) from Egypt. There is a difference between the two words: heathen and pagan. The heathen doesn’t believe in a God. The pagan worships other gods besides YHWH. Isn’t that true of the people of this world. They live as if there is no God in this world. And we were like that once. So, He cast out the heathen from within us and planted us. YHWH removed the sin out of us. He drove out all the demons that tormented us before. Egypt represents bondage, slavery, the tormenting life which YHWH undid for us. I was reading about this guy who was a promotor of the New Age Movement. He was so popular that his writings for the New Age Movement made him a prominent figure in the New Age World and also tons of money. He was able to purchase a house on his own and also drives a sport car. He was receiving a lot of money every month for his writings on the New Age Movement. But the more he dwells into the New Age beliefs the more miserable he became. See, he grew up in a Christian home. Finally, one day, he just was in his own room and broke down and cries because the New Age Writing was tormenting him. Suddenly a light shone in his heart. He felt the shekinah presence of God in his body. Tears flowed freely from his eyes. He felt God that very moment. He finally realizes there is a God and the New Age Movement is a false doctrine. Immediately he gave up his New Age writing and talks about his new born again experience. But the thing I want to share about him is there is such a beautiful glow of God in his face after God touched him. This is what God did to many of us. He removes the demons out of us and planted his spirit within us.
The sea and river refer to the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the head waters of the Euphrates River to the northeast. It implies the vastness of God’s blessings. The wall in verse 12 has significance. Vineyards usually had protective walls. YHWH puts a protective shield over our lives. It is said by some bible commentators that the hedge was so thick and thorny that kept out thieves and wild animals easily.
The Living Bible describe the vine as tender. The vine (us) is a plant weak and lowly, and needing support. Isn’t that such an accurate description of us before we came to the LORD? The vine is by nature wild and luxuriant and when restrained by the pruning knife of YHWH it is capable of producing the most valuable fruit. But the vine if it is barren is the most unprofitable among trees, and fit only for the flame. YHWH caused it to take deep root and it filled the land. The vine of Israel was blessed in the Promised Land. During the Davidic Kingdom, it was the most luxuriant and most powerful kingdom in the world. Israel filled the land that the Canaanite tribes were not able to. It grew so strong and secure in the land that it did what was botanically impossible in a literal sense; the vine grew big as the mighty cedars and cast its shadow upon the hills. The figure is carried out with much beauty in detail. It is a noble picture of the prosperity of the Israelis people in their best days. She sent out her boughs to the sea, and her branches to the River. This signifies evangelism and missions. At its height under King David and King Solomon, Israel domination stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River. This broad dominion of Israel was promised by YHWH and it was fulfilled in Solomon’s day, who inherited David’s dominion.
What are the characteristics of this vine?
Firstly, the Vine represents a settled life. The Dictionary defines a settled life to be a calm, quiet life that brings rest to the nerves and to the stomach. We have nervous breakdown because our life is not calm. But a settled Christian life is one of calmness. You can have problems, yet a peace is within your soul. It is to be in a position of stability and security. One of the things I longed to do, if possible is to visit a vineyard in Europe. The vineyard has always projected into my mind; one of beauty, calmness and peace. That is our supposedly life.
Secondly, the vineyard of the soul is supposedly to be in blossoms.
Proverbs 24:31 says ‘for our vineyards are in blossoms.’
It describes our lives as in a condition or time of flowering; a period of maximum development. It is like a child that has blossomed into a beauty. Have you seen a child that is unassuming, not photogenic, unattractive, not impressive and one day you meet her again in her youth and you are stunned at the complete transformation? She has blossomed into a beauty. That is what the child of God should be; blossoms into extreme progress. God told me specifically that this church will get stronger and stronger and our enemy will get weaker and weaker if we just walk in obedience. Individually our soul is supposedly to be in blossoms. The Christian life and the Church are a choice and noble vine, spreading and fruitful and the fruit most excellent.
