How Does God Prune Us?
Updated: Apr 6
The bud closest to your pruning point will produce the best quality fruit and branches. That’s how it works! Plants will always send most of their energy for renewal to the nearest cutting point. -Hand Pruning
In This Article
I did an in-depth study of John 15:1-17, the True Vine Parable. It has long been one of my favorite parables in scripture. This study has taken months to complete. I pray it is enlightening and encouraging!
These are the highlights of my research. There's a ton of information to go through. So much about the words and the context of wine growing ties back into Yeshua's lesson beautifully!
I'm not an expert in any of the areas we're about to cover. I'm just doing my best to pass on information about these things from people who are experts.
If you have any thoughts to share, I'd love to hear it! Comment below or shoot me an email.
Yeshua was Talking about Wine Grapes
Yeshua specifically refers to a vine, so the first question we need to ask is which one? Does the passage specify? Or does it even matter?
The word for "vine" here in Greek specifically means wine-grape vines. This makes sense because Jesus told this parable during Passover when much wine would be needed.
Also, Israel has been a huge center for wine-growing since the days of Joshua. The land has all the perfect conditions for growing excellent wine.
Wine-grapes like to grow in rocky, infertile, dry, sloping soil. Barren land like this is not useful for anything--not even cattle. Vineyards thrive because the harsh conditions force the main vine to fight its way down deep into the earth where all the best minerals are.
The harsher the conditions, the better tasting the wine.
Their roots will penetrate deep crevices of rock to get nourishment. -Bible History
These vineyards are grown solely for their fruit. There is nothing else useful about the plant whatsoever. That is why Yeshua said the removed branches are gathered and burned. This is exactly what Israel would do in a huge Pruning event once a year.
Oops, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Anatomy of the Grape Vine
Yeshua's parable makes a lot more sense when we learn some basic things that his listeners also understood about grapevines.
Vines are different from trees and other plants in that the branches are not separate from the main trunk. It all grows as one whole unit.
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. -1 Cor. 12:26 ESV
Everything--and I do mean everything--that happens to each individual branch affects the entire plant.
If a branch is cut, the wound "bleeds" or "cries" as clear sap spills out. During the growing season, the exposed wound is vulnerable to diseases and pests that could invade and kill the vine.
For this reason, vineyard masters wait until Pruning Season to do any major pruning. I believe this major Pruning Season event, when large bundles of branches were gathered and burned, is what Yeshua is referring to.
I'll explain more about Pruning Season in a moment.
Great Wine is about Great Pruning
Do not be shy with the pruning shears!
“The most important tool in all of viticulture and winemaking is the pruning shears... With proper pruning there is little else that needs to be done to the vine for the duration of the season; leaf-pulling, fruit-thinning, trimming and hedging, and much of the spraying can all be reduced or eliminated with good pruning.” -GuildSomme
I find it very interesting that there is very little difference between severing a branch permanently or pruning it. In both cases, nothing is left of the old branch.
The only difference is that pruning leaves a small bud that will become next year's fruit-bearing branch.
No new bud, no new branch.
This reminds me of the lesson in Yeshua's Parable of the Two Houses:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” -Matthew 7:24-27 ESV
Why Pruning is Necessary for Bearing Fruit
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. -John 15:4-5 ESV
Benefits of Pruning:
Regulating the amount of fruit it carries so everything will ripen evenly.
Space the fruit out to allow airflow and sunlight. Not too much, not too little.
Grow stronger shoots that can carry more fruit.
To get any fruit whatsoever that year! Grapes can only produce fruit on first-year wood. Bearing fruit has to be supplied 100% from the Vine.
One word: Balance.
Left alone, the branches will focus only on getting larger and longer without regard for the rest of the plant. Its ambitious growth will use up so much precious energy that none will be put towards bearing fruit.
When this trimming was done, the vine was forced to direct its life-giving sap into the production of grapes rather than territorial expansion. Under good conditions of both sufficient rain and plenty of sunshine, this resulted in heavy grape clusters and abundant grape juice for wine production. -Discover the Book
Some branches will overlap each other, causing others beneath them to suffocate from lack of airflow or die from denial of sunlight.
Other branches will grow too short, creating a huge bald patch letting in too much sunlight that will burn other branches.
If the vine does produce fruit, it has to space the fruit out evenly. Otherwise, it will not have the resources and strength to make sure every fruit ripens well.
Vines that have been neglected become a huge, tangled, fruitless mess.
If a branch is to bear fruit, it has to be pruned so it will grow in union with the rest of the vine. The more each branch loves and cares for its brothers, the more fruit it will individually be able to produce.
This balance is only possible with the work of a Master Pruner. He decides the direction the Vine should grow and leads it in the best way to produce a great harvest.
