The Vine and The Green Olive Tree

The Prophet Isaiah sings of the vineyard of his beloved. It is situated on a fruitful slope, well dug, the stones have been removed, and it is planted with the choicest vine. In it there is a watchtower and a winepress and it is surrounded by a wall and a hedge. He then tells who the vine portrays. "For the vineyard of the LORD of Hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah, the plant of his delight." (Isa.5:7 KJV Darby) In Jer.11:16 there is another picture; speaking of Israel and Judah God says, "you once were called to be a lovely spreading olive‑tree." (Moffatt)

Both these pictures portray fertility, fruitfulness, but what happened? Speaking of the vine God says "When I looked for it to bring forth grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge…break down its wall, and it shall be trodden down. And I will lay it waste, it shall not be pruned or cultivated, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." (Isa.5:4‑6 AMPC) But the vine itself was not destroyed. Of the lovely spreading olive tree the prophet declares, "With the roar of a great tempest He will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed" (Jer.11:16 AMPC), but the tree itself is not destroyed.

In these two pictures there is portrayed one of the greatest tragedies in the world’s history. The Old Testament is a sad commentary on this neglected vine, this burnt olive tree. What a tragic family was Israel; Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into Egypt as a slave, but what was the outcome? Later on when Joseph’s brothers were brought before him, he was so overcome that he could not keep back the tears and asked to be alone with them. He tells them who he is and says, "do not be angry with yourselves because of what you did, for God did send me before you to preserve life." After the death of Jacob, Joseph again addresses his brothers saying (Gen.50:20‑21 Moff.) "You meant to do me evil, but God meant good to come out of it, as is happening today, when many lives are being preserved. So do not be afraid; I will maintain you and your little ones."

Ponder this incident in the life of Joseph and his brothers, look forward to the time when Jesus (the antitype) will welcome his brothers, the children of Israel who so cruelly treated him, and will say "God meant good to come out of it…So do not be afraid; I will maintain you and your little ones." (Gen.50:20‑21 Moff.) However, much is to transpire before this happy event. When Joseph brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to Jacob in his old age that he might bless them, Jacob reversed the natural order, and when Joseph sought to rectify the matter Jacob said, "(Manasseh) shall become a people…but truly his younger brother shall become greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations." (Gen.48:19) In Gen.49:22,24 we find Israel’s final words to his family; he says "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall…His bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob." History reveals that the two tribes of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, led the tribes to victory in the land of Canaan; (Joshua was an Ephraimite) and they occupied about half the land, including large tracts on the east bank of Jordan, so literally "ran over the wall." It is significant that the name Ephraim means "fruitful" and this thought of fruitfulness runs as a thread through the study.

However, yet again something goes wrong, for in both the minor and major prophets Ephraim is condemned over and over again. This is summed up in Psa.78:67 "Moreover, He (God) rejected the tent of Joseph and chose not the tribe of Ephraim [in which the tabernacle had been accustomed to stand]." (AMPC) Why was this so? Hosea 9:8 (AMPC) reads "Ephraim was [intended to be] a watchman with my God, but he…has become a fowler’s snare in all his ways. There is enmity, hostility, and persecution in the house of God." In Hosea 7:8 Ephraim is described as "half‑baked" (ISV) and in v.11 "like a silly dove," because he courted favour with first one country and then another, calling to Egypt and Assyria for help. What of the fruitfulness implied in his name? Hosea 10:1‑2 (AMPC) "Israel is a luxuriant vine that puts forth its [material] fruit. According to the abundance of his fruit he has multiplied his altars [to idols]; according to the goodness and prosperity of their land they have made goodly pillars...[to false gods]. Their heart is divided and deceitful; now shall they be found guilty and suffer punishment." (Hosea 9:16,17 AMPC) "Ephraim is smitten, their root dried up, they shall bear no fruit. Yes, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even their beloved children. My God shall cast them away because they did not listen to and obey Him, and they shall be wanderers and fugitives among the nations."