Thirdly it is a protected vineyard. Actually, the description of the hedges of the vineyard is such that it is so thick that it is impossible for the animal to penetrate. It is surrounded by a wall and a ditch and thorns are placed on top of the wall to prevent intrusion of foreign objects. She is in the safety of her boundary and the outside world is a dangerous place for herself. Yes, we are planted in the wilderness of this world but we are protected and preserved as long as we are in the boundary of God. How do you keep ourselves within the boundary of God? By our lifestyle in obedience to the word of God. How can our life or our soul be settled, blossoming and protected? Because God cared for us and nurtured us. God brought us out of sin, established us with his godly governance, filled us with fruitfulness and make us a mighty army. If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our church, our families and our lives will go on prospering and to prosper.
The Christian is in a living, personal relationship with God. There is nothing that comes between a man’s soul and God. There is no lack and there is security and protection. There is no fear of danger or evil because there is the assurance of God’s help. There is direction in life and yes at times we receive reproof and even severe rebuke, it is only to get us back into the fellowship with God. Spread over the life is felicity (happiness and contentment), fruitfulness and fullness. There is the promise of physical blessings as well as spiritual blessings. There are frequent times of joy and goodness and mercy in one’s life. That is the description of a settled vine.
Or is life totally contrary to what I have described. Life has beaten, battered, baffled and bludgeoned you. You have become a hardened person; defeated in life. I have talked about how this once New Age Believer turn into a person with such a beautiful glow of God beaming out of his face. On the other hand, I have also seen a Christian who once had a glow of God, within a year, turned into a scary person that shocked me. Because the countenance is one of darkness, a hardened face and even manifest features of evilness in the countenance.
2. The Unprotected Vine
Psalms 80:12-13, ‘Why have you broken down her hedges, so that all who pass by the way pluck her fruit? The boar out of the woods uproots it. And the wild beast of the field devours it.’
In Ancient Israel a vineyard and its vine were often surrounded by a thick and thorny hedge that kept out thieves and wild animals. It implies YHWH’s thick protection over us. But as we looked at Israel’s troubled state, we could see that the symbolic hedges were broken down and that by the hand of God. These hedges were broken down not by human but by YHWH. Also, Ecclesiastes seems to imply the we are the one that broke down the hedges ourselves. We left the boundary that God kept for us. Ecclesiastes 10:8 says, ‘He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.’ If you break through a hedge that was meant to protect you, a serpent shall bite you.
The first animal that is mentioned here is the wild boar.
Deep in a rainforest on the Malaysian mainland, there was a longstanding mystery to solve. Since the late 1980s scientists working in the Pasoh Research Forest, a 1500 acres chunk of virgin forest connected to a vast protected reserve, have noticed that the understory (forest floor) was disappearing. Over time, the researchers found they could walk with increasing ease through the jungle, without having to bushwhack through a tangle of seedlings and saplings. The trend was worrisome, since those young trees represent the future forest canopy. There was an obvious culprit: wild boars. They snap off saplings to use for nests, they trample seedlings, and they churn up the soil. It is suspected that the wild boars of Pasoh were commuting to the plantation to consume fallen fruit, then returning to the forest to wreak ecological havoc.
Wild boars are noted for their destruction, and can quickly lay waste to a vineyard. The enemies of God are pictured as such wild boars. No image of a destructive enemy could be more appropriate than that which is used. We have read of the little foxes that spoil the vines, but the wild boar is a much more destructive enemy, breaking its ways through fences, rooting up the ground, tearing down the vines themselves, and treading them under its feet. A single party of these animals will sometimes destroy an entire vineyard in a single night. Fierce and unrelenting, her heathen persecutor issued, at different times, from his abode, like a wild boar out of the forest, resolved not only to spoil and plunder, but to eradicate and extirpate (remove or destroy totally) her forever.
Psalms 80:12-13 mentions human beings who might raid the vineyard to steal the fruit. The bible says the thief cometh not but to steal, to kill and to destroy.
Psalms 80:13 also mentioned the wild beast beside the wild boar. The wild beasts are the spoiler of the vine. They are the fox, the little boxes.
Proverbs 24:30-31 mentions damaging wild animals and Songs of Solomon 2:15 describe one of these wild animals, the foxes: ‘Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines; for our vineyards are in blossoms.’
