A Wild Olive Tree Study No. 262
“There is none righteous, no, not one . . . . all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:10, 23. “. . . every man at his best state is altogether vanity,” Psalm 39:5. Red, yellow, black, or white, no matter what your skin color, you are a mortal human being who has sinned and is in need of redemption. Nevertheless, the Almighty, who has a plan for each one of us, deals with two unique groups of humanity, which have distinctively different characteristics. These two groups of mankind are symbolically referred to as the natural olive tree, and the wild olive tree. Let us see what the Bible says about olive trees.
Olives are not an insignificant Bible topic. In Bible times, the olive tree and its oil was held in great esteem. Today, health experts have regained the knowledge of the benefits of olive oil. Please see our article, “Holy Anointing Olive Oil,” study no. 180.
In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul discusses the differences between the wild olive tree (Gentiles) and the good (natural) olive tree (Israel). We see many other scriptures which illustrate the difference between these two classes of people. As Messianic believers, understanding this difference is vital as we take the Gospel of the Kingdom to the entire world.
The Natural Olive Tree
The olive branch is symbolic of peace and safety. When the dove that Noah sent out came back with an olive leaf in her mouth, Noah knew that the waters were abated off the earth, Genesis 8:11. To offer someone an olive branch is a way of saying you are making peace.
Also, the dove with the olive leaf gave witness to the abating of the waters. The two witnesses, represented by olive trees, Zechariah 4:3, 11, 14, are prophesied to “stand by the Lord of the whole earth,” as a witness to the entire earth.
Regarding the seventh year land rest, we are instructed in the seventh-year to let the poor eat the olives, Exodus 23:11. Good olive trees provide nourishment for the poor. Here, the olive tree is pictured as a means for helping the poor. That is a characteristic of a good, natural, olive tree. Deuteronomy 24:20 adds that one is not to harvest every olive, but leave some for the poor. The reason for this statute is that we are to remember that we were bondmen in Egypt, and now we are free, verse 22. Following God and being a natural olive tree stands in stark opposition to slavery and oppression (wild olive tree).
Pure olive oil was used for light in the continually burning lamp in the tabernacle of the congregation, Exodus 27:20-21; Leviticus 24:2. Natural olive trees produce pure oil which provides light. And light, as we know, is symbolic of spirit of truth, Psalm 43:3, 119:105; John 1:9; I John 5:6. The five foolish virgins did not have enough oil in their lamps, Matthew 25:8. God’s Word is like a fire, Jeremiah 23:19, and must be continually kindled (stirred up, refreshed) or the fire will go out. Where on this earth would you go to obtain the light of God’s Truth? Why, to the natural olive tree, not to a wild olive tree.
Olive trees are symbolic of physical wealth. In Deuteronomy 6:10-12, olive trees growing in the Promised Land would be filling food for the Israelites. Natural olive trees provide food, and are a source of wealth. Besides being a land of milk and honey, the Promised Land was “a land of oil olive [margin: of olive tree of oil],” Deuteronomy 8:7-8. See also Joshua 24:13 and Nehemiah 9:25. Kings manage olive trees, I Samuel 8:1; I Chronicles 27:28.
God used Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites. When the men of Israel tried to make Gideon king, he refused, saying, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you,” Judges 8:22-23. Gideon (also known as Jerubbaal) had 70 sons, including Abimelech. Abimelech wanted to be a king over Israel. He schemed and slew all his brothers except Jotham, and made himself a king. Jotham prophesied from Mount Gerizim, giving a parable about trees, comparing Gideon to an olive tree (and perhaps also a fig tree, verses 8, 10) and Abimelech to a bramble (thistle), Judges 9. Thus, an olive tree is symbolic of godly rule, as opposed to selfish despotic tyranny.
