THE FIG TREE
(A Study of Isaiah 41)
Part Three – I Will Uphold Thee.
Isaiah 41:10 “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (KJV)
I have divided this verse into three parts. The first section concerns Israel’s position IN God, the second section deals with three promises FROM God, and the third states the power and authority OF God to accomplish all of the above.
The verse begins with two absolute truths directed by God to the scattered people of Israel. These two absolute truths are, “I am with thee,” and the second absolute truth is, “I am thy God.” As a direct consequence of these two fundamental realities the people of Israel are to: “fear not” nor “be dismayed.” These two truths establish Israel’s POSITION IN GOD. This is followed by three promises of God directed toward the people of Israel – “I will strengthen thee; I will help thee; I will uphold thee.” These represent three PROMISES FROM GOD. The third section deals with THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF GOD to accomplish these promises –“WITH MY RIGHT HAND OF MY RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Some words to help us understand more deeply what God is saying here.
- Dismayed – to look about in anxiety
- Strengthen – to be strong, alert, courageous, stout, bold – with persistent attitude.
- Help – to succour and support
- Uphold – to grasp hold of
- Righteousness – the justice and rightness of God’s position here.
As God is about to move over the scattered remnants of Israel, He speaks this verse over them. This Scripture is meant to give them courage and boldness to dare believe that God is about to bring them home. They are no longer to look about in anxiety, at their situations nor that of the world but to fix their eyes of faith on the LORD GOD. He will succour them (comfort them) and support them by grasping hold of their shoulders and lifting them up. And He will help them with every detail needed to bring them into the land. And He reminds them that His cause is right and just and that all this will be accomplished by His mighty right hand – none other than their Messiah, Jesus Christ. They as yet do not recognize Him but soon will.
Now, learn the parable of the Fig Tree. Mark 11:12-14.
“The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat your fruit again!’ And the disciples heard him say it.”
A fig tree usually produces leaves in March and April and fruit in June, with another crop in August and sometimes a 3rd crop in December. This is the only instance of our Lord using His miraculous power to destroy something in nature. And He did this in order to establish a parable – a lesson on the failure to be fruitful.
During his last week Jesus was setting out for Jerusalem once again after spending a night in Bethany, the place where the sacrificial lambs were housed prior to their offering at the temple. As he approach Jerusalem he stepped aside toward a fig tree as mentioned above. After he cursed the fig tree he would continue on to Jerusalem and into the temple grounds where he would overturn the tables of the money-changers. Condemning of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple were both symbolic acts that illustrated the sad spiritual condition of the nation of Israel – fruitless and corrupt.1
Jesus pronounced a “blindness” on the nation. John 12:35-41 refers to this “darkness” that was to fall on the nation of Israel. Romans 11:25 also reminds us of this blindness when it states, “For I would not brethren that you should be ignorant of this mystery lest you be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part has happened to Israel, UNTIL the fullness of the Gentiles is come in.” This blindness placed upon Israel due to their rejection of their Messiah is only temporary as stated in this verse from Romans. The “fullness of the Gentiles” is a reference to the eventual completion of the body of Christ. The gospel was passed onto the Gentiles as Israel was set aside for a season, and this setting-aside would last until the last Gentile came into the kingdom. Once this fullness of the Gentiles was achieved then there would be a return to the people of Israel to once again be at the forefront of taking His gospel to the world at large. The book of Revelation deals with this very moment in time with the sealing of the famed 144 000 of chapter seven.
Without delving into too much further detail concerning this matter let me return to our discussion concerning the fig tree and Israel.
Here are some references concerning Israel and the fig tree.
Jer. 8:13 – Concerning Israel’s rejection of the LORD He states, “I will surely consume them. There will be no more harvests of figs and grapes. Their fruit trees will all die. Whatever I gave them will soon be gone. I, the LORD have spoken?” (NLT)
God will remove Israel from the land and disperse them leaving the land totally devastated and barren. This is exactly what occurred beginning in 70 AD and continued for nearly 2000 years. In all these references to follow, the fig tree is mentioned specifically for it has always been the metaphoric symbol for national Israel.
