The Three "Trees" of Israel: Olive, Fig and Vine (Judges 9)

Israel’s salvation – the OLIVE tree (Romans 11)

Israel as a nation – the FIG tree (Matthew 21)

Israel’s spiritual state – the VINE (Isaiah 5)

All earthly things are the shadows of heavenly realities… the expression in created visible forms, of the invisible glory of God. The Life and the Truth are in Heaven and on earth we have figures and shadows of the heavenly truths.

Israel is compared to three trees; the ‘Olive Tree’, the ‘Fig Tree’ and the Vine represent the "fruitfulness" of the Land. The "parable" of the three trees in Judges 9:1-21 …relates the ‘trees’ to a relationship between God and His people. While we as Christians can spiritualize these scriptures in a personal way …it is important to keep in mind that there is a natural and literal interpretation that always takes precedence. The interpretation of the "parable of the trees," by Jotham, in Judges 9, was local and historical to Israel at the time it was written …but the application of its fulfilment is prophetic in that it painted a picture of the Israelites (the ‘privileged’ trees) looking for a king to rule over them…

"The trees went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, reign over us. But the olive tree said to them, Should I leave my fatness with which they honour God and man by me, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig tree, you come and reign over us. But the fig tree said to them, Should I forsake my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then the trees said to the vine, you come and reign over us. And the vine said to them, Should I leave my wine, which cheers God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then all the trees said to the bramble-bush, you come and reign over us. And the bramble-bush said to the trees, if you truly anoint me king over you, come put your trust in my shadow. And if not, let fire come out of the bramble and burn up the cedars of Lebanon," Judges 9:8-15.

Didn’t that form quite a humorous picture with all these trees interacting and speaking to each other…? They are actions not possible to be performed by a tree therefore we know it is symbolism for something else. Therefore we know we must study this logically …so can a tree move (walk) or speak or reign? The answer is NO …but people can do these things! Trees can sometimes represent people and other times nations.

The olive tree, fig tree and the vine are used to illustrate the religious, national and spiritual privileges afforded by God to the nation of IsraelGod desired to be their king. God, therefore, gave Israel the privilege to worship Him through prescribed religious relationship (pictured in the Olive Tree). God gave them the privilege of being a nation in His sight (pictured in the Fig Tree). And, finally, He gave them the privilege of having a personal relationship with Him (pictured in the Vine). The Trees (privileged Israel) were meant to rule over the world under God’s absolute authority. But, sadly they wanted an earthly king just like the rest of the world and refused to take their place of authority in any capacity afforded by God.

The Olive Tree said… it wanted only to produce oil rather than take the responsibility of its privileged place at the ‘head’ of the trees (the world)! The olive tree is also a symbol of SHALOM ‘peace’ (Genesis 8:11) and light (Exodus 25:6; 35:8, 28) and is an illustration of God bringing peace between man and Himself through the sacrificial ways taught only to the people of Israel. They were cultivated to bring the ‘Light of Yeshua the Messiah,’ into the whole world. Yeshua (Jesus) would sacrificially fulfill this for all mankind.

Jeremiah records the Lord’s Words to Israel in which He calls her an olive tree… “The Lord called your name… Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit... For the Lord of hosts, has planted you...” Jeremiah 11:16, 17. And, Hosea also tells us the Lord’s words concerning Israel, the olive tree; “I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon,” Hosea 14:5, 6. The physical attributes of the olive tree mirror characteristics displayed by the Israelites (Jews) throughout the ages… Their history in (the Diaspora) exile from Israel into all the nations of the world testifies of their enduring nature in hostile, foreign Gentile lands (represented by wild olive trees). Israel’s branches though distorted and twisted and will grow where other trees CANNOT survive. It clings to life and is enduring.

