The winepress (Isaiah 63)

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Illustration: A winepress

The winepress was a key component of ancient wine production. In its most basic form it consisted of three sections: an upper and a lower vat and a channel connecting the two. After the grapes had lain in the sun for a few days to incease their sugar content, they were placed in the upper vat and trodden with bare feet. The juice moved down the channel to the smaller, but deeper, lower vat. The husks that remained after having been trodden were pressed by a wooden plank, one end of which was secured to a side of the vat while the other was weighed with stones to facilitate the pressing process.

Some of the more elaborate winepresses that have been discovered have had three or four vats. The extra vats improved the settling process and reduced the amount of sediment in the wine. The juice would ferment in the lowest vat, a process requiring four to seven days. After this period the wine would be poured into jars or wineskins. Often there would be a spout in the lowest vat that would channel the wine into these containers. The jars or wineskins would hold the wine as the fermentation process was completed, a period of two to four months.

Isaiah used the imagery of treading the winepress to express divine judgement against the nation (Isaiah 63:1-6). The act of treading represents God’s vengeance against His enemies, whether through war or other disasters. The juice produced from the grapes represents the blood of the defeated, while the intoxication produced by overindulgence of the wine represents the effect of God’s wrath on those He judges (63:6). At the same time, however, God’s vengeance against His enemies is coupled with His redemption of His own people (63:4).


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