The Parable of The Trees

I was studying Mark 11:12-14 & 20-24 when I ran across a reference to Judges 9:10-11 and read some interesting material concerning the revelation of Scripture, and I learned something from Matthew Henry's Commentary on these verses. I am going to post the verses and the commentaries below so that you may also read along. May God bless His Word and the works of the Saints. Amen.

Mark 11:12-14 NKJV
12 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. 13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again." And His disciples heard it.

Matthew Henry's Comment on Mark 11:12-14
Here is, I. Christ’s cursing the fruitless fig-tree. He had a convenient resting-place at Bethany, and therefore thither he went at resting-time; but his work lay at Jerusalem, and thither therefore he returned in the morning, at working-time; and so intent was he upon his work, that he went out from Bethany without breakfast, which, before he was gone far, he found the want of, and was hungry (v. 12), for he was subject to all the sinless infirmities of our nature. Finding himself in want of food, he went to a fig-tree, which he saw at some distance, and which being well adorned with green leaves he hoped to find enriched with some sort of fruit. But he found nothing but leaves; he hoped to find some fruit, for though the time of gathering in figs was near, it was not yet; so that it could not be pretended that it had had fruit, but that it was gathered and gone; for the season had not yet arrived. Or, He found none, for indeed it was not a season of figs, it was no good fig-year. But this was worse than any fig-tree, for there was not so much as one fig to be found upon it, though it was so full of leaves. However, Christ was willing to make an example of it, not to the trees, but to the men, of that generation, and therefore cursed it with that curse which is the reverse of the first blessing, Be fruitful; he said unto it, Never let any man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever, v. 14. Sweetness and good fruit are, in Jotham’s parable, the honour of the fig-tree (Jdg. 9:11), and its serviceableness therein to man, preferable to the preferment of being promoted over the trees; now to be deprived of that, was a grievous curse. This was intended to be a type and figure of the doom passed upon the Jewish church, to which he came, seeking fruit, but found none (Lu. 13:6, 7); and though it was not, according to the doom in the parable, immediately cut down, yet, according to this in the history, blindness and hardness befel them (Rom. 11:8, 25), so that they were from henceforth good for nothing. The disciples heard what sentence Christ passed on this tree, and took notice of it. Woes from Christ’s mouth are to be observed and kept in mind, as well as blessings.

Judges 9:7-15 NKJV
7 Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: "Listen to me, you men of Shechem, That God may listen to you! 8 "The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us!' 9 But the olive tree said to them, 'Should I cease giving my oil, With which they honor God and men, And go to sway over trees?' 10 "Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come and reign over us!' 11 But the fig tree said to them, 'Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, And go to sway over trees?' 12 "Then the trees said to the vine, 'You come and reign over us!' 13 But the vine said to them, 'Should I cease my new wine, Which cheers both God and men, And go to sway over trees?' 14 "Then all the trees said to the bramble, 'You come and reign over us!' 15 And the bramble said to the trees, 'If in truth you anoint me as king over you, Then come and take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble And devour the cedars of Lebanon!'

