Many figures of speech in Scripture used to illustrate spiritual truth are taken from agriculture. One such set of ideas has to do with limbs, secondary stems, or new growth on vines, bushes, and trees. More than twenty Hebrew and Greek words are employed to connote this growth; they have been translated variously as a "branch, " "shoot, " "sprout, " "tendril, " or "twig."
When olive trees, indigenous to Israel, are cut down, new trees grow from the shoots that sprout from the base and root system. It was not uncommon for the prophets to depict the Messiah as a new shoot or branch growing from David's stock, even though that "tree" would be cut off. Isaiah proclaims that "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (11:1). Jeremiah announces that one day in the future the Lord will raise up for David a "righteous Branch, " who will reign as the rightful heir to the throne (23:5). Zechariah notes that this royal Branch will be the one who will rebuild the temple (6:12-13).
Israel is often referred to as a vine. The Lord brought Israel, the vine, out of Egypt and planted it in the promised land. As the Lord blessed the vine, it prospered and "sent out its boughs to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River" ( Psalm 80:11 ). The fruit that the vine produced, however, was an embarrassment to the Lord and steps were taken against it (see Isa 5:1-7 ). More often, however, the prophets use the analogy of the vine and branches to describe Israel's future restoration ( Isa 60:21 ; Hosea 14:6 ).
Jesus uses the analogy of the relationship of the vine to the branches to describe his relationship with his disciples: "I am the vine; you are the branches" ( John 15:5 ). The branches derive their very existence and ability to produce fruit from the vine. Detached, the branches cease to live or produce. Likewise, apart from Christ, an individual has neither spiritual life nor fruit.
In Romans 11 Paul draws attention to grafting a branch into a stock. Normally, a farmer takes a wild root or stock and grafts into it a cultivated scion. That was not the case with Israel, the cultivated olive tree; the branches broken off were replaced by wild olive shoots, in other words, Gentile believers. When the Deliverer from Zion comes, however, it will be easy for him to restore Israel to its rightful position (vv. 25-27).
Glenn E. Schaefer
Bibliography. W. J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise; R. Brown, The Gospel According to John; R. L. Harris, Baker's Dictionary of Theology; W. Kaiser, Toward an Old Testament Theology; S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Branch'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".