The symbolism of Judges 9
Translated from Dutch
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also in Dutch)
Jotham's fable. His purport.
In Judges 9, tells Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, the last survivor who had escaped Abimelech (see v. 5), to the citizens of Shechem, who had made Abimelech — the murderer's brother — king, a fable. The trees once went to anoint a king over them. First the dominion was offered to the olive tree, v. 8; but he did not want to leave his fatness that praised God and the people in him, v. 9. Then the fig tree came, v. 10; he did not want to give up his sweetness and good fruit, v. 11. Then the vine was asked, v. 12; but also this one refused and did not want to leave his must that made God and people happy. At last the trees turned to the bramble, v. 14; he was apparently surprised at the fact that he was coveted, but said with a great gesture and a high word: « If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon » v. 15.
Jotham applied this fable particularly to Abimelech, his half-brother. « If ye (the citizens) then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you: But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech », v. 20. Whoever reads the chapter further, will see that the citizens of Shechem were burned by Abimelech with literal fire and he himself was mortally wounded by a millstone, v. 18 — 57.
It may not be assumed, however, that the tendency of the fable is exhausted. She is much richer. May Abimelech be similar to the bramble, the question arises: And what symbolizes then the other trees. One would, with a view to Judges 8:22 and 23, in which Gideon was offered the kingship, say: all three symbolize Gideon. Jotham then wanted to glorify his father in such a way that he drew him into three images. In all likelihood, Jotham has meant nothing else. But with the further Scripture in hand, we see that the fable can be worked out much broader in relation to Israel. He not only symbolizes Gideon-Abimelech, but gives four views of Israel as a people. The three first trees occur even further in imagery. The bramble makes an exception; we do not find any further symbolic indication of this.
The further Scripture.
The olive tree in imagery is found first in Jer. 11:16. There we read the following: « The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit ». V. 14 speaks of « this people », in v. 15 of « My beloved », in v. 17 of « the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah ». With the olive tree Israel is thus drawn in a certain sense.
In Zach. 4 there are two olive trees. Their oil fills the candlestick, v. 2 and 3. These two olive trees for that time typified Zerubbabel the prince and Josua the high priest. In Rev. 11 we see the two witnesses occur. These are also called olive trees, v. 3 and 4. These are as well two persons from Israel. The Scriptures thus individualize the symbol: it relates to Israel in its entirety but also to different people from Israel. We may therefore take the olive tree in this aion for a group. Some of them have lived, others appear in the future. Once Israel will interpret the symbolism of the olive tree in its entirety. That is only the case in the future aion.
That Israel as a whole is a symbolic olive tree is evident from the well-known chapter 11 of the Romans letter. The Gentiles, who are called a wild olive tree, were grafted into the tame olive tree at that time and partook of its root and fatness, v. 17.
What the symbol of the olive tree symbolizes and in what way we speak of grafting, we want to see more closely. We only give the texts here first.
The fig tree in imagery is found first in Jer. 24, Jeremiah sees two baskets with figs; one type is very good, the other very bad, v. 2. The one kind were the captives of Judah, who were sent to Babylon for their good, v. 5, the other were those who worshiped Zedekiah and his princes, the remnant of Jerusalem that remained in Canaan, and those who lived in Egypt, v. 8. The first would be God's people and would turn to God with all their heart, v. 7, the others would not, and therefore be given over to a torment for evil, all the kingdoms of the earth, for reproach and for a proverb, for a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them, v. 9. See also 29:17. Here too, the image is individualized. The entire people of Israel was represented by a fig tree, the members of this people as figs.
The N.T. text we view as we examine the meaning of symbolism.
The vine as a symbol is first mentioned in Psa. 80. God has brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it after having driven out the Gentiles, v. 9. There it grew up, v. 10 — 12. However, the walls of the vineyard were later broken, the boar out of the wood doth waste it and the wild beast of the field doth devour it, v. 13 and 14. It was burned with fire and cut down, v. 16.
The Psalmist now prays for recovery.
In Isa. 5 we find a bit more about the vine. The vineyard is fenced, and the stones are gathered out, its planted with the choicest vine, v. 2. However, the harvest was disappointing: stinking grapes were produced. The judgment would therefore come: the hedge would be taken away so that it would be grazed bare, the wall would be broken down and it would be trodden down, v. 5. It will lay waste and briers and thorns would grow.
