Throughout the Bible when God’s program with Israel is in view, we find that there is an affinity that God has for expressing certain truths about his nation in the symbolism of trees. In particular, there are four different kinds of trees that we can see recurring in the pages of scripture that are associated with various aspects of Israel’s life in God’s sight. These four trees are as follows:
The most notable passage in which these four trees are clearly linked together is in Judges 9 in which Jotham cries in parable from atop Mt. Gerizim against Abimelech and his slaying of Gideon’s (Jerubbaal) sons.
Judges 9:7-15 – And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
By comparing other passage in which these four trees appear, we can discern that there is an association God makes with each one of these trees. The first three are the result of God’s creation blessing. The fourth is the result of God’s curse on sin.
Olive = Israel’s Spiritual Life (Rom. 11:17-24)
i.e. The olive oil (Spirit) that burned in the candlestick in the tabernacle (Exo. 27:20; et. al.)
i.e. The door (access point) of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:32; et. al.)
Fig = Israel’s Religious Life (Gen. 3:7; Luke 13:6-9, et. al.)
Vine = Israel’s National Life (Isa. 5:1-5; Ps. 80:8; John 15:1-8 et. al.)
Bramble = Curse of Sin & Satanic Rebellion Against God (Gen. 3:17-18; Heb. 6:7-8 et. al.)
As we look a little closer, cross-reference with other passages and use a process of elimination, we can discern the presence of these four trees in the opening chapters of God’s word as well.
Fig – it is apparent from Gen. 3:7, that the fig tree was present in the Garden of Eden. While the fruit of the fig is sweet and divinely blessed, the leaves sewn together with the works of man’s hands are associated with human effort to cover his sin, thus represents works religion.
Gen. 3:7 – And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
Bramble – the bramble, or thorn bush, is indirectly referenced in association with the curse. No mention is given to it in the account of the creation week, thus it is outside of the creation blessing God pronounces at the end of His work. To the contrary, it appears to be the direct results of God’s curse on the creation under Satanic control.
Gen. 3:17-18 – And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
Olive – While the olive tree is not mentioned explicitly in the Gen. 3 account, it may be inferred by other things we know about it to indeed to be present there. As stated above, the olive tree is associated with spiritual life and access to God, thus it make sense (to me anyway), that the tree of life was likely an olive.
Gen. 2:9 – And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden…
Vine – Once again, the vine is not explicitly mentioned in the text. However, by process of elimination and spiritual reasoning acquired by other passages, it makes good sense (to me) that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was likely the vine. The knowledge of good and evil, that is, the discernment to think and know with the mind of Christ, is something that God always intended man to have. This is the fundamental difference between man and the rest of creation. Man is created in the image and after the likeness of God, equipped with the capacity to be taught and function upon godly (god-like) thinking. This is why the voice of the LORD God came to walk with Adam in the cool of day—that voice, God’s word (Christ), undertook the process of educating Adam in godly wisdom and the capacity to have dominion on earth for God’s glory. The temptation of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was that of an offering of an alternate course to arrive at that godly wisdom (as man was led to believe) without having to follow God’s prescribed method of giving it. When you understand God’s purpose in imparting godly wisdom to man in this way for His purpose on earth, and later, Israel’s intimate relationship with it, you can see how that the vine is rightly tied into this.
Gen. 2:9 – …and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Another noteworthy connection is to observe how that in the final week of the pre-Calvary ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, these four trees show themselves again. He, functioning as the minister of the circumcision (Rom. 15:8) and the true Israel in whom the believing remnant would be identified, gives witness to these four trees.
Matt. 21:1 – And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
Matt. 24:3 – And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
Matt. 26:30 – And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Matt. 21:18-22 - 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! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
Matt. 24:32 – Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh…
Note: In Matt. 22:15-23:12, Jesus deals with all three groups of Israel’s religious leaders, and follows in Matt. 23 with a pronouncement of woe upon the vain religious system in Israel.
Matt. 21:28-46 – But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard…Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country…And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons…
Matt. 27:29 – And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
There is a remarkable connection in all of this (along with scores of other verses that can help us appreciate it all the more) as it relates to Christ as God’s Man who will rule and have dominion on this earth to the glory of the Father through the nation Israel. As a man, He received the instruction by the voice of His Father morning by morning (Isa. 50:4-5; John 8:28-29) and unlike Adam, He overcame when tempted with an alternate method of obtaining the Father’s end (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). He never flinched. He never compromised; but He was ever faithful to him that appointed him (Heb. 3:2). He chose to suffer with implicit trust in the Father’s word (Luke 22:42; I Pet. 2:23) rather than take the easy road offered Him. At last, He knew His Father’s word to be faithful and true. Indeed, God raised him up, exalted Him to His own right hand, and gave Him all power to reign (Matt. 28:18; Acts 2:32-33; Heb. 1); and that He must and will till he hath put all enemies under his feet (I Cor. 15:25).
Ps. 106:48 – Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD.
Published by Joshua Edwards
Joshua Edwards is an ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ who is dedicated the to the communication of sound doctrine as set forth in the pages of God's word. He desires to have all men to be saved by believing the gospel of the grace of God, and thereafter to come unto the knowledge of the truth by establishment in the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery (Romans 16:25).