A Garden in the Mind - Part 5
The Fig Tree
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 10 August 2002
Click here to read Part 4
Today we come to the third of our major biblical tree symbols and I dare say the one which is the most unpopular, the fig-tree. We have clearly established now that the Messianic Community or Church consists of three types of person who are represented by the olive-tree, the vine-tree and the fig-tree: the loving people, the wise people, and the obedient people. Moreover, we have understood that these three fruits are expected of all true believers, beginning with obedience and ending in love. We see these three divisions, moreover, in the natural giftedness of people.
There are some people whose whole nature is love, and loving deeds and gentle words flow from them rich and smooth as olive-oil. There are also wise people who learn the truth and teach it, and when we listen to their sayings we feel strengthened and exhilarated. And likewise there are round about us simple and obedient folks, and their actions have a certain sweetness like that of sweet figs. That obedience is the beginning of the Gospel life, and it is great and glorious indeed.
We're going to begin today by taking a very close look at Yah'shua's (Jesus') parable of the barren fig-tree. This is how it begins:
"A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none" (Luke 13:6, NKJV).
The first thing we have to establish is who this "certain man" is. Well, to begin with, the Vineyard, as we know, is the Messianic Community or Church as a whole, but the fig-tree refers to a particular type of man within it. The owner of the Vineyard is Yahweh, our Father in Heaven, whose property we are; and the barren fig-tree is the man gifted with the power of producing spiritual fruit, but who does not exercise that power.
"Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?'" (v.7).
The first thing I expect you will have noticed is that the owner waited for a specific length of time, and we are told it was exactly three years. Now why three years and not two or four? In a general sense, of course, we are being taught that Yahweh is very patient with us. He gives us every opportunity of salvation before we are condemned. But the number three is also a symbolic number in Scripture and means something specific, for it always represents that which is complete and perfect. The fact that the fruit was sought for for three years tells us that a complete and perfect trial is afforded us, and that it is only when that trial has failed, that we are regarded as parasites (or "cumberers" as the KJV puts it) who are using up valuable spiritual ground.
So the "three years" represents the length of our life on this world, however long or short it may be. When a man or woman has been completely tried - tried to the very root of his nature, and found barren - he is cut down. In other words, he dies. No evil man stands until he has stood his "three years" - until he has been thoroughly tested and found to be unproductive. Then, when there is no further hope for him, whether his age is 30, 50, or 70, he dies, and not before.
No person dies by accident. If an evil man died before he was fully tested - before his "three years" were over - he might blame God and say, "Had I been permitted to stand a little time longer I should have repented, and all would have been well." But no man or woman can ever say that. In the Day of Judgement every wicked man will be seen to have stood his full time - his "three years" - that he was tried and tested in the most complete way.
This is a radical doctrine and not at all popular, I dare say. The claim by some that persons who are cut off suddenly without the opportunity for repentance is shown by this parable to be a false one. If a sparrow doesn't fall to the ground without our Heavenly Father's knowledge, then do we imagine that He does not know of the spiritual status of, or has failed to properly test, a human soul?
We must not gloss over the clear implications of this parable. When the man signified by the fig-tree - that is, the man who has the power of obedience and does not use it - when he has stood his three years, he is cut down and dies. For does not the keeper of the vineyard request for such a man a further space for repentance? See what he says:
"But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilise it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'" (v.8).
Now the question is: was the keeper granted his request? Was the disobedient man granted another year in which to repent and reform his life? The Lord gives no answer - we are expected to draw our own conclusions. For if three is a perfect number, how can anything be added to it? The number four is the number of earthiness - of the four points of the compass and the four elements. To add a fourth year would be tantamount to declaring that Yahweh is incapable to doing a perfect job of testing!
There is a solemn mystery about this fig-tree, and to solve it, we must first determine who the "keeper" or steward of the vineyard is. To do so, we must again ask ourselves this question: What are the greatest principles that constitute Christ? And this we have answered several times, in fact, in our examination of the olive- and vine-trees. The greatest principles are love and wisdom.