But enough of this sad story. Turn now to the New Testament. The first chapter of John’s gospel speaks of the gospel’s beginning on earth; there Jesus is described as the light and life of the world, but what do we find in verse 11? "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." So the sad story continues into the New Testament. Mark 12 contains an account of the parable of the vineyard in which our Lord uses almost the same words as in Isaiah 5. The vineyard was planted and the owner went abroad, letting it out to labourers. At the end of the season he sent servant after servant to receive the fruit of the vineyard but they were insulted, beaten, or murdered. So the sad story goes on; the owner sent his son, saying to himself, surely they will respect my own son. But the labourers murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard. The parable continues, "What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard is going to do? He will come and destroy the men who were working his vineyard and will hand it over to others." (Mark 12:9 Phillips)

This parable is self‑explanatory. Consider the amplification of it in the letter written by St. Paul to the Roman church. This is found in chapters nine to eleven and uses the other picture, that of the olive tree. In the opening verses of chapter nine Paul deplores the infidelity of his own race, and enumerates the blessings which were theirs. This recalls the words of Isa.5:4 (Moff.) "What more could have been done for it (my vineyard)? What have I left undone?" But Paul knew that God’s purpose is not, and cannot be, utterly defeated, for Rom.9:6‑7 (Phillips) reads "Now this does not mean that God’s word to Israel has failed. For you cannot count all ‘Israelites’ as the true Israel…Nor can all Abraham’s descendants be considered truly children of Abraham." In chapter ten he continues to outline the cause of Israel’s failure, and how they missed the way, and concludes in chapter 11:1‑3 (Phillips) "Has God then totally repudiated his people? Certainly not!...It is unthinkable that God should have repudiated…the people whose destiny he himself appointed." He then goes on to show how that in the providence of God, disaster has been turned to good account. This recalls the outcome of the incident in the life of Joseph which prefigures Israel’s treatment of Jesus. So he says (Rom.11:28‑29 Phil.) "As far as the Gospel goes, they are at present God’s enemies—which is to your advantage. But as far as God’s purpose in choosing is concerned, they are still beloved for their fathers’ sakes. FOR ONCE THEY ARE MADE, GOD DOES NOT WITHDRAW HIS GIFTS OF HIS CALLING." Here Phillip’s translation interpolates a sub‑heading, "The whole scheme looks topsy‑turvy, until we see the amazing wisdom of God!"

Does the whole scheme look topsy‑turvy today? What is happening in Israel? The answer seems to depend upon what we are looking for. Some writers stress the material prosperity of Israel, saying that it is an indication of God’s favour, but Israel and Ephraim prospered in the past, and this was not a sign of God’s favour. Their fruit was not then, and is not now, the sort that God seeks. One is saddened by the pictures of the girls and youths of Israel being trained for armed combat. We look—but we look in vain—for some indication of their leaders turning to God in their besetment; but Ephraim still trusts in his own way, in chariots, and in a multitude of mighty men; or to modernise the picture, in fighter planes, in bombs and rockets, and in aid from other nations. But, you may say, they must fight with modern weapons. Why must they? In Hosea 1:7 (AMPC) God says, "But I…will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by equipment of war, nor by horses, nor by horsemen." (see also Isa.31:8‑9 and 37:36). In the history of Israel there is ample evidence that God can and does save, not by weapons. (Read the accounts in 2 Chron.20:1‑24; Judges 7:12‑22; 1 Sam.14:6‑16). In the last account quoted Jonathan and his young armour‑bearer showed themselves openly to the Philistine garrison; this seemed a stupid thing to do, but Jonathan had said to his armour‑bearer previously "Come on...let us cross over to this uncircumcised garrison; perhaps the Eternal will do something for us, for the Eternal never has any difficulty about delivering his people, by means of many or by means of few." (v.6 Moff). Would that some Jonathan would stand up today, for there is still no sign of any faith in God’s ability to deliver them so the same thing must happen to modern Ephraim as it did long ago, but with a different outcome!

Jer.30:7 refers to "Jacob’s trouble." There is much conjecture as to how, and when this takes place; read this verse in its context. Verse 3 (AMPC)reads "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will release from captivity My people Israel and Judah...and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they will possess it." Whether they possess it now or not is open to question, but verse 5 continues "For thus saith the LORD; we have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace" (KJV). Jacob’s trouble is then likened to the pains of a woman in childbirth, spasmodic, increasing in severity and becoming more frequent as time passes. Is this Israel’s experience today? Do not quibble as to how and when this takes place, but rather note well the outcome "But he (Jacob) shall be SAVED OUT OF IT!"

For so long the vine has been neglected and over‑run with briars and thorns, the olive tree has had other and wild branches grafted in, now must come the painful operation. The thorns and thistles of pride and avarice must be grubbed out, the briars of injustice and idolatry torn away; the burnt hedge (trust in weapons) cleared and the crumbling watchtower rebuilt and a new winepress dug. The wild olive branches will go and the natural branches regrafted. All this constitutes a major operation, but it is necessary if Israel and Ephraim are to bear fruit. Slowly but surely the work will proceed, and out of bitterness will come salvation.

