Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

The Symbolism of the Fig Tree

Patricia Bagwell

The story the Bible tells is in large part a tree story, as the bible both begins and ends with a Tree in paradise -- and trees figure both practically and symbolically throughout its pages. Also the dividing-line between the messages of the Old and New Testaments, and the fulcrum of the ages, is a Tree -- the tree on which the Messiah was crucified -- for both Peter and Paul refer to the Messiah being "hanged on a tree" (Acts 5:30, 10:39; I Peter 2:24; and Galatians 3:13 from Deuteronomy 21:23). The Messiah was made sin for us on this tree that he might in turn become a Tree of Life for those who look to him for salvation. [For more details read our article, The Cross of the Messiah].

In this article we shall focus on the fig tree, which was one of the most important trees in Israel. Its fruit was a staple food and it is very rich in symbolism throughout Scripture. The story of the fig tree begins in the Garden of Eden, where YEHOVAH God had placed in the midst of the Garden two special trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam was told that he might eat of every tree in the Garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, "for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:9, 16-17). The serpent, in whatever form he may have taken at that time, tempted Eve with the lie, "Ye shall not surely die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4-5). And so, beguiled by his cunning, she ate of the fruit, and gave it also to Adam, who likewise partook of it. "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 [or girdles]" (verse 7).

Now there is a certain enigma attached to this scripture as to what the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil really was -- certainly not an apple, as popular tradition has it. But the fact that Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover themselves shows that there is a link between the fig tree and the Tree of Knowledge. I will come back to this link in a moment.

As biblical history unfolds we find that the patriarch Jacob-Israel had twelve sons from whom descended the twelve-tribed nation of Israel. Following their exodus from Egypt they settled in the land of Canaan, their Promised Land, where they prospered into a great kingdom. However, after the reign of King Solomon, the nation was split into two kingdoms -- the northern ten-tribed House of Israel, and the southern two-tribed House of Judah. The House of Israel was symbolized by the olive tree, for speaking of Israel, the prophet Jeremiah recorded, "The Lord called thy name, a green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit" (Jeremiah 11:16). In a similar fashion, the House of Judah -- some of whose people later became known as Jews -- was symbolized by the fig tree. Both kingdoms repeatedly transgressed the laws that YEHOVAH God had given them for their welfare, and worshipped other pagan gods of the surrounding nations. YEHOVAH condemned these practices through His prophets, and Jeremiah was given an especially vivid picture of the iniquity of Judah.

In Jeremiah 24, the prophet was shown two baskets of figs. "One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty [or wicked, evil] figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad" (verse 2). In this parable, the bad figs were those people of Judah who rebelled against YEHOVAH God and refused to go into captivity in Babylon, which the LORD had ordained for that time; while the good figs complied with the direction of the LORD and were saved.

But there is another secret held in this parable of the figs in Jeremiah 24. To repeat, one basket had very good figs, and the other had very evil figs that could not be eaten, they were so evil. These good and evil figs also hark back to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden, showing that the link of the fig with that tree is correct. I believe that in symbol (while the actual tree was an olive) it was this tree on which the Messiah was crucified, as it was the Jewish leaders of his day, the bad figs, who incited the populous and persuaded the Roman governor, Pilate, to order his execution. But YEHOVAH God, in His unfathomable wisdom, ordained that the death of His only begotten Son should atone for the sins, not just of Judah and of Israel, but of all mankind since the day that Adam fell from grace -- that is from the realm of spirit, into the realm of carnality and death. Thus, by the Messiah's sacrifice, atonement was made for the Fall, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which had occasioned that Fall was overcome, once and for all.

Because the Davidic monarchy of the nation was descended from the House of Judah, the monarchy is also associated with the fig tree. It is interesting in this regard that when Hezekiah, King of Judah -- one of the "good figs" who did right in the sight of the LORD -- was sick unto death, the prophet Isaiah ordered a poultice of figs to be placed upon the boil, and Hezekiah recovered (II Kings 20:7 and Isaiah 38:21). This event teaches us the spiritual efficacy of the good figs, which are often overshadowed by the bad, but which nevertheless may be a positive instrument in the hand of YEHOVAH God.

