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The Olive Tree’s Response

“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.

The First Rejection (Judges 9:9)

“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)


Here we see that Jotham, who is telling the story, understands what is going on.  The rightful tree rejects the offer of kingship, just as Gideon, his father, had done.  Why is that?  Because Gideon understood that it is God, not man, who should call and anoint a king.  God had called Gideon to judge for a time, not to create a dynasty to his name.  We see this in the response of the olive tree. 

Literally, the olive tree asks if he should leave his abundance to go and “shake” over the other trees.  The word e1On (nua) refers to a violent shaking, usually over something or someone else.  There is an implication that through this shaking, fear is generated in the hearts of others.  When God does not ordain a king, that king assumes power by subjecting others to his own authority.  We can see what happened with Abimelech.  The first act he did in seeking to be king is to have all of his brothers executed.  The olive tree recognized that were he to accept the kingship, it would be a violent rule.

And why would the olive tree be leaving its abundance?  Olive trees are neither the largest nor the most hardy of trees.  The “shaking” of itself over the other trees would likely destroy him just as violent windstorms do great damage to olive orchards.  The tree recognized that rulership by the terms of the world not only requires the domination of others, but it is self-destructive as well.

There are two things that I think we should learn from this.  The first is just simply a reflection on the values of the world.  Ruling by the world’s terms takes a huge toll on the person.  One of the things that I find quite interesting is to watch the hair color of presidents change from the time they are a candidate to the time they close out their term in office.  If you do not believe that stress brings on gray hair, I challenge you to start digging up before and after pictures of some of our recent presidents.  One of the most dramatic changes could be seen in Bill Clinton.  As a candidate, his hair had color; by the time he left office, it was snowy white.  This is admittedly an extreme example, but the principle remains: worldly leadership will take a huge toll on you. 

The second thing that we should take from the response of the olive tree is an understanding of calling.  Each of us is called to a different occupation in life to serve the Lord.  Some are called to be preachers, others are called to be farmers, and still others are called to be accountants and teachers and lawyers, etc…  All believers have a calling and not one is higher than the other.  If, when we understand our calling to be x,y, or z, we do something else, that is sin.  God has given us skills and gifts to serve him in a particular way, and even if the opportunity is given to us to serve otherwise—though it may satisfy our egos to do so—we should not deviate from that which God has given for us to do.  The olive tree understood that his calling was to bless people with its good fruit, not to destroy itself, domineering over the other trees.  Wisely, it stayed with its calling.

Friends, I lay the example of the olive tree before you.  Bear fruit in the calling that God has given to you—whatever that calling may be, glorify God in what you are doing.  This is the only way you will find satisfaction in life and the only way you will bless God and men with your fruit.