Truth, Understanding, Insight

The Fig Tree

12th May 2007, seh, mgh


4) The Fig Tree and Israel

In the natural world, the fig tree should bear fruit before the leaves. If the tree has leaves but no fruit, the tree is barren. This fig tree as a symbol of Israel, represents the barren and empty spiritual state of Israel. Here was a fig tree, resplendent in its abundance of rich, green foliage. In spite of its lofty pretensions, this tree would bear no fruit. It was barren. It had a look of respectability. It looked good but it was all show.

This was a perceptive and penetrating view of the spiritual state of Israel at that time. In the Temple, the priests were also resplendent in their ornate robes. There was all the appearance of religious devotion, but all this external splendour would soon perish, before the onslaught of the Roman armies in AD 70. Spiritually, like that withered fig tree, Israel was barren despite their show of religion, their traditions and their outward form of worship. The Messiah frequently reproved the religious leaders. In Matthew 15: 7-9 he speaks of them as hypocrites and quotes from Isaiah.

“This people draw nigh unto me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

He also accuses them of being “blind leaders of the blind.” (Matthew 15:14)

In AD 70 the symbolic fig tree was cut down and the remnant that survived from that generation of the people of Israel were scattered to the four corners of the earth.

This analogy presents an interesting relationship to the cultivation of the fig tree. In the world of nature, growers produce new fig trees from branches cut from other fig trees. In most cases the new trees will bear fruit about three to four years later. Fig trees are prolific and will bear two crops of fruit each year. The first crop appears in spring before the leaves. The fruit is green and is inconspicuous among the leaves as they unfold, until the time of ripening which is from about May in Israel. The young fruit appears on the branches of the last year's growth. The next crop, the late figs, grow on the new wood and ripen into late summer, in Israel to about August and September. At this time of rapid growth the fig tree has gained more leaves.

An amazing analogy!

If we go back in time to the end of WW2 and about 1945, the Jews under great difficulty and opposition began to filter back into Palestine. In symbol we could liken this to the planting of the branch. Three years later, in a similar way to the tree, the first buds appeared. In 1948 the time when the first young fruits would appear on a literal tree planted three years earlier, the state of Israel was proclaimed by the United Nations. And not only that, it was in May 1948, which would have been the time of the appearance of the young fruit on the natural fruit trees.

There is a most significant prophecy for us today related to the fig tree. It comes from the Messiah's prophecy on the Mt of Olives. It is recorded in both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke. It is only a short prophecy, like a hidden gem, but it is most significant for we who are living in the last days. It relates to the coming Kingdom.

“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and puts 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. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass , till all these things be fulfilled.”Matthew 24: 32-34

This is Yahshua's analogy. He says to look at the fig tree as a 'type', or an example to learn from. The fig tree was familiar to his listeners and also the information is available to us. We know the fig tree fruits before the growth of the leaves. Therefore, when Yahshua says to notice when the branch is 'tender and puts forth leaves', he is pointing to a specific time in the cycle of growth of the fig tree and related to the coming of summer. It is then that the time of his coming is near. The fig tree is the nation of Israel, where its first 'fruit' is the first stage of growth, or re-establishment, and the growth of 'leaves' is its coming of age.

He says also that the generation that sees this growth of leaves on the 'tender branch' will not pass. The point to note is that this sprouting of leaves co-incides with the second or last fruit crop.

In both Luke 21 and Matthew 24, the same event is recorded. The disciples wanted to know when the Kingdom would be established. Many things had to happen beginning with the scattering of the Jews. The contemporary world was not going to see all the things described, as we know that almost two thousand years would elapse before the establishment of the Kingdom. Yet there is a generation spoken of that would see the blossoming of the fig tree. For that generation the Kingdom would be “even at the doors.” If we go back in time there are interesting parallels that appear in the history of the restoration of the Jews in the promised land, to the natural growth patterns of the fig tree.

One analogy has already been made to the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948. We might take the liberty to attempt to take the analogy a little further, and further back in time.