Olive branches were used in building booths for the Feast of Tabernacles, Nehemiah 8:14-15. Now, olive branches are not very leafy, and putting olive branches on the roof of one’s booth will not totally protect one against the sun or the rain. Why do you suppose the Almighty enjoined olive branches as booth-building material? Because the booth is designed to teach us the brevity and frailty of our temporary physical life, and our need to totally depend upon the Almighty. The natural olive tree teaches us to depend on the Almighty, trusting Him to provide for our safety and protection. David wrote, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever,” Psalm 52:8.
In this discussion about olive trees, perhaps you are thinking, “I don’t like this analogy of righteous people to natural olive trees, and unrighteous people to wild olive trees.” Well, God likes this analogy, and He uses it frequently in the Bible. David wrote that the man who delights in God’s Law “shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper,” Psalm 1:3. See also Jeremiah 17:7-8. The righteous, those whom God plants, shall flourish like the palm tree, Isaiah 65:22; Psalm 92:12-15. We are to be like such a tree!
Notice that the righteous is like a planted tree, not a wild tree. God plants us, and takes care of us, pruning and caring for our spiritual growth. “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up,” Matthew 15:13. The wild trees, not planted by God, will be rooted up. The trees planted by God shall be tended and cared for by our Heavenly Father.
When you go to any public place today, you are likely to encounter unruly children, virtual wild hellions whose parents do not restrain them. Our permissive society frowns on corporal punishment, thinking it might damage their self-esteem. When I was in the seventh grade, I had my first male teacher. He was late getting back to the room one day after recess. I was raising cane and he caught me red-handed. He grabbed his paddle and had me go to the front of the class, bend over, and grab my ankles. My teacher reared back and gave me the first spat. Pow! The noise was deafening. It sounded much worse than it hurt. My face immediately became beet red. He gave me one more for good measure. I quietly returned to my seat. How embarrassing to be punished in front of the entire class. But I deserved it. For a long time after that episode, I was a good boy!
In Psalm 128:3, the blessings of every one that fears the Lord are said to be a wife like a fruitful vine, and children like olive plants round about thy table. Olive plants are symbolic of being obedient to God, respectful to one’s parents. What’s around your table: olive plants, or hellions?
Charles H. Spurgeon, in his classic book, The Treasury of David, comments on this verse: “Hundreds of times I have seen young olive plants springing up around the parent stem, and it always makes me think of this verse. The psalmist never intended to suggest olive plants around a table but young people springing up around their parents, just as olive plants surround a fine, well rooted tree. The figure is striking . . . . It is beautiful to see the gnarled olive tree bearing abundant fruit and surrounded with a lttle band of sturdy sucessors. Should the central olive tree be blown down or removed, any successors could take its place,” page 1328.
Olive wood figured prominently in Solomon’s Temple. Two cherubims, each ten cubits high, were made of olive tree wood, I Kings 6:23 in the inner house, the holy of holies where the ark was, verse 19. The entrance to this inner room had doors made from an olive tree, as well as the door posts, verses 31-33. This olive wood signified the entrance into God’s presence. Considering all the significance of Biblical references to the olive tree, we see that no other wood could be the gateway to entering God’s presence than olive wood.
In Zechariah 4, we see a prophetic vision of a golden candlestick, and two olive trees by it. Zechariah couldn’t figure out what this meant, so the angel explained, “These are the two anointed ones [margin: sons of oil] that standy by the Lord of the whole earth,” verse 14. The two olive trees empty out of themselves into seven pipes into the golden candlestick. The symbolism is very important: the Eternal’s golden candlestick lights the world. The two olive trees supply the oil for God’s golden candlestick. “Stand by the Lord” means to be His servant, representing Him before a dark world (see also Zechariah 3:4, 6:5).
Revelation 11:3-4 describes the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy: “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.” The tremendous power evidenced by the two witnesses, verses 5-6, indicates that God will not choose just any one, but those who are not corrupted by power. They will tell the world their sins, and as a result be hated and eventually killed, verses 7-8. They will be incorruptible. The two witnesses, as two olive trees, will stand before (by) the Lord of the whole earth.
