Jesus, you know, chose His words wisely. He talked and gave instruction about many, many different subjects to His disciples. One of the things He spoke about on several occasions had a horticultural slant. He speaks of fields and wheat, of seedtime and harvest, of the condition of the soil, of dangerous weeds, of the type of yield you can expect from a crop. One of the things he speaks about is trees and the fruit they should produce. A classic example of this would be when he cursed the fig tree for not bearing fruit at the right time resulting in it withering to death overnight. On another occasion he makes this comment in Matthew 7 v 18 about trees: “a good (or healthy tree) cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad (or unhealthy tree) cannot bear good fruit.”
It’s perhaps not surprising he illustrated His subject matter with horticultural ‘speak’ as it was all around him. Farming was an everyday thing in New Testament times as most people were engaged in working the Land. It would be a subject everyone would be very familiar with and understood.
It’s also worth noting that the Old Testament is also rich in horticultural matters.Jesus was a scholar of the Old Testament scriptures and knew them better than most probably any other scribe or scholar. One of the passages He would have been very familiar with would have been the passage found in the book of the prophet Isaiah Chapter 17 v 6. Sadly it’s a text we are not so familiar with nowadays. In fact, if I were to be honest I’ve never ever heard anyone even mention this verse Let alone preach on it. I find this somewhat surprising because although it only contains a few words it is hugely significant and has serious implications for all believers.
This is what the text actually says (Isaiah 17 v6):
‘Yet some gleanings shall be Left in the tree, the shaking of an olive tree – two or three berries in the top of the uttermost bough, four or jive in the outmost branches thereof, says Jehovah God of Israel.’
The prophet Isaiah is actually foretelling of a sorrowful day of Leanness which would surely come upon the idolatrous apostates who had treated Jehovah God with perverse thanklessness and continuous rebellion. They were His people and should have known better, but they had taken their relationship with God Lightly taking His benefits for granted.
The prophet compares them to a fruitless tree. He says it shall be for them as it is with an olive tree after its crop of berries had been removed by the beating of its boughs and branches -with just ‘two or three berries at the top’ and just Literally a handful Left on the outer branches.
And why is this so significant? I believe it’s that this can become a sad picture and symbolic of our own spiritual Lives if we are not careful.
It is very possible; in fact, many find themselves exactly Like this, in a bereft condition spiritually, bereft in faith, hope, Love, joy, peace, strength, prayer, testimony and service. With a fruitless Life that is Lean and Languishing.
Here in Isaiah we find an olive tree with just a handful of berries. Now if you were to compare this with how much fruit it should have had on its branches at that particular season it becomes a sad and pathetic reproduction. For example, the giant ‘Chemlali’ olive tree can actually produce nearly a ton of fruit in one season. So you can see, two or three berries on the top of the tree are a sad and pathetic reflection of what it should have been.
And Isaiah the prophet is saying in a similar way that God’s people, the Israelites, were a pathetic reflection of what they should have been where their personal walk with God was concerned.
And I suppose the million dollar question is – why would this be….?
Verse 10 gives us the answer, ‘because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation .. .’ it says. Or in other words there has been a forgetfulness of God and neglect in taking care of their personal daily relationship with God. They had stopped trusting and Looking to the one they worshipped, they had stopped developing and growing in faith, in the main they had simply forgotten God or more to the point chose to ignore Him in their daily business.
And so it can be for us today in the 21st century, in fact even more so than then as we have so many more distractions and Life is so much faster and more intense than it was thousands of years ago!
It happens when we allow ourselves to become inordinately immersed in everyday mundane things, in business, in work, in pleasure, in bringing up the family, in hobbies and pastimes, in building home, in social affairs, in getting and spending, in working and playing, in our coming and our going. We become so busy and God and our relationship with Christ gets sidelined.And to add insult to injury, we try and convince ourselves and everyone else for that matter, that God understands and will somehow turn a gracious blind eye and come running when we next call on Him. However the quantity and quality of fruit in our Lives doesn’t Lie. By being consumed with the busyness of Life we have become bereft of any Godly fruit. That was something else Jesus said with a horticultural slant. He said, ‘and you will know they are my disciples by their fruit!’