The analogy again where a day represents a year

What had happened to the Jews scattered by the Romans? They were scattered into many nations but a few actually filtered back into Palestine in the seventh century. From 70 CE to the seventh century and the Islamic takeover of Palestine in 636 CE, the Jewish presence in Israel was almost non-existent.

With the rise of Islam, from 636, there was a flowering of Arab architecture, science and mathematics, to which the Jews made a significant contribution. In the period 1291 to 1516, Jewish life flourished in Palestine with the influx of Spanish Jews after their expulsion from Spain and more immigrants came from Poland. This period saw self styled Messiahs emerge. A notable one was Sabbatai Zevi in 1665.

From the seventh century, beginning in 636, there has been a Jewish presence in Palestine despite successive invaders in the land. Recall that the Messiah taught and warned the nation for three and a half years. Recall also that the fig tree takes about three to four years to grow and bear fruit. If we take three and a half years on a day for a year basis, we have 1260 days which becomes 1260 years. The day for a year concept was well established in the writing of the prophets, especially in Daniel. Ezekiel demonstrated the practical application of this principle in Ezekiel 4: 1-8. Ezekiel had to lie on his side bearing the iniquity of Israel and then Judah.

“I have appointed thee each day for a year.” (Ezekiel 4: 6)

If we assume that the Jewish presence in Palestine from about 636AD could relate to the planting of the Jewish fig tree, the first fruits would begin to appear 1260 years following the first filter of Jews back into Palestine from 636, when the Islamic invaders took control of Palestine and Jewish scholarship assisted in the development of Islamic culture. Add 1260 to the year 636 and we reach the year 1896.


The First Fruit of 1896

What was happening in 1896? A lot in relation to the Jews. In 1896 Dr Theodor Herzl, a Viennese playwright and journalist commenced the stirrings of Zionism among the Eastern European Jews and converted it into a dramatic international movement. Theodor Herzl had covered the Dreyfus case in 1896 and was shocked by the wave of anti-Semitism unleashed by the trial in France. The Zionist movement was gaining strength and in August 1897, (the time that the late figs would have been ripening in Israel), Herzl arranged a conference at Basle and established the World Zionist Organization. Herzl, in his diaries, predicted a State of Israel in Fifty years. This occurred in 1948 just as he had predicted in 1897.

From the mid-1880's, more Jews had started to emigrate to Palestine. From Russia, Jews were fleeing from the harsh persecution of Jews (the Pogroms). Polish and Russian Jews began to dream of a better future in Palestine by re-creating their own nation state. Up till that time the Jews in Palestine were living in the cities, mostly in poverty. In the 1880's groups of colonists started the first Jewish farming villages. The Baron de Rothschild supported the villages financially and helped to create an economic base by introducing wine-making and other enterprises. From 1883 there were the first successful agricultural enterprises. By 1900, there were seventeen Jewish villages in Palestine. This was the first 'Aliyah', the first wave of immigration. Could this be the first signs of fruit of that fig tree planted with the early immigration of Jews to Palestine in 636? Certainly this was the first time since the Diaspora that Jews produced literal fruit from the land.

The years that followed 1896, were to see a process by which the way was established for the emergence of the state of Israel. In small measure, the foundations were already laid for Israel's revival at this time. By 1909 collective settlements, the Kibbutz, were appearing with the second Aliyah, and this social arrangement was to effectively cater for the Jewish refugees from Europe after WW2. The Jews had carved farmsteads out of stony hills and swampy valleys. In 1909 a small suburb was formed in the sand hills north of Jaffa. This became the all-Jewish city of Tel Aviv. By the outbreak of WW1 there were 80,000 Jews in Palestine.

To return to the analogy of the fig tree, by 1896, which is three and a half years of symbolic day for a year tree growth equalling 1260 days/years since 636, the first crop of figs could be said to be ready to begin its growth.

The Summer Crop

If this is the case, the late summer crop of figs on the 'new wood', and continuing the use of the symbol, would appear several months later. Again using the day for a year principle, we can add to 1896. If we add 70 years allowing about two to three months between the early figs and the late figs, which is probably a fair estimate, we reach the year 1966 and then 1967. This is the next stage in this remarkable process. Israel becomes a nation with its traditional capital, Jerusalem.