Hosea 9:10 – “The LORD says, O Israel, when I first found you, it was like finding fresh grapes in the desert. When I saw your ancestors [forefathers] it was like seeing the first ripe figs of the season. But then you deserted me for Baal-peor, giving themselves to that shameful idol. Soon they became vile, as vile as the god they worshipped.” (NLT) The reason for scattering His fig tree, Israel.
Joel 1:7 – which speaks of the judgment of Israel by a Gentile nation. Here God refers to Israel as “My fig tree.” “He has laid my vine waste and barked my fig tree . . .” Because of God’s displeasure, (the root meaning of barked), His fig tree has been splintered (barked).
Other references can be found in Micah 7:1-6; Nahum 3:12 to name just a few. Throughout Scripture Israel is presented as GOD’s fig tree. When Jesus cursed the fig tree He was speaking prophetically over the nation of Israel because of their rejection of God’s Messiah and their failure to exhibit true fruitfulness. So, Israel was set aside as God’s witness to the world and this privilege would transfer over to the mystery of the church. However, they would return to their original calling in absolute faith, and once again take up the torch to be a light to the Gentiles. And, this return to the faith of their fathers would begin with their return to the land of their fathers! Listen to the encouragement given by the prophet Habakkuk in 3:17-18.
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the GOD of my salvation.” What an incredible declaration of faith spoken by the faithful remnant!
National Israel has been judged and scattered to the ends of the earth; the fig tree has been shaken to its core and hewn down.
The Rabbi’s follow a principle called expositional constancy. This means that the Holy Spirit tends to use the same symbols consistently throughout Scripture. This is true for the symbol of the fig tree as representing national Israel. Follow me, if you would, as we visit an Old Testament parable given in Judges 9:7-15
The people of Israel wanted to choose a king to reign over them and they gathered in a large valley beneath the mountain of Gerizim. The prophet Jotham was given a parable to speak over the people. He climbed to a high point overlooking the valley where his voice would carry and gave the following message. Picking it up part way through verse 7 we hear:
“Hearken unto me you men of Shechem, that GOD may hearken unto you. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, ‘Reign thou over us.’ But the olive tree said unto them, ‘Should I leave my fatness wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go and be promoted over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come thou, and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said unto them, ‘Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit and go and be promoted over the trees?’ Then the trees said unto the vine, ‘Come thou, and reign over us.’ And the vine said unto them, ‘Should I leave my wine, which cheers God and man, and go and be promoted over the trees?’ Then said all the trees unto the bramble, ‘Come thou, and reign over us.’ And the bramble said unto the trees, ‘If in truth you 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.’”
The cedars of Lebanon as used here is, in the Jewish mind, a reference to the temple. All of these items are employed by the Jews in many different places for their worship and civil activities. Consider the following.
- Olive tree – provides valuable oil – speaks of Israel in a genealogy sense.
- Fig tree – sweet fruit – political sense.
- Vine – wine – a spiritual sense.
- Bramble – no fruit – only good as fuel for the fire – speaks of Satan’s empire
The bramble is the one chosen. Do you recall the words of Jesus in John 5:43?
“I am come in my Father’s name, and you receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive.”
Jesus was rejected by the political and religious leadership of the nation. So when Jesus cursed the fig tree He was cursing Israel at its political essence. Thus the nation, the political Israel, was scattered and judged. It is interesting that the next day as the disciples passed by the cursed fig tree. We read from Mark 11:20,
“And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.”
Let’s join this statement to that given by John the Baptist one year previously, from Matthew 3:7-10, as he, the last prophet, prophesized over the nation’s leadership.
“But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, ‘O generation of vipers, who has warned ye to flee the wrath to come? Bring forth fruits therefore worthy for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father:’ for I say unto you, that GOD is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’” (As with brambles!)
John was prophesying the time was at hand for the axe to be laid to the roots of the fig tree as carried out by the word of Jesus one year later.
