“The trees surely went to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, “You must surely reign over us!”
And we enter into the lawsuit of Jotham, which he offers in the form of a parable. Remember, the purpose of parables is that those who are spiritually blind will remain spiritually blind and those whom the Holy Spirit has begun his work upon may see (Matthew 13:10-17). Abimelek will not repent and will continue his rampage until God destroys his life in judgment; how sad a condition that he will find himself within. Yet, notice even here (as we alluded to earlier in Gideon’s life), the people would much rather have a human king than a divine one. Again, how sad…but how common. How often people in church would far rather lead the church in their way rather than to follow the instructions for the church that God has given us in the Bible.
But what of this parable of trees? Obviously the trees represent those who might rule over the people; what is telling is how Jotham designates them and in terms of which tree the Israelites will choose. Yet, the first of the trees is the Olive, which is the most appropriate of the trees to which the Israelites should look.
Historically, the Olive Tree is a symbol of national Israel (Jeremiah 11:6; Romans 11:17) as well as being a symbol for the Messiah (Zechariah 4:11-14). Not only does the tree grow well in the climate of Israel, but it provided one of the staple foods for the people as well as oil for lamps and for cooking. It seems that the trees have gone to the rightful leader first…God’s anointed tree (Gideon).
Yet, Gideon refused. His calling is not to be king, but simply to be a redeemer on behalf of the people of Israel. Had the people stopped with Gideon, all would have been well and they would never would have been given the circumstance where a parable such as this would have been necessary. Yet, with the refusal of this first tree — the rightful tree — the people began looking elsewhere, and hence the problem.
Again, while we may snub our noses a bit at the people of this day for their impudence, we are guilty of doing the same in much the same way. Christ is king over his church, that principle ought to be debated by no one. Yet, how rarely the church sincerely submits to His rule. How often the church makes decisions based on pragmatism rather than upon plain Biblical teachings. How often the people brought into leadership are people we like rather than people who meet (or who strive to meet) the qualifications found in scripture for leadership as an Elder of as a Deacon. How often Christians talk about service, but never do service. How often, rather than by Christ through a body of elected Elders and Deacons, the churches are run by pastors — those who once again are not the legitimate tree to assume this role — one which belongs to Christ alone.
There is much more to the story than just this parable, and I would encourage you to go and read the rest of Judges, chapter 9 (and on…). Ultimately, the people get what they ask for: an illegitimate king. Also, Jotham’s prediction certainly comes true—there is fire between Abimelech and the people of Shechem, which brings about Abimelech’s downfall. But this is hardly the end of the story. The people keep on asking for a king until God finally grants them to have a human king. And what a mess of people they were. Even the good ones, though they are few, have their low points. This is what happens when we chase after the ways of this world rather than chasing after the things of God, and that point does not just apply to our political leaders, but to all aspects of life.
Friends, chase after the things of God and seek to grow holy. Learn to resist sin and to glorify God in both your public and private lives. Love him in all you do. Love his word—study it, pray it, sing it, and memorize it—and seek his face in prayer. If you do these things, you will stay clear of the seduction of the world. You will keep yourself out from under the choking bramble of sin—not by your strength, but by the strength of the one who dwells in you and is reflected in you more and more clearly as you grow in faith.