In the natural some olive trees live long and some are 3000 years old. Only one flower in 100 bear’s fruit …the others fall off. Cultivated olive tree branches can be grafted into wild olive trees to improve the wild olive tree …BUT rarely are the branches of the wild olive grafted into a cultivated olive tree! While it was rare for a wild olive branch to be grafted into a cultivated olive tree, the apostle Paul in Romans 11 uses just this illustration to demonstrate that God was bringing Gentiles (wild branches) into His cultivated olive tree (Israel’s religious privilege and favour) through the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus). He makes it clear that while Israel is not cast aside (vs. 1) only a remnant (vs. 5) believed and the rest fell in order to bring the richness of salvation to the Gentiles of the world. Vs. 17 and vs. 24 illustrate that Israel is the olive tree “And if some of the branches be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree (we became a partner in the religious privileges of Israel), do not boast against the branches (Israel). But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, (the Jewish religion established by God through the patriarchs) but the root supports you. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature …and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree (privileged Israel) how much more will these, who are natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree (be returned to God’s privilege and favour)…?” (Romans 9:24)

The Fig Tree said… it was more important to bear fruit than to rule as king! Again, we see Israel shunning its responsibility of authority over the trees (nations). The fig tree, symbolizing Israel’s national privilege, bears two crops annually… winter figs and summer figs. Figuratively, it speaks of the First Coming of the Messiah to the nation of Israel and as a whole they rejected Him. At His Second Coming, Israel (Jews), will receive Him and cry out… “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,” Luke 13:35. The fruit of the fig tree appears first …before the flower. The fig is symbolic of the Jewish people and the flower illustrates the land of Israel. God acknowledged them as a nation before He gave them a land in which to live (Exodus 4:22).

The New Testament records several parables about “the fig tree” …but the passage in Luke clearly identifies the two advents of the Messiah in Luke 13:6-9; “A certain man (God) had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none (Yeshua/Jesus First Coming). Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years (the length of Yeshua’s reign on earth) I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” (Speaking of His Second Coming) And, probably the most quoted parable about ‘the fig tree’ appears in Matthew 24:32-33, in the midst of Yeshua’s Olivet Discourse …His teaching about the End-of-the-Age; “Now learn this parable from the fig tree (Israel)… when its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it (the Coming of the Lord to ‘harvest’ the earth) is near …at the doors.” This parable connects the ‘blossoming’ of the fig tree with the coming of the Lord and the blossoming of the fig tree refers to Israel becoming a nation again (1948) after having not existed for almost 2000 years. Luke 1:68, “Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”

The Vine… in Judges 9 parable, the vine also abolishes its responsibility of leadership among ‘the trees.’ Psalm 80 describes Israel as the vine that the Lord brought out of Egypt …the vineyard, which God’s right hand planted. In Jeremiah 2:21, God says that He planted Israel as a "noble vine," "a seed of highest quality." The fruit of the vine produces wine, which is spiritually symbolic of joy. The grape vine, representing Israel’s spiritual privilege with God …has branches that wrap themselves around another, branches that depend upon the nourishment and strength of the vine.

Yeshua (Jesus) described Himself as the Vine and His followers as the branches… "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing," John 15:4, 5.

The Bramble… bears no fruit, only thorns and is the product of the curse pronounced by God on mankind in the Garden of Eden after the fall. It is such a low bush that one would have to stoop down low to get in its shadow as is suggested should be done in Judges 9:13. Although the bramble typifies un-regenerate man, features of the plant are sometimes seen in the lives of believers.

The bramble offers no service to …nor provision for the trees …but boasts of a false gift as it asks them to “trust in my shadow.” One could not possibly safely shelter under such a tree …it is more likely to hurt, injure, and suppress rather than comfort, heal, and protect. A worthless plant, the ambition of the bramble was to dominate!

The bramble (Abimelech) in the parable foreshadows the “antichrist,” the one whom Israel will in the end accept as king; and the one who will eventually attempt to devour that nation as described in Judges 9:20. Abimelech ruled for three years and was then killed by a woman (a type of the nation of Israel), indicating that Israel will be victorious in the end. Because Israel did not use her God-given authority, God allowed her to have kings… But, the kings abused her and rejected God. Eventually, Israel’s rebellion resulted in expulsion from the land. As the Second Coming of our Lord draws near, Israel is once again a nation (the fig tree) preparing to rebuild the “Temple” of God and resume through “peace” the sacrificial system (the olive tree). As she prepares for the Coming of the Messiah, Israel will again be tested to see if she has born fruit (the vine).