Who the vineyard is, says v. 7 clearly: the House of Israel and the men of Judah.
What the expected fruit is, one can also find there: « He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry ».
The prayer of Psa. 80 will be answered. Once there will be a vineyard of red wine Isa. 27:2. That is when the Lord cometh out of His place, 26:21. The Lord will then further keep it, the enemy will not visit him (anymore), 27:3.
In Mat. 20, Mark 12 and Luke 20, the Lord Jesus speaks about the vineyard in the familiar parable of the Vineyard. Now another thread comes in, but the basic pattern remains the same: the vineyard looks at Israel. He does call Himself in John 15 the true vine, but if we distinguish between vineyard and vine, this word doesn't cancel the other of Isa. 5:7, that the vineyard is Israel in a certain view.
No further picture is given of the bramble. It does say: « But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides », Num. 33:55 and also that the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire, Isa. 33:12, but no more detailed picture is outlined. With that all, we believe that the bramble is also a symbol of Israel and especially in the end times. Then it will attract world's power through its economy and trade and thus rule the world. What Jotham's fable paints, Rev. 18 shows us as a the great whore. The apostate Israel is the bramble of Judges 9 and becomes the great whore of Rev. 18. In any case, we believe that it relates to Israel, or at least to a part of Israel.
If we now review everything, we come to the conclusion that the four trees are symbols of Israel as a people or at least of views of that people. Where a people can consist of sections, the first three symbols will continue, one section will represent this aspect, the other will represent another. One part of the people will be more bearer of the olive idea, the other of the fig tree idea. Most likely there will also be a group in which all three symbols will be united. They will form the core. In any case, the symbols are Israel, whether or not in part.
We now want to answer the question which symbols are displayed in the trees. As a result, everything will get even more color and shine.
What they symbolized.
The four trees mentioned symbolized four aspects of Israel. We will not examine them in the order of Judges 9, but in the historical order in which they appear in Scripture. There we first find the fig tree, Gen. 3:7, then the bramble, Gen. 3:18, the olive tree, Gen 8:11, then the vine, Gen. 9:20.
1. The fig tree in particular symbolizes Israel's national position. This is particularly evident from the first three Gospels. Israel, with respect to its national position, was like a fig tree planted in a vineyard, Luke 13. The vineyard here refers more to the land of Canaan, not Israel as a people. Luke 13:6 — 9 points to Israel's failure. The lord of the vineyard came and sought fruit for three years in a row, but none of them was found. Now He wants to have the tree hewn out because it uses its place unprofitable. At the request of the dresser, it may remain for another year; it will be fertilized; if it does not produce fruit after that, it will be hewn out.
In Mat. 21:19 — 21 and Mark 11:13, 14, 20 and 21 we find the history of the withered fig tree and the word of the curse: « Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever ». This symbolizes Israel's rejection and its duration. It will no longer produce fruit as a nation « forever ».
Some comments are needed here.
First, something about « forever ». This term can mean two things:
a: during the age in which one lives;
b: always lasting while the subject or object to which it relates is there.
We believe that both meanings are contained here in the one term. Related to the tree it means here by the denial: never again; it would never produce fruit. Related to the symbol, Israel as a people, it means: no fruit during this aion. This runs until Christ's return. Only then will it fulfill its national calling again.
Secondly, about the seemingly absurd, that the tree was cursed because it had no fruit, yet it was not the time of the fruit. It should be noted that the fig tree blooms before it has leaves (as in our case, for example, the willow tree). The rich leave therefore assumed a powerful, luxuriant tree, between the leaves might very well be expected to be young figs. It was not yet the time of the ripe figs of the fully grown fruits, but the unripe ones were also eaten. As soon as the winter was over, the fig tree produced its young figs, Song of Songs 2:13. That could also have been the case with this tree. Nah. 3:12 speaks of the first fruits of the fig tree; if they are shaken, they fall on the mouth of who wants to eat. This shows that fruit might be expected and even if it was not mature, it could have been there in principle. The judgment was therefore just; a lot of leaves, but no fruit, an image of Israel's external righteousness, but no true godliness. The luxuriant and good fruit were missing.
