Parable of the Olive Tree
"...if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and thou being a wild olive tree, were 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. Thou wilt say then, the branches were broken off that I may 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, goodness, if thou continue in goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou were cut of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a goodly olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural ones, be grafted into their own olive tree?"
The parable brings a comparison with the practice of grafting known in horticulture and tree nursery. In order to understand the parable and its implications, we should first try to comprehend the procedure of grafting. Let's say we want to grow sweet almonds. If we put an almond kernel into the ground, and wait several years till the growing tree brings forth fruit, we could be unpleasantly surprised in case they are bitter almonds. There is no certainty in advance what variety fruit trees grown from seeds will bring forth. But if we take a twig from a tree whose fruit we like, and want to get; and graft this twig upon an existing, preferably wild tree of the same kind (e.g. a bitter almond), we will get exactly the variety of the tree from which we took the twig (e.g. sweet almonds). There are some more advantages to the practice of grafting: usually the wild tree has a stronger, disease resisting root and stem than the goodly variety; and the grafted twig can draw more sap from the strong wild root, and thus be able to develop more branches and fruits. However, the gardener has to watch the grafted trees that their roots would not grow wild shoots besides the grafted twig, for they would take over and strangle it. Now, our parable says that branches from a wild olive were grafted in the goodly olive tree "against nature", i.e. against the usual practice. Many say that Apostle Paul, by profession a tent maker, was not acquainted with tree growing; and made here a mistake. But by pointing out that something was done here "against nature", he tells us that he was well aware of what he was doing, and took into account that the wild twig(s) would bring forth few and small oil berries, but would grow an impressive foliage. Consequently, he warns his Gentile followers grafted against nature in the goodly olive tree, Israel, not to become proud and boast against the remaining goodly branches; for "not you (Gentiles) are carrying the root, but the root (Israel and its Torah) carries you". The parable is quite in line with fundamental sayings of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. Let's have a look at some of them: a) Noah, blessing his sons, established "God shall enlarge Japhet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Sem" (Gen. 9:27. Sem, one of Noah's three sons, is the "father of the children of 'Eber", i.e. of the Hebrews, Gen. 9:21. The word Shem [Sem, in English] means name, especially the Name of the Lord as in "hallowed be thy name", which the Cohanim (priests) were to put upon the children of Israel, Numb. 6:27; whence Semites. And "all the people of the earth shall see that thou [Israel] are called by the name [Sem] of the Lord", Deuter. 28:10).b) The Lord, in his covenant with Abram/Abraham, decreed: "... thou shall be a blessing; and ... in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). An ensuing specification says: "...and in thy [Isaac's} seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" [liter. bless themselves; Gen. 26:4].c) Gen. 49:10 speaks of Judah and his scepter that "unto him the gathering of all the peoples shall be".d) Exod. 19:6 designates Israel as a "Kingdom of Priests", that is, her very call implies a priestly function for the nations.e) When King Solomon inaugurated the First Temple, he prayed also for the strangers that the Lord might hear them when they pray in direction towards it (1.Kings 8:27-29, 41). In this train of thought, Prophet Isaiah speaks of it as the "house of prayer for all nations" (56:6); for, as Ps. 133:3 says, the Lord has commanded the blessing in Zion.f) Jer. 11:16 compares Israel to a green olive tree; and Hos. 14:6,7 sees Israel as the root of that “olive tree of his majesty” [=זית הודו] which is “casting forth its roots like the Lebanon". ((Obviously the Prophets are tracing back to a peculiar term in Deuter. 8:8. There, the Land of Israel is described as land of the goodly olive tree, liter. “land of the oil(giving) olive tree” [ארץ-זית שמן], apparently in distinction from other countries with olive trees; or from (wild) olive trees which do not grow oil berries)).g) Ezra, then. enjoined the people to bring for Succoth “branches from the olive tree and branches from the oil tree” (Nehem. 6:15)- probably understood by Paul as referring to the wild olive tree and the goodly olive tree.h) The vision that the nations would be on top for a certain time, i.e. would play the role of the head temporarily, is part of ancient prophecies: "...thou hast grafted [ordinary] men to our head" (Ps. 66:12).The passage is usually rendered "thou hast caused men to ride over [הרכבת] our heads", but the Hebrew word רכב which can mean to (cause someone to) ride, is often used in the sense of putting someone or something on top, as e.g. in 2.Sam. 6:3; 2. Kings 13:16; 23:30, where it is impossible to render it as riding. In fact, as we saw, the grafted twig, is above the root, or figuratively speaking, it rides the root.The same thought expressed in Lament. 