If you are an American, you are probably familiar with the following first verse from the famous patriotic song, the Battle Hymn of the Republic:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stored
He hath lossed his fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on.
This song was written by Julia Howe in 1861 after watching a review of Union troops at the beginning of the American Civil War.
You have most likely also heard of, if not necessarily read, the famous classic “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.
What you are probably not familiar with, unless you are a Biblical scholar, what the phrase “the grapes of wrath” actually means in biblical terms and the history of this graphic image in the Bible.
If you do a search with a biblical concordance, you won’t actually find the exact phrase “the grapes of wrath” in your Bible. In order to understand where this phrase comes from and really understand its meaning, you will need to do a word search for “winepress” instead, and then look for verses that describe judgment and God’s wrath.
Biblical Reference to the Grapes of Wrath #1: Isaiah 63:2-3
Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?
“I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing.”
Biblical Reference to the Grapes of Wrath #2: Joel 3:12-13
“Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side.
Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow — so great is their wickedness!”
Biblical Reference to the Grapes of Wrath #3: Revelation 14:17-20
Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.
Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.”
The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.
They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.
In all of these examples the grapes represent people or nations being destroyed or judged by God because of their wickedness. In our Revelation passage we see that there will be a final harvest of “grapes” (the wicked). The author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic saw in the inevitable bloodiness and deaths of the American Civil War a precursor or foreshadowing of this coming Divine event, when Jesus returns and judges all the peoples and nations of the earth.
Women’s Devotional Bible. New International Version
Compton’s Interactive Bible NIV