Grape Harvest

Vineyards of Israel

The land of Canaan was abundant with vineyards even before Israel took possession of it, and they have remained a fixture to the modern day.

Numbers 13:23 (NET) “When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down from there a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a staff between two men, as well as some of the pomegranates and the figs.”

Deuteronomy 6:11 (NET) “Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land he promised . . . —a land with . . . hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.”

Laws Regarding Vineyards

Because of the centrality of vineyards to the agriculture of ancient Israel, God established specific laws regarding them for the benefit of the poor.

Leviticus 19:10 (NET) “You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 23:24 (NET) “When you enter the vineyard of your neighbor you may eat as many grapes as you please, but you must not take away any in a container.”

Ancient Winepresses

The grapes that weren’t eaten fresh or dried into raisins would instead be brought to winepresses and tread into juice. These presses were ubiquitous in ancient Israel, and many examples have been excavated. This one is a particularly large one that was discovered at the Nabatean city of Avdat in southern Israel.

Judges 6:11 (KJV) “And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.”

Nehemiah 13:15 (NET) “In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath.”

Winepresses as a Symbol

Joel 3:13 (NET) “Rush forth with the sickle, for the harvest is ripe! Come, stomp the grapes, for the winepress is full! The vats overflow. Indeed, their evil is great!”

Isaiah 63:3 (NET) “I have stomped grapes in the winepress all by myself; no one from the nations joined me. I stomped on them in my anger; I trampled them down in my rage. Their juice splashed on my garments, and stained all my clothes.”

Nazirite Vow

In good seasons, the grapes of ancient Israel were abundant and free to be enjoyed in their many forms. There was, however, one group of people forbidden from partaking in them: the Nazirites. For the period of their vow, these people were barred from every sort of grape product.

Numbers 6:3 (NET) “He must separate himself from wine and strong drink, he must drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from strong drink, nor may he drink any juice of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins.”

Wine in Scripture

Wine, the finished product of this gathering and treading process, would often be stored in cellars such as this one at Avdat. In Scripture, wine is frequently highlighted as a symbol of and companion to joyful times. But joy in the wine is only an accessory to a greater joy: delighting in the favor of the God of vineyards.

Ecclesiastes 9:7 (NET) “Go, eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, because God has already approved your works.”

Psalm 4:7 (NET) “You make me happier than those who have abundant grain and wine.”

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Related Websites

For historical images of grape harvest, see Life in the Holy Land.

Wine Presses (BibleWalks). A very helpful page that provides a history of winemaking in Israel, describes the structure of ancient winepresses, and lists many of the ancient winepresses that have been found around Israel.

Israel’s Grape Varieties (Wines Israel). This article offers a brief modern history of Israeli wine alongside a breakdown of modern grape varieties used in the industry.

Israel Aims to Recreate Wine That Jesus and King David Drank (NYT). An article about the movement toward using more local grape varieties in modern Israeli winemaking.