by E. W. Bullinger

An excerpt from Things to Come

Vol. II, No. 2 – August 1895

The symbolic, typical, and figurative teaching of God’s Word is an inexhaustible source of delight to those who meditate on it day and night, and who ponder over the infinite beauties and varieties of the written thoughts and wisdom of Him whose words are full of spirit and full of life.

But the solid and immovable foundation of God’s truth must be well laid and insisted on before its symbolical and figurative illustrations and side-lights can be safely taught.

There is full scope for the imagination when once the girdle of truth is spiritually comprehended and enjoyed.  When the sound doctrine of the faith once for all delivered to the saints is firmly held, when the Epistles of St. Paul, St. John, and St. Peter are fully known and believed, as well as the Words of the Lord Jesus as recorded by the Four Evangelists, then there is but little fear of too much play being given to the imagination in the interpretation of the teaching underlying the typical and figurative language of Scripture.

If we have the “mind of Christ,” and are being taught by the Holy Spirit, we too shall be able to draw lessons and spiritual songs from the flora and fauna of Nature; from the lofty cedars of snow-clad Lebanon and from the lowly hyssop which grows on the wall.

When Wisdom is justified of her children, Wisdom’s delights are found in the Book of Proverbs and the Song of Solomon, as well as elsewhere in God’s Word, and an infinite range of subjects is spread out before the gaze of Him who stands at the “opened door” of the Treasury of God.

He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shutteth, Himself stands at the door, and will keep the heart of His servant from giving way to too much imagination, for the half has not yet been told him, and even if He were to give the whole of His treasure-house in exchange for His love, “it would utterly be despised.”  Wisdom is above rubies, but even the hidden treasures of Wisdom’s house will not satisfy the heart of one who thinks of the love of Him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.

“All is vanity” if the heart be set on anything “under the sun,” but there is One above the sun, who is the true object and source of unending delight.

The Fig, the Olive, and the Vine

Each of these beautiful trees when studied separately in their symbolical connection with the ways and thoughts of Jehovah, concerning the people and history of Emmanuel’s Land, will suggest many instructive thoughts, and when taken together as connected symbols, have still deeper teaching for those who have eyes to see and hearts to understand.

In the first Parable in Scripture, uttered by Jotham to the men of Shechem from Mount Gerizim (Judges 9:8-15) we read:

“The trees went forth on a time 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 honour God and man, and go to wave to and from over the trees?’  And the trees said unto the Vine, ‘Come thou and reign over us.’  And the Vine said unto them, ‘Should I leave my wine which cheereth God and man, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?’  Then said all the trees unto the Bramble, ‘Come thou and reign over us.’  And the Bramble said unto the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me to be king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow, and if not, let fire come out of the Bramble and devour the Cedars of Lebanon.’”

The Fig, the Olive, and the Vine are symbolical types of that Nation to whom God gave that pleasant land of which they were the product and fruit.  But that highly-favoured people thought scorn of that pleasant land, and have no credence unto His Word.  And when they were in possession of it with its cities and goodly trees which they planted not, they wickedly forsook the Lord their God who had redeemed them out of Egypt and brought them into that beautiful land; and so after longsuffering patience and goodness He cast them out and scattered them amongst the Gentiles.

The Fig and the Vine

The Fig and the Vine are types of Israel under the first Covenant—but the Olive is a type of Israel as the object of God’s sure promise and blessing, a figure of that place of privilege in God’s grace, of those who are in possession of the oracles of God and amongst whom His honour dwelleth.

“God brought a Vine out of Egypt, He drove out the Nations and planted it.  It took deep root and filled the land, the mountains were filled with the shadow of it.  She sent out her branches unto the Sea and her shoots unto the River” (Psalm 80:8-11).

But let us read the sad song of the Beloved as touching His Vineyard.  Why brought it forth wild grapes when so much love and care had been bestowed on it?  What could have been done more for that Vineyard? (Isaiah 5:4-7)  “The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant.  He looked for judgment but behold oppression, for righteousness but behold a cry.”

Under the first covenant the Fig Tree produced “nothing but leaves;” great profession but no fruit: and the Chosen Vine yielded only wild grapes.

Nay, more, when to the Beloved Nation the “Only Son,” the well-beloved, was sent, full of grace and truth, the True Vine, whose Father was the Husbandman (John 15:1); when He grew up before them as a tender plant and as a root out of the dry ground, that highly favoured Nation despised and rejected Him, they saw no beauty in Him, the Chiefest among ten thousand.

There were, however, a few branches who abode in Him, the True Vine, and they bore much fruit; their sound went out into all lands and their words unto the end of the world.

But Israel did not know nor did they nationally listen to the Holy Spirit’s teaching; they did not repent nor would they consider.

The True Vine is now in God’s heavenly vineyard, and not until He comes forth from Zion as their Deliverer, to turn away ungodliness from Jacob, will the House of Israel and the House of Judah be once again in the position of God’s earthly people.  But the Lord God will yet choose Jerusalem, and He that scattered Israel will gather him as a shepherd does his flock.

Israel and the Olive

The Fig Tree “withered away,” and no fruit will grow on it for ever.  Israel failed under the first Covenant, and it is a new Covenant which God will make with the House of Israel and the House of Judah.

By the Law was the full knowledge of the awful nature of sin; the strength of sin was the Law, and by the deeds of the law shall no flesh—neither Jewish nor Gentile—be justified.

The Fig Tree will once again endeavor to put forth its leaves, but no fruit will follow!  When those things begin to come to pass, then will be the “beginning of sorrows!” and the time of Jacob’s trouble will be close at hand, even at the doors.

No fruit will be forthcoming in the attempt to renew the first Covenant—for they shamefully broke that Covenant and God has broken His staves, “Beauty” and “Bands,” and the Covenant which He had made with the peoples (Zechariah 11).

Woe to the worthless shepherd whom they will receive!

They will choose the Bramble for their king, as the men of Shechem chose Abimelech.  And will not fire come out of the Bramble and devour the Cedars of Lebanon?

But though the Fig Tree withered away and was cut down—though the True Vine was taken up into heaven and they saw Him no more; yet the Olive Tree still stands and though some of its branches were broken off, here it is still to this day.

Wild olive branches were grafted in.  Israel lost for a time the special privilege of being the possessors and expositors of the oracles of God.  The Gospel of the Grace of God, the Salvation of God, and the Mystery concerning Christ and the Church were preached amongst the Gentiles—and this is so to this day.

But the Gentiles, as such, are not continuing in God’s goodness, they are forsaking the principle of justification by faith alone, the doctrine of a standing or a falling Church; they are falling from the principle of grace.  And as God spared not the natural branches of the Olive Tree, neither will He spare boastful and vainglorious Gentiles, who have not received the love of the truth that they may be saved.

God will receive Israel back into favour—and the law will go forth from Zion and His righteous government from Jerusalem.

The Scribe instructed in the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven should be able to bring out of his treasures things “New and Old.”  Amongst these treasures will be found the solemn lessons of the Fig, the Olive, and the Vine.