Matthew Henry's Comment on Judges 9:7-15
We have here the only testimony that appears to have been borne against the wicked confederacy of Abimelech and the men of Shechem. It was a sign they had provoked God to depart from them that neither any prophet was sent nor any remarkable judgment, to awaken this stupid people, and to stop the progress of this threatening mischief. Only Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, who by a special providence escaped the common ruin of his family (v. 5), dealt plainly with the Shechemites, and his speech, which is here recorded, shows him to have been a man of such great ingenuity and wisdom, and really such an accomplished gentleman, that we cannot but the more lament the fall of Gideon’s sons. Jotham did not go about to raise an army out of the other cities of Israel (in which, one would think, he might have made a good interest for his father’s sake), to avenge his brethren’s death, much less to set up himself in competition with Abimelech, so groundless was the usurper’s suggestion that the sons of Gideon aimed at dominion (v. 2); but he contents himself with giving a faithful reproof to the Shechemites, and fair warning of the fatal consequences. He got an opportunity of speaking to them from the top of Mount Gerizim, the mount of blessings, at the foot of which probably the Shechemites were, upon some occasion or other, gathered together (Josephus says, solemnizing a festival), and it seems they were willing to hear what he had to say. I. His preface is very serious: "Hearken unto me, you men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you, v. 7. As ever you hope to obtain God’s favour, and to be accepted of him, give me a patient and impartial hearing.’’ Note, Those who expect God to hear their prayers must be willing to hear reason, to hear a faithful reproof, and to hear the complaints and appeals of wronged innocency. If we turn away our ear from hearing the law, our prayer will be an abomination, Prov. 28:9. II. His parable is very ingenious—that when the trees were disposed to choose a king the government was offered to those valuable trees the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine, but they refused it, choosing rather to serve than rule, to do good than bear sway. But the same tender being made to the bramble he accepted it with vain-glorious exultation. The way of instruction by parables is an ancient way, and very useful, especially to give reproofs by. 1. He hereby applauds the generous modesty of Gideon, and the other judges who were before him, and perhaps of the sons of Gideon, who had declined accepting the state and power of kings when they might have had them, and likewise shows that it is in general the temper of all wise and good men to decline preferment and to choose rather to be useful than to be great. (1.) There was no occasion at all for the trees to choose a king; they are all the trees of the Lord which he has planted (Ps. 104:16) and which therefore he will protect. Nor was there any occasion for Israel to talk of setting a king over them; for the Lord was their king. (2.) When they had it in their thoughts to choose a king they did not offer the government to the stately cedar, or the lofty pine, which are only for show and shade, and not otherwise useful till they are cut down, but to the fruit-trees, the vine and the olive. Those that bear fruit for the public good are justly respected and honoured by all that are wise more than those that affect to make a figure. For a good useful man some would even dare to die. (3.) The reason which all these fruit-trees gave for their refusal was much the same. The olive pleads (v. 9), Should I leave my wine, wherewith both God and man are served and honoured? for oil and wine were used both at God’s altars and at men’s tables. And shall I leave my sweetness, saith the fig-tree, and my good fruit (v. 11), and go to be promoted over the trees? or, as the margin reads it, go up and down for the trees? It is intimated, [1.] That government involves a man in a great deal both of toil and care; he that is promoted over the trees must go up and down for them, and make himself a perfect drudge to business. [2.] That those who are preferred to places of public trust and power must resolve to forego all their private interests and advantages, and sacrifice them to the good of the community. The fig-tree must lose its sweetness, its sweet retirement, sweet repose, and sweet conversation and contemplation, if it go to be promoted over the trees, and must undergo a constant fatigue. [3.] That those who are advanced to honour and dignity are in great danger of losing their fatness and fruitfulness. Preferment is apt to make men proud and slothful, and thus spoil their usefulness, with which in a lower sphere they honoured God and man, for which reason those that desire to do good are afraid of being too great. 2. He hereby exposes the ridiculous ambition of Abimelech, whom he compares to the bramble or thistle, v. 14. He supposes the trees to make their court to him: Come thou and reign over us, perhaps because he knew not that the first motion of Abimelech’s preferment came from himself (as we found, v. 2), but thought the Shechemites had proposed it to him; however, supposing it so, his folly in accepting it deserved to be chastised. The bramble is a worthless plant, not to be numbered among the trees, useless and fruitless, nay, hurtful and vexatious, scratching and tearing, and doing mischief; it began with the curse, and its end is to be burned. Such a one was Abimelech, and yet chosen to the government by the trees, by all the trees; this election seems to have been more unanimous than any of the others. Let us not think it strange if we see folly set in great dignity (Eccl. 10:6), and the vilest men exalted (Ps. 12:8), and men blind to their own interest in the choice of their guides. The bramble, being chosen to the government, takes no time to consider whether he should accept it or no, but immediately, as if he had been born and bred to dominion, hectors, and assures them they shall find him as he found them. See what great swelling words of vanity he speaks (v. 15), what promises he makes to his faithful subjects: Let them come and trust in my shadow: a goodly shadow to trust in! How unlike to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, which a good magistrate is compared to! Isa. 32:2. Trust in his shadow!—more likely to be scratched if they came near him—more likely to be injured by him than benefited. Thus men boast of a false gift. Yet he threatens with as much confidence as he promises: If you be not faithful, let fire come out of the bramble (a very unlikely thing to emit fire) and devour the cedars of Lebanon —more likely to catch fire, and be itself devoured.

