The trees went forth to anoint a king over them: and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign thou over us. But the Olive tree said unto them, 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, 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, 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, reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If, in truth, ye anoint me king over you, come, put your trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
THE LOVE OF DOMINION.
The lust of dominion seeks to rule. If not to rule, to ruin. The higher principles of the human mind are satisfied to perform their own uses, in their proper way; but the lower, meaner propensities desire to rule over the others.
THE HISTORICAL SETTING.
Gideon had been a greatly admired military leader in his nation.. The Israelites came to him, saying, “Rule thou over us, both thou and thy son, and thy son’s son: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.” (Judges 8:22.) But Gideon would have none of it, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over you.” Peace reigned during his life, under his wise counsel as a Judge. After his death, however, it didn’t take them too long to return to idolatry and other evils. And Abimelech, Gideon’s son by a slave and concubine, cunningly plotted to gain the throne: and, to secure himself in the position, he slew all the seventy legitimate sons of his father, except Jotham, who escaped. And the Lord employed Jotham, to rebuke Abimelech and the Israelites..
Jotham showed the men of Shechem that they had taken, as king, a man who, on one side, was of low descent, and who was bloody and cruel, using cunning and wholesale murder to secure the throne, which properly belonged to some legitimate son of Gideon. Jotham also showed the men of Shechem that Abimelech, like the bramble, had displayed an evil spirit, ready to rule or to ruin; and that his reign would be disastrous to Israel.
THE REPRESENTATIVE MEANING.
Historically, the trees represented the Israelites. The olive was Gideon; the fig-tree was Gideon’s son; and the vine was his son’s son; for all of whom Gideon had declined the throne. The bramble was Abimelech; and the cedars of Lebanon were the men of Shechem.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
There is a spiritual meaning to this parable. As the Israelites, in their disobedience and idolatry, always brought upon themselves a defeat by some powerful enemy, so every man, as he departs from the ways of the Lord’s commandments, sinks into evil which leads to worship himself and the world. It never fails to brings upon himself a serious defeat, at the hands of some great spiritual enemy, some foe of his own mental household.
In every condition of evil, the Israelites were attacked by some nation, or people, who represented the particular evil or falsity into which the Israelites then had fallen.
Sometimes they were carried away, as captives; and always by nations representing the unholy principles which had inwardly carried them away, as spiritual captives to the lusts of the flesh, and had kept them away from the joy and home of regenerate life.
And when men see and acknowledge their bondage in sin, and when they turn to the Lord for deliverance, they can be saved from evil, by repenting, and by shunning evils as sins. But, often, when the trouble is past, men forget their Divine Helper, and relapse into selfish idolatry. Instead of keeping some grand Divine Truth as their mental king, they adopt some perversion of truth, some out-birth of a slavish principle. They end up erecting it as their mental king.
Abimelech represents the flesh, the selfish, cruel love of dominion over others, born from the love of self. He is a mere bramble, ready to rule or to at least ruin. He is ready to send forth its fires of lust, to consume all the better principles, which will not submit themselves to its rule.
These three plants, the olive, the vine, and the fig-tree are frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, often together. They represent the three elevations or degrees of human life, the Divine, the spiritual, and the natural. The love of the Lord, the love of the neighbor, and the love of obedience to the law. Trees represent mental states, in men, the inward principles of men’s minds and their lives that follow after. Good principles, in good men, are called “trees of the Lord.” Evil men are called trees that bear no fruit, barren trees, and cumbers of the ground. “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever.” (Psa. 52:8) ” The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” (Psalm 92:12)
The olive represents the Divine principle of love of and to the Lord, which, like the oil, is warm and smooth. “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness.” (Psa. 45:7.) This oil of love is the “fatness” of the olive, mentioned in the text. When such love rules in the mind, governing all the affections, thoughts and conduct, the man is in a celestial regenerate state.
That the olive-tree declined to rule over the trees, does not mean that Divine love cannot, or will not, rule the regenerate mind; but it means that such heavenly love cannot rule in such a condition of mind as then existed in the men of Shechem. They did not desire to be ruled in a heavenly way but in their own selfish manner. This is manifestly seen by them making a murder, Abimelech their king. Divine love of the Lord cannot rule in a selfish and worldly mind. If it should unite itself with selfish principles, it would quickly lose its Divine qualities. Thus, it would become adulterated by evils. And so the olive, in declined to rule. The olive said, “Should I leave my fatness, wherewith, by me, they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?” The grounds of its refusal was that a heavenly love of good that could not mingle with selfish and worldly principles, without losing its own exalted, Divine virtues.
