FIG TREE OF THE BIBLE
In marked contrast with the upright, branchless palm, the fig tree, in some of its species, is the most wide-spreading of trees; the famous banyan or pagoda fig, of India, sometimes casting a vertical shadow more than fifteen hundred feet in circumference. The common fig tree, however, whose fruit we use, is a small tree, but with a broad expanse in proportion to its height. A remarkable characteristic of the fig is that the blossoms are concealed, so that the fruit is popularly supposed to be produced without blossoms. The truth is that the flower stalk, which, in the first crop, pushes itself out in the axil of the leaf bud before the leaf, is hollow, and bears inside a multitude of little flowers, some staminate and some pistillate. When these flowers have matured, the stalk in which they are enclosed expands into a fig—the sweet, nutritious pulp belonging to the stalk itself, and imbedding a multitude of small, dry seed vessels.
This low, spreading, fruitful tree must be representative of principles relating to neighborly uses, not of very interior quality. That the fruit is produced without visible blossoms indicates that the good works to which it corresponds are not preceded by any conscious perception of interior truth. For every spiritual fruit tree springs from a principle of use affectionately received in the
mind; its leaves are intelligent perceptions of truth relating to the principle; and the blossoms, which are more delicate leaves, are perceptions of purer, more delightful wisdom concerning its uses. The joy in the perception of the ability of the loved truth to produce good uses expresses itself in the beauty and fragrance of the flower, within which is the beginning of the fruit. The olive tree blossoms with delight in the perception of the Lord’s goodness, now given with such fullness that it may be imparted to others; the vine, with the sweet pleasure of communicating the wisdom and kindness of the Divine truth; but the fig is happy in the obscure knowledge that it is right to do good, and in doing kindly works with no perception of what is spiritually wise and useful, and no sense of inflowing life or illustration from the Lord. Hence the fruit seems to belong to the producer himself. The stalk thickens into sweetness, within which the living fruits, which are the Divine precepts of welldoing, remain comparatively dry and tasteless. Such is the fruit of benevolence in children and simple good persons, who receive instruction in moral and benevolent life, accept it as something to be done, without much intelligence about it, and are full of zeal for the works prescribed. Such fruit may appear before the leaf, because it is not dependent upon intelligence. It is the abundant kindliness and morality of simple, obedient goodness.
When our first ancestors lost their spiritual love and intelligence by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because they were no longer innocent, they were said to be conscious of nakedness; yet they retained their knowledge of the forms of moral life, with which as with fig leaves they clothed themselves (Divine Providence #313).
The Jews had in their Scriptures precepts which taught them to consider the poor, to have compassion on the widow and the fatherless, to show hospitality to the stranger, to deal their bread to the hungry, to bring home the poor that were cast out, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke; they prided themselves upon their knowledge of the Scriptures and upon their study of them.
They were a fig tree glorying in leaves; but when the Lord came seeking fruit upon it, He found none, and presently the fig tree withered away. But in the prediction of His Second Coming, the Lord gave as a sign the budding of the fig tree: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand” (Luke 21:29, 30). This was a sign of His coming, because the first effect of His coming would be an active interest in practical philanthropy and in all useful knowledge. Is not this spiritual sign now visible in the immense increase of benevolent feeling and work in our day? In the associations for the relief of the poor, the sick, and insane, the imprisoned, and the unfortunate of every class? In the fact that the pulpits of all the churches are inculcating the precepts of good moral life, instead of the arbitrary dogmas of the last century? And in the advance of scientific knowledge, so rapid as to cover every branch of the tree of science with a growth that almost conceals the stock of a hundred years ago? What possible explanation of this marvelous and sudden development can a fair mind suggest but the nearer approach of the Divine Spirit of wisdom and goodness?
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875