The Parable of the Trees

Judges 9:8-15 (NLT) “Once upon a time the trees decided to elect a king.

      First they said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king! But the olive tree refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the olive oil that blesses both God and people, just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

     Then they said to the fig tree, ‘You be our king!’ But the fig tree also refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing my sweet fruit just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

     Then they said to the grapevine, ‘You be our king!’ But the grapevine also refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the wine that cheers both God and people,  just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

     Then all the trees finally turned to the thornbush and said, ‘Come, you be our king!’ And the thornbush replied to the trees, ‘If you truly want to make me your king, come and take shelter in my shade. If not, let fire come out from me and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’”

It was another dark moment in the history of the Israelites. Gideon had died, and the people were again prostituting themselves by worshiping the images of Baal. They had forgotten their LORD and how He rescued them. And they had no loyalty toward Gideon’s family, despite all he had done. (Judges 8:33-35)

One of Gideon’s sons, Abimelech, greedy for power, convinced the people of Shechem to kill all sixty-nine of his brothers so that he alone could rule the people. Somehow the youngest brother, Jotham, escaped death. But Jotham’s response was not to rally an army to avenge the killing of his brothers. Like his father, he showed no greed for power and no interest in assuming a role as ruler of the people. He understood that the leader of the people was the Lord God Jehovah, so rather than seeking revenge, he chose to warn the people of Shechem of the consequences of their action.

Jotham shouted his warning from the top of Mount Gerizim (the mount of blessing) on one side of the Valley of Shechem (Joshua 8:30-35)1. It’s interesting to note that he did not shout the warning from the top of Mount Ebal (the mount of cursing). He was mindful that just as Moses had written, the people still had a “choice between a blessing and a curse” (Deut 11:26). They could choose to be blessed by obeying God, worshiping Him and following Him as their Lord and Ruler, or they could choose to be cursed by forsaking Him, rejecting His commands, worshiping gods made by hands and following leaders who will lead them to death and destruction.

Each time i read this parable i am reminded of Jesus’ teaching in John 15 of the Vine and the branches. Jesus teaches that the Father is the Vinedresser over all of the vineyard. The Vine is Jesus by whom all fruit is produced. And we are the branches through whom He chooses to produce His fruit if we remain in the Vine. But apart from Him, we will whither and die and bear no fruit. It is a picture of a healthy, living, reproducing vineyard. It is a picture of what we as the church are to be like – abiding in Christ, experiencing the health of abundant life, living on mission with Him, and seeing Him produce fruit that multiplies through our lives. But it is not fruit that brings glory to the branch; it is fruit that brings glory to the Vinedresser.

That’s the picture i see in my mind, when, here in this parable, the olive tree confesses that its fulfillment is found in producing the olive oil that blesses God and people. The fig tree proclaims that its fulfillment is found in producing sweet fruit – that satisfies and nourishes. And the grapevine serves by producing grapes that yield the wine that cheers and quenches thirst. The trees confess in the parable that they are content to be and do that for which they were created. They seek to bless and serve their Creator by fulfilling His purpose for them, being used by Him to produce the fruit that brings life and health. They have no interest in ruling over the vineyard – that is the role of the Vinedresser.

In Jotham’s parable, he is illustrating what he and his brothers desired to be and do, and what the people of Shechem should desire to be and do. And the fruitless thornbush was the picture of Abimelech – seeking its own gain as it scratches and tears and ultimately destroys. But more than Abimelech, it is a picture of the enemy – the devil and our flesh nature – that lies and seeks to deceive even today. Can you imagine taking shelter in the shade of a thornbush as it scratches and tears at your flesh? But it desires to rule – and its way ends in cursings, and ultimately death. Only the thornbush was looking out for its own interest. Only the thornbush had no regard for bearing fruit. Only the thornbush sought to be its own master.

So as i look at the church, i see olive trees and fig trees and grapevines. i see trees that are abiding in the Vine, being used by their LORD, the Vinedresser, to produce fruit – fruit that draws the lost unto Him, fruit that encourages and nurtures the body, fruit that multiplies and reproduces followers of Christ and new churches, and fruit that brings honor and glory to the Creator throughout the world. But i also see the thornbush that seeks its own interest, and ultimately seeks to destroy. i pray we will be olive trees, fig trees, grapevines, and more – all created to bring our unique giftedness and flavor to the vineyard. And that the thornbushes in our midst will be transformed or pruned away by the Vinedresser. May we heed the parable of the trees!

(Excerpt from "Lessons Learned In The Wilderness -- Possessing The Promise". For more information about the book see http://www.wildernesslessons.com/Possessing_The_Promise.html.)