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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Part II:  Three Trees: and Israel's History

Chapter 3

The Olive and Israel's Spiritual History

     IN CONTRAST WITH the vine which has a horizontal growth, the olive grows vertically toward heaven. That the olive tree is associated symbolically with the spiritual history of Israel is stated with equal explicitness in Scripture. The choice of such a tree is most appropriate, for it is from its fruit that olive oil is obtained, and this is the oil of anointing which symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
     The very first mention of the tree is, not unexpectedly, in connection with the restoration of the earth after the Flood. Noah sends out a dove, and the dove returns with an olive leaf (Genesis 8:10,11). Both the dove and the leaf reinforce the spiritual implications, the emergence of new life. Because God has always left Himself with some witness in Israel in times of direst judgment, the prophets in foretelling what would happen to the nation because of their disobedience speak of the cutting down of the vine and the fig tree and their destruction in the land; but never is it stated that the olive tree will suffer such total uprooting. Thus Jeremiah, the prophet of doom, added the warning (in Jeremiah 11:16) that although the green olive would suffer in this coming judgment, he does not speak of its total destruction, but warns only that the branches of it will be broken.
     This seems to be the basis of the simile used by Paul in Romans 11:17-27:

     And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
     Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
     Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.

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Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear:
     For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
     Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
     And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
     For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
     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:
     For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

     It is evident from this passage that there is a time of restoration coming, a time in which the spiritual life of Israel will be renewed just as their national life will be renewed. The olive tree will become wholly itself again, and the vine will once more bear its fruit as originally planned. Israel will become the head of the nations: and Israel will be the spiritual centre of all human societies.
     It may be argued that Paul says to the Romans that the olive tree suffered the loss of some of its branches because of their unbelief, and that this would imply that the olive tree is simply an alternative symbol for Israel as a nation, since one would not expect unbelief among "believers." The force of this argument seems strong enough, until one observes that Paul warns the believers to whom he is writing that they too might suffer the same fate (verses 20-22). Can a believer lose his spiritual birthright? There are some who believe this possible. Personally I rest in the assurance that what the Lord does, He does forever (Ecclesiastes 3:14) and that the believer is eternally secure. I think there is another kind of "cutting off" which a believer may, however, suffer at the hand of God: this is his removal, the foreclosure of his continuance on earth. In fact, the New Testament is full of passages which carry a warning of this possibility to those who are Christians.
     For example, consider the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3,4). That these two had become Christians is surely to be inferred from the fact that Peter accused them of lying to the Holy Spirit and to God. In fact, they are illustrations of how we who are Christians may be judged now in order that we may not need to be judged when the world is (1 Corinthians 11:32). It is possible, then, for a child of God to

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see everything that he has done perish in the flames of God's examination, yet even so (and here are the most comforting words) he himself shall be saved (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
     In 1 Corinthians 11:29,30 Paul speaks of those who defiled the Lord's Table and brought condemnation on themselves, for which very cause "many sleep." Again, in 1 Corinthians 3:17 the same writer remarks, "If any man defile the Temple of God, him shall God destroy." There were times when the saints were admonished to see that this occurred. In certain circumstances it was their duty "to deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:5).
     It was possible, in fact, for a mature Christian to do something which was safe for himself but could not safely be copied by a weaker Christian who, being defiled, would "perish" (1 Corinthians 8:11). Paul himself said one should not eat any food if the example created thereby endangered the life of a brother in Christ (Romans 14:15). It is good to submit to the chastening of God when we go astray and to accept His correction -- and live (Hebrews 12:9). Sometimes we are too blind to see the reasons why we are being chastened, until a brother points them out to us. James says that such a brother "may save a soul from death" (5:19,20). Remember that in this passage it is a brother in the Lord who is being persuaded to repent of his ways, and the death which he escapes by his action is a physical death, a premature taking home.
     I believe there are circumstances in which the waywardness of a child of God reaches such disastrous proportions that the Lord is left no alternative but to remove him "that his soul may be saved." Other saints may be praying for such a one, but John says there is a point of no return: there is a "sin unto death" for which prayer is useless (1 John 5:16,17). Yet he hastened to add, because we are all failing in one way or another, that the case is exceptional and God is long-suffering, and there is sin which does not lead to such a drastic termination: "there is sin that is not unto death."
     It should once more be emphasized here that such "cutting off" when applied to believers does not in the least imply a loss of salvation. I know there is controversy on this issue, but for myself eternal security is part of the believer's heritage. This "cutting off" has to do solely with physical life. Such people as Ananias and Sapphira were removed, taken home, to prevent an injury to the Body of Christ which it could not at that time possibly sustain. Moreover, in these passages it is not always unbelief that brings disaster; sometimes it is disobedience in some specific matter;

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sometimes it is simply irreverence. In any case, it appears that when the body of believers was small, God did not allow the continued existence of Christians who were defiling or might defile the church. They were removed.
     To return to the symbolism of this brief survey, these were branches of the olive "cut off." The olive tree was a spiritual organism, and though these branches were properly part of the tree, they had become diseased and endangered its life.
     In Zechariah 4:11-14 and again in Revelation 11:4, two olive trees symbolize two anointed ones, two spiritual beings who stood before the Lord.
     In Psalm 52:8 David likens himself to an olive tree, and in Psalm 128:3 he speaks of the children of a godly household as being olive plants round about the table.
     The olive tree is a slow-growing tree -- unlike the vine -- requiring years of patient labour before reaching full fruitfulness. Consequently its growth implies a certain degree of settledness and stability in the community, and hence its association with the idea of peace. The beauty of the tree is referred to in Jeremiah 11:16 and in Hosea 14:6 and yet -- and surely this is deeply significant -- the most fruitful of these trees are the product of bare and rocky ground. The cultivation of them requires a great deal of attention, constant pruning is necessary, and fruit comes very late in the year.
     The oil itself was greatly used for anointing, to freshen and revive (Psalm 23:5 and Matthew 6:17), and it was used for the healing of wounds. A third important use was for illumination (Matthew 25:3). Thus it provided comfort, healing, and light. Moreover, olive wood was much valued for fuel. It is no wonder, therefore, that God chose the olive to stand for the spiritual element in Israel's history.
     Although it is not explicitly stated in Genesis, I think it quite possible that the Tree of Life (whose leaves are for healing -- Revelation 22:2) may have been an olive tree.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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