The Withered Fig Tree — The Old Testament Symbolism

I’ve written several articles on “Passion Tuesday” (the events of the Tuesday before Christ’s crucifixion), but I want to continue the series by backing up one day to look at an event on “Passion Monday” — the cursing of the fig tree.  (Consider this a bonus to the “Passion Tuesday” series thrown in at no extra charge. :))

This is much more than a story of a simple fig tree, so we’ll take more than one post to look at it.

Mark 11:12-14

12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:
13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

The Lord Jesus didn’t do anything “just because” — there was a reason for His actions.  The Lord of Heaven and earth had fed the 5000.  He told Galilean fishermen where to find enough fish to break their nets.  He didn’t need a fig from a tree, if He needed food.  This event is not simply about someone wanting a fig.  As usual, when we want to understand something in the earthly life of our Saviour, it is a good idea to start by looking at the Old Testament.

The Fig Tree’s Symbolism in the Old Testament

Deuteronomy 8:8

A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;

I Kings 4:25

And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.

Jeremiah 8:13

I will surely consume them, saith the LORD: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them.

Hosea 2:12

And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them.

Joel 2:22

Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.

Zechariah 3:10

In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.

These are just some of the many passages in the Old Testament, especially in the writings of the prophets, where the vine and the fig tree are mentioned together.

The common fig is, well, common in Israel.  It grows everywhere, not merely where figs are grown as a crop for harvesting.  Fig trees can grow and produce heavily without any human intervention at all, usually producing a crop by the second year, if not the first.

When the Lord is telling His people of His blessings on them, He talks of them as dwelling peacefully and enjoying the fruit of the fig tree and of the vine.  When He warns them of the judgment that must come when they have rebelled against Him, He talks of the fig trees not bearing fruit, dying, or of others eating the figs of the land.

In the Old Testament, fruitful fig trees are symbolic of God’s faithful covenant blessings on his people as they dwell in fellowship with their God, obedient to Him and trusting Him.  Unfruitful and withered fig trees symbolise just the opposite.

The fig tree was probably chosen for this symbolism because of its abundance and because it produces with little or no human intervention.  When God blesses, He may use human instruments, but He does not need them.  The fruit-bearing fig, springing up beside the road and producing two crops a year whether pruned / tended or not, seems a particularly apt symbol of God’s blessing.

Next:  The Withered Fig Tree — One Year Before

Series Summary with links to further articles: “Passion Tuesday” / Crucifixion Tuesday

 

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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