As an aside, John was baptising people in the river Jordan near Jericho probably the very spot where Joshua crossed over on dry land. (See Joshua 4) It was here where two altars were erected by Joshua, of twelve stones each representing the 12 tribes – the nation of Israel. It was most likely these were the very stones John the Baptist referenced when he said GOD could raise up children unto Abraham from ’these stones’.
The national leadership of Israel was no better than the brambles – good only to be cast into the fire – the fire that came upon them in 70 AD.
Yet, GOD has promised “I will uphold thee.” We have just passed the 70th anniversary of the nation of Israel. From May 14 1948 through to May 14 2018 and beyond, GOD has demonstrated, on countless occasions, that He is Faithful.
Luke 21:29-33 “And he spoke to them a parable; ‘Behold the fig tree and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, you see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise you, when you see these things come to pass, know you that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.’ Verily I say unto you ‘This generation will not pass till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words will not pass away.’” (Also Matt. 24:32-35; Mk. 13:28-31).
What does it all mean? From our text passage from Isaiah 41 we heard, “But as for you, my servant Israel, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend, I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant . . . For I have chosen you and will not throw you away.”
God is calling his people back from the ends of the earth. For 2000 years they have remained scattered over the face of the earth but now, in our lifetime, they are being called back to the land, the land given to Abraham, God’s friend. National political Israel is ‘putting forth leaves’ – for the first time in 2000 years. They are establishing a national identity once again – the fig tree is putting forth leaves. It is being prepared, by GOD, to be fruitful – true spiritual fruitfulness. And this coming true spiritual fruitfulness must be, and will be, grounded in their acceptance of their Messiah, Jesus. Currently, the fig tree is putting forth leaves – the re-establishment of national political Israel – but soon to follow will be their national spiritual rebirth! As Paul reminds us in Romans 11:26, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob [Israel].’
What is also truly startling in these three gospel references of Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32, is the phrase, “Verily I say unto you ‘This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.’”
These three sections from the gospels have dealt with the last days, and all the terrible events about to take place, and in all three they conclude with the fig tree putting forth its leaves. They all point to a beginning-of-the-end of these last days with the sign of national political Israel being put back in place. The explanation of this parable is such that as one sees trees begin to put forth leaves, then one knows that summer is near. Likewise when one sees the fig tree – national political Israel – putting forth leaves know then that the end is near. The first budding of leaves began on May 14, 1948. Therefore, the generation that is alive on planet earth from this point forward will not pass until all be fulfilled!
Of the three given gospel references, the Luke version has the added phrase, “Behold the fig tree and all the trees.” “All the trees” is a reference to the Gentile nations. So, as national political Israel is putting forth leaves – the fig tree – other Gentile nations will also be ‘putting forth leaves.’ Has there ever been a moment in the history of the world when so many new nations were being formed? The number of new nations, based upon ethnicity, has grown in leaps and bounds. And as all these ‘new’ nations take shape, most being the result of tremendous upheaval and rioting, there is a worldwide roar for independence and self rule. I remind you of the reference given in Luke 21:25 when addressing these last days that states, “. . . and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring . . .” The seas and the waves are a metaphorical representation of Gentile nations. The Gentile nations are roaring with dissatisfaction and rebellion and rioting as national political Israel is putting forth leaves.
How long is a generation – I know not? Some have suggested 40 years, some 50 years, some 70 years, some longer. The point is we are close.
Luke 21:28 – “And when these things begin to come to pass then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws nigh.” Things began to come to pass when Israel became a nation once again. This is the key that marks the beginning of the last days.
“Who has done such mighty deeds, summoning each new generation from the beginning of time? It is I, the LORD, the First and the Last. I alone am He.”
Let me close with Isaiah 66:8-9.
