The Magnificent Olive Tree

The Magnificent Olive Tree

The Magnificent Olive Tree. 

“I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s mercy, in the Lord’s unfailing love.” (Psalm 52:8).

Is there anything in nature more biblical than the olive tree? There are well over 200 mentions in Scripture about the olive tree, the olive and olive oil. That’s not a big surprise when considering the importance of the olive tree to Israel’s food supply, its economy, its history, its daily life. Apart from it being an important part of their daily diet, olive trees were responsible for fuel to light the lamps, an ingredient for cooking, medicine and health aids, anointing oil for kings, priests and the sacrificial system, facial ointment, hardwood for long-lasting furniture, construction material, and beautifully grained wood for ornaments and decoration.

Symbols. The prominence of the olive tree in the Holy Land led to it being a meaningful symbol for many different biblical ideas:

(1.) Reconciliation and Peace. The ancient olive tree was the first tree to bud after the Flood, and signified a renewal of the relationship between God, man and nature. “After waiting another seven days, Noah released the dove again. This time the dove returned to him in the evening with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the floodwaters were almost gone.” (Genesis 8:11).

(2.) Healthy Children in a Happy Home. A satisfying and fulfilling family life is the one of the blessings of following God’s ways. “Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine, flourishing within your home. Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees as they sit around your table. That is the Lord’s blessing for those who fear Him.” (Psalm 128:3-4).

(3.) Beauty and Splendor. The wood of the olive tree is known for its amazing grain and striking appearance. And the tree itself is a fascinating picture when it gets older, with its twisting and turning trunk and the unexpected knots throughout. It is an evergreen with smooth bark, and its leaf has a beautiful shade of silvery green. “I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. Israel will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars of Lebanon. Its branches will spread out like beautiful olive trees.” (Hosea 14:5-6).

(4.) Joy and Gladness. When someone rubbed olive oil onto their face, it began to look like the face was shining, radiant with happiness. Thus olive oil came to symbolize the look on the face after using the oil. “You love justice and hate evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.” (Psalm 45:7).

(5.) The Person who is Flourishing, Growing and Fruitful. Because the olive orchard was a common scene of healthy growth and fruitfulness, it became a symbol for the person who was likewise. This passage highlights that this person is flourishing because he is planted in the house of God where he can grow roots in God’s love and worship Him to his heart’s content. “I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s mercy.”  (Psalm 52:8).

(6.) The Nation of Israel. Unfortunately, this prophecy of Jeremiah speaking the word of the Lord contains His voice of judgment because of their stubborn persistence in idolatry. “I, the Lord of hosts, Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies, who planted this olive tree, have ordered it destroyed. For the people of Israel and Judah have done evil, arousing my anger by burning incense to Baal.” (Jeremiah 11:17).

(7.) The Holy Spirit. Long after this prophecy of Zechariah in 4:1-6, olive oil has been used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit throughout the New Testament. It is even directly implied in the inspired word choice of Messiah, which means “Anointed One.” In this spiritual vision of Zechariah, he was given a symbolic prophecy of a golden lampstand, otherwise called a candlestick or a menorah, the official source of light in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple. This lampstand always symbolizes the nation of Israel. This lampstand in the vision is miraculously fueled by the two olive trees on each side of it that continuously pour out its olive oil into the bowl that stores the oil, on top of the lampstand. This ongoing source of oil assures that the lampstand will have a continuous supply of oil so that it will be lit constantly. The light of the lampstand will never go out because of its supply of olive oil. Israel will be once again restored and will achieve its high calling of being a light to the world, illumination for all the nations, as it is empowered by the oil of the Holy Spirit. The Lord made this abundantly clear by including in this vision these memorable words, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6). This vision in Zechariah brings to mind the powerful vision of John in Revelation 1, where we see Jesus “tending the lampstands,” which means He was providing the fuel, He was making sure the lampstands were lit. In other words, Jesus was the olive tree providing the Holy Spirit so those seven churches could thrive as lights in their world!