Interesting to note… Jotham was Gideon’s youngest son who escaped the massacre of his 69 brothers by Abimelech (Judges 9.1-6), who later returned to Mount Gerizim to tell out his prophetic parable under the guidance of the Lord. While the parable foretold the apostasy of the nation of Israel …Jotham himself represented “a faithful remnant.” The spiritual teaching of the parable not only has a serious lesson for us but also carries a warning for those who seek a name and power instead. Abimelech was Gideon’s son by one of his concubines and therefore a product of the flesh (8.31). He was a man devoid of godly principles, and in pursuing his selfish, personal ambition hired worthless and unimportant men of Shechem to commit a heinous crime to secure his anointing as king. The fall of those who unrighteously arrogate to themselves power and authority always comes in God’s time and in the case of Abimelech it was three years later. The spirit of dominance was an evil trait in the character of Abimelech. Let us not overlook the fact that the fall of Abimelech and the nation of Israel was occasioned by internal conflict. Are we not witnessing the weakening and destruction of the Christian message …not only by the world leaders but also through strife among the believers…?

Yeshua (Jesus) said ‘I am’ on seven occasions. ‘I am in Hebrew is ‘Hayah’ and means; "to be or to exist!" Each ‘I am’ is a description He gave of Himself and is recorded in John’s Gospel. The Seven ‘I am’ sayings help us better understand the divinity of Christ:

"I am the bread of life." John 6:35, 41, 48-51

"I am the light of the world." John 8:12, 9:5

"I am the gate for the sheep." John 10:7, 9

"I am the good shepherd." John 10:11, 14

"I am the resurrection, and the life." John 11:25

"I am the way, the truth, and the life." John 14:6

"I am the true vine." John 15:1, 5

The earlier sayings had focus on Yeshua as life-giver and include an invitation to come to Him and to believe in Him. In John 15 we have the last of these ‘I am’ sayings‘ I am the true vine’ and this time Yeshua (Jesus) is speaking to those who have already come to Him, and His message is to stay close and commit themselves to Him for the long term, to grow and become fruitful believers. It’s a symbolic story, which means that there’s meaning everywhere (some maybe lost to those of us from a different time and culture, but not to Yeshua’ listeners then), and He uses as the basis for this teaching a picture that would be familiar to all the people of Israel …‘’the vine!" In the Old Testament Israel is pictured as the vineyard of God…

"I planted you as a choice vine," (Jeremiah 2:21) God tells Israel this through the prophets Jeremiah and Hosea. Israel is a luxuriant vine’ in Hosea 10:1.

The grapevine was a symbol of ancient Israel and is part of modern Israel’s national emblem… Grapes have always been central to Israel’s agriculture and economy. The climate of Israel is ideal for cultivating grapes. The grapevine represented Israel’s fruitfulness in doing God’s work on earth. This symbol was on Israel’s coins between the Old and New Testament period, at the time of the Maccabees. A very important product of ancient Israel was ‘grape-honey’ made by boiling the grapes into a molasses-like jelly, which was very sweet. When Israel is referred to as the "land of milk and honey", it is referring to this product rather than honey from beehives. In the time of Yeshua (Jesus), a golden vine hung over the entrance of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a gift from Herod. It was made of delicately-twisted gold wire and beads. Israel appeared outwardly healthy …but was spiritually withered. Yeshua, declared in the last "I am" statement… "I am the true Vine!"

The true Vine… When Yeshua (Jesus) tells us; "I am the true Vine," He informs us that all the vines of earth are ‘pictures’ and ‘emblems’ of Himself. He is the divine reality, of which they are the created expression. They ALL point to Him, and preach Him, and reveal Him. If we would like to experience Yeshua (Jesus) all we need to do is study the vine. How many times have our eyes looked upon and admired a great vine with its beautiful fruit. Let us look to the ‘heavenly Vine’ until our eyes turns from ALL else to admire Him …"the true vine!"

The heavenly mystery… The earthly vine can teach you much about this Vine of Heaven. Many interesting and beautiful points of comparison suggest themselves, and help us to get conceptions of what Yeshua meant. But unfortunately such thoughts do not teach us to know what the heavenly Vine really is …in its cooling shade and its life-giving fruit. The experience of this is part of the hidden mystery …which none but Yeshua (Jesus) Himself, by His Holy Spirit, can unfold and impart. “I am the true Vine” is the vine and is the living Lord, who Himself speaks, and gives, and works ALL that He has for us. Yeshua alone can reveal Himself. He gives His Holy Spirit to open our eyes to look upon Him, to open our hearts to receive Him and He must speak the Word to us! The overshadowing of His holy love will give us the perfect calm and rest of knowing that “the Vine” will do all. He is the crucified One, who won a perfect righteousness and a divine life for us through His death. He is the glorified One, who from the throne gives His Spirit to make His presence real and true.