“Who has ever seen anything as strange as this? Who ever heard such a thing? Has a nation ever been born in a single day? Has a country ever come forth in a mere moment? But by the time Jerusalem’s birth pains begin, her children will be born. Would I ever bring this nation to the point of birth and then not deliver it? Asks the LORD. No! I would never keep this nation from being born, says your GOD.” (NLT) Israel was born in a single day, May 14, 1948, when the world body recognized it as a full-fledged nation among nations. Amen.
To be continued.
1 Chuck Missler, The Fig Tree, youtube 2013
Almighty God, there is none like You. You are “The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” You do “not faint or grow weary; there is no searching of ” Your “understanding.” You give “power to the faint and weary, and to him who has no might” You increase “strength [causing it to multiply and . . . abound]. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and . . young men shall feebly stumble and fall exhausted; But,” thank You Lord, that “those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in” You] “shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.” – Isaiah 4-:28-31 Hallelujah! Glory to God!
Thank You Lord for the Beauty of Your Creation. We look around in amazement at all that You have made by the Word of Your Mouth and words fail us as our chins drop in awe of You. This past week we have enjoyed the bright glory of the full moon at midnight falling on the fields of snow in southern Ontario causing them to sparkle and glow. This evening (Thursday) as I finished my walk around 6 p.m. I enjoyed the moonrise in the east. I marvelled at how the moon looked about five times bigger than normal. My heart was full of joy as I praised You Lord and basked in its wonderful light. I stood amazed, thinking how beautiful and good is The Person who designed this beautiful earth and all things in it. Glory to God! The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who made the moon, the clouds and the stars; the desert, the oceans, the majestic mountains, the table-lands, the badlands, precious gemstones, the beautiful valleys, and the flat plains; the giraffe, the elephant, the lion and the tiger; the beaver, the white-tailed deer, the turkey, the caribou, the wolf and the buffalo; the great blue whale, the dolphin, the great sea turtles and the incredible rainbow of tropical fish; the koala bear, the wallaby, the duck-billed platypus and the wombat; the wonderful variety of peoples with different skin, hair and eye colours, different languages and cultures; we could go on and on mentioning the great diversity of plants, insects and birds. Wow! Lord, You are so amazing! Lord, You who made all of these things are incredibly beautiful, there is nothing that compares to You. We give You all the worship and all the praise. Hallelujah!
Father, as Pastor Bob helps us to understand the history of Israel and to get a small glimpse of her future, we are intrigued and blessed as we see Your great Love and Faithfulness for Your Chosen People and for us who believe (who by faith are also chosen). Thank You Lord, that just as You do not throw Israel away, You do not throw us away. You promise to never give up on us. How wonderful! We are so happy to know that You also promise to take us by the right hand, that You will strengthen us and uphold us. We need not be dismayed. Hallelujah!
Father, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and we pray for the restoration of all Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to Your people. We pray for an end to oppression, terrorist attacks and bombings. We pray for Your blessing and protection over Israeli soldiers who fight bravely every day in their homeland. We pray for continued evangelism of the people of Israel around the world and in the Holy Land that many may see Jesus and receive Him as their Messiah. Father we pray for a healing of the land and the soon return of our Lord Jesus. Glory to God!
Father we pray for the protection of Your people, Jew and Gentile alike, all over the world from COVID-19 according to Your Promises in Psalm 91. Lord, we make You our refuge and put our trust in You. Thank You that we may dwell in the Secret Place of The Most High, abiding under the shadow of The Almighty. Thank You Lord that Your Truth and Faithfulness are our shield and buckler protecting us from every kind of attack. No evil shall befall us, nor any plague or calamity come near our tent, according to Your Word. Hallelujah!
Father, we pray for those amongst us who are grieving and ask You to pour Your Love and Comfort out upon them. We pray also for those who need healing (don’t we all?), asking Father that You send forth Your Word to heal us. Thank You Lord that when You send forth Your Word it accomplishes the purpose for which You sent it. Thank You Lord that the Sun of Righteousness, our Lord Jesus, rises every day (like the sun in our solar system) with healing in His wings for us as we worship You. Hallelujah! Lord, we believe and we receive, in Jesus’ name. Amen.