                                                                 Mark 11:20-26 NKJV
20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away." 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, "Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. 25 "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

Matthew Henry's Comment on Mark 11:20-24
His discourse with his disciples, upon occasion of the fig-tree’s withering away which he had cursed. At even, as usual, he went out of the city (v. 19), to Bethany; but it is probable that it was in the dark, so that they could not see the fig-tree; but the next morning, as they passed by, they observed the fig-tree dried up from the roots, v. 20. More is included many times in Christ’s curses than is expressed, as appears by the effects of them. The curse was no more than that it should never bear fruit again, but the effect goes further, it is dried up from the roots. If it bear no fruit, it shall bear no leaves to cheat people. Now observe, 1. How the disciples were affected with it. Peter remembered Christ’s words, and said, with surprise, Master, behold, the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away, v. 21. Note, Christ’s curses have wonderful effects, and make those to wither presently, that flourished like the green bay-tree. Those whom he curseth are cursed indeed. This represented the character and state of the Jewish church; which, from henceforward, was a tree dried up from the roots; no longer fit for food, but for fuel only. The first establishment of the Levitical priesthood was ratified and confirmed by the miracle of a dry rod, which in one night budded, and blossomed, and brought forth almonds (Num. 17:8), a happy omen of the fruitlessness and flourishing of that priesthood. And now, by a contrary miracle, the expiration of that priesthood was signified by a flourishing tree dried up in a night; the just punishment of those priests that had abused it. And this seemed very strange to the disciples, and scarcely credible, that the Jews, who had been so long God’s own, his only professing people in the world, should be thus abandoned; they could not imagine how that fig-tree should so soon wither away: but this comes of rejecting Christ, and being rejected by him. 2. The good instructions Christ gave them from it; for of those even this withered tree was fruitful. (1.) Christ teacheth them from hence to pray in faith (v. 22); Have faith in God. They admired the power of Christ’s word of command; "Why,’’ said Christ, "a lively active faith would put as great a power into your prayers, v. 23, 24. Whosoever shall say to this mountain, this mount of Olives, Be removed, and be cast into the sea; if he has but any word of God, general or particular, to build his faith upon, and if he shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith, according to the warrant he has from what God hath said, shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith.’’ Through the strength and power of God in Christ, the greatest difficulty shall be got over, and the thing shall be effected. And therefore (v. 24), "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray believe that ye shall receive them; nay, believe that ye do receive them, and he that has power to give them, saith, Ye shall have them. I say unto you, Ye shall, v. 24. Verily I say unto you, Ye shall,’’ v. 23. Now this is to be applied, [1.] To that faith of miracles which the apostles and first preachers of the gospel were endued with, which did wonders in things natural, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out devils; these were, in effect, the removing of mountains. The apostles speak of a faith which would do that, and yet might be found where holy love was not, 1 Co. 13:2. [2.] It may be applied to that miracle of faith, which all true Christians are endued with, which doeth wonders in things spiritual. It justifies us (Rom. 5:1), and so removes the mountains of guilt, and casts them into the depths of the sea, never to rise up in judgment against us, Mic. 7:19. It purifies the heart (Acts 15:9), and so removes mountains of corruption, and makes them plains before the grace of God, Zec. 4:7. It is by faith that the world is conquered, Satan’s fiery darts are quenched, a soul is crucified with Christ, and yet lives; by faith we set the Lord always before us, and see him that is invisible, and have him present to our minds; and this is effectual to remove mountains, for at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, the mountains were not only moved, but re moved, Ps. 114:4-7. (2.) To this is added here that necessary qualification of the prevailing prayer, that we freely forgive those who have been any way injurious to us, and be in charity with all men (v. 25, 26); When ye stand praying, forgive. Note, Standing is no improper posture for prayer; it was generally used among the Jews; hence they called their prayers, their standings; when they would say how the world was kept up by prayer, they expressed it thus, Stationibus stat mundus—The world is held up by standings. But the primitive Christians generally used more humble and reverent gesture of kneeling, especially on fast days, though not on Lord’s days. When we are at prayer, we must remember to pray for others, particularly for our enemies, and those that have wronged us; now we cannot pray sincerely that God would do them good, if we bear malice to them, and wish them ill. If we have injured others before we pray, we must go and be reconciled to them; Mt. 5:23, 24. But if they have injured us, we go a nearer way to work, and must immediately from our hearts forgive them. [1.] Because this is a good step towards obtaining the pardon of our own sins: Forgive, that your Father may forgive you; that is, "that he may be qualified to receive forgiveness, that he may forgive you without injury to his honour, as it would be, if he should suffer those to have such benefit by his mercy, as are so far from being conformable to the pattern of it.’’ [2.] Because the want of this is a certain bar to the obtaining of the pardon of our sins; "If ye do not forgive those who have injured you, if he hate their persons, bear them a grudge, meditate revenge, and take all occasion to speak ill of them, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’’ This ought to be remembered in prayer, because one great errand we have to the throne of grace, is, to pray for the pardon of our sins: and care about it ought to be our daily care, because prayer is a part of our daily work. Our Saviour often insists on this, for it was his great design to engage his disciples to love one another.


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