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Jotham’s Parable - Judges 9.1-21 (2)

T Ratcliffe, Wimborne

THE OLIVE (OLEA EUROPAEA)

"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…Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees" (vv.8-9).

The olive is an evergreen tree which speaks of the promises of God: promises that are eternal, sure, and steadfast. God’s promise to Abram was that "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen 12.3), and this is being fulfilled on earth even now, and will continue to its climactic conclusion in the Millennium.

The first mention of the olive is in Genesis 8 when the dove returned to the ark with an olive leaf in her mouth; that incident was a sign that, after the Great Tribulation, Israel will be grafted back into the stock of the good olive tree that speaks of faithful Abraham (Rom 11.24). So, no matter what man’s circumstances may be, God’s promises will never be set aside. Biblical scholars and some botanists generally accept that the longevity of the olive tree is probably the greatest of all trees. Indeed, the olive tree from which Noah’s dove plucked the leaf, along with other olive trees in the area, continued to flourish to the day when our Lord was on earth. The olive tree illustrated is growing in Israel today and reputed to be over 5,000 years old. We read in Genesis 15.8-13 that Abram, in whom the seed of promise was sown, enquired of God how all His promises would be brought about. Abram did not doubt God’s word, but he was anxious to know the means God would employ to bring fulfilment to His promises. The compound sacrifice Abram was told to offer typically spoke of how all would be fulfilled through the death of Christ, so removing all that would hinder the nation entering into their promised rest.

The wood of the olive tree has the tightest and closest grain of any tree wood growing in those areas of the world where the olive is indigenous. The wood of the olive tree speaks of the saints of God being indissolubly fused by His Spirit into one body in Christ (Jn 17.21,23; Rom 12.5; Eph 4.4). The vast majority of tree woods are prone to splintering; not so the olive. Notwithstanding the battering the Church is daily subjected to by Satan, it cannot be splintered. Following Peter’s profession that the Lord was "the Christ, the Son of the living God", the Lord said that "upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16.16,18). Sadly, the testimony of the Church on earth is splintered and fractured in many different ways, but this cannot happen to the Body of Christ, the Church; it is indissolubly fused into one body by the unifying power of the Spirit of God.

The olive tree when in full flower is transformed into a mass of pure white flowers, with its splendour outshining all other flowering trees. Such a glorious spectacle speaks of the inscrutable and incomparable beauty of the Lord Jesus when here as man in the power of the Spirit. His disposition as dependant man was of unparalleled loveliness which God beheld with inexpressible pleasure and delight (Lk 3.22). Speaking of Israel in a coming day of glory, Hosea says that "his beauty shall be as the olive tree" (Hos 14.6). It is not without significance that Hosea is led to parallel Israel, in the day of the nation’s restoration, with the beauty of the olive. During the Millennium no nation will outshine restored Israel for beauty, glory, and power. However, today, the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, should reflect all the glorious attributes of Christ in service and testimony (1 Pet 2.9).

The manner in which the flowers of the olive are shed is unique among the flowering trees of creation. On a given day from the date when the first flowers appear and within the space of one day, the olive tree sheds all its flowers. There is nothing phased or gradual, it is a phenomenon as remarkable as it is startling. In the angel Gabriel’s message to Daniel he said, "And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself" (Dan 9.26). Like the olive, our blessed Lord was one day in full flower and glory, and the next day bowing His head in death. Eliphaz, the first of Job’s three comforters, speaking of unregenerate man, said, "He shall…cast off his flower as the olive" (Job 15.33).

The primary product of the olive is oil, a type of the Holy Spirit of God. Olive fruits are harvested by beating the trees. The harvesting would speak of the deep soul exercise which was a personal, unique, and daily experience of our blessed Lord, culminating in Gethsemane’s garden. The oil-press, through which the olives were passed, typified the unparalleled crushing forces of God’s unmitigated judgment against sin which our Lord sustained throughout His atoning sufferings on the Cross. The end result of such divine bruising was the advent at Pentecost of the Holy Spirit who now indwells every Christian believer (1 Jn 2.20).

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, having spent 40 days and nights with the Lord, "He wist not that the skin of his face shone" (Ex 34.29-30). The Psalmist spoke of "oil to make his face to shine" (Ps 104.15). May the Lord help us to accept what the Psalmist says, that the world may see the lovely, holy nature of Christ in us by the power of His Spirit. When Stephen, doing wonders being full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, was brought before the Sanhedrim to answer false accusations, "the council…saw his face as it had been the face of an angel" (Acts 6.15). The yearning of our hearts should be to shine as lights in this world of moral darkness (Phil 2.15).

The products of the olive have the greatest range of uses of all fruiting trees. The wood is used for very high quality furniture (see 1 Kings 6.23, 31-33). The oil is used for anointing, lighting, heating fuel, healing, medicine, cooking, and as a solvent of resins, while the fruits are used for food. The uses of the olive products give us an impression of the rich variety of gifts extant in the Church today. The Apostle Paul reminds us, "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all" (1 Cor 12.4-6). May our gracious God help, guide and direct us in the exercise of the specific gift He has given us.

For centuries Israel had an exclusive position of favour before God, but through unbelief forfeited their privileged place. They have for the time being been set aside. The allegory employed by the Apostle Paul (Rom 11.24) confirms that Israel in no way reflected the faithfulness of Abraham. Accordingly, God broke them off as the natural branches in the "tree of promise", i.e. faithful Abraham, and in their place grafted in branches of the wild olive (faithful, believing Gentiles) which, as Paul says, is "contrary to nature". In the normal course of vegetative propagation in fruit tree husbandry, man would take a choice scion (branch) and graft it into a strong, healthy stock. In due course the husbandman would expect to reap the desired fruits, but if he grafted into his choice stock the scion of a wild, unhealthy branch the result of his endeavours would be a wild, unhealthy, unproductive tree. God alone, through His sovereign husbandry, is able to reverse the natural sequence of events in order to bring into prominence that which will honour Him and His blessed Son. To this end, all the promises made to faithful Abraham are being worked out through a glorified Christ, and testified to by the saints of God on earth. God’s promises are no longer reposing solely on the natural children of Abraham, but on the faithful in Christ (Gal 3.29).

Paul’s figure of the olive tree on earth, with faithful Abraham as its root and stock, is meant to convey the truth that Abraham today is the father of the faithful (Rom 4.16). Paul, writing to the Galatian saints, says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law...That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal 3.13-14). Being grafted into the olive tree, the saints today are drawing on the inestimable riches of God’s grace. The ministry of Romans (chs. 9-11) is that Israel for the time being has been set aside, but that in God’s time the position of the nation will change for good. Being the natural branches of the olive, the nation will be grafted back into the stock to be the recipients of God’s promises according to His covenant with faithful Abraham.

To be continued.

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