The Wild Olive Tree
Then there is the other kind of olive tree, a wild olive tree. Not planted by God (Psalm 1:3), the wild olive tree signifies all that is by nature opposed to the Creator.
Paul explains the two contrasting kinds of trees in Romans 11. Even though Israel has largely departed from God, He has not cast away His people. As it was in the days of Elijah, “I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal,” verse 4. In Paul’s day, and even today, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace,” verse 5. The majority of Israel, then and now, is blinded, verse 7. The falling away of Israel has resulted in salvation coming unto the Gentiles, verse 11.
Most of Israel has departed from God, being broken off, “And if some of the branches [Israel] be broken off, and thou [Gentiles], 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 [salvation is of the Jews (Israel), not of the Gentiles]. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 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 [Gentiles who have accepted Christ], goodness, if thou continue in His goodness: otherwise thou also shall be cut off. And they [renegade Israelites] 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?” verses 17-23.
Here we see clearly that Israel is likened to a natural, good, olive tree. Gentiles are likened to a wild olive tree. The very natures of these two kinds of people are distinct. God calls Gentiles a “wild olive tree,” and Israelites a “good olive tree.”
Throughout their history, Israelites have been stiff-necked and rebellious against their calling to be a good olive tree. But God does not give up on them. He chastened them with captivity and hardship, the goodness of God leading them to repentance, Romans 2:4.
In spite of their sordid history, the very fundamental, underlying nature of Israelites is like a good olive tree, which we have seen, is typified by peace, helping the poor, opposition to slavery and oppression, providers of light and truth, possessors of physical wealth (blessings of Abraham), rule under God’s Law instead of despotic tyranny, dependence upon the Almighty, planted and nourished by God, at times obedient to God and respectful to one’s parents, the gateway into God’s presence, standing by Him.
When God’s people reject Him, and become wild olive trees, He causes their olive trees to cast their fruit, Deuteronomy 28:40. Jacob loses his glory and becomes thin and lean, like the shaking of an olive tree, Isaiah 17:4, 6, 24:13. It will get so bad that we should not pray for Israel, for He will not hear their prayers, Jeremiah 11:14. In the days of King Manasseh of Judah, the Jews severely departed from the Lord. “So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel,” II Chronicles 33:9.
In the past, they were a green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit, but now He is going to kindle a fire under it, and break its branches, Jeremiah 11:15-17. Yet in all this punishment, the Eternal will heal their backslidings, love them freely, and Israel shall grow as the lily, and his branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon, Hosea 14:4-6.
Cleanness of teeth (famine) is going to come as God’s wrath against His sinning, rebellious, people, and their olive trees shall be devoured by the palmerworm, Amos 4:6-9, and others will anoint themselves with their oil, Micah 6:15. See also Habakkuk 3:17.
In all times, there has been a mixed multitude within Israel, who have not spiritually surrendered to God. Often, they are the majority of Israel. But always, God has a remnant people. “For they are not al Israel, which are of Israel . . . That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God,” Romans 9:6, 8.
Is Israel better than Gentiles? “What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one,” Romans 3:9-10. What is the advantage to being a good olive tree, an Israelite (Jew is sometimes used in the Bible to represent the entire House of Israel)? “What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what profit is there of circumcision?” verse 1. Many Gentiles, even in the Church of God today, would answer that there is no value to being an Israelite, no value to being circumcised. Paul did not believe this: “Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God,” verse 2. Spiritual instruction then, and now, comes from Israelites, the good olive tree. Even today, Gentiles resent the way God chooses to deal with mankind through His people Israel.
Referring to his physical heritage of being of the tribe of Benjamin, Paul noted, “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles . . . if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid,” Galatians 2:15, 17.
Addressing Gentiles at Ephesus, Paul spoke of their condition before conversion: “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ,” Ephesians 2:12-13.