There is the “Husbandman” …This term is rather unknown in our modern culture. “Husbandman” does not signify a “husband,” but rather a tiller of the ground, a vinedresser, or a farmer. He is the one in charge of the vines and to whom ultimate accountability is to be rendered. He does everything within his power to see that the plant bears fruit. If it does not, the fault is not his. A vine must have a husbandman to plant and watch over it, to receive and rejoice in its fruit. Yeshua (Jesus) says… ”My Father is the husbandman.” (John 15:1) He was “the vine of God’s planting.” All He was and did, He owed to the Father; in all He only sought the Father's will and glory. He had become man to show us what a creature ought to be to its Creator. He took our place, and the spirit of His life before the Father. Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. He became “the true Vine,” that we might be “true branches.”

The vine is the source of life for the branches… It provides the water and nutrients by which the grapes are produced. Without the vine, no fruit could ever result. Branches are utterly dependent upon the vine. A branch is simply a bit of wood, brought forth by the vine for the one purpose of serving it in bearing its fruit. It is of the very same nature as the vine, and has one life and one spirit with it. Without Christ, of course, there is NO spiritual life or hope of eternal reward (John 14:6; Acts 4:11-12). The branch has but one object for which it exists, one purpose to which it is entirely given up and that is, to bear the fruit "the vine" wishes to bring forth. And, so in the same way the believer has but one reason for his being a branch but one reason for his existence on earth that the "Heavenly Vine" may through him bring forth His fruit. It is interesting that Christ designates Himself as "the true vine." As dependent as a vine is on a husbandman for the place where it is to grow, for its fencing in and watering and pruning. Yeshua (Jesus) felt Himself entirely dependent on the Father every day for the wisdom and the strength to do the Father's will!

At the very root of all believers’ lives lies the thought that God is to do all …and to believe that our work is to give and leave ourselves in His Hands. We are to confess our utter helplessness and dependence and in the assured confidence that God gives us all we need. The great lack of Christianity is that …even where we trust Christ …we leave God out of the count! Christ came to bring us to God. Christ lived the life of a man exactly as we have to live it. Christ "the Vine" points to God "the Husbandman!" As Yeshua (Jesus) trusted God let us also trust God our Abba Father!

We are reminded that when most of Israel was taken out of the land (Leviticus 18:26-28; Deuteronomy 28:23-24) …no one could claim the people had not been warned, they were told specifically…. "There shall be no grapes on the vine, no figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade," Jeremiah 8:13. And, "There shall come up "briers and thorns," Isaiah 5:6. The land was described as in mourning… the herbs of every field withered, because of the wickedness of those who dwelt in its borders (Jeremiah 12:4). Our Creator speaks of the land of Israel as though it was a living thing… "They have made it desolate, and being desolate it mourns unto Me, Jeremiah 12:11. So we see that God the Father is the Owner of the vineyard, as well as the cultivator of the crop... Vines require constant, attentive care. A vineyard calls for harder and more regular labour than any other form of agriculture. The Israelites built watchtowers by their vineyards to guard against thieves and wild animals. The Father tends His grapes …waters and protects them, and cultivates a harvest so that it will produce a maximum yield. We can trust the Gardener to nurture and watch us. His eye is on every branch. God makes His garden grow (I Corinthians 3:6-9).

John refers to Yeshua (Jesus) in John 15:1 not simply as "the vine" …but more specifically as "the true vine." The implication is that in contrast to Israel, which became unfaithful and incurred the judgment of God, Yeshua (Jesus) remains faithful and thus fulfils Israel’s calling to be the vine of God. It is noteworthy that the contrast is between Israel and Yeshua (Jesus) and not between Israel and the Church. The Church is not "the true vine" …Yeshua/Jesus is. Furthermore, Yeshua is not the trunk or the root …He is "the vine!" He is the "true vine" who fulfilled the destiny to which Israel was called. The Church CAN be a part of that destiny only as branches "in the true vine" (Yeshua/Jesus) and branches in "the olive tree" (Israel). The Church CANNOT fulfill it’s destiny without Christ. Apart from Christ the Church is nothing but dead twigs! The Church MUST remain connected to its Hebraic roots (Olive tree/Israel)!

We hope that you enjoy and become more informed by our work. We serve an awesome God and we are humbled by this opportunity to bring you this information.

Alf & Julie Saunders

01st January, 2015


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