I, the Lord, once called them a thriving olive tree, beautiful to see and full of good fruit. But now I have sent the fury of their enemies to burn them with fire, leaving them charred and broken. “I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who planted this olive tree, have ordered it destroyed. For the people of Israel and Judah have done evil, arousing my anger by burning incense to Baal.”Jeremiah 11:16-17 NLT
The olive tree planted by God
Scripture is rich with metaphors. The olive tree is one of those commonly used as a metaphor for a rich and satisfying life. It represents health, beauty, and prosperity. God once called Israel His thriving olive tree.
Paul picks up on this metaphor in Romans 11.
It is as if some of the branches from an olive tree [symbolizing Israel] have been broken off. You Gentiles are like the branch of a wild olive tree that has been joined [grafted] to that first tree. You now share the ·strength and life [nourishment; rich/fat root] of the first tree [the Gentiles now share in the rich blessings promised to Israel through their “root,” Abraham and the patriarchs].Romans 11:17 EXB
Israel is now in the position of being the elder brother from the Prodigal Son story. They have sought their own righteousness in keeping the law, but they have missed the person and message of Jesus. Through Israel’s failings, the door to salvation is opened to the nations, which was God’s plan all along since the covenant with Abraham! Paul writes that they will be jealous when the Jews realize outsiders have been welcomed into God’s covenant.
The wild olive shoot grafted by God
Paul describes us, the Gentiles, the nations as the wild olive shoot grafted into the olive tree. Note these things about this olive tree and the grafted shoot:
- Fruitless branches were broken off from the original tree, but the olive tree’s root is maintained and holy.
- Grafted branches share nourishment (promises, blessings) from the original holy root. Grafted branches don’t have a root of their own.
- As grafted branches, we cannot look down on Israel, we are branches, not the root!
- If God removed branches from His beloved olive tree, He can also remove us.
As a follower of Jesus, Abraham is our father, and we are a part of the true Israel. As Paul writes to the church in Galatia, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatian 3:29 NLT). Right before that, Paul describes how we are all one in Christ – neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave or free. There is only one olive tree – we are not a separate tree!
Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is severe toward those who disobeyed but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you also will be cut off.Romans 11:22
The warning for us all
There are a few stern warnings in scripture about persisting in our faith, and this is one of them. Let’s look at some corresponding verses about persevering–
- ‘Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”’ John 8:31-32 NIV
- ‘“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”‘ John 15:5 NLT
- “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ …. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.” Colossians 1:22-23 NLT
- “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.” Hebrews 3:12-14 NLT
These warnings are not meant for us to live in doubt, always questioning our salvation. Instead they teach that genuine saving faith perseveres to the end. These warnings teach us to humble ourselves before God, and live lives of examination. In Christ we have the assurance of our salvation and the responsibility to live a life worthy of that calling.
O, the depth of the riches
and the wisdom and knowledge of God!
We cannot search his judgments,
we cannot fathom his ways.
For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has given him counsel?
Who has given a gift to him
which needs to be repaid?’
For from him, through him and to him are all things.
Glory to him for ever! Amen.
Romans 11:33-36 NTE