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Jotham’s Parable - Judges 9.1-21 (3)

T Ratcliffe, Wimborne


There are two species of fig referred to in the Scriptures. Ficus carica is first mentioned in Genesis 3.7 when Adam and Eve took leaves and made aprons to cover their nakedness. The other fig is Ficus Sycomorus, the Mulberry Fig or Sycamore which Zacchæus climbed to secure a better view of the Lord Jesus (Lk 19.4). Although there are several references to the Sycamore tree in the Old Testament, we shall confine our considerations to Ficus carica, the tree referred to in Jotham’s parable.

It is generally accepted that the fig tree in Scripture speaks of Israel as a nation which, under divine culture through the law, failed to yield the sweet fruits of goodness and righteousness. God said, "I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baal-peor [idolatry], and separated themselves unto that shame" (Hos 9.10). It is not without significance that we have the fig referred to in Genesis 3.7. The fig tree, in the first instance, speaks of man and his potential in the world where God had placed him. In innocence, his life was to be marked by practical righteousness for the glory of God. However, man’s disobedience proved him incapable of living righteously (Ps 14.3; Rom 3.10). Before God cast out man from His paradise on earth, it was His plan that he should have dominion over plants and animals, and, under the influence of His goodness, multiply and be more fruitful than any other creature in creation. It is worthy of note that the ratio of the number of seeds to the volume of flesh in a single fig fruit gives it the potential for the highest level of reproduction above all other fruit bearing trees.

In the Mediterranean region, the fig tree can yield up to three crops a year; so no matter what time of the year one may go to the fig tree, there should always be fruit or the promise of fruit. One can therefore understand the great disappointment of the Lord Jesus who, being hungry and seeing a fig tree before Him, found nothing but leaves. The Lord pronounced a miraculous summary judgment on the tree (Mt 21.18-20). The Lord’s action on that occasion signalled God’s coming judgment on Israel, the nation that had failed to yield the expected fruits of righteousness, sweetness, and goodness. Paul spoke of Israel as "being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom 10.3). Israel ignored the words of Isaiah who said, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Is 64.6). Sadly, in Christendom today there is a great show of leaves, with little or no fruit for God in either the personal testimony or the collective witness of the saints. As with the fig tree, the abundance of foliage conceals the absence of fruit. Let us beware of hyperactivity in the service of God. There are many Scriptures to confirm that the servant of the Lord should have a quiet and meek spirit (Mt 11.29; Col 3.12; James 3.13).

The best quality figs in any year are those of the first crop following the winter when the tree puts forth its new leaves. In the spiritual realm, we are always in that period when God is expecting the best fruit from our lives, i.e. the product of the profession of our faith. There should never be an occasion when we are not witnessing to the goodness and sweetness of God. Furthermore, we should ever have available some good and sweet sustaining food to nourish the saints of God. Paul calls it "Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Christ Jesus unto the glory and praise of God" (Phil 1.11).

The leaves of the fig tree are palmately veined like the palm of a hand and set forth the practical side of Christianity. James says, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2.14-20). We are told, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do [in the service of God], do it with thy might" (Eccl 9.10). The words of the Lord Jesus are: "I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" (Jn 9.4). The leaves of a plant absorb energy from the sun to enable them to draw up from the earth all the essential nutrients for conversion into growth, flowers, and fruits. When we are wholly energised by the power of the Spirit, our endeavours will result in fruit for God.

Of all the flowering fruit trees in God’s creation, the fig tree is the only one on which the flowers are never seen. Usually, the flowers of a tree do much to enhance its worth, and in the majority of cases flowering shrubs and trees are grown simply for the beauty of their flowers. The flowers of the fig on the other hand, add nothing to the general appearance of the tree. The hundreds of star-shaped, translucent white flowers are borne on the inside of the receptacle (syconium) which develops into the fig we eat. Nothing in our service for God should be done with a view to courting the praise, respect, and admiration of mankind; neither should we seek to enhance our image or heighten the esteem in which we may be held. If one opens up a fig to expose its flowers to the light of day, the fruit will wither away. So with us; if in our service we seek the honour, praise, and reward of men, there will be no glory, honour, or fruit for God, neither will there be spiritual profit for the saints. The hypocrites loved the praises of men; the Lord Jesus said of them that "They have their reward" (Mt 6.2).

Throughout our Saviour’s life on earth, there shone forth from Him a unique, moral beauty exclusive to the eye of God. Because of the moral excellencies of His beloved Son, God’s Spirit reposed in Him with divine complacency. He was the One in whom God was well pleased (Mt 3.17). Like the unseen flowers of the fig, His inner qualities as dependant man, His righteousness before God, His heart that was set to do the will of Him that sent Him, His ear that was open morning by morning to hear what the Lord His God would speak, His total commitment: these are the moral attributes that pleased His Father (Jn 8.29). Paul said, "Ye ought to walk…to please God" (1 Thess 4.1).

Hezekiah, King of Judah, on learning of the death of his arch enemy Sennacherib, King of Assyria, was lifted up with pride as though he himself had achieved the victory (2 Chr 32.22-26). As a result of Hezekiah’s pride God laid him low with a sickness unto death. God’s purpose in dealing with Hezekiah in this way was to judge the flesh, bring it to nothing, and show that the power opposing the people of God can only be destroyed by God. Nothing can be achieved for the glory of God by the action of the flesh (1 Cor 1.29). The poultice of figs placed on Hezekiah’s terminal boil symbolised the curative power, goodness, sweetness, and righteousness of God’s intervention (2 Kings 20.7).

The fig tree also speaks of security, prosperity, and peace. God’s plan for His people was that every one should sit "under his vine and under his fig tree" just as they did in the days of Solomon, from Dan in the north of the land to Beer-sheba in the south (1 Kings 4.25; Micah 4.4; Zech 3.10). In God’s time, the nation will be prosperous, secure, and at peace, experiencing the unparalleled goodness and sweetness of the nature of God in His righteousness toward them. In the Song of Songs (2.13), in Matthew 24.32, as well as in other Scriptures, the fig tree is referred to in parabolic terms in that when its buds begin to burst it denotes summer is near. In other words, the millennial age of glory is imminent, when righteousness shall reign.

To be continued.


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