By Charles H. Welch
Fig Tree. The Companion Bible at Judges 9:8-15 says:
The fig tree appears in one or two passages that have a dispensational bearing. The barren fig tree, Matthew 21 :18-20, Mark 11:13,14.
The time of year was a few days before Passover, for the Lord had just ridden into Jerusalem on the ass. The people had cried Hosannah to the Son of David, yet only a few days pass and the same people cry "Away with Him, let Him be crucified". The fig tree often has fruit of two or three years' growth, and elaborate measures are laid down in the Talmud for computing the age of the fruit for tithing purposes. The time of figs had not yet come, and so if the Lord went seeking fruit He expected to find some of the last one or two years still hanging on the tree. This particular fig tree was remarkable for its display of leaves, and as leaves and fruit often appeared together, it seemed to give some sort of special promise. It was a fitting symbol of the nation of Israel. Their "hosannahs" proved to be "nothing but leaves", the season for figs had not yet come, and Israel will not. see the Lord they rejected until in the fullness of time they shall again say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:39).
The parable of the fig tree and all the trees (Matt. 24:32, Luke 21:29). The fig tree and its growth is used by the Lord in the great prophetic chapter, Matthew twenty-four.
Luke twenty-one, consistently with the peculiarly Gentile-ward trend of its gospel, adds the reference concerning "the times of the Gentiles" (verse 24) and adds to the fig tree "all the trees" (verse 29). We are therefore instructed to ob serve the movements that will take place in the nation of Israel, but not only so, to observe also the movements that will take place among the Gentiles too. These movements are beginning to take shape before our eyes, and while the hope of the Mystery is unrelated either to the prophecies of Israel or the Gentiles as such, yet seeing that the dispensation of the Mystery must take place in time, and before the hope of Israel is realized, we can say with solemn emphasis that "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."
We read in Amos 7:14 that the prophet was "a gatherer of sycomore fruit", and an examination of this claim will yield an important lesson concerning Israel, their sufferings, and ultimate blessing. The R.V. reads "a dresser of sycomore trees". The LXX uses the word knizo "to scrape, to make to itch, to nettle". It may not seem, at first sight, a subject worthy of such importance as to hold up our exposition, but there is more here than appears on the surface. Theophrastus, the successor of Aristotle, in his History of Plants, tells us that the sycomore fruit "does not ripen till it is rubbed (knizo) with iron combs, after which rubbing it ripens in four days". Hasselquist, a Swedish naturalist, says: "It buds the latter end of March, and the fruit ripens in the beginning of June; it is wounded and cut by the inhabitants at the time it buds, for without this precaution, they say, it will never bear fruit."
The Fig, the Vine and the Olive are employed to set forth the peculiar privileges of Israel (Judges 9:8-13), the Fig probably stands for Israel's national privilege. The Sycomore has a leaf like the mulberry (Gk. moron) and fruit like the fig (Gk. sykon), hence the name in the Greek N.T. is sykomoros. The point that Amos seems to make here, and which has a typical teaching, is that Israel, like the sycomore, will not bear ripe fruit apart from great tribulation. Already, we learn from Amos 1:3 that Damascus had "threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron", and when we remember that "tribulation" is derived from the Latin tribulum "a threshing sledge for separating grain from the husk, a wooden platform studded with sharp bits of flint and with iron teeth" (Lloyd's Encyclopaedic Dictionary), the figure begins to take a deeper significance.
Further, the Lord says "For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as com is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth" (Amos 9:9). Because the word translated "grain" is once translated "one small stone" in 2 Samuel 17:13; some have thought that Amos 9:9 should be translated "not the smallest stone", but this is unnecessary and untrue. It is the very object of sifting to get rid ,of "small stones" and leave the grain behind, and Amos's simile loses all point if the language be changed. In 2 Samuel 17:13 any word meaning "a small particle" would have done quite as well as "one small stone". Further, the word translated "grain" is the Hebrew tseror, from tsarar "to vex", "to be in a strait", "narrow", and is found in Amos 5:12 where it is translated "afflict". The one small "grain" is one that is oppressed and has passed through affliction, yet being one of the elect cannot fall upon the earth and be lost. It will be seen that there are many lessons to be learned from "the fig tree", but we are concerned in this analysis particularly with those that have a dispensational bearing, and must be content with what we have seen. (See Olive Tree in article on ROMANS.)