This barren fig-tree is the natural man who has the power to obey and does not obey. What quality in the Elohim (God) is it that searches the heart of such a person, discerns his character, and condemns him if he is barren? And the answer is God's Wisdom. It is Wisdom which searches and judges us, and Wisdom or Hochmah is one of the Names given the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus (Apocrypha). The Ruach (Spirit) is the seven eyes of Yahweh (Zech.3:9), which are the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Prov.9:1), the seven spirits of the Elohim (Rev.1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). The Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is constantly searching us, testing us.
Now this being true, what quality in God is it that yearns over us in all our wickedness, and desires still to care for us, and bring us to His peace? It is His love. Infinite Wisdom searches into and discerns our state, and if it is barren, condemns us; but Infinite Love yearns over us and pleads for us, and desires still to save us.
Thus we understand that the Owner and the Dresser of the Vineyard are the same Divine Person in two different relationships to us. Divine Truth condemns, but Divine Love spares. Whilst, however, Yahweh's Love desires still to give a further opportunity to the natural man to repent, and says: "Let it alone this year also," Yahweh's Wisdom - the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) - perceives that after such a man has stood his "three years" in a state of barrenness, a further trial would be useless. The owner, therefore, makes no reply to the pleading of the dresser of the vineyard.
This principle of Mercy and Judgement suffuses the whole of Scripture. Justice would, in fact, demand that we be cut down at once, but Divine Grace gives us space for repentance. However, that space is not an infinite one. It is bound by the number three. And many there have been, and will yet be, who foolishly believe that the day of grace has no ending. This parable explodes that myth. We cannot sin indefinitely and hope to get away with it indefinitely. We cannot procrastinate the day of our repentance indefinitely and expect Yahweh to be lenient with us. He isn't like that. Rather, knowing intimately as He does our very soul-nature, He gives us enough time - the length of our life - to take the necessary steps to get right with Him. After that it is, quite simply, too late.
I do, of course, speak of those people who have had the opportunity to hear the Gospel, or who are mature enough to be able to comprehend it. This parable, you will remember, was addressed to Israelites who had grown up with Torah (Law) and knew what was expected of them. It is therefore those who have been exposed to the truths of the Bible that I am speaking of today who have reached the age of accountability.
The parable of the barren fig-tree tells us many things about ourselves and about God. It tells us that He is fully just and fully merciful and loving too. It tells us that we are without excuse if we have heard the Truth. Once exposed to it, we become accountable to it for no longer than "three years" - the period of life allotted to us. It tells us that He is intimately concerned about us and forsakes no-one. He is willing to endure our wickedness, rebelliousness, stubbornness, folly, and stupidity until we have been tested thoroughly. We can never fully express such things in words, of course, but can discern the meaning through the symbols using the language of the Ruach (Spirit).
So what shall we say of the fruits of the fig-tree? We already know that they are emblems of the actions that spring from the principles of obedience. And we can confirm this further by taking a look at another parable, this time shared through the prophet Jeremiah, which is the vision of the two baskets of figs. Let's just read a portion of it:
"Yahweh showed me, and there were two baskets of figs set before the temple of Yahweh, after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the princes of Judah with the craftsmen and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good figs, like the figs that are first ripe; and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten, they were so bad. Then Yahweh said to me, "What do you see, Jeremiah?" And I said, "Figs, the good figs, very good; and the bad, very bad, which cannot be eaten, they are so bad."" (Jer 24:1-3, NKJV).
One basket of figs was very good, and the other was very evil, so that they could not be eaten. What, then, do the two baskets represent? Well, the good figs represent the good deeds of the good Jews, and the evil figs the evil deeds of the evil Jews. The Jewish people were not a very loving people, nor were they a very wise people. They were, however, a people in whom could be planted the principle of simple obedience. Hence the fig-tree was an exact type of Judah! And this is why, incidentally, Judah has not been called to be the head of Israel, but Joseph-Ephraim, for obedience is not the chief virtue, but the foundational virtue that is supposed to lead to wisdom and love. It is for this reason that the Messianic Jewish movement is not called to be the head of Messianic Israel which it is strongly and forcibly trying to claim for itself. It's rôle is to teach Ephraim obedience to Torah (its simultaneous strength and weakness), but it is Ephraim's rôle to lead the House of Yahweh on earth by teaching and exemplifying love. That is why we are not Messianic Jews but Messianic Israelites, and the difference is important.
