The Shrivelled Fig Tree

“And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there. Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!”—Matthew 21:17-20.

A parable can both conceal and clarify

The above verses are parabolic in nature; Jesus said learn a parable of the fig tree. A parable is an illustrative spiritual lesson. Parable descends from the Greek parabolē “a comparison, an analogy.” The Greek word  Paraballein is made of two parts, from the prefix para  which is “to compare” plus ballein “to throw.” The sense of comparing, or throwing an idea beside another, is at the heart of the word.

Mat 13:10-16 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

The fig tree is emblematic of the nation of Israel

Luke 13: 6-to-9: He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

The parable in Luke 13 represents God as the owner of the vineyard and Christ as the dresser who went about caring  and advocating for the fig tree (the Jewish nation) which despite the ministry of Jesus Christ for three years did not bring forth fruits meet for repentance, and therefore was “cut down” in A.D. 70 when the Roman army under Titus destroyed Jerusalem.

Why Would Jesus curse a fig tree, especially when it was not the season of figs?

Though it was not the season of figs, Jesus was well within the confines of sound reason to expect fruit from this tree. Fig trees in the mountainous regions of Palestine shed all of their leaves by early December and they remain bare until about the end of March, when they commence putting forth their tender leaf buds.

This particular tree in the narrative was in full leaf at a time when it was not supposed to be with leaves. True, it was not the time of figs, but if it was not the time of figs, it certainly was not the season for leaves either, for the fruit comes first and then the leaves. The tree was functioning contrary to its nature by being in full leaf at a time when it was not supposed to be having leaves.For the casual observer, there is no reason for an amoral entity like this tree to be subject to divine wrath, for it did no harm, especially when it was not the season for figs. However, introspection at a deeper level would reveal that this tree was made a model of what would happen to people  professing something which they did not possess, and this is where the parabolic nature of these verses comes into light.

1) That their profession would be inspected by the King of Kings, Jesus.

Like this fig tree in full leaf, it is the very nature of a hypocrite to loudly profess those things, moral standards or opinions, that have nothing to do with the reality of  living their own lives. They grab your attention by their show, it is nothing but impressive showmanship sans any sincerity. This show, the bible says, will deceive many: Mat 24:24, For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Further, Jesus goes on to warn about hypocrisy in the Scriptures, one of the most glaring verses being  Matthew 7:15&16, it says: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Man’s eye can be deceived by all this outward observance of religion, but not God’s. He looks deep inside, He looks intensely and nothing can miss His gaze. He inspects for fruit in those who claim to be His.You shall know them by their fruits, and not by their gifts: their oratorical skills, their pseudo-prophetic insights and even the working of wonders. For gifts can be manipulated, but fruits cannot be, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (self-control) is the evidence of the new birth, and this is what Jesus looks for.

2) That, on inspection if  bareness were to be found, it would lead to a withered (dried up and dead) condition.

When Jesus comes looking for fruit in a person, the natural recourse is to be hewn down if found barren.
A Mat 7:17-20: Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Biblically, bareness is the result of being not grafted into the Vine, Jesus Christ. He said:  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you (John 15: 5-7)

The Kingdom, Saturday, March 18, 2017.

 

Additional Notes

A Thing or Two about Fig Trees

There are many varieties of figs in Palestine differing in sweetness, in color and consistence; some are good and some are bad (compare Jer 24:1,8; 29:17). In Palestine and other warm climates the fig yields two crops annually–an earlier one, ripe about June, growing from the “old wood,” i.e. from the midsummer sprouts of the previous year, and a second, more important one, ripe about August, which grows upon the “new wood,” i.e. upon the spring shoots. By December, fig-trees in the mountainous regions of Palestine have shed all their leaves, and they remain bare until about the end of March, when they commence putting forth their tender leaf buds (Mt 24:32; Mr 13:28,32; Lu 21:29-33), and at the same time, in the leaf axils, appear the tiny figs. They belong to the early signs of spring. Courtesy, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar, has called attention to the fact that “in Palestine the fruit appears before the leaves” Thus, to see a leafed fig tree, even at an unseasonable time, warranted the assumption that there would be fruit on the tree.

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