“And the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I leave my fatness, which in me God and men are honored and shall I go to dominate the trees?’” (Judges 9:9)
As God’s prophetic word goes out in this parable, it becomes clear from the words of the Olive Tree that Jotham is speaking about his father. While not perfect and while Gideon permitted the setting up of the Ephod, he rightly rejected the offer to become king. It is not the role of man to anoint a king over the people; that privilege belongs to God himself. Indeed, one need not look very far forward in the Bible to see the mess that men brought when they anointed Saul as their king — a king after their own hearts. How often we are prone to doing much the same.
There is also important significance to the way in which the Olive responds. He asks if he is really expected to leave behind his honored abundance to dominate the other trees. In Hebrew the word “dominate,” נוע (nawa), literally means “to shake violently.” The violent shaking creates fear in others, but at the same time, would very literally cause the tree to lose its fruit…and how else shall we judge a tree? The reality is that rule over men generates violence and this tree wishes none of that. Perhaps one might suggest that the trade-off is worth it, that the power and benefits from becoming king would outweigh the cost of one’s fruit. That, indeed, is the way the world views things. Yet, this idea can be explored on both an earthly and a spiritual level.
On an earthly level, this opens the door to the conversation about the doctrine of vocation. In other words, God calls and gifts each person with the ability to serve him in some section of his church or community. Some are called to be pastors and teachers in the church. Others are called to be teachers in the community or farmers, mechanics, administrators, or one of numerous other vocations that are necessary to maintain society. And thus, in God’s eyes, the auto-mechanic is no more or less important than the computer-programmer who is no more or less important than the builder and who is no more or less important than the banker…and the list goes on indefinitely. We are all called and gifted in different ways, just as different body parts provide different functions to the body, and in this way God is honored in his community. Further, no one should be jealous of another’s calling. Rejoice in the calling you have, do it to the best of your ability, and do it to the glory of God.
Yet, there is a spiritual level by which we can discuss this parable. Jesus equates the idea of fruit to one’s spiritual characteristics, thus we judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 12:33). Similarly, Paul speaks of fruit as the result of our good works (Colossians 1:10) and of the “Fruit of the Spirit” as a reflection of the character of a believer (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, if you are asked to do something or given an “opportunity” to do something that might bring you personal gain, but would cause you to lose your fruit — that is, your spiritual fruit — then you must not do so. To do so would be to destroy both your walk with God and your Christian testimony in this world. That does not mean that God does not or cannot forgive, but why would you wish to bring that kind of heartache and grief into your life for a short-term, worldly gain?
Yet, how short-sighted we can be sometimes, which is why God has gifted us in the church with faithful Elders who are called to be overseers of our souls. How important it is, indeed, that we learn to listen to their wisdom, submit to their counsel, and rise to God’s calling as is affirmed by them. That’s not easy for us as Americans, but for us as Christians it is part of living faithfully.