1:5, and 2:17, reads: "Her [=Jerusalem's] adversaries became the head"; "The Lord has done that which he has devised, he has fulfilled his word that he has commanded in the days of old: he has thrown down, and has not pitied; and he has caused the enemy to rejoice over thee [Israel], he has set up the horn of thine enemies". At the time of the compilation of the Epistle to the Romans, Rome was indeed the head of the nations, even put over Israel. It ruled mercilessly – with the crucifixion of the Nazarene as "King of the Jews", besides many other crucifixions, as one of the demonstrations of its rule. Prof. Shalom Ben-Chorin said once to the point: Yeshua (Jesus) was born a Jew; he lived as a Jew; and he died as a Jew. The destruction of the Temple as the seal of this rule was pretold, too (e.g. Hes. 3:43; Luke 21:20-25); and Rome commemorated this fact matchlessly by minting a special coin, inscribed "Juda capta". All this shows that the destruction of the Second Temple and the Roman exile were not at all a punishment caused by the crucifixion of the Nazarene, as often alleged. Many argue that the natural branches were broken off because of their unbelief, and that instead of them Christianity is now grafted in. But the parable says plainly that only some of the natural branches were broken off, not all of them. Moreover, that argument contradicts plainly Apostle Paul’s assertion that “he was entrusted with the glad tidings for the Uncircumcision as Peter was for the Circumcision” (Gal. 7): the former were offered co-citizenship in the Kingdom of God (Eph. 3:6). Yet, Christianity developed from early times a novel interpretation of the term belief, in fact an interpretation which is not covered neither by the Hebrew of the Tanakh nor by the Septuagint, nor by the original Greek of the Epistles. The Hebrew word emunah, (from which Amen derives), as well as its Greek translation pistis, mostly rendered belief, convey the idea of trust, faithfulness (as in Ps. 33:4; 89:25,34; 119:86). That means to say both the Hebrew and the Greek word describe an attitude or behavior which result from one's certainty or conviction. The list of witnesses of faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chpt. 11, gives a clear picture of what is meant also in the NT as belief, or faith. Be it mentioned in this context that most of the modern translations of Hebr. 11:6, which brings a definition of faith, say improperly "... for he who cometh to God must believe that he is...", while the Greek text states that one has to believe (liter. be living it, be faithful) because God is. In Hebrew thinking, God's existence is the cause of belief, or faithfulness. He is not the object of philosophical or theological speculations, nor of considerations whether the Torah and its commandments can be altered or done away with through a resurrection or ascension. The list of witnesses of faith in Hebr. 11:17-32 may give an idea about the Apostles’ understanding of faith. The Jews, of course, had to reject these novel interpretations of belief. In turn, they were accused of unbelief, stubbornly sticking to the commandments of the "Old Testament"; and many Christians developed that kind of haughtiness with boasting against the root and its natural branches of which Romans 11:18,29 warns so severely. Paul, “entrusted with the glad tidings to the uncircumcised” (i.e. the Gentiles; Gal.2:7), felt the task to graft them as branches from the wild olive into the goodly tree. In that, he offers co-fellowshipx) with the goodly branches to those who even during the "Times of the Gentiles" stay in faith; and do not boast nor become haughty; do not change the rules of the housexx); and do not missionizexxx) goodly branches to novel concepts. “Nostra Aetate” of the Catholic Church, and similar declarations of some Protestant Churches after WWII, may well be seen as opening the way of return to the original scriptures, coming in line with the "glad tidings to Abraham" referred to in Gal. 3:8: "I will bless them that bless thee... and in thee all the nations shall be blessed". Eventually, the nations will “bless themselves” (=והתברכו) in Abraham (Gen. 22:18) and in his seed (Gen. 26:4). By using here the reflexive form “will bless themselves”, the Torah tells us that the nations, once they realize that all their crafts are of no avail, shall come unto Israel (cf Jer. 16:19), urging “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…” (Is. 2:3-4; also Zech. 8:20-23, 14:16,17; et al). Notes:X) cf. Eph. 2:19; 3:6 where the Greek text addressing the believers from the Gentiles speaks of them as co-citizens; co-heirs; co-body; co-partakers; that is, it depicts them as joint to Israel (not as superseding her!) through “the mediator Jesus, the man” (1.Tim.2:5). This joining to Israel is perfectly in line with Noah’s dictum quoted above: “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and he [=Japheth] shall live in the tents of Shem” (Gen. 9:26,27 – echoed in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven..…”). xx) Indeed, the Gentile believers are enjoined "to abstain from blood" (Acts 15:20); not to touch anything unclean (2.Cor. 6:17); “not to eat flesh … by which thy brother stumbles, or is ensnared…” (Rom. 8:21; 1.Cor. 8:13); not to teach differently (1.Tim. 1:3); to herald the Kingdom of God (Jerem. 30:9; 1. Chron. 285; 29:11; Acts 28:31; et al).xxx) The "Great Commission" in Matth. 28:19, translated literally from the original Greek, reads: "Going, you will teach all the nations...". These words, addressed to Jewish disciples, say that by their going will teach the nations; i.e. their way of life (הלכה, halakhah), as well as the exile and the return to the country will be a teaching to the nations (cf. Ps. 98:2-4; 117; Ezek. 36:23,24; and others).