The goal is for each vine to grow a certain amount—not too much, not too little. Weak vines tend to make wine that is hard, thin, and lacking in generosity. Strong vines tend to make wine that is green, light, and insipid... “balanced” vines tend to make balanced wines—literally thousands of years of viticulture have confirmed this. The Romans knew this, the monks in Burgundy knew it, and it is still the rule. -GuildSomme
To recap what we've learned so far:
Branches can only produce fruit from first-year wood. All fruit has to be supplied 100% from the main vine.
Every branch is completely cut. Fruit-bearing branches will have a surviving bud to become another fruit-bearing branch.
To produce the most fruit possible, the plant has to be unified and balanced. Good pruning leads the plant to grow in the best way possible for lots of fruit.
Everything each branch does/experiences affects the entire plant.
Without pruning, the branches will trample each other and focus on "expansion" rather than bearing fruit.
Cutting a branch while it is still growing creates a "bleeding" or "crying" wound that leaves the entire vine vulnerable to pests and diseases.
A grapevine is grown solely for its fruit. Everything else about it is not useful for anything.
Pruning Season for wine-grapes is done while the plant is still dormant, anytime after winter or just before spring. As much as 80-90% of the plant would be cut off and burned. Everything from last year, fruit and fruitless branches alike, would all be cut back down to the main vine.
It is a huge event among winegrowers, Israel being no exception. You can even travel to Israel and help be a part of the Pruning Season yourself!
Grapevines must be fully dormant before pruning, as premature pruning can prevent the vine from going into dormancy and leave the vine vulnerable to injury. Pruning later in the dormant season is advantageous as the pruning cuts will expose the grapes to diseases for a much shorter time. Once the grapevines break dormancy, the cuts will heal. -Minnetonka Orchards
Sometimes vines are pruned again in the summer (not as severely). But this is not technically necessary if perfect pruning was done during dormancy.
Also, during the summer when the vine is still full of leaves or possibly fruit, it is very difficult to see what's going on and make a good judgment. Waiting until everything has fallen and cleared away helps the Pruner see exactly what needs to be done.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. -Hebrews 4:12 ESV
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. -1 Samuel 16:7 ESV
How Does The Father "Prune" Us?
One of the greatest misconceptions in Christian culture, I believe, is the assumption that "pruning" in this passage represents hardship, pain, temptation, persecution, major loss, or trial.
Yes, "hard times" are often discussed in scripture as an important part of growing our faith (1 Peter, for example).
But, letting scripture interpret scripture, we see that in this passage Yeshua makes it very clear what he means by "pruning":
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. -John 15:3 ESV
The word for "clean" and "prune" here is the exact same word: katharos. In Hebrew, it would be taher.
The spoken Word of Christ is the pruning. What does this mean? Also, what does it mean to be a branch "abiding" in the vine or be cut off?
Let's examine these more closely.
Happy are the Clean in Heart
The Greek word translated as the English “clean” in John 15:3... is katharos and means purified by fire, free from every admixture of what is false.” –He That Has an Ear
The verb form katharizo also included the healing of diseases and clearing ground of weeds. -PioneersNT
The Hebrew word for "clean" is taher. It means to “cleanse, purge, purify.”
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. -Psalm 51:7 ESV
Scripture describes "clean" as simply set apart for a specific task, or made suitable for use.
Clean and unclean is not necessarily synonymous with good and bad or even holy and unholy.
Unclean doesn't always mean something is bad, although everything sinful or wicked is definitely unfit for use in God's presence.
For example: rats are "clean" to eat for cats, but "unclean" for us to eat. They're unfit for human consumption, according to Torah, and I definitely agree!
A priest who touched a dead body is unfit to serve in the Temple unless he gets cleaned.
Returning back to John 15, it seems to make sense why Yeshua used the word "taher." I think he was calling the disciples to be useful to the Father.
As mentioned above, grape vines are not useful for anything. They are grown solely for their fruit.
The Father has a specific purpose in mind for them--to love one another and abide in Christ. If they submit to being cleansed and changed by the Word, they will bear much fruit.
(There's so much more to explore about the word taher, but I will have to save that for another day!)
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. -John 15:2 ESV
The word for "branches" here in Greek, klema, actually means "tendril" or "offshoot." The usual word for "branch" is klados.
The word klema is only used 5 times in the NT--all right here in this passage. So why did John use "tendril" instead of "branch"?
Passover Wine and Bread
Part of the reason might be because grapevines, as mentioned earlier, do not have branches separate from the trunk like trees do. The branches are just smaller offshoots of the main trunk.
"This Greek word klema comes from the root verb klao, which means “to break” — specifically, to break off a piece of bread. In other words, a branch is a piece of the main thing, like a piece of bread was once a part of the main loaf." Word from the Word
The verb klao is used whenever Yeshua broke bread for his disciples! I thought that little connection to Passover was so cool. Both wine and bread are referred to in this passage!
