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Jotham’s Parable - Judges 9.1-21 (5)

T Ratcliffe, Wimborne

The "Bramble" (Zizyphus Spina-Christi)

Jotham in his parable likens Abimelech, son of Gideon’s concubine, to the pernicious bramble. While the Scriptures speak of thorns, thistles, nettles, and brambles, there is little doubt that the "bramble" referred to in Jotham’s parable is the "Christ Thorn" Zizyphus spina-christi, the most hazardous and dangerous of all plants with which to become entangled.

The Hebrew word for bramble in Judges 9.14 & 15 is "Atad". The word means: to pierce; to make fast; to secure; bramble; thorn-bush. The only other place in the Old Testament where the word occurs is Psalm 58.9 (as "thorns"). This Psalm speaks of the conditions prevailing when David was being assailed on every side; it also details God’s intervention on behalf of the godly remnant. Verse 9 of the Psalm indicates the rapidity of the fiery judgment before the pots feel the heat of the burning thorns. The Psalm confirms that the sole use of the bramble with its 50mm (2 inch) long thorns is to generate pain and to destroy. Abimelech’s objective was to subdue (pierce) the children of Israel; to hold them in chains (make fast), and to dominate them for his own gain (secure). What is clearly for our instruction and help in Jotham’s parable is that the character and growth of the bramble is typical of the unregenerate nature of man. We must never forget that the "old nature" is still with us while we are here on earth, and that it behoves us to ensure it is never allowed to express itself in the world nor among the saints of God. The Apostle Paul was daily profoundly aware of the risk, and therefore accordingly exhorts the saints (Rom 6.6; Eph 4.22; Col 3.9-10).

We should always carefully consider our disposition toward our brothers and sisters in Christ; and like the olive, fig, and vine, be more ready to serve than to rule. The Lord Jesus said, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (Jn 13.15-16). Paul wrote, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil 2.3-5). Christians are, of course, regenerate with a divine nature, but, due to the weaknesses of the flesh, features of the old nature are sometimes vented on the saints of God.

If one were foolish enough to shelter beneath the bramble, its long, waving, thorn-studded outgrowths would quickly tear one’s clothes to shreds and inflict personal injury. The natural growth habit of the bramble parallels the objective of Abimelech; i.e. to ensnare, hold captive, and control; that is why he said, "...come and put your trust in my shadow" (Judg 9.15). Brethren who display such failings should be approached with extreme caution, for they are uncomfortable to be with, painful to handle, and, as with the bramble, to shelter beneath their shadow would be to court disaster. In times of stress and trial such brethren afford no relief, comfort, or protection; rather than building up the saints they just hold them down.

The normal leaves of plants are miniature processing factories. By a process known as photosynthesis, leaves convert the nutrients they draw up from the earth via the roots and stems into plant tissue, fruit, and seeds. The energy leaves require to perform their vital function is drawn exclusively from the light of the sun. So it is with Christians: the life-giving energy for spiritual growth, the exercise of gifts, and fruit bearing is solely derived from the Son in heaven by the power of the Spirit of God. Thorns on the other hand, are modified, stipular leaves with no processing function whatsoever and therefore derive no energy from the sun. The sole purpose of the bramble with its thorns is self-promotion and domination to the hurt of others. Let us beware of the spirit of Abimelech rising up among us.

Those in the parable who parallel the spirit of the olive, fig, and vine, humbly cherished their respective gifts and would not surrender such gifts to rule without divine authority; they chose rather to be useful and to serve God than to appear great in the eyes of men. May the spirit of the olive, the fig, and the vine be true of each one of us!



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