(8.) The Jews and the Gentiles. Paul is inspired in Romans 11:17-24 to provide for us a picture of God’s arrangement regarding the Chosen People of both the Old and New Covenants. The cultivated olive tree represents Israel, and the wild olive tree represents the Gentiles. The farmer tending the cultivated tree enables it to bear fruit by pruning and nurturing it carefully. He trims and discards the branches that are unproductive, and he keeps the roots of the tree intact. Out of tree’s holy root will come the Chosen One. The Gentiles have weak roots, because they are wild and uncultivated. The branches of this wild olive tree were thus incapable of bearing fruit. But then the farmer, out of sheer mercy, took an unproductive branch from the wild tree and grafted it onto the cultivated tree. This grafting would succeed in nourishing the wild branch, giving it new life and enabling it to bear fruit. This is a picture of how Gentile believers can now share in Israel’s blessings through its Messiah, who is the root of the cultivated olive tree. Paul says that the Gentile believers do not replace Israel, that they were grafted onto the Jews through Jesus. Israel remains God’s cultivated tree, His Chosen People even now, and through the Messiah is the source of salvation for all Gentile believers. Christians are branches growing from the Jewish tree, from the root of Christ. Both Israel and the Christian Church are a part of one cultivated olive tree and are given life through Jesus Messiah.

The Olive Tree. It is an ancient tree that can grow to a height of twenty feet, a slow-growing tree that takes years of careful labor to reach fruitfulness. It remains one of the earth’s longest-living trees. Scientists have gone to the Mount of Olives in the Holy Land and carbon-tested three of the olive trees there. It was firmly established that all three trees were at least 1,000 years old. There is one particular tree there that is estimated to be about 2,000 years old. All three of those trees were found to be originally planted from the same parent stump, springing up from the roots from the old, dead stump of one tree. This is common for the olive tree. When a tree reaches old age, hundreds of years, and it has reached its maximum production, the farmers will usually cut down the tree to its stump. Soon, miraculously, the roots of that stump develop new shoots, and the tree continues to grow until it begins to produce olives again years later. As many as five new trees are known to spring up from one old stump. The messianic prophecy of Isaiah 11:1 then begins to make sense. “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot – yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.” Jesus is that holy Shoot coming from the old stump. Nature provides such an amazing picture of this, doesn’t it?

The Olive. God has created the fruit of the olive tree to be a tasty and versatile source of food and a supply of life-giving nutrition. Olives are rich in vitamin A and E, antioxidants, copper, calcium and iron. Olives can strengthen the bones, boost the immune system, reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce chronic inflammation, and even regulate blood sugar levels. More recently, olives are being used to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other brain-related diseases such as dementia. No wonder olives have been such a popular food since ancient days even before the Flood.

Olive Oil. The oil from the olive has been a blessing to humanity since Day One. It has always been seen as a valuable part of society because there are so many uses for it. It’s interesting that Creator God has used olive oil for so many important biblical purposes. It has been used as a soothing medicinal ointment and cleanser. Just ask the Good Samaritan. It has been used as God’s special anointing oil for royalty, the priesthood, physical and spiritual healing, and now of course is used for important sacraments like baptism and confirmation. Olive oil was invaluable for centuries to use in lamps for fuel. As mentioned earlier, olives and olive oil have been an important health supplement as far back as we can determine. In Deuteronomy 11:14, Moses noted three “blessings of the land,” and they were grain, wine, and olive oil. Olive oil is made by a couple of different methods. It could be produced by bruising the olives with mortar and pestle and then extracting the juicy oil. Or one can use a huge stone press, a large roller used to crush the olives to a pulp, and then after removing the impurities, one can collect the oil for use. Isn’t it poignant that the word “gethsemane,” the garden in the Mount of Olives that saw so many momentous events in the life of Jesus, actually means “olive press?” There He is in the Garden of Gethsemane, being pressed, like an olive in a gigantic stone press, and His life will soon be pressed out.

Thinking of the oil of the Holy Spirit, let’s close with a children’s song sung for generations… “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning. Give me oil in my lamp I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning. Keep me burning till the break of day… Sing hosannah, sing hosannah, sing hosannah to the King of Kings!”  (Matthew 25:1-13).