Happy are the Poor in Spirit
As usual, I try to find a Hebrew equivalent so we can connect what John is saying to its roots in the OT. I was really surprised by what I found!!
Its Hebrew root is "dal" meaning low, weak, poor (Ps 72:13, 113:7). Dal would have been the word Yeshua used in his Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." (Matt. 5:3).
Our English definition of "poor" often has a negative image to it: meager, destitute, oppressed, etc.
But the Hebrew word dal simply means "low" (like "low-calorie").
"In dāl the idea of physical (material) deprivation predominates... The dal are the powerless – without financial leverage, without political patrons, without advocates." Skip Moen
Dal describes someone who is in a vulnerable position and needs someone to watch out for him. Chaim Bentorah explains dal as someone who is lowered down into a well to dig for water:
"Digging a well in those days was a very dangerous job. When the well reached a certain depth they would lower a digger down into the well by a rope and he would carefully dig. If the walls started to collapse, which was a very common occurrence, they would quickly pull the digger up. Sometimes the rope handlers who were charged with watching for any sign of collapse would be talking about the stats for the star gladiator of the Babylonian Charioteers or the boss’s new assistant in that low cut toga and not notice the subtle signs of an imminent collapse. They failed to masekil el dal consider the poor." Chaim Bentorah
This image of being dal fits perfectly with how Yeshua describes us in John 15! We are all weak and vulnerable vines and we need to love each other--i.e. watch each other's backs--in order to bear much fruit.
Yashab--My New Forever Home
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. -John 15:4 ESV
What does it mean to abide in Christ?
The word in Greek for "abide" is meno. It is used many times in the New Testament also translated as remain, stay, wait, dwell, or live. It also means to persevere, continue, or endure.
This word is used 118 times in the NT--and more than half of those by John.
In Hebrew, this word is "yashab." It is a motionless verb meaning to dwell, sit, tarry, inhabit, marry, take refuge. It is used about 1000 times in the OT!
It means to permanently settle. David wanted to build a temple where Yahweh can yashab (dwell permanently in one place) instead of shaken (live in an impermanent tabernacle or tent).
Yashab is often used for a king sitting on his throne. His literal sitting also refers to him firmly taking his rightful authority or position.
Another illustration is a breastfeeding baby abiding in his mother's lap and nourishment.
The best picture of yashab is in the covenant union between husband and wife. They do more than just live in the same space, they really live together as one life. It is not a one-way relationship--they both contribute to keeping this abiding relationship strong.
Aman--Steadfast, Loyal Support
Although "believe" is not found in chapter 15, John connects belief with abiding in Christ throughout his books. So to understand more fully what it means to abide, let's revisit the word for believe.
Mainstream Christianity has popularized the idea that belief is a simple mental acknowledgment, a personal feeling, or gut conviction. But the Greek and Hebrew words carry an even deeper meaning.
The Greek word used here for believe is pisteuo. It is also translated as "entrust" in John 22:23-25. It is used 248 times in the NT, again most of those uses are John's.
"It fundamentally means to declare something reliable, trustworthy, or steadfast. By extension, it means to reply upon or trust something or someone. As such, pisteuo can bear the idea of “entrusting.” Because a person or thing is reliable, I can entrust something of value to them." Thinking Theistically
In Hebrew, this word is aman. It is translated as "believe" but really means to "support"--a genuine dedication and responsibility to support another.
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes [aman] in it will not be disturbed. Isaiah 28:16 ESV
This word is used in Isaiah 22:23 describing a tent peg securely fastened in the ground, able to withstand any storm.
Other pictures of aman:
The stability a breastfeeding infant feels in his mother's arms
The decision of a couple to adopt a child
A second-in-command supporting his superior
The commitment of a husband and wife to each other
Aman means firm, secure, permanent, reliable, faithful.
The widely used word "Amen" is derived from "Aman" meaning "Truly!" and "Let it be so." This is the word Jesus used to emphasize something: "Truly, Truly, I say to you..." (John 5:24 ESV).
The very first use of the word aman in scripture is in this verse:
[Abram] believed [aman] the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 ESV
In other words, Abram was "firm" in God. He showed faithfulness in action by obeying God, no matter what his circumstances or feelings.
Throughout scripture, God and His Word are described as "aman"--perfect in his faithfulness. When we fail, he remains steady!
It is a steadfast, inner conviction that stands firm through any storm--like a peg driven into the ground supporting a tent.
What is NOT Abiding?
Two words have had me confused for a long time: "and withers."
Here's the full verse:
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. -John 15:6 ESV
Did you see it?
Like most people, I assumed that a branch that was not abiding in the vine had to be a dead branch. I've heard it said in sermons that if there's a dead branch on a plant, it will get cut off. And rightly so.
A dead branch doesn't wither.
The branch Yeshua is talking about is still alive! It was still drawing nutrients from the Vine. Once it is cut off, it no longer has that supply... "and withers."