Anyway, in Yah'shua's (Jesus') parable and in Jeremiah's vision we are shown, respecdtively, the barren and evil condition of the Jews. The one vision had relation to the absence of the fruits of holiness, the other to the presence of the fruits of unholiness. The barren fig-tree represented the Jewish nation (Judah) at the time of Yah'shua (Jesus) which had no fruit but only leaves.
Which brings us to the symbolic meaning of leaves which I said in an earlier sermon I would tell you about. It is a simple matter of deduction to find out what they represent. When Yah'shua (Jesus) came into the world, did He find the Jewish nation productive of good actions? The answer is, of course, no - they were barren. But did He find them acquainted with any holy truths? And the answer is, of course, yes, because they had the Torah (Law) and the Nebiim (Prophets) which were read every Sabbath in their synagogues. It is plain that they knew the truths contained in Scripture. So, though the Jews were barren of holy works, they had something with which their minds were covered or adorned. The leaves are emblematical of these truths.
When Yah'shua (Jesus) was born the Jews had an abundance of truth, but no goodness. It was a fig-tree covered with leaves, but bearing no fruit. But in addition to the Torah they had added their own rules which Jews have today as the Talmud. And can we not say the same of the Churches today? Do they not have an abundance of truth in the Bible? Have they not added man-made traditions? And are they not, in the vast majority of cases, lacking in the fruits that Yah'shua (Jesus) said would characterise of true believers? The barren fig-tree is emblematical of Yahweh's people in all ages and all dispensations. What happened to the Jews in the first century is about to happen to Christians in the twenty-first!
It is not a good thing to know much truth and not do it. The good man knows the truth, and does it. He is described in the first Psalm thus:
"Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the Torah (law) of Yahweh,
And in His Torah (law) he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper"
The good man brings forth fruit, and his leaf never withers. He lives a useful and a holy life, and his knowledge never fades away. He brings forth the fruits of agapé love, and his faith is always bright and beautiful, like a green leaf. The remaining verses of this Psalm tell us about the sad state of the ungodly man.
With this key we are now able to explain the significance of the olive leaf that was carried by the dove which Noah released. It is a symbol of loving faith - of some comforting, spiritual truth. It is presumably for this reason our collection of revelations is called the Olive Branch, for it contains many such leaves, including three known as the New Olive Leaf revelations, which are about love (OB 44, 99, 214). The dove is the emblem of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) - the spirit of gentleness and peace - that brings to our minds, when we are tossed and troubled like Noah in the ark, and applies to our spirits, some precept or promise of truth that reminds us of Yahweh's unchanging love, and foretells us that our trouble is nearly over.
Can we now understand why it was that Adam and Eve sowed fig-tree leaves together to cover their nakedness with after the Fall (Gen.3:7)? Their conduct is symbolical of what most of us do when we find ourselves naked, or barren of goodness. We strive to hide our barrenness, or nakedness, by making much of and exhibiting the facts we have learned. If we have no love, we strive to hide our shame by exhibiting our faith! If we can show nothing that we have done, we are likely to boast of what we know. That is making aprons of fig-leaves to hide our nakedness.
Yahweh's truth is present in abundance in His Word but for the most part we are blind to it. For instance, how many of you know how many steps there are on the staircase in your home? I dare say most don't. We may use the staircase tens of thousands of times but never know how many steps there are! It is often the same with Scripture. We can read and read it but remain blind to what it is saying. To unfold it, you must dig into it, as you must in getting to know any person. Superficiality never yields any good fruits.
My challenge to you today is therefore of quite a sober nature: are you still resisting the day or your salvation? Are you perhaps being disobedient in some area of your life and are wondering why you are so barren in that area? Yahweh requires obedience of us before we can move on and partake of the more delicious fruits of wisdom and love. And He requires it in a certain time-frame ... we do not have for ever to postpone what must be done. Once that decision to be obedient in faith has been made, wonderful fruits begin to manifest themselves for our enjoyment and blessing. Why not make your decision for Christ by talking to a minister and so begin to reap the fruit of a new life of peace and assurance in the present and the future. Amen.
Click here to read Part 6
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