The judgment on the fig tree came instantly; that about Israel is postponed « one year ». Luke 13 « Year » should of course not be taken literally by itself. If we see Luke 13 figuratively, we will understand the meaning. The Lord had let Israel work through three ministries (that is, the three years). In it the people were called to repentance. That's what John the Baptist did, Mat. 3:2, the Lord Jesus Himself, 4:17, and He did that through His apostles, Acts 2:38, 3:19.
But also no fruit at that time. Once again He did it through Paul's conversion, that should provoke Israel to jealousy. This has not helped either and so the tree has been hewn out afterwards.
Forever? No. See Luke 21: « And he spake to them a parable; 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 ». The tree that has been hewed out will spring up again when the summer — Christ's government on earth — is near and then produce its fruit. The good figs will according to Jer. 24:6 and 7 be brought back and they become God 's people, for they will repent with their whole heart.
2. The bramble symbolizes Israel in the end time. There is no direct evidence for this. It follows laterally from other Scriptures. Once the apostasy comes over Israel, 2 Thes. 2:3, Dan. 8:23. Then the time of the bramble begins. Israel will gain economic world domination and will offer quietness and peace to the world under the direction of the Beast. However, the Beast and its 10 kings will later hate the Harlot, Babylon, the apostate Israel in its economic power, as well as accept the citizens of Shechem accept Abimelech at first, but later maligned and put an end to Babel. The power that will once dominate the world will go under and the power that gave that dominion will take it back by force. Shechem's citizens stand to Abimelech, as the world leaders will once stand to Israel. First caught up, later rejected. Then the apostate part of Israel becomes the bramble that will then go up in flames. Babel, its center, will be burned with literal fire.
3. The olive tree symbolizes especially Israel's spiritual privileges. Its oil served for the lamps of the candlestick, Exo. 27:20, 30:24, Lev. 24:2. It is particularly connected to the house of God. David wishes to be an olive tree in the house of God, Psa. 52:10. That gives blessing for others. The olive oil gives illumination and fatness, the one for the house of God, the other for the eater of its fruit. The olive tree symbolizes the bearer of the words of God, Rom. 3:2 to be familiar with His revealed will and to use it for the enlightenment of others and not for one's own benefit, hence Paul had to be sent out and fulfill Israel's service. It also wasn't useful for own benefit, because it thought as the bearer of the Words of God to be freed of the punishments contained in it. It sought to establish its own righteousness and did not come to the law of righteousness, Rom. 9:31, 32.
That the olive tree does not symbolize Israel as a nation, but in another sense, is shown by Rom. 11. In it Paul speaks of two olive trees, the tame and the wild. The wild symbolizes the Gentiles, but not according to their nationality, but to their spiritual goods. The tame also symbolizes Israel to those goods. After all, those who were grafted into the tame olive tree did not become Jews or Israelites. It shows that this is not something national, but something else. The nations were no light bearers; they were not entrusted with the words of God. The wild olive tree was appreciated for its wood, 1 Kon. 6:23, 31, but its oil was inferior to that of the tame ones. If we convey this metaphorically, we can say that beautiful figures from the Gentile world have come up looking for the foundation of things (for example, Plato, Socrates, etc.) but their light is inferior in comparison to the revelation of God given to Israel. Psa. 147:19 and 20 say: « He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD ». None of the nations had a promise, no supernatural illumination, no special revelation. They were without Christ, strangers of the covenants, without hope and without (knowledge of the true) God in the world, Eph. 2:12. Israel, on the other hand, was the bearer of many words and promises, many prophecies and predictions. They were part of enlightenment and fatness and that could also become the personal property of the Israelite. Did not Moses already desire that all the people of the Lord be prophets? We keep the olive tree for the symbol of the enlightenment of Israel. As soon as it was followed by the regeneration, it could become greasy for the person concerned. Then it could make them drink (be filled) with the fatness of God's house, Psa. 36:8.
4. The vine symbolizes Israel's social privileges. Isa. 5 points to that. God waited for justice and righteousness but it became scabies and screams. The wine that makes the heart of God and people happy is not produced. Is this « wine » not doing justice to civil and civic grounds. Israel's princes were apostates, companions of the thieves, contractors of gifts. They did not do justice to the orphans, they did not deal with the cause of the widows, Isa. 1:23. Whoever wanted to see his sin forgiven, had to begin to discard the evil of his actions before God's eyes, to abandon evil, to learn to do good, to seek justice, to help the oppressed, to do justice to the orphan, to deal with the dispute of the widow, Isa. 1:16, 17. Only then could he come before God and with these rights, v. 18. The vine, for example, looks at Israel's social privileges, the civil law and society of the chosen people.