So, we learn that human beings, wild animals and foxes do come and destroy the settled life and the religious life of the Christian.
3. The Spoilers of the Vine
Who are the spoilers of the vine?
First there are the foxes. Psalms 80:12-13 mentions human beings who might raid the vineyard to steal the fruit. Evil human beings will suggest to us that our present location (position) is a limiting one (very confined) defined by fear. Why must you be confirmed by so much Christian demands. So many dos and dons. Why are you so controlled by your religion? You can’t even go for a holiday with someone of the opposite sex alone. Why can’t I go to the Karaoke Bar? What is wrong with drinking with a little bit more. And these people have spoken of the outside world in glowing terms, designed to make it attractive to us. We must understand that the outside world is a dangerous place for us. It is a world in which there are ‘foxes’ determined to ruin the ‘vineyards. Some commentators refer to this ‘foxes’ as presumably those men intent on sexual conquest of daughters of God. How many of you ladies in this church has left the confines and teaching and safety of this church and deceived by dangerous men, and to break away from the wall of this church and to be ravaged sexually and abandoned by these men (foxes) only to return ashamed, defeated, used.
Secondly, there are the ‘little foxes. The word ‘little fox’ contains a solemn revelation concerning the cause of much of the fruitlessness of our lives. They seem weak, least important, too insignificant to cause any harm or trouble. It is not the great things in our lives that cause us to fail God the most. It is the little things which are stopping us in our settled and religious life with Jesus. It is the bad habits, the negative words constantly coming out of our mouth, even the old natural ways which have been with us for years and which are so part of us that has eaten into and around our lives until the spiritual life has ebbed away and we are left weak, dry, barren and not ready when Jesus comes. No animal is more deceitful and cuter, more treacherous than those little habits, negative words, weaknesses but it is they that are literally sapping away our spiritual life and strength.
Lies (lying to ourselves, lying to others) and a lack of firmness against the principle of God’s word, principle of Truth are the little foxes. And before you realize it; your vine is destroyed because of the lax attitude toward the Truth of God. The little foxes are the compromising life. It is a life of unfaithfulness and carnality, where we are filled with our own thoughts and opinions, having a desire to have our own will and go our own ways. It is a love for flesh and for the natural. We are the vine, the garden and God has charged us to cultivate truth there, plant righteousness there, purity of heart, integrity of soul, to plant love there, and godly habits that will fence and guard this soul of ours from intruding enemies. But we treat our vineyard with careless negligence. Instead our whole life is planted with body sapping business that by the time you come to church on Sunday, it is sleeping time, love relationship at any cost, politics, pleasures, sports and cares of society. We have become ungodly; not accepting God’s teaching and religious doctrine. Instead we have become sinful, wicked, unholy, not following the religious belief. And finally, our lives become one of unsightliness, full of pains, thorns and it is becoming a neglected soul. It becomes a life of waste. The worst thing about the neglected soul is its propensity to do mischief. We will not be confined to our own mischief but we will do mischief to others. A neglected soul is a mischief working soul that is not a blessing to others but becomes an injury and an evil to them. Their sins become hurtful to others; do poisonous things and spread errors and falsehood and delusions. How could people like Joshua Harris and Marty Samson denied their faith? It is not an overnight thing. It is years of neglect of the soul and finally succumbing to it. And what are they doing now? They are doing mischief to godly vineyard of others. But finally, a neglected soul will come to ruin. He will ruin himself. He may not see it until it is too late. Poverty and Bankruptcy suddenly appears.
It is not the great things in our lives that cause us to fail God the most. It is these neglected things that have eaten into and around our lives. What are the neglected things? Indifference concerning a close walk with God, compromising with those who are not walking in the strait and narrow path. Not standing for the Truth of the Gospel will lay waste a vineyard that is in bloom. We have stopped communing with Him, have not gone into the secret chamber. Christ often withdrew to a mountain himself alone, to pray. We have not found time to be private with him, to be alone, undisturbed and speak to him from our heart and thus did not enjoy his Glory and His brightness. Because we have not done that, we have become heartless, easily discouraged and become unfit and unworthy and live a silly life.