The period from 1896 to 1967 was a time of preparation for the next stage of growth. Daniel tells us that God works among the nations to achieve his purpose. Examine the process that followed that early infiltration of Jews into Palestine and resulted in a well established national identity for Israel.

1897 – World Zionist Organization formed

1909 – communal villages and the Kibbutz system established

1917 – Turks driven out of Palestine

1917 – the Balfour Declaration

1924 – British mandate over Palestine

1933 – Nazi persecution of Jews officially begins

1937 – 60,000 Jews entered Palestine

1939 – WW2 creates a Jewish refugee problem

1948 – Jewish State proclaimed

1956 – Suez crisis tests Israeli military strength

1967 – Six Day War and Israel gains control of Jerusalem

Yahshua did not say the thing to be noted was the arrival of the fruit, but rather that his followers were to note the growth of the leaves and the coming of summer. This is an important distinction. His coming is related to the latter stage of the symbolic fig tree's growth. The coming of the leaves is the coming of age. Until 1967 Israel was a phenomenon, part of an uncertain and divided nation that many people denied existed and others were certain it could be destroyed by being pushed into the sea. Since the resounding territorial gains and military success in 1967, Israel became an international entity with defensible borders to be reckoned with.

And All the Trees

In the Luke record it speaks of the shooting forth of the leaves of the fig tree and also “all the trees”. Why does Luke add this distinction in relation to the trees?

“Behold the fig tree and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.” (Luke 21: 29-30)

Symbolic 'Trees' as nations

In scripture trees are sometimes used to represent nations. If we are to look at the history of the world the idea of the 'nation' is recent. Previously the world was dominated by empires. The coming of age of Israel co-incided with a growth in the number of independent nations. A closer look at this prophecy in Luke draws our attention to the addition of “all the trees.” Why has Luke, who appears to be a most accurate historian, added this to the Matthew account? Luke's record seems to have greater significance for the Gentiles, perhaps, than for the Jews, and, by deduction for a later generation.

In the book of Judges there is an analogy to nations as 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?”(Judges 9: 10-11)

In Daniel there is another example of a nation being likened to a tree. Daniel interprets a dream which had troubled King Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. The King is told that he, in symbol, is like a tree that is cut down. Daniel is giving the meaning of the dream that prophesies the future of the nation of Babylon. Here again the tree becomes an agent for depicting matters related to a nation.

“It is thou O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reaches unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth.”(Daniel 4: 22)

This great and powerful king and his empire were to be destroyed.

“Hew the tree down and destroy it yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth.”(Daniel 4: 23)

So accurate was this prophecy, it was not until the twentieth century that archaeologists discovered the remains of the once great city of the empire of Babylon.

From 1945 the Nations formed the United Nations. At its inception there were 50 Nations increasing to 58 in 1950. Israel joined in 1949 and then Guinea in 1950. For many years there were no more new nations joining, then unexpectedly in 1955 there are 16 new nations joining, which opened a period of significant increase in membership, peaking in 1960 with 17 new nations and continuing to the 1980's with a small gap from 1969-1971. Again there is a period where there are no new nations. In the 1990's there is another growth from the break up of the USSR. If we are to remove this later growth, the main growth of nations is from 1955-1981, but with something extraordinary occurring in the years 1955-1966. By 2007 there were 192 nations in the United Nations.

The membership of the United nations shows a strong growth in the number of nations from 1955. This reflects the break up and loss of influence of the European colonial powers of the 1800's. It was distinct and noticeable.

In Biblical symbology it was a period of the shooting forth of many nation 'trees'. A lot of these nations were more ancient nations, but at this time they gained independence from colonial powers and recognition. Luke writing more as a historian records the part of the parable that relates more to events outside Israel. Retrospectively in the analogy, we can look back and see that Israel as the 'fig tree' produced its first 'fruit', then the new growth of leaves in the 'fig tree' of Israel occurred at a time when there were other 'trees' also shooting forth and coming to maturity.