24. The Fig Tree
The fig is a modest tree, low and spreading, with irregular, ungraceful branches. The leaves are large, dark-green, deeply lobed. A marked peculiarity of the tree is that it bears fruit without visible flowers. A little flower-stalk appears, but instead of blossoming at its tip, it is hollow and bears the little flowers on the inside of its tube. The stem swells, grows soft, and becomes a fig. The fig-tree not only bears fruit without visible blossoms, but begins to form its first crop of figs before the leaves appear. The fruit is sweet and nourishing, very full of seeds, and possessing soothing, healing powers. (2 Kings xx. 7; Isa. xxxviii. 21; AE 403)
The fig-tree evidently corresponds to a knowledge of good, sweet works of kindness. But contrasted with the olive, the fig is the less noble tree. It is not so large, nor evergreen like the olive, nor so long-lived, nor are its fruits useful in so many ways. The olive represents the knowledge of the Lord's goodness and of how to bring forth His love in good works. The fig represents a knowledge of natural kindness, which not rising to the noble character of the olive, still obediently bears abundant fruits of sweet benevolence. (AC 4231; AE 403)
What is the meaning of the fact that the figs are borne without visible blossoms, and even before the leaves? Leaves are the intelligent thought preparatory to the use which is represented by the fruit. Flowers are the special thoughts connected with each good work, including the happiest of all thoughts, that we are helping to accomplish some purpose of the Lord's love and wisdom. The natural kind works which the figs represent are done without these leaves and flowers, with little forethought or discretion; they are impulsive and unintelligent; moreover they seem to be one's own and are without the happy sense of serving the Lord.
Once more, contrasting the fig with the olive, why has the olive one large seed and the fig many little seeds? The many seeds suggest the contagiousness of natural kindness; one kind work calls forth a thousand more. But does not the single seed point to the single principle that God is good, from which the spiritual olive grows, while the many seeds of the fig suggest the thousand forms in which the duty of natural kindness appeals to us in the varied relations of life?
Before we turn to see how the fig is used in the parables of the Word, let us notice a relation between the olive, the vine, and the fig. The olive is knowledge of good works inspired by a sense of the Lord's goodness; the vine is the faculty of perceiving the Lord's wisdom and of expressing it in life; the fig is a knowledge of good works done in natural kindness and obedience. The three are related like the three planes of heavenly life: celestial, spiritual, and natural. (HH 31; TCR 609; AC 9277; AE 403, 638) Compare the relation of sheep, goats, and cattle, Chapter 13)
Canaan was called "a land of wheat and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive and honey." (Deut. viii. 8) The knowledge of external goodness and kindness, the spiritual intelligence, and the knowledge of the Lord's goodness, which belong to the heavenly life, are represented by the three trees which we have studied. (AE 619, 403) "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat." (Habakkuk iii. 17) It pictures a time when spiritual life languishes; when there is a lack of good life in each of its three forms. "Yet will I rejoice in the Lord." (AE 403; AC 9277)
Read Jotham's parable: "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, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to 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 to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to 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 ye 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." (Judges ix. 8-15) The parable was spoken to the men of Shechem, who had allowed no heavenly spirit, but a selfish, cruel one, to rule them. It shows also how it is the nature of every heavenly principle to serve, each in its own way, with no wish to rule over others. The bramble represents the intelligence busy not with good uses, and thoughts preparing for them, but with selfish scheming, with hard, cruel, cutting thoughts of others. "The care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches " (Matt. xiii. 22) , are the thorns which choke the growth of plants of usefulness. And these are glad to rule over others. (AE 638.; AC 9277)
"Beware of false prophets . . . ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Matt. vii. 15, 16) We remember that "prophets," in an impersonal sense, are truths, or what claim to be truths; and we are to judge them by the life to which they lead. Can selfish scheming lead to works of wise, heavenly charity? or to works full of sweet natural kindness? Such works can never grow from false and selfish principles with their spiteful, cruel thoughts. (AE 403; AC 5117) Of the peaceful days of Solomon it is said that "Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree." (I Kings iv. 25) And again, "In the last days . . . they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid." (Micah iv. 1, 4) These are beautiful pictures of peace and domestic happiness. They tell also of a state of spiritual peace, when temptations shall cease, when the mind shall be busy with plans for works of spiritual wisdom and of natural kindness, and shall find in these protection against the intrusion of evil feelings and false thoughts. (AE 403; AC 5113) The Lord said of Nathanael, who was to become one of the apostles, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee." (John i. 47, 48) We know that the apostles represented all classes of men who can become followers of the Lord, or all the elements of His church in any heart. What does it tell of Nathanael's character; and of the element in us all which he represents, that he was "under the fig-tree " when called to follow the Lord? (AE 866)
"He spake also this parable: A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." (Luke xiii. 6-q) Already we have found the vineyard used as representative of the Lord's church, especially of its spiritual intelligence. Here we read of "a fig-tree planted in the vineyard." It means the church's knowledge of what is kind and good in outward life, which the Lord desires should bear fruits of natural kindness. How often does the Lord come seeking this fruit, but finds none! How little such fruit there was in the Jewish Church at His coming! The pleading of the dresser of the vineyard to give the tree another chance, pictures the Lord's own solicitude that His church, and every one, be given every possible opportunity to bear the fruit of good, kind works. (AE 403. Compare Abraham's entreaty for Sodom. Gen. xviii. 23-33)
As the Lord with His disciples passed over the Mount of Olives from Bethany to Jerusalem, "he was hungry: and seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. . . . And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig-tree dried up
from the roots." (Mark xi. 12-14, 20) Once more the fig-tree is a type of the church or of each man's heart. What is meant by its bearing leaves but no fruit? It means that there is abundant knowledge of what is good and kind; that we perhaps go so far as to think about doing kind works, but do not do them. How barren was the Jewish Church of good, kind works, in spite of the sacred law of which they were proud! How little of such fruit the Lord finds today, in spite of still fuller teaching of good life! Take warning! Knowledge which is held in this idle way, sooner or later - in the other world if not in this - will wither away and the ability to enjoy doing works of kindness will be gone forever. That "the time of figs was not yet," suggests that a time is at hand when good, kind works will abound. (AE 386, 403, 109; AC 885)
"And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig-tree and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." (Luke xxi. 29-31) The budding of the trees, especially of the fig-tree, is promised as a sign of the Lord's second coming. Is not the promise fulfilled today in the wonderful growth of useful knowledge of every kind? and especially in the great development of natural charity and benevolence? (AE 403)