I want you to picture the conditions of the vineyard. It pictures a multitude of backslidden Christians. Outwardly they appear as trees planted by living water but inwardly, they are corrupted, diseased, and weak. They no longer bear fruit. They are drying up spiritually. What is the manifestation? Divorce, fornication, pornography, adultery, drinking, drugs. Worldly-mindedness. Dirty television and filthy movies. It is said that they have the most Psychiatrists in Hollywood. Beverley Hills, California (the home of Hollywood stars), has more psychiatrists per square mile than any other community in the world. It has 193 psychiatrists – one for every 171 residents. The topic in our cell group last night was how to counsel people with depression, mental illness, suicide tendency, those with alternative lifestyles. We are concerned about the people within the church that need counselling. Cheng was asking for tools to equip the leaders to handle such cases that seems to be growing rapidly. The late Marlon Brando muses that his rise to fame and riches has increased the bank accounts of his psychiatrists. A biographer comments that Rita Hayworth has cried almost every day of her life. Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot have borne their minds and bodies, revealing a life of turmoil and frustration. And perhaps the most poignant of all, Marilyn Monroe, ending her mixed-up life with an overdose of sleeping pills. How about Whitney Houston and Elvis Presley? These two were once upon a time choirs of the church. How did not ended up that way? They did not take care of the vineyard of their soul. And we are all glued to these people.
Psalms 80:3 ‘Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.’
Psalms 80:7 ‘Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved’.
Palms 80: 10 ‘Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved’.
Three times the writer calls on God to ‘turn us again’. The Psalmist is pressing home at the throne of grace, pleading with God for mercy and grace for them. Repentance involves humbling ourselves and turning to God to receive his forgiveness and restoration. As we turn to God, he helps us see ourselves, including our sins, more clearly. And as we see our sin, we must repeat the process of repentance. We have to call upon God to help us again. That God would help the vine. That he would look down from heaven, see all the wrong that has been done to us, give a gracious look and visit us again graciously. There must be a penitent (remorseful, contrite) confession of our sins. And it is a prayer for pardon and restoration. We need to make such confession. We have forsaken the Lord because we have loved this world. Our lives have been inconsistent and we have indulged in our old sins. At the present moment we are the most miserable man on this earth. We have experienced what it is to have the favor of God and now we have seen the worst of us and what is like to be away from God. Going back to sin has been so easy, so perilous but so shameful, so condemned of God. And it is only by the grace of God that he can lead us again into the possession and retainment of the fullness of his grace and giving us the joy of salvation again.
You see the law of God is impossible to keep. It is impossible to confirm to God’s standard, yet He is still with us, for us, preparing us for His answer to our fallen conditions God does not lower his standard but he provides it through Jesus Christ. The new covenant is a covenant of faith and repentance trusting YHWH to keep us and protect as we go back to taking care of the vineyard of our soul.
There must be this cry to God ‘turn us again’. It is like Joel who cries ‘O Lord, give not Thine heritage to reproach… that sin should rule them…. Why should people be saying, where is their God? This has to become the prayer of my life. It should be the prayer of all the holy people of God. We should be weeping, prostrated before the Lord, crying, ‘How long, O Lord will you permit the shame, the worldliness, the divorce, the cheating, and the hypocrisy to continue in this holy place? When will you move to wake up the entire congregation and bring them back to repentance and holiness? Why should the enemy run roughshod over so many of God’s people? Do something now, Lord.’ There must be a cry with repentance. There is this famous poem: It says:
That once I used to own;
The barn had fallen to the ground,
The fields were overgrown
The house in which my children grew
Where we had lived for years
I turned to see it broken down
And brushed aside the tears
I looked upon my soul one day,
To find it too had grown
With thorns and nettles everywhere,
The seeds neglect had sown
The years had passed while I had cared
For things of lesser worth:
The things of Heaven I let go
When minding things of Earth
To Christ I turn with bitter tears,
And cried, ‘O Lord, forgive!
I haven’t much time left for Thee,
Not many years to live’
The wasted years forever gone,
The days I can’t recall,
If I could live those days again,
I’d make him Lord of all.