Converted Gentiles become part of spiritual Israel, “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” Galatians 3:29. Truly converted Gentiles accept God’s laws which they formerly rejected. They respect and honor Israel, their spiritual elder brothers.
Characteristics of Wild Olive Trees
Cain was the first wild olive tree. Unrestrained in his jealousy against his brother Abel, Cain committed the first murder. Lamech followed suite, and after the Flood destroyed the line of Cain, Nimrod rose to preeminence, Genesis 10:8-9. The Gentile hierarchial form of government, despotic centralized control, has been the hallmark of Gentile philosophy ever since.
In Romans 1:21-32, Paul lists the sins of the Gentiles, including their homosexuality. It is a sad list of wild olive tree traits. Paul was not a racist, but he vividly describes the inherent nature of wild olive trees, Gentiles. Israel at times absorbs these traits and sometimes becomes even worse, as previously noted in the reign of King Manasseh.
It is evident from the Bible, that the Old Testament Church became corrupted by picking up the sins of the Gentiles. As a result, they were sent into captivity, and eventually the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. It is also evident from Church History that the New Testament Church fell away from the Truth by Gentiles coming into the Church, but not getting rid of their wild olive tree nature. Instead, Gentiles brought their pagan customs and practices which corrupted the New Testament Church.
Today, the characteristic traits of natural good olive trees and wild olive trees are plainly evident. In small town America, you can still not worry about locking your house and car. But in major cities, increasingly dominated by Gentile influences, there are iron bars on businesses, and sophisticated security systems on cars, and still theft is rampant. A few years back when we visited El Salvador, I was amazed to see nearly all houses barricaded with iron gates, and razor wire around the roofs, a sign that theft and violence is common. Even at Salvadorean grocery stores, armed guards with menacing rifles stand guard. As America becomes more dominated by wild olive trees, this will be the pattern here as well.
The most convincing proof that some Jews are not Israelites is not Arthur Koestler’s book, The Thirteenth Tribe, but the filth coming from Hollywood. Reading the credits to movies and television shows gives you a clue with the many Jewish names. Truly, purveyors of media depravity are of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie, Revelation 3:9.
Certain leaders have a grand vision of spreading “freedom” to the entire world, starting in the Middle East. Arab Moslems epitomize the nature of the wild olive tree. God said that Ishmael’s nature would be wild: “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren [be a terrorist in their midst],” Genesis 16:12. Freedom cannot exist without God’s law in our hearts and minds. The nature of Ishmael and his Edomite cousins, even today, has not changed. They are wild olive trees, and only God can change them. Foolish Israelites think that they can have peace with the Palestinians, not realizing that a wild olive tree can only become tame by being grafted into the natural olive tree by the hand of God.
Traits of wild olive trees are in the Church of God today. For one, a Gentile form of government, centralized and controlled by a hierarchy, is characteristic of wild olive trees. Gentiles like to be protected by a great leader, which attitude became prevalent since the time of Nimrod, who herded his followers into cities. For the Church of God to blindly follow a great leader is to exhibit the traits of a wild olive tree.
Also, some in the Church of God believe that the government has the responsibility to care for the poor: the civil government or the Church government. Both of these ideas are wrong. The Bible shows that we as individuals are to personally care for the poor.
Gentiles in the Church of God today sometimes have the wrong idea that circumcision is of no value (in contrast to Romans 3:1-2). Some continue to justify lying, stealing, committing adultery, and other Gentile (wild olive) sins. Likewise, they have a hostile attitude toward some of the other Laws of God. If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and have a natural affinity toward all of God’s Laws.
In Isaiah 5:1-7, God likens His people to a vineyard, which, like an olive grove, needs to be pruned. Instead of bringing forth good grapes, it brought forth wild grapes. As a result, He is going to lay it waste. Why? verse 24, “because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” God had planted Israel as a noble vine, yet she turned into a degenerate vine, Jeremiah 2:21.
