John Ecob DD
Trees are used symbolically of nations and peoples in Scripture. When Balaam prophesied of Israel he described the nation as
gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters (Numbers 24:6).
The Psalmist described the nations as “all the trees” when he wrote:
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth (Psalms 96:12-13).
Ezekiel likened the King of Assyria to a great tree whose
height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth (Ezekiel 31:5),
He described other nations as all “the trees of Eden” (Ezekiel 31:9). At the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s long reign over Babylon, he had a dream in which he saw his kingdom as a
tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great… and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; he cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth (Daniel 4:13-15).
Daniel interpreted the dream. The great tree was Nebuchadnezzar as king of the Babylonian kingdom.
There are three trees that scripture likens to the nation of Israel; the Vine, the Fig Tree, and the Olive tree and these together give us God’s whole plan for the nation and the world.
Israel is God’s Vine
the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant (Isaiah 5:7).
The Psalmist likened Israel to a vine brought out of Egypt and planted in the land of Canaan where God would bless her. The Psalmist wrote:
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars (Psalms 80:8-10).
But sadly God’s vineyard did not produce the sweet fruit that it was designed to produce. The nation turned away from God and became idolatrous and wicked. Isaiah describes this:
My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes (Isaiah 5:1-2).
God did everything possible to make His vinyard fruitful but all to no avail so He said:
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:4).
Therefore the hedge that God had planted about His vineyard was broken down and the wild animals devastated the vinyard; the Psalmist wrote:
Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? … the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted (Psalms 80:12-15).
The Babylonians had come and destroyed the Temple. The Jews had been taken to Babylon as captives. All their defenses failed when it came to the battle for Jerusalem. God took away the “hedge” which He had put around them to keep the wild beasts (Gentiles) away.
The Psalm finishes with a prayer for “the man at thy right hand”, “the son of man” to come to their aid with a promise that Israel will “not go back from thee” (Psalms 80:17-18). The Lord Jesus Christ is the “man at thy right hand”.
There was a partial return after 70 years of Babylonian captivity and the Lord restored the hedge of protection for a while during the Persian era until the Jews lapsed into formality and Pharisaism and rejected their Messiah nailing Him to a Roman cross. The “hedge” was removed again so that in AD70 the Romans destroyed the Vinyard and the Jews were scattered.
After Israel ceased to be God’s witness He turned to the Gentiles in the Church and Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the vine and ye are the branches”. In this Church age Christians make up the true Church and we are God’s vineyard. But the day will come when the Church will be Raptured and Israel will turn again to the Lord. Again the hedge about God’s people will be restored. Isaiah says that just as the oak and teil trees shed their leaves but revive in spring, (Isaiah 6:13) so Israel will revive in the last days. Israel will again become God’s fruitful vineyard in the millennial kingdom.
Until Christ came, Israel was the Lord’s vinyard on earth. God had established the nation and protected her from evil nations but when they sinned God removed the hedge that He put around them. Since AD70 that hedge has been broken down and God has been working through the Church because the nation is under the curse of God as seen in the figure of the Fig Tree.
In Joel’s day, after the Jews had returned from the Babylonian captivity, the nation was being chastened for its wickedness. Joel prophesied after about the time of the prophet Malachi. The Jews had taken heathen wives and the Temple was deserted so again God removed the hedge that He had set up during the Persian Empire. It continued to be removed in the Grecian era and so God sent enemies, a drought, and a plague of locusts to strip the land bare. Joel writes:
For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion. He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white (Joel 1:6-7).
Stripping the bark off a tree robs it of life and causes its demise. When Jesus walked into Jerusalem on the Monday of Passover week He saw a fig tree with leaves and He was hungry so He went to find fruit but the tree had nothing but leaves and He cursed the Fig Tree.
This was symbolic of the condition of Israel when Jesus came. They had no fruits of righteousness; just leaves of profession and so the nation was cursed. The very next day, Wednesday of the Passover week, as the disciples passed the Fig Tree they noticed it had suddenly died.
On the Wednesday evening on the Mount of Olives Jesus described events that will occur just before He returns and He gave some signs to indicate when that would be. One of those signs was
a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors (Matthew 24:32-33).
Israel came under the curse of God when she rejected her Messiah but in the last days the fig tree will put forth tender leaves and we have been blessed to witness this in 1948. After 2,000 years the Jews have returned and the nation has been reborn. The Fig Tree is putting forth her tender leaves in preparation for the time when she will again seek the Lord and acknowledge her Messiah after the Rapture.
Israel God’s Olive Tree
The Olive Tree is a symbol of Israel as she serves the Lord. The Psalmist wrote:
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever (Psalms 52:8).
Zechariah saw two olive trees from which there were pipes supplying oil for the seven golden candlesticks in the Temple to keep the light of testimony burning brightly. Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and Zechariah said:
Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my Lord. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts (Zechariah 4:5-6).
The olive tree produces oil to light the lamps in the Temple and the olive tree is symbolic of Israel in the Old Testment. It is also symbolic of the Church in the New Testament. Before Christ came the Holy Spirit worked through the nation of Israel the “natural olive” tree to bring the truth of the Living God to the world. Jesus is the Light of the world. In this age the Church is the “wild olive” used by the Holy Spirit to bless mankind.
In Romans chapter 11 we are told that when Israel turned against the Lord the “natural branches” (Israel), were broken off and the “wild olive branches” (Gentiles) were grafted in their place. The Gentile Church is the “wild olive branches” grafted into the olive tree and Israel has been temporarily put aside but Paul warned us Gentiles:
If God spared not the natural branches (Israel), take heed lest he also spare not thee (Gentiles) (Romans 11:21).
Christendom has departed from the Scriptures and will be judged by God and so Paul says to us Gentiles:
For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? (Romans 11:24).
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Romans 11:25-26).
The “fulness of the Gentiles” is the full number of Gentiles who will believe and become part of Christ’s Church in this Church age. When that occurs the Rapture will take place and the Tribulation will follow when all Israel will turn to the Lord. The natural branches of the olive tree will be grafted back into God’s olive tree and Israel will be God’s witnesses in the millennial kingdom. The Holy Spirit will flow through them to give the light of the Gospel to the world in Christ’s kingdom.
Immediately after the Rapture of the Gentile Church there will be two Jews in Jerusalem who will turn to Jesus Christ and will preach at Jerusalem that the Temple must be rebuilt just as Haggai and Zechariah prophesied and encouraged the reconstruction of the Temple in the days of Zerubbabel. John described these two Jewish prophets as follows:
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will (Revelation 11:4-6).
These Jewish prophets will preach during the first half of the 7-year Tribulation; for exactly 1,260 days before the Antichrist, the Beast, will be permitted to slay them.
Their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified (Revelation 11:8).
These will not be the only Jews who will turn to the Lord immediately after the Rapture of the Christians for we read of 144,000 Jewish men who will preach the Gospel of the Kingdom in “all the world” during that first half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:4; Matthew 24:14) and during the first half of the Tribulation, Russia and Islam will invade Israel and this will bring “all Israel” to cry out to the Lord Jesus Christ (Ezekiel.39:22).
The first half of the Tribulation is Israel’s time of travail and rebirth. Jesus said that it was “the beginning of sorrows (travail)” (Matthew 24:8). Isaiah prophesied:
Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her (Isaiah 66:8-10).
The Olive Tree (Israel) will not only “bud” but will be “born again” after the Rapture and will flourish in Christ’s Kingdom when He returns.