We have dealt at some length on this sad story, but this is inevitable as it has lasted for so long. Now look, not at the seen things which are transient, but at the spiritual things which are eternal. So much of the prophecy of Hosea is condemnatory, dwelling upon the punishment which Ephraim merits and has received, but it also contains some wonderful flashes of hope and rejoicing. Israel is pictured as an unfaithful woman bearing three children, but Hosea 2 speaks not only of her punishment but of her rehabilitation also, "So I will allure her, put her alone and apart, and speak to her heart; then I will restore her vineyards, and make the dale of Trouble a door of hope; then shall she answer me as in her youthful days, when she came up from Egypt’s land" (vv.14‑15 Moff.) In Jer.31:1‑20 (Moff.) God promises to build Israel afresh and restore Ephraim as "my favourite son, my darling child." Ephraim, so roundly condemned and punished for so long will at last return to favour. There are many passages in the prophecies which are indeed a window of hope to Israel. Many are in the form of vivid visions in which natural pictures portray coming events.

When Ezekiel was in exile in Babylon, far from his beloved Jerusalem, he saw the glory of the Lord in the Temple. Fire from the throne‑chariot sets fire to the city and the glory of the Lord departs from the Temple, pauses at the East gate, then moves to the Mount of Olives. It is in the tradition of the Rabbis that for three and a half years the Shekinah tarried on the Mount of Olives in the hope that Israel would repent, but they did not. The prophet then sees a vast battlefield strewn with the bodies of men long dead. As Ezekiel prophesies as instructed "there was a [thundering] noise and behold, a shaking and trembling, and a rattling, and the bones came together." (Ezek.37:7 AMPC) (Is not this another picture of Jacob’s trouble?) He then sees sinews, then flesh, then skin covers the bones, but there was no breath or spirit in them. Is not this a picture of Israel today? Then breath and spirit came into the bones and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceeding great host. The prophet then sees the Temple rebuilt, the priests in their various orders installed, the land portioned out, and the tribes dwelling in peace and prosperity. He sees the Glory of God approaching the city from the East, from the Mount of Olives. He then describes the return of the Glory of the Lord to the city. Forget the sad story of past ages, forget Jacob’s trouble of today, and join the prophet in his lovely vision of the glorious future. "And...the glory of the God of Israel came from the East and His voice like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with His glory...And the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east (East gate);…behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple...And He [the Lord] said to me,...this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever." (Ezek.43:2‑7 AMPC)

So shall the "vineyard of my beloved"—the lovely spreading olive tree—flourish and bear fruit for all eternity.

May June ‘94


Our thoughts at once recur to the dove of Noah and the olive leaf, and the memory of this earliest story of the bird is recalled by our hearing all day the soft sweet cooing of the doves, who build their nests in these peaceful shades, which when gently stirred by the breeze look like waves of a silvery grey; for the leaves of the olive resemble those of the willow, and are white underneath. The tree prefers a rocky soil, and likes to grow in the clefts of rocks… The olive‑flowers grow in bunches and are white as snow; but the tree throws off many of them as superfluous. Job alludes to this when he says, "He shall cast his flower as the olive." The tree is of slow growth, and bears no berries for the first six years, nor is there a good crop till it is ten or fifteen years old. The harvesting of olives is peculiar. Early in the autumn many of the berries drop off the tree weighed down by their rich oil. They remain where they fell for some time, protected from thieves by a watchman. At last, the governor of the district issues a proclamation that all who have olive trees are to go and gather up the fallen berries. There are several of these gatherings commanded. In November the watchmen are removed, and the people crowd into the groves to shake the trees and bring down the last gathering of the remaining fruit. A few berries are generally left on the branches, which are gleaned by the poorest people. A single olive tree yields from ten to fifteen gallons of oil, consequently a man who possesses many of them is rich. The oil is used for lamps, and for cooking. Soap is also made from it, for which, no doubt, olive oil is used at Gaza.

There are frequent allusions to this especial gift to Palestine (Israel) in the Holy Scriptures. The prophet Jeremiah compares the people to it. "The Lord called Thy name," he says, "a green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit." As a punishment on His rebellious people, God, by the mouth of Moses, tells the nation, "Thou shalt have olive trees throughout all thy borders, but thou shalt not anoint thyself with the oil; for thine olive shall cast its fruit." The good man in the Psalms is said to be "like a green olive tree in the house of God." Palestine (Israel) is described by Moses as "a land of vines and olive trees, of oil and honey

Palestine Past and Present
Frederick Warne & Co.