What is the function of Israel?
How can we understand God's Olive Tree?
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God turns us all into gardeners. He tells us to imagine an olive tree, not so easy for modern people, particularly in the dodgy British climate. For the Jews at the time of Jesus it was a tree of great importance, a source of much that was needed for daily living. It provided olives for eating and olive oil for cooking, fuel for lamps, in medicine and as anointing oil. It may not have been pretty to look at but it was a king among trees. The olive leaf and branch have been a symbol of peace to this day, from the days of Noah’s flood.
In Romans Chapter 11, he helps us to get a grip of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah. Cast your mind back to the early days of Abraham and, with your spiritual eyes, imagine God planting an olive seed and watching as the first shoots burst from the ground. Then, as Isaac and Jacob appear on the scene, a tiny young olive tree has appeared in the spiritual landscape. As the Messianic line unfolds from Judah through to David, branches thrust their way into the sky until, by the time we get to the days of Jesus, the tree is well established. It is starting to grow now at an alarming rate. Every new Jew born has a branch in this tree. Growth is satisfactory until something strange happens. Branches are starting to fall to the ground.
For every new branch that appears, seemingly another is broken away, falling to the ground. Eventually, in their place other branches appear, but these are not branches growing out of the tree itself, but are fully grown branches taken from a wild olive tree, added to the tree in the gaps left by the broken branches. These grafted-in branches are added at a faster and faster pace until, before long, the upper branches of the olive tree are totally dominated by these unnatural additions. These wild olive branches may be contrary to nature, yet they still produce fruit. But the natural branches are few and far between.
Now that I’ve set the picture, read the Scriptures, then return to the description above.
“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,” (Romans 11:17)
The olive tree up to the time of Jesus is clearly representing, in some way, the Jewish people. The tree itself seems to be the place of God’s blessing and all the branches are Jewish. We can imagine a massive pruning exercise must have taken place at the time of the exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, branches being lopped off as the Jews of the Northern tribes disappear into obscurity and outside of God’s purposes. But now, at the time of Paul’s writings, he speaks of the branches that were falling to the ground, natural branches representing Jews who have rejected Jesus and consequently fall away from the place of blessing. Their place was (and still is) taken by Gentiles who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah. These are the wild olive shoots, grafted into the gaps and feeding from the tree, receiving the blessings. They are not the natural branches, so it’s not a perfect fit, but they benefit nevertheless.
“Do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Verse 18)
Paul warns the Gentiles, the wild olive branches, that they should be thankful for their position and should always be aware that theirs is a position of favour. The argument continues:
“You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” (Verse 19)
Branches were broken off because there were some Jews who failed to believe in Jesus. Their position was taken by the Gentiles. Then comes a warning.
“Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.” (Verse 20)
Do not be arrogant, but be afraid is the warning. The reason is then given.
"“For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” (Verses 21, 22)
Bearing in mind that faith is a gift of God, if He is seemingly so willing to abandon the natural branches, the Jews, how more willing will He be to do the same for the unnatural ones.
“And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (Verse 23)
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