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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Anne Pratt :: The Excellent Woman of Proverbs 31

Anne Pratt :: Proverbs 31 Verse 16

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SHE CONSIDERETH A FIELD, AND BUYETH IT:
WITH THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS SHE PLANTETH A VINEYARD.

Image-SHE CONSIDERETH A FIELD, AND BUYETH IT

In observing the various employments of the Hebrew woman, we cannot fail to remark the great and entire confidence which must have been placed in her by her husband. That he should leave to her care the management of her house and servants, and in great measure the training of her children, seems, at all times, natural, and in the state of society we are considering, peculiarly so; but we should scarcely expect to find a Jewish female left so entirely to her own judgment in matters of business. It was probably, however, not unusual at this time. Abigail, the wife of Nabal, seems to have had an entire command over the family property, when she hesitated not to take two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and fruits and other valuable articles of food, and give them to David (1Sa 25:18). That the woman of the text was worthy of this entire confidence is very evident, for hers was the systematic industry of a well‐ordered mind, and not the occasional result of mere impulse. She deliberated on the best plan to be pursued. She saw that her children were rising up, her household numerous, her husband a man of wealth and distinction; and the requirements of such a family demanded a careful consideration.

Perhaps, in looking around her in order to make a provision for an increasing household, the eye of the Hebrew woman often rested on some field of waving corn which lay near her own estate; and she saw, in its golden ears, the prospect of an abundant store for the food of her family; and then, with the fruits of her own hands, the works which her own fingers had wrought, she purchased the land. The luxuriant vegetation of the vineyard, watered by the fruitful rill, or lying on the hill side, where the morning sun shed most of his light and warmth, would attract her notice, and the wild roses, and the bright pomegranates, shedding the deep red lustre of their flowers in the hedges which surrounded it, and wafting to her some of the sweetest of eastern odours, would convince her that the soil which yielded them would repay careful culture.

The rich drapery of the vine, though now less cultivated in the Holy Land, once formed one of its most striking and picturesque objects. Far away over the hills of the then fruitful, though now neglected, Palestine, might be heard the joyous song of the vine‐dressers, speaking of peace and plenty, and attesting the happy feeling and the joyous emotion of the natives of a pure and lovely climate, whose animal spirits and earnest feelings seemed wrought upon by the gladness of nature, till they flowed forth in song. And many a pious Israelite may have sung with the sweet singer of his country, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof" (Psa 24:1); and as he looked upon his rich corn‐fields, have chanted gladly, "Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it; thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness" (Psa 65:9; 65:11).

But although the modern inhabitant of Palestine no longer labours assiduously as did the ancient Israelite, to render his beautiful land an earthly paradise, though in many parts joy and gladness have ceased from the fruitful field, and all the daughters of music are brought low, yet the vineyards are often beautiful still. On the Syrian hills and plains may yet be seen the tower or the lonely cottage in a vineyard, on which the eye of the evangelical prophet rested when he foretold the desolation of the daughter of Zion (Isa 1:8); or when he spake of the vineyard in the fruitful hill, planted with the choicest vine, in which the lord of the vineyard built a tower, and made a wine‐press, and looked for the grateful fruits of his culture, and found nothing but wild grapes (Isa 5:4), -sad emblem of the sins and idolatries which ran wild in the heart of God's chosen and cherished people. In this tower of the vineyard were kept, in former days, and may still be seen, the various implements of husbandry, and all the means of pressing the grapes and making them into wine, so that it may be called "the farm of the vineyard." But the chief use of the tower, both in ancient and modern times, is as a dwelling‐place and defence to the keeper of the vineyard, who, when the grapes are ripening, takes his station there, lest others should deprive him of the produce of his labour. M'Cheyne, describing the vine‐yards of Hebron, as he saw them in the year 1842, says, "They are of the most rich and fertile description, each one having a tower in the midst for the keeper of the vineyards. We were told that bunches of grapes from these vineyards sometimes weigh six pounds, every grape of which weighs six or seven drachms. Sir Moses Montefiore mentioned that he got here a bunch of grapes about a yard in length."

It is not possible for the reader of Scripture to have passed unnoticed the various allusions to the culture of the grape by the Hebrews. The great care which they bestowed on their vineyards, in selecting an appropriate spot of land for their growth, as well as in training the vine, is very apparent from the records of holy writ. Almost every part of Palestine is favourable to the culture of the grape; but the grapes of Eshcol, and Carmel, and Hermon, and the wines of Lebanon, were ever renowned for their sweetness, and are still unrivalled in the land of the sun. Sometimes the luxuriant plant hung its graceful festoons about the reed trellis; at others it clung from pole to pole, or clad the wooden palisade with a garment of verdure. Often, too, the vine‐dresser directed its flexible branches over the side of the sunny wall, and then its boughs, as they ran over their support, suggested such images as lingered in the mind of the dying Jacob, when, describing the fruitfulness, and alluding to the protection given by his beloved son, he, in the figurative language of the eastern husbandman, said, "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by the side of a well; whose branches run over the wall" (Gen 49:22).

