There’s a common theme occurring throughout the Hebrew Roots/Messianic community recently — separation and regrouping. We also see in Scripture the recurring symbol of “cutting off” in an agricultural sense to talk about God’s action in improving the health of the “vine” of Israel. It’s OK when God cuts off parts of the vine to promote growth. It’s OK if there is a time of not producing fruit.
What is the difference between pruning and cutting something off? Pruning is a delicate operation done so the plant can produce more fruit and better fruit. Pruning doesn’t look like a delicate to the untrained eye.
In horticulture, there are three types of trimming:
- Cutting off
God doesn’t hedge. That’s just shaping a plant in a specific way. Hedging a plant kills the inner branches so only the outside produces leaves. It’s pretty on the outside, dead on the inside. The branches inside get no sunlight or air. That is why the insides die. God doesn’t do that. God doesn’t want us to be pretty on the outside and dead on the inside.
Heading is designed to flesh out and change the trajectory of a branch but doesn’t take off the branch completely. God rarely uses this technique, but there are a couple of examples where God did this. One example of this is Ahab, where all his descendants was killed, save one.
There is also the example of Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, who was queen of Yehudah (Judah) and tried to kill off all of David’s descendants. But one got away. (2Kings 8-11) David’s line was headed — weakened but not cut off.
God does cut people and their family lines off from time to time. Abel death at Cain’s hand was one example because Abel died without issue. But a greater example of being “cut off” was Noah’s flood. Everyone who was not in the ark was “cut off.”
“Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, ‘Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.'” (Gen. 9:8–11)
The term “cut off” in Hebrew always has the same meaning, even in texts where we find it inconvenient.
An example is when God called Abraham and his family to circumcision.
“God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.'” (Gen. 17:9–14)
Does “cut off ” really mean to kill off. Is is that severe? Let’s look at another example in Exodus 4:
“Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.’ So He let him alone. At that time she said, ‘You are a bridegroom of blood’ — because of the circumcision.” (Ex. 4:24–26)
God was going to kill Moses’s son because he had not been circumcised. He was not going to send him into exile, He was going to kill him.
Abraham taught his descendants to obey God. It’s a physical cutting of the skin. Does it establish something inside of you. What establishes you is learning faith in God. It recognizes the agreement with Abraham and his descendants. Having to have a circumcision on one’s 8-day-old son is the deepest cut a father will ever experience. Circumcision is not about the infant, it’s about the father and the father’s responsibility. I’m not saying an adult can’t be circumcised. Moses’s son was most likely an adult when he was circumcised. Abraham was circumcised as an adult. The objective is not cutting off a foreskin, it’s what’s left behind that is the point. It’s about being a citizen of Israel.
How does God see Israel? Isaiah 5:1-7 tells us. What God wanted from Israel was to produce good fruit. He took good care of it and it produced bad fruit. Since it produced bad fruit, the vineyard was of no value and he stopped taking care of it.
What does God gain from this? Psalm 37 tells us about how God sees the part that is cut off. Why does God cut off the evil doers? It’s to expose the evil and let the light in. This could be an individual or a community. The ones who need the light the most are the ones deprived of its blessing. That is why God has to cut off the evil from time to time. When God cuts off the evil branches, they are burnt.
Ezek. 14:12-23 shows us that when God cuts off, it’s because there’s nothing good there. Instead of tinkering and modifying the community, He just cuts it all off and start over from scratch.
The first sprout is usually the strongest. The first generation is usually the strongest. Think of Ezra and Nehemiah. The first generation who returned from exile were the closest to God and the subsequent generations did not maintain the strength.
God is the one who does the pruning and cutting, not us. It exposes the part that is weak and lacking in light so they become strong and get more light. Any loss hurts, especially when large chunks or most of the plant gets cut off.
Pruning is for producing fruit. Cutting off is to produce leaves and help the plant grow. It’s OK when God cuts off parts of the vine to promote growth. It’s OK if there is a time of not producing fruit.
Speaker: Daniel Agee. Summary: Tammy. Recorded on day 3 of Sukkot 2014 in Occidental, Calif.
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