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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Fig Tree

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תאגה , Genesis 3:7 ; Numbers 13:23 ; συκη , Matthew 7:16 ; Matthew 21:19 ; Matthew 24:32 ; Mark 11:13 ; Mark 11:20-21 ; Mark 13:28 ; Luke 6:44 ; Luke 13:6-7 ; Luke 21:29 ; John 1:48 ; James 3:12 ; Revelation 6:13 . This tree was very common in Palestine. It becomes large, dividing into many branches, which are furnished with leaves shaped like those of the mulberry, and affords a friendly shade. Accordingly, we read, in the Old Testament, of Juda and Israel dwelling, or sitting securely, every man under his fig tree, 1 Kings 4:25 ; Micah 4:4 ; Zechariah 3:10 ; 1Ma_14:12 . And, in the New Testament, we find Nathanael under a fig tree, probably for the purposes of devotional retirement, John 1:49-51 . Hasselquist, in his journey from Nazareth to Tiberias, says, "We refreshed ourselves under the shade of a fig tree, where a shepherd and his herd had their rendezvous; but without either house or hut." The fruit which it bears is produced from the trunk and large branches, and not from the smaller shoots, as in most other trees. It is soft, sweet, and very nourishing. Milton is of opinion that the banian tree was that with the leaves