Literally, the olive honors God and man, because the olive oil was used in the temple service, in the worship of God, and because the priests and kings were anointed with olive oil. Spiritually, it honors God and man, because the principle of love to the Lord, looks to the Lord, acknowledges Him, and gives all honor to Him, and brings man into a state of union with the Lord, in which man is honored.
I have five fig trees on my place. I love the fig tree. Here, the fig-tree, also, declined to be king. The fig represents natural goodness, the love of obedience to the revealed law. It is right to cultivate a natural love of obedience to the Divine commandments. But, to make this virtue a means of feeding a spirit of ambition to rule over others, would be to destroy its good quality, and to corrupt it into a vice. The fig-tree would thus forsake its “sweetness” and its “good fruit.” When a man intelligently knows the truth, and obediently follows it, then, spiritually, “the fig-tree and the vine do yield their strength.” (Joel 2:22) The “sweetness” of the fig-tree is its inward good principle, and its “good fruits” are its practical good works.
The vine, also declined to be their king, saying, “Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man?” The vine represents spiritual truths drawn from the Word of God. The fruit of the vine represents the good which springs from a love of truth, that is, the love of the neighbor, as distinguished from the love of the Lord. Literally, the wine cheered, or gladdened, “God and man,” because the offerings of wine formed a part of the sacrifices, or offerings to the Lord; and because the effect of the right use of pure wine is to make glad and encourage the exhausted and to lift the heart of a saddened man.
Also in the spiritual sense, wine represents Divine Truth, the spiritual “blood of the Lord,” which the Lord loves to give to men, and which good men love to receive from Him. Such spiritual “blood of the grape,” the Divine Truth, opens men’s spiritual eyes, warms their hearts, and enriches their lives. The Lord, as the Divine Truth, calls Himself the Vine; “I am the vine; ye are the branches.” (John 15:5) At the “Last Supper,” the Lord mentioned to His disciples, concerning the wine, “that day when I drink it new with you, in My Father’s kingdom.” This new wine is the new spiritual truth which comes to us from the inward, spiritual sense of the Scriptures, and which we drink spiritually, with the Lord, when it unites us with Him, in love, faith and obedience. This spiritual wine “cheereth God and man,” because, more and more, it carries the Divine blessings to men, and thus expands the operation of the Divine Love.
THE TREES IN GENERAL.
The other trees appeared to desire the good trees to rule over them. But, to do so, the good trees would have had to leave their own high and holy character, and to go down to the general condition of the trees. The trees did not offer to go to the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine, to be governed by them, in their own places. But they said, “Come thou, and rule over us.” They did not propose to abandon their selfish conditions, that they might be lifted up to a better condition and character. They sought to bring down the higher things, to agreement with their own lower condition. And the mental good trees could not do this, without losing their own distinctive qualities and character.
The olive and the fig represent states of the will, or what is the same, the heart, as to inward and outward good, or love; and the vine represents a state of the understanding, and its life of truth. And these cannot afford to leave their goodness and their truth, to join themselves with any selfish form of the love of ruling over others.
But, as the good trees declined to be made king, the trees finally applied to the bramble. Personally, this bramble represents those dangerous members of both the church and of society, who love to rule, or if not to rule, to ruin.
In the abstract sense, the bramble represents the selfish form of the love of ruling over others. This disposition of mind is worldly, haughty and dangerous. All natural things, when perverted to evil uses, become mere brambles, and dangerous and inflammable, quick to burn in the infernal fires of selfish lusts. Even the letter of the Lord’s Word, when separated from its inward spirit, and corrupted to evil uses, becomes a bramble, in the mind so abusing it, for pretended and spurious goodness. It is said of Zion, in her sinful condition, “thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be a habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.” (Isa. 34:13.)
I have the Saw-briars on my place. I have watched their growth and evil ways. I hate them. They seek to entwine themselves around anything. The bramble was ready to rule over the trees. Self-love will feed a man’s love of rule, until he will be willing to rule over anything and everything. And the more an evil man knows, the more evil he can do. Though he knows truths as doctrines, yet the fires of his own sensuous lusts will burn out all truth from his mind, even the tall cedars of Lebanon, the far-reaching truths of the Lord’s Word, held in his affections.
The love of rule is ever ready to use its knowledge for selfish purposes. It will be patronizing towards the church, and towards all good influences, if they can be made to serve its desire to rule; if they will leave their goodness, and come down to it. But, if they attempt to oppose it, it will send out its infernal fires, and burn them out of the mind. The history of society is full of such brambles, in the priest-craft of the churches, in the party-craft of politicians, and in the abuses of social life, uniting in the common endeavor to rule, or to ruin. The unregenerate natural man regards self-love as his real God. However, while he expects it to give him life, it is destroying him in infernal fires.