Ask for Jerusalem-Peace Jerusalem was known to the Jebusites as Salem but King David confirmed its present name.1. Salem (Hebrew: Shalem) means whole, wholeness; and thus also peace; while the term Jerusalem (Hebrew: Yerushalayim) means “They will establish peace”. Peace is -unfortunately- not an established fact; rather it is the hope of all, above all, of the people of Israel. Eternally linked to that city, its capital, the people of Israel finds itself more often than not in the middle of the storms raging over Jerusalem. King David, in one of his Psalms, tells us how to establish peace:Ask for Jerusalem-Peace שאלו שלום ירושלים (Ps. 122:6) This is usually understood as an encouragement to bring peace to Jerusalem. The Hebrew text, however, tells us to ask for the peace represented by Yerushalayim. The pronunciation of that word indicates a dual form2 , that is, it comprises-- so-to-say-- two Jerusalems, the earthly and the heavenly: they form one unit3 . Without its heavenly aspect, Jerusalem would be like any other city, or capital, in the world. King David gave this dual aspect expression in the term Zion:בשלם סוכו ומעונתו בציון “His tabernacle is in Salem and His residence in Zion” (Ps. 76:3) It is from and/or through Jerusalem/Zion that the Name of the Lord is to be blessed, and that mankind will find blessing and peace there:ברוך יי מציון שוכן ירושלים הללויה“Blessed be the Lord out of Zion, even He that resideth at Jerusalem. Hallelujah”(Ps. 135:21)יברכך ה' מציון עשה שמים וארץ “The Lord that made heavens and earth, bless thee out of Zion” (Ps. 134:3)על הררי-ציון כי שם צוה ה' את-הברכה חיים עד-עולם …“… for there [=Zion] the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Ps. 133:3) Prophet Isaiah, expounding on our subject “Ask for Jerusalem-Peace”, lined out the pre-condition for peace, namely the peoples’ “going up to the mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob, that He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” … and then “they shall beat their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning hooks; and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”4 (Is. 2:2-4). This shows us that human beings – neither liberals nor Jihadists - cannot impose their respective concepts of Jerusalem and of peace upon that city; neither can. Jerusalem and what it stands for be subjected merely to political devices. Peace can, and should, be attained on the basis of the words of the Prophets. Prophets do not contradict one another. Misconceived theologies do. NT and Koran5 are perfectly in line with the Prophets of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). A return to their original words would pave the way to peace, a way upon which politicians, economists, etc, could safely walk, for the benefit of all Notes: 1) Originally, Jerusalem was called Salem (Shalem): And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth…” (Gen. 14:18); In Judah God is known, his name is great in Israel and in Salem is his tabernacle…” (Ps. 76:2,3) In the time of the Jebusites the city was apparently simply known to them as Jebus: “… and [he] came over against Jebus which is Jerusalem” (Jud. 19:10). Apparently the town was called by this name during that Canaanite tribe’s rule (cf Jud. 1:7,21; and many others) until King David and the tribes of all Israel went up there: “And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem which is Jebus” (1.Chron. 11:4)“… and in Jerusalem he [David] reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah” (2.Sam. 5:5). 2) Hebrew grammar has, in addition to singular and plural forms, also a dual form, as e.g. ידיים, yadayim, a pair of hands; רחיים, rehayim, a pair of the two mill stones; also מים, mayim, water[s], (i.e. the “waters under the firmament” and the “waters above the firmament”, Gen. 1:6). 3) The idea is expressed even in Jerusalem’s topography: the lower “City of David” and the higher Mount Moriah, or Temple Mount, are geologically and topographically one unit. 4)Applying the term “God of Jacob”, the Prophet forestalls novel concepts of God and of a “new Israel of the spirit” which would supercede “the old Israel of the flesh – Jacob”
4) See my essays:
a) Christian-Jewish Relations according to the
PARABLE OF THE OLIVE TREE
b) PEACE IS POSSILE BETWEEN ISHMAEL AND ISRAEL ACCORDING TO THE KORAN
Dr. Asher Eder