The fig next comes into prominence at the time of the Messiah. A curious incident is recorded in Matthew 21:18-20 and its parallel passage, Mark 11:12-14 and 20-21. Quoting Matthew: "Now in the morning as he [the Messiah] 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." This incident on the surface seems very baffling as to why the Messiah should curse a defenseless fig tree for having leaves but no fruit. But when the association of the fig with Judah, or Judea, as it was then known, is understood, the meaning becomes perfectly clear.

The fig tree is the emblem of the Jewish nation, which seemed to be thriving -- with an abundance of leaves -- but spiritually it was producing no fruit. The Messiah often rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this lack of spiritual fruit, and in the same chapter of Matthew, in the parable of the vineyard, he concluded by saying, "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (verse 43). Verse 45 continues, "And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them." Thus, the cursing of the fig tree represented a curse on the nation of Judea. In verse 20, Yeshua's disciples, when they saw the fig tree wither away, "marveled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!" This was nothing less than a prophecy of the coming destruction of the Jewish nation by the Roman army under Titus in AD 70, only thirty-seven years later. Indeed, the Judean fig tree was to wither very soon!

The destruction was also prophesied in another parable in Luke 13:6-9: "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 three years of seeking fruit in the parable refer to the three years of the Messiah's ministry, beginning with his baptism at the age of thirty. For these three years the Messiah had sought but found no fruit among the Jews, and so YEHOVAH God was minded to cut the tree down. But the dresser of the vineyard (the Messiah) said to give it one more year, and he would fertilize it (by the preaching of his disciples) to see if any fruit would be produced. But in the fourth year (Hebrew inclusive counting) it was evident there was still no fruit, since they rejected and crucified him, and so there was nothing left for the tree but to be cut down, which YEHOVAH God used the Romans to carry out.

The fall of the Jewish nation was also prophesied earlier by John the Baptist when he said, "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10).

This was a literal foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem, which Titus burnt with fire, including Herod's great Temple. The destruction of the Temple is still mourned by Jews every year on its anniversary, the 9th of Ab. (Coincidentally, this was the same date that Solomon's earlier Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians).

There is yet another parable of the Messiah regarding the fig tree, found in Matthew 24:32-34. "Now learn 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 you 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." Once again we find the fig tree putting forth leaves but no fruit. This parable of the end times can only be referring to the formation of the modern Jewish state of Israel in 1948. The Messiah was saying that that event would be an important sign of the last days, and that the generation who saw it happen would not pass away before his coming would be fulfilled. A commemorative stamp of the tenth anniversary of the Israeli state was issued there in 1958, featuring a menorah out of which were growing branches and leaves -- but again, no fruit. Indeed, how could they produce spiritual fruit, when as a nation they had rejected the only source of that fruit -- the Lord Yeshua the Messiah?

Now going back to the passage about the fig tree in Mark, chapter 11, the wording is a little different from Matthew. When he found no fruit on the tree, the Messiah said unto it, "No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever." And the next morning his disciples "saw the fig tree dried up from the roots" (verses 14, 20). This phrase, "dried up from the roots," seems also to refer back to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: in other words, the tree that occasioned the Fall was to be completely eradicated. [See our article, Why Did the Messiah Curse the Fig Tree?]. This is confirmed in the last chapter of the Bible where the Tree of Life is once more revealed to be in paradise, but the Tree of Knowledge is nowhere to be found (Revelation 22:2). In that new Eden, no more will man be tempted to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which results in both good and evil, but only of the Tree that brings forth healing and immortal life. The former tree has served its divine purpose in YEHOVAH's great plan, and a new chapter of Life is about to unfold. Such is the parable of the fig tree.

 

-- Edited By John D. Keyser.

 

Hope of Israel Ministries -- Proclaiming the Good News of the Soon-Coming Kingdom of YEHOVAH God!

Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 2186
Temple City, CA 91780, U.S.A.
www.hope-of-israel.org

Scan with your
Smartphone for
more information