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Vineyards, watchtowers and wineskins

Bible overview
Life in Bible times. Harvesting grapes.
Contributed by David Padfield
Story also available on our translated websites: Spanish, Polish, Hindi
Vineyards feature in many passages in the Old and New Testaments. – Slide 1
Isaiah told a parable of the vineyard. ‘The one I love had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  He ploughed its land and cleared it of stones. Then he planted it with the choicest vines, built a watchtower in the middle of it, and dug a winepress (Isaiah 5:1-2). – Slide 2
Jesus told a parable of a vineyard. ‘There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a wall around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower…’ (Matthew 21:33). – Slide 3
Although vineyards were planted throughout Israel, it was customary for hillsides to be used. It was in a very ‘fruitful hill’ that Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard was set. – Slide 4
In ancient Israel the favoured places for growing vineyards were in the vicinity of Hebron and Upper Galilee. It was from Eshcol near Hebron that the 12 spies sent into Canaan cut down a branch with a cluster of grapes. – Slide 5
Terraces supported with low stone walls were often cut into hillsides to grow grapes. – Slide 6
The perimeter of a vineyard was often surrounded by a ditch and a wall built with thorn branches on top to deter foxes, jackals and other creatures. In the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33 the owner ‘hedged’ it all around. – Slide 7
Large stones were removed but small stones aid the retention of moisture in the soil. – Slide 8
Proverbs talks about a sluggard who failed to keep his growing vines free of thorns and weeds and the stone wall was broken down (Proverbs 24:30,31). – Slide 9
A watchtower was built on a high spot where a watchman could overlook the vineyard. – Slide 10
It became the home of the watchman in the summer months. The parable of the wicked husbandmen talks of the building of a tower in the vineyard (Matt 21:33). – Slide 11
Watchtowers varied in height from 10-40 feet (3-30m). – Slide 12
Before the arrival of springtime, the vineyard keeper prunes every superficial branch. Jesus talked about such pruning when He said He was the vine and His disciples the branches (John 15:1-3). – Slide 13
The grape blossom comes out in April and May. The Song of Solomon says the ‘tender grape gives a good’ smell’. – Slide 14
Harvesting grapes in Israel begins in September. Jeremiah talks about gathering grapes in baskets (Jeremiah 6:9). – Slide 15
The work of treading grapes was often accompanied by shouts and songs of happiness (Jeremiah 48:33). – Slide 16
Winepresses were often hewn out of rock. Many had two depressions, one higher than the other. The grapes were put into the higher one and trodden with the feet. – Slide 17
The juice ran into the lower depression. The yeast from the skin of the grapes would begin fermenting the grape juice and it would bubble vigorously. After a few days, the juice – now wine - would be taken out. – Slide 18
An ancient wine press in Jerusalem. – Slide 19
An ancient wine press at Nazareth. The winepress is used as a picture of divine judgement (Isaiah 63:3-6, Revelation 19:13-15). – Slide 20
Wine could be stored in wineskins made from the skins of animals for up to a year. If left exposed it would turn to vinegar. The Gibeonites brought old wineskins to Joshua (Joshua 9:4). – Slide 21
Over time these wineskins became decayed and unfit for use. Jesus pointed out the foolishness of putting new wine into old wineskins. The new wine would have caused the old wineskin to burst (Luke 5:36-39). – Slide 22
Wine jars were often stoppered with unfired clay. Sometimes olive oil would be floated on top. – Slide 23
Slide 24