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Previous: 21. Leaf, Flower and Fruit Up: The Language of Parable Next: 23. The Vine

22. The Olive

The trees and plants mentioned in the Bible are not all familiar to us who live in another climate; as the olive, the fig, the palm, the cedar of Lebanon. But they have marked characteristics which are easily learned and which show the kind of knowledge to which each corresponds.

The olive is easily cultivated in Palestine, as on all the Mediterranean shores. It is today perhaps the most plentiful tree in the land, and was in the old time so abundant that the country was called "a land of oil-olive.." (Deut. viii. 8) The trees have to our eyes a homelike look. In size and shape they are not unlike apple-trees. The trunk is gnarly and twisted, and in old age often splits up into several stems. The roots live on indefinitely, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. The wood is of a golden brown color, beautifully grained. The leaves are shaped like willow leaves; they are evergreen, dark olive above but when turned by the winds showing a silvery under side. The flowers are small and white, and are very abundant. And most important of all, the fruit. The olives are berry - like fruits which are sometimes picked green and pickled - so we,, usually see them - but when ripe they are full of oil. The ripe olives are shaken or beaten from the branches and pressed; a tree yielding each year from ten to fifteen gallons of oil. The oil is an important article of food in the countries where it grows, being used in cooking and being eaten as we eat butter. It is also used to burn for light; to soften and heal wounds and bruises; to prevent friction of machinery. Olive oil was the oil appointed for the anointing of kings and priests, and for other sacred uses.

"Ye shall know them by their fruits." If we can see what spiritual thing is represented by the olive oil, we shall know that the olivetree corresponds to the knowledge of this thing, and of how to bring it forth in useful works. First, to what does oil in general correspond?

We know what it is to have "friction " between people who live or work together. What is needed to remove this friction and to make things go easily and smoothly? Is not kindness the oil which must be dropped between, wherever people come in contact? Is this same kindness useful to soften callous hearts, and to heal wounded feelings? Oil also burns with warm, bright light. Does kindly sympathy warm the heart? and does it open our eyes to see how we may be helpful?

There are many sorts of oil which do these things, and are therefore like kindness. But the olive oil, besides serving in these humbler ways, was appointed for use in sacred ceremonies. It was burned in the sacred lamp (Exod. xxvii. 20); it was a part of many offerings (Numb. Vii. 13-79); mixed with fragrant spices it formed the ointment used in consecrating the tabernacle and its implements to the service of the Lord (Exod. xxx. 22-30) , and in anointing men to be kings and priests, representing the Lord and filled with His spirit. (Lev. Viii. 10-12; I Sam. xvi. 13) This sacred oil represents more than human kindness; it represents the loving-kindness of the Lord. The tree which bears it is our knowledge of the Lord's infinite kindness and of how to receive of that kindness and bring it forth in works of neighborly love. (AC 10261; AE 375, 638; AR 779)

The Lord Himself was the Anointed, the Messiah in Hebrew, and the Christ in Greek, because He was perfect love and revealed that love to men in His works and words of infinite kindness. Remember the day in the synagogue in Nazareth when the Lord read, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted. . . . And all bear him witness, and wondered, at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." (Luke iv. 18 22) How plain it is that the Divine loving-kindness was the oil with which He was anointed! (AC 9954; AE 375)

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments." (Ps. cxxxiii. 1, 2) Unity among brethren is like precious oil, for it depends so much on the presence of kindness among them. It is like the anointing oil, for the Lord's loving-kindness must touch the inmost soul, and from Him flow down into the outward things of life, making them kind and good. (AE 375; AC 9806) Notice how another Psalm uses the words kindness and oil as if they were almost the same thing. "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head." (Ps. cxli. 5) If when we read of oil we think of the oil of loving-kindness with its happiness, there is new beauty in many familiar verses. "The oil of joy for mourning." (Isa. lxi. 3) "And oil to make his face to shine." (Ps. civ. 15 ) How kindness shines even through the natural features and makes them radiant! (AE 375; AC 9954)

Remember the women who came with precious ointment and, as a sign of grateful love, poured it upon the Lord's feet. (Luke vii. 36-47; John xii. 1-8) Remember especially how it is said of the anointing by Mary in Bethany, "the house was filled with the odor of the ointment." (John xii. 3) How suggestive of the sweet sphere which fills the house where love to the Lord and one another is poured out in kindly deeds! Remember too the good Samaritan who "showed mercy " on the man who had fallen among thieves, and how he "bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine." (Luke x. 34) The oil is plainly an emblem of the kindness which should enter into all works of neighborliness; the wine we shall presently see is the wisdom which should accompany the kindness. (TCR 410; AE 375, 444; AR 316)

The Lord in a parable likens the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins with their lamps, waiting to join the bridal procession and to go in to the marriage. "And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps." (Matt. xxv. 1-12) Plainly it is the oil of good, kind love which is needed if we would be able to share the life of heaven. The forms of faith and worship - the empty lamps - are not heavenly, nor do they give any light of heavenly intelligence, unless they are filled with this oil of goodness and kindness. If we do not gain this in our life here, we shall not be able to receive it from others hereafter. (TCR 199; SS 17; AC 4638; DP 328; AE 212) Long ago the goodness and happiness of heavenly life were declared, when Canaan was called a land of oil olive and honey. (Deut. viii. 8) For angels delight to perceive the goodness of the Lord, and to bring forth His love in pleasant uses of kindness. (AC 5620; AE 374, 619) You remember what the dove brought in to Noah as a sign that the waters of the flood were abating. "And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive-leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth." (Gen. Viii. 11) The olive-leaf is an emblem of some element of the life of the first innocent days which was handed down to the church which followed. It is a knowledge of the goodness of the Lord, which had been so fully perceived by the innocent people of the Golden Age. (AC 879, 886; AE 638) The olive-leaf suggests also the first perception of the Lord's loving kindness which gives new hope after a season of temptation.

Finally, let us remember the Mount of Olives which stood guard over Jerusalem; both in its position and in its name an emblem of the Lord's loving care for His people. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people from henceforth even forever." (Ps. cxxv. 2) "And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives." (Luke xxi. 37) "And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives." (Luke xxii. 39) It suggests how the Lord found peace in the Divine love, and how He brought forth of that love all that men could receive, in works and words of kindness. (AC 10261, 9780; AR 336, 493) After the supper, on that last night, "they went out into the mount of Olives," and came "unto a place called Gethsemane [the oil-presses]." (Matt. xxvi. 30, 36) Does not the place suggest the intensity of the Divine love for men which on that night resisted the powers of evil for their sake? (AR 493; Compare "winepresses," AE 359)

"I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever." (Ps. lii. 8; AE 638; TCR 468)


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22. The Olive

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