It’s a paradoxical case of my Life becoming so full that I now find it empty. It’s about becoming so busy remembering to do the many things that you have forgotten the one thing that is really needful! And at the end of the day, all you’re Left with is ‘the barrenness of a busy Life!’
It’s a Lot Like Martha in the New Testament who forgot how to sit at the master’s feet.
This is one of the reasons why ‘the olive tree’ of your Life only has two or three berries at the top and at its outermost branches. This is just one of the reasons our Lives are bereft of fruit and the joy of God.
And then verse 10 gives us another clue to the Lack of fruit and spiritual Life. It says, ‘Because you have not been mindful of the rock of your strength and the rock of your refuge.’ It would seem the prophet is Letting them know that they had adopted and developed an unspiritual minded self-sufficiency. A mindset that said I’m ok! I can get by myself! I’ll survive! They had been neglectful of prayer and dependency upon their God. In other words, they had foolishly preferred to manage, or should that be ‘mis-manage’ their own affairs. And how easy is it for us today to fall in this selfsame trap. We have forgotten how weak, fragile and vulnerable we are. I have somehow began to imagine, think and believe that the timid Lamb that I am is some sort of roaring, strong, fierce and self-sufficient Lion. However, Living in my own strength and dependency and refusing to ‘acknowledge Him in all our ways’ has now made me Like an olive tree bereft of berries, bereft of fruit. As far as the things of God are concerned simply not fit for purpose – empty, unfulfilled, Left wanting and with very Little to offer.
Note also how verse 8, talks of the ‘altars’ and ‘images’ which the old time Israelites had built. They should have known better. They should have been building altars to the Living God. But no, they were building altars to other things. And here’s the question we should all be asking ourselves – ‘can it be that I myself have become idolatrous?’ Have I allowed some friendship, or some ambition, or some hobby or pursuit, or some member of the opposite sex, or some excuse, or some business and financial pursuit, or something else to usurp the place of the Lord Jesus Christ in my heart’s desire and devotion? In truth God is never going to sit by when someone or something else has become the apple of your eye, when something else or someone else has captured your heart. When something else takes priority. He’s a jealous God when it comes to your relationship with Him.
If this is the case, then no wonder your olive tree is bereft of Godly berries, Godly fruit and Godly character. Or as the prophet Isaiah puts it, Just one or two berries at the top of your tree’ – but nothing of any use. It’s these types of things that cause us to be bereft of fruit.
By the way, it’s worth noting how olives are harvested. Nets are laid under an olive tree so it can be shaken and beaten. Traditionally, just Like back in Roman times and in Bible days, this is done by hand using sticks or poles to beat the branches and dislodge the fruit from the tree.Alternatively, in modern day harvesting some farmers use a vibrating/shaking machine which is attached to a branch to shake the olives into the nets below. The nets of olives are then collected up and emptied into a trailer.
So here’s the point. I wonder if you have allowed the mundane, busy, business of life and sheer neglect to seriously beat your tree Leaving just two or three berries at the top-the rest having fallen to the ground to rot and be trampled underfoot.
Other things that we allow to beat the branches of our tree causing us to be bereft of any fruit can be bitterness, unforgiveness, stinginess and meanness, disobedience, neglecting to meet with other believers in the local church, pride and jealousy, to name but a few.
The plain fact is God did not create us to have all our fruit fall to the ground and be beaten by busyness, sin and adversity, God never designed us to be bereft and devoid of fruit. God created each one of us to be fruitful. Right back at the very beginning in Genesis 1 v 28 God established this and it’s never changed. It still stands today. God expects you to be fruitful.
So whatever you do, don’t let anything or anyone strip you of the fruit that God has created you to bear. Don’t allow anything to beat the fruit off your branches.
In conclusion then, I wonder if it’s time to take a personal berry audit. I wonder if it’s time to have a word with your inner man. I wonder if you should be saying something Like .. .’Soul of mine, get back to Him, put wrong things right, throw down the busyness, neglect and complacency. It’s time to get back to new consecration. Then shall my olive tree be laden again!’