Israel as a vineyard has failed. The Lord says this in Jer. 2:21: « Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me? » And in Hos. 10:1: « Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself », that is, it only produces fruit for itself. It did not produce either for God nor the people. Nothing was made from the wood of the natural vine, not even a pin. It was only burned when it was withered, Eze. 15. So would also Israel perish.
Christ calls Himself the true vine. He produced fruit that will delight the heart of God and man and rejoice in the future.
He will bring forth justice and righteousness on earth and will rule. « And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins » Isa. 11:5. « Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment ». 32:1.
In John 15 we find the familiar resemblance. He the vine, His the branches. Those who do not remain in Him are taken away. His own are cleansed by the word of truth. Israel as a people had no part in Him. Here the image is used to indicate community of life.
The question arises: And what is goes on now. We believe that where they relate to Israel as a people in the Land, one should not transfer the symbolism to « the » church of today. First of all, there is no single church at present, but the generations of heaven and earth are being prepared, and applying both to Israel as a whole is incorrect. That there are transit stages for the believers, we consider possible, but as a « church » one should not just hand over what Israel holds. Secondly, there is nuance: Israel in its totality will once bear the characteristics of fig, olive and vine, but therefore there may well be separate groups in which one of the features is a characteristic. One group can be more bearer of the national element, the other of the spiritual, and the third of the social. From the faith heroes in Heb. 11 there shows more than one nuance. One was a bearer of this thought, the other of that. All had a certain degree of faith, but the content was different. Thus Israel can once show all the features of the symbolism without all Israelites now having it in themselves. That is why they should not be transferred to « the » Church to which one wants to give more fullness than Israel had. Third, the fig tree represents the national blessing, the vine the civil-social. How will it be transferred to « the » church, which one grants a heavenly calling? At most, one could do this with the olive tree as a bearer of spiritual blessings on the basis of Rom. 11: the grafting in the tame. But then one is stuck with Scripture and reality. Now there is no Israel to graft the wild olive in, for Israel has been rejected. That was only true in the days when Paul wrote it (and before that, from his separation in Acts 13). God has already foretold that the olive would be burned. « The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken » Jer. 11:16. One can say: that concerns Israel's exile to Babylon. We admit that. But the fact that Israel was later taken out of its Land again and its cities were burned proves that we may also apply the word to the year 70 AD. Even then, the olive tree was taken away. And therefore one can not apply the idea of olive to « the » church. And fourthly, one speaks of « the » church and willingly presents the prophecies and other Scriptures to this church spiritually, while one loses sight of the fact that « the » church that is actually meant, has been an absolute mystery in God until after Rom. 11 so that one can not transfer the preceding images without mixing what God has separated. For us there is now also not the condition of Rom. 11, the wild olive grafted in the tame.
What then? We now live in the dispensation of the mystery in which God does more than one work as far as we can see. One thing, however, He does not do: He does not arrange outwardly around Israel as a people, because it is Lo-Ammi for Him, not His people. The main purpose of this dispensation is to glorify Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. Where in Christ there are many promises, He is free to His absolute sovereignty, which promise or promises He wants to give. Or if one want differently: with which calling He wants to call. He can give the one earthly, a second heavenly promises; all these still lie in Him who is Lord of heaven and earth and has received all authority over it and has received it (but has not yet accepted it openly). God's doing, however, finds its pinnacle in the formation of a Body that is set with Christ above all things. This goes far beyond the symbolism of the trees of Judges 9. And that is why we are not allowed to pull it down to something of a lower order, which is nice in its time, but whose time is certainly not there. So you do not apply the symbolism to the Body of Christ. We can receive a blessing from it, but the spiritual blessings with which God wants to bless us in the glorified Head in the heavens are much higher than all that in O. and N.T. be given out of the letters of the Mystery. The Body of Christ has never been typified or symbolized. It goes far beyond all the formerly revealed or shadowed. It does not belong to the traceable riches (to which all previously belong), but to the untraceable.
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