“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”
Vines are often mentioned in the inspired Scriptures in a figurative manner, and the figure is used in the illustration of a variety of doctrinal, experimental and practical subjects. In John 15:1-18, our Lord Jesus Christ applies the figure to himself, saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman,” etc., and in this application, showing the vital relationship of the branches with the vine, and their dependence on the vine for life, vigor and fruitfulness, and strikingly setting forth the impossibility of his members glorifying God in the production of fruit, except they abide in him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine: no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” The false church or churches are compared to vines, but “their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: their vine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.” (Deut. 32:32,33.) But the church of God is also frequently brought to view in the Scriptures under the figure of a vine, a vineyard, etc., as in the eightieth Psalm, ‘Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.” “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.” “Sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. I the Lord do keep it: I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” (Isa. 27:2,3.) We might multiply references to passages both in the Old and New Testaments where this figure is applied to the church of God as a vine of his own hand’s planting, but in this Song the figure is so frequently used that we can safely rely upon its application to the church of God, in the text which we have under consideration. Foxes are a wild, cunning and mischievous animal, and greatly to be dreaded in the culture of vines, not so much from their power or disposition to destroy vines, as for their thievish disposition to rob them, by stealing the grapes. The saints are represented as being deeply interested in the prosperity of the vine, as representing the church, and their spiritual privileges in the church, and their vigilant watchfulness to guard against every influence that is prejudicial to the prosperity of the church. By foxes we presume all enemies of the cause of God and truth maybe intended, as our Lord called Herod a fox, but the charge in our text is more especially in reference to the little foxes that spoil, or rob the vine, by depredations on the tender grapes. Herod was not a little fox, and his object seemed to be not merely to rob or spoil the vine, but if possible to destroy it, root and branch. We are not sure that we understand the precise meaning of the little foxes in the figurative import of the text, but we will assume that it is intended to signify all such things or influences in and about the church as are calculated to prevent the fruitfulness, and mar the beauty of the church of God. Not only disorderly members, including hypocrites, false professors, and those of God’s children who walk disorderly, are like foxes in despoiling the church of much of her beauty, vigor and fruitfulness, if they be not taken, or arrested in their pernicious course by the discipline of the house of God, but there are some foxes which seem to be so small as to cause but little or no apprehension by those who are keepers of the vineyard until they have done immense damage to the tender grapes. For instance, pride, arrogance, selfishness, jealousy, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, whisperings, back-bitings, envies, negligence, disobedience, indifference, worldy mindedness and self-gratification. Has any christian church or vine ever existed long in any place without being molested with some little foxes of this description, more fatal to the peace and harmony of the church than Samson’s three hundred foxes were to the Philistines’ standing corn?
If we may regard the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance, against which there is no law, if these be the tender grapes which cluster on the vigorous vine, are not the works of the flesh, as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings and such like, the foxes which spoil the tender grapes?
But what shall we do to protect the vine and the clusters of tender grapes? Say some, “Let us shoot them, or stone them.” But our text says, “Take us the foxes,” etc. If we shoot or stone them, we may miss our mark, and only wound the vine. Let us beware that our zeal to destroy the foxes does not itself become a fox, and a very sly one, too, to hurt the tender grapes which we attempt to protect. Take them. How shall we take them? The idea seems to be that we are to detect them, and in such a way as shall not hurt the vine nor the oil, the vine nor the clusters. When Samson took his three hundred foxes we suppose he had some way of entrapping them without violence, and so if the word of truth dwells richly in our hearts, and we walk in the Spirit and do not fulfill the lusts or desires of the flesh, it is fair to believe we shall detect and take nearly all of these little foxes.
Our application of the figure of foxes may seem speculative, but could we take, that is, detect and arrest, all the works of the flesh which war against the Spirit in and about the church of God, shall we have any farther occasion to fear from the depredation of foxes? For who or what shall harm you if ye be followers of that which is good? If ye be led by the Spirit, ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. It is the candid opinion of the writer of this article that the little foxes which spoil or rob the vine, do burrow in the earthly nature of the children of God. Then if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, or if thy hand or foot offend thee, cut them off, or
“The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’re that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship none but thee.”
Whether we have correctly applied the figure in our text or not, we will not pretend to say, but we feel confident that there are foxes little and big, of the kind which we have described, and we would wish every child of God were a Nimrod, or mighty hunter before the Lord, to take the foxes, and to protect the tender grapes.
November 1, 1861.
Elder Gilbert Beebe,
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 69 - 72