It is interesting that the Almighty uses the illustration of various wild beasts to describe the successive stages of Gentile world-ruling governments, Daniel 7:1-8. At the end time, there will be the culmination of these wild, beastly kingdoms, with the rule of the Beast and the False Prophet, Revelation 13.
Trees of Righteousness
In the Millennium, the nature of wild beasts will be changed, Isaiah 11:6-9, 65:25; Hosea 2:18; Ezekiel 34:25-26. This is a type of the spiritual transformation that will occur as wild olive trees become natural olive trees. People inclined to do evil will be transformed into righteous, peace loving, kind people.
The seemingly peaceful bison (American buffalo) in Yellowstone National Park is actually dangerous. You can stop the car and view them. Some tourists have walked up to a buffalo, put their arms around him, and posed for a photo. On one occasion, the beast gored the tourist with his massive horns.
God’s natural olive trees, with plenty of grafted-in Gentiles, will “be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified,” Isaiah 61:3. “Thy people also shall be all righteous [every one of them!]: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified,” Isaiah 60:21.
Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree
The olive tree is the predominant symbolic tree type that the Eternal uses in scripture. However, the fig tree is also used for illustration purposes.
The fig tree and the vine represent peace and prosperity, I Kings 4:25, a type of the millennium, Micah 4:4, “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.” See also Zechariah 3:10.
The fig tree represents the elect, the called and chosen. Jesus saw Nanthaniel (Matthew) under the fig tree, John 1:48-51. Likewise, the Messiah sees us before He calls us; He knows us inside and out.
Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? In Matthew 21:19:22, we see that when Jesus was on His way from Bethany back to Jerusalem, that He was hungry, and saw a fig tree in the way. He found nothing on it, and exclaimed, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away,” verse 19. Beside being a lesson of faith, this episode teaches us that our Savior insists that His elect produce fruit. If we do not produce fruit, we will wither away. The context of these verses is just after Jesus cast out the moneychangers the second time, verses 12-13. Here we see a complete illustration. Jesus purges His Church, and still they do not produce fruit, so they will wither away. What a serious admonition for the Church today!
In Matthew 24:32-33, Jesus says, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it [He, the return of the Messiah] is near, even at the doors.”
The fig tree is thus a prophetic indicator. Since the fig tree represents Israel, the Church, you can predict prophetic conditions by the condition of the Church. Jesus purges His Church, but there comes a time when they do not receive His correction, Ezekiel 24:13, and Hosea 9:10.
In Jeremiah 24, we see the type of the good and bad figs, again two types of people. One basket had very good figs, ripe and good to eat. Another basket had “very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad,” verse 2. The good figs will be returned from captivity, replanted in the land, and given a heart to know the Eternal, because they shall return unto God with their whole heart. The bad, evil, figs will be consumed in captivity by the sword, famine, and pestilence, and will not be returned to the land God gave to their fathers. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil,” Jeremiah 29:17.
“For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes,” Luke 6:43-44.
“He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold these three years I come seeking fruit and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down,” Luke 13:6-9
“Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? Either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh,” James 3:12.
“And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth [meteors], even as a fig tree casteth her untimely [green, unripe] figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind,” Revelation 6:13 (see also Isaiah 34:4).
Be Like a Natural, Good Olive Tree
Olive trees are an amazing evergreen. They don’t produce rings, but scientists estimate that some have lived for 2,000 years. Pruning keeps them from skipping a bearing season. Olive trees are tougher than most trees, and will sprout back even when chopped to the ground. In the Garden of Gethsemane today, there are ancient olive trees which may be 1,000 or even 2,000 years old. It is unlikely that these trees were here in the time of Christ because of the report that the Romans cut down all the trees in the area in their siege of Jerusalem in A.D 70.
Clearly, the lesson of the good olive (and fig) tree is that we are to be planted by the Lord, and produce fruit for Him. May we all be good olive trees!
— by Richard C. Nickels Ω