Frequent and beautiful as are the poetic figures of the Old and New Testament, yet no object of nature furnished so great a variety of allusions as did the vine. Wherever the ancient Israelite looked round, there its broad leaves and wide‐spreading boughs, and its purple clusters, caught his eye; and the holy prophet of old, and the Divine Saviour himself, ever ready to lead the mind from the fields of nature to the field of holy thought and spiritual communion, failed not to associate with it such lessons of joy and thankfulness, or of solemn admonition, as might recur again and again, in after ages, to him who walked in the vine‐yard. In the earliest parable of Scripture, that of the Trees choosing a King, we find the vine, in the language of allegory, exclaiming, "Shall I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?" (Jdg 9:13) thus adverting to the use of wine in sacrifice, or to the first‐fruit offering of the grape on the altar of God, as well as to its benefit to mankind. In that beautiful lament of forsaken Israel, expressed in Psalm lxxx., the writer portrays the sorrows of the church of God, under the image of a vine; and carries out, through a long succession, a series of figures so beautiful and touching, that he who now reads it mourns over ancient Israel's woes, and remembers, too, periods in the history of the Christian church, when the vine seemed indeed trodden down, and when, for "a small moment," God "hid his face" from his people. "Once," says the sorrowing Asaph, "the hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs were like goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs to the sea, and her branches unto the river. Now the boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it." And surely, as we look upon God's ancient people, and see how their loved and holy city is trodden down of the Gentiles, we should breathe the aspiration of the psalmist, "Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself" (Psa 80:14-15). In later days, our Saviour told his disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.-As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me" (Jhn 15:1, 4). Then perchance he looked from the table, around which the disciples were gathered, and saw the graceful plant waving to the gentle summer wind, and putting forth its fruits for the vintage.

There is something pleasing in considering the Hebrew matron in the text, as planting a vineyard for the use of her family. It was not enough for her that only what was absolutely needed should be supplied. She acted in the wise and beneficent spirit of the Great Creator, who scatters with liberal hand, not only the supply of our necessities, but the means of enjoyment; who charms the eye with verdure, and the ear with the songs of nature. We, in our northern climate, can scarcely form an idea of the value of the vineyard to an eastern family: the cooling shade of its overhanging boughs, in a land where the sun shines hotly through the long summer day, is indeed delightful; and in the Syrian vine‐clad arbour, the Jewish families assembled, as do the natives of modern Palestine, beneath the vine and fig‐tree. There, in pleasant groups, sitting in the soft air, we can fancy the pious mother, surrounded by her family, speaking with cheerful and thankful spirit of God's goodness to them all, and partaking together with them of the large clusters of yellow or purple fruits, gathered from the boughs. There lay the goodly cluster, and each took from it the welcome refreshment; and of the fruits which were to spare, the labourer gathered and packed in baskets, and probably laid, as they would do now, the broad palm leaves above them to preserve their coolness.

The month of October is that of the vintage; and on the hills once trod by the feet of the patriarchs, the autumnal vintage is yet gathered. The Christian inhabitants of Lebanon, and other parts of Palestine, cultivate the grape for wine, both for themselves and for exportation; and the Moslems, as they do not drink wine, value the vine for its shadow, its fresh fruit, and for the raisins which they dry from it; besides that, vinegar is made from the grape, and the vine‐leaves are eaten by cattle. This latter practice is referred to in the Jewish law, where Moses commands, "If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man's field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution" (Exd 22:5). Chandler says of this practice in the East: "We remarked that about Smyrna, the leaves were decayed or stripped by the camels and herds of goats, which are admitted to browse after the vintage."

Travellers who now visit the Holy Land, are struck however, with the desolate appearance exhibited by spots once famous for corn and wine, and the luxuriant vegetation of the East. God has turned "the fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein" (Psa 107:34). The old inhabitants of the land of the Hebrews are scattered as God predicted; and the thin population of strangers who now dwell there, take little pains to cherish the soil. The want of agricultural industry is every where apparent; and he who loves the hill of Zion and the mountains about Jerusalem, because associated in his mind with all that is holy and all that is dear, longs for that glorious day, when the Jews shall again be gathered under their native vines and fig‐trees.

It is thought by most writers, that the autumnal feast of Tabernacles, held by the Jews, had especial reference to the ingathering of the vineyard. "When ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days" (Lev 23:39), were the words which enjoined this festival. The Syrian winter does not commence until December, and in that pleasant climate, the month of October was well suited for the joyous outdoor life which ancient Israel spent on this occasion. Then the song of praise and gratitude went up from the arbours formed of the "boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm‐trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook" (Lev 23:40). Then a loud burst of national thanksgiving was offered to the God who brought his people into a land flowing with milk and with honey; and every Jewish family brought its tribute of gratitude and praise.

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