Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter XVIII

The Barren Fig Tree


In the Gospels of Matthew (21:18-22) and Mark (11:12-14, 20-22) we are told that on the morning of Tuesday, 4th April, 30 A.D., the Lord Jesus passed over the Mount of Olives from Bethany to Jerusalem, and that, being hungry, and attracted by the foliage of a fig tree, He sought figs thereon, but found none. Mark adds that "the time of figs was not yet." Next morning, when the same route was being traversed, the disciples observed that, as the result of Christ's having "cursed" it, the tree was "dried up from the roots" and "withered away."

Now this incident has been used as a ground of attack on the Lord Jesus, both as regards His knowledge and His sinlessness. Jew and Gentile alike have asked, "Why should figs be sought when it was not their season?" How stupid at the best! And why condemn a tree when the time of judging had not come? How unjust to say the least!

But faultfinders seem to forget that the charges of stupidity and of condoning an injustice includes the writers of the Gospels, and they, especially Mark, are made foolish indeed in their setting down a story so detrimental to Him Whom they counted Divine, if the face value is all that is there.

But the land brings light to the Old Book, and when all the facts are understood, this difficulty, like so many others, disappears. Now in connection with the fig tree at our own door, we have passed through all the experience necessary to an appreciation of these narratives. On the very week of the year on which this incident happened in the life of Christ, we had this problem before us in our student class, and when explanation was given under the shadow of the tree itself, all went away perfectly satisfied with the Bible account. Furthermore, we made a young minister who at home had been "cross questioned," climb the tree and examine conditions for himself.

Now, the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Towards the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with, and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner. They grow to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry. When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off, and we had good reason to remember their presence, for safety on the stairway entails its being swept several times every day. In Palestine this early fruit is designated "taqsh," while the regular early fig, which is termed "bakurat" or "dafur," appears fully formed about six weeks later. Now when the leaves had appeared the "taqsh" ought to have been there, and these are what Christ sought that day. Again, if the leaves appear and there are no "taqsh" there will be no fruit of any kind that year. Christ's whole procedure was quite the natural thing in any man, and His condemnation was well enough understood. It was an absolutely hopeless, fruitless fig tree.

And at every point there were lessons to be learned. Coincident with the appearance of the leaves, there must be fruits suitable to the period. Along with prosperity in earthly things (leaves) there must be fruits (taqsh) in agreement with conditions, and the guarantee of future fruitfulness. A fruitless beginning leads too often to a barren life. Otherwise, for Christ's teaching by word and deed may present several aspects of Divine truth, the beautiful, fresh, green foliage may indicate a very pronounced profession of faith, and the "taqsh" the fruit that ought to precede or accompany it.

Then the fruitless fig tree was there, not only on the next morning, to be noted and considered, but on the Thursday evening, when the Lord Jesus conducted His last synagogal service on the hillside above Bethany, the withered tree with its shrivelling leaves was there. And again, on the Ascension morning, when "He lifted up His hands and blessed them," the barren fig tree stump was standing by. It was still there, useless for human purposes, unfit for even the household fire, in virtue of its heavy, sickening odour, only fit to be burned on the rubbish heap. It was there in the hour of special blessing, to tell of blessed fruitfulness, to declare in short, "Fruits, or the Fire."

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