Abimelech, like the bramble, was the least entitled to rule, because he was the most unworthy. But the people wanted such a king; and he was ready to rule them, for his own benefit.
The trees inclined to the bramble, and it was ready to be king, on its own terms, which were, to rule or to ruin.
Don’t you just hate arrogance? During the VP debate the wife said, “I’d love to wipe Joe Biden’s smirk off his face.” His laughing and smirking reeked with arrogance. The insolence of Abimelech, in seeking to rule over Israel, and the boldness of the natural man, in seeking to rule over the spiritual man, are shown in the arrogance of the lowly, unworthy bramble demanding that all the trees, even the grand, old towering cedars of Lebanon, should come under the shadow of this miserable plant.
And, spiritually, the same monstrous insolence is shown by the lust of rule in our natural mind, when it attempts to bring down the higher principles of the mind, and to make them subservient to its evil purposes; utterly to overshadow them, or to destroy them in the unholy fires of evil lusts.
The cedars of Lebanon represent the grand rational truths of regenerate life; noble trees, reaching far above the earth, evergreen in their foliage, teaching man of his spiritual and immortal character. “Praise ye Jehovah, . . . fruitful trees and all cedars.” (Psalm 148:7,9) How can these lofty, glorious truths stoop low enough to put themselves under the shadow of the low, earthy bramble? How can we be willing to prostitute the knowledge of spiritual and Divine. things to the low lusts of a selfish love of ruling over others? But, if we do this folly, the fires of the hells in our own hearts will surely arise, and destroy our mental cedars of Lebanon.
In all of creation, there is not only a purpose but an order ordained by the Creator, and fixed in the organism of every creature. According to this order, each man has his PLACE and his USE; and each finds happiness in the loving performance of the use to which he is purposed and for which he is adapted. This is clearly understood by each part of man that has its place and its use. The eye is organized for seeing, and it is adapted to that use; and the ear is organized for hearing, and is adapted to that use. The eye takes no cognizance of sounds and hears nothing, nor does the ear take notice of light.
The eye does not wish to leave its seeing, nor the ear to leave its hearing, to go away to do other things. Each is happy in the performance of its own USE, according to its organism. It has no selfish ambition to rule over other things. So, in the regenerate mind, each principle of life has its place and its work; and it is happy in performing its own use. And if it should have a selfish lust for going out of its way, to rule over other things, it would lose its own good quality.
THE LUST OF RULING.
But our inward mental bramble, our selfish ambition to rule, will seek to rule over all other things, or to ruin their quality, by subjecting them to the infernal fires of evil lusts. Heaven is full of the spirit of humility; but hell is full of self-assertion.
If any heavenly principle has begun to grow in our minds, it must not be brought under the control of any worldly or selfish purpose. If we abuse a good princ1ple, it will lose its oil of love, and its wine of spirituality, and the sweetness of its good fruit. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt. 3:10.)
The love of rule shows itself in many ways; in the lust of having one’s own way. It is often seen in hard pride of opinion; in conceit of one’s-own mental abilities, which is impatient, even under proper criticism; and, especially in the vile vice of contempt of others. All these are but forms of the love of ruling over others, mentally or physically.
Without humility, the oil of love loses its heavenly warmth; the wine of truth loses its spirituality; and the fig of obedience loses its practical sweetness.
In our minds, the bramble is ruling over the trees, whenever we exalt ourselves above others, in our own estimation; and whenever we harbor contempt of others; and whenever and wherever the holy truths of Divine Revelation are dragged down, to cater to the selfish pleasures of our senses.
The Bible is of little use to men, spiritually, while they quarrel over it, as a mere record of literal facts, or a treatise of the history, science and geography of a small portion of the earth. When the prophecies of the Lord’s Word are supposed to relate to nothing more than the things of the natural senses, then spiritually, the celestial olive yields but little of its oil; the fig-tree bears little of its sweet good fruit; and the vine gives but little of its spiritual wine. Only as the Divine Word is regarded as a mirror to the human soul, in the spiritual light of revealed truth, and as its truths are seen in their spiritual aspect, can these truths be seen as heavenly truths, opening our minds to a new world, and displaying the history of the spirit of man, from his birth to eternity.
In His spiritual coming, the. Lord comes to give men life “more abundantly,” and of higher quality; to enable every man, if he will, to be “a green olive-tree In the house of God.” “In that day, saith Jehovah of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbor, under the vine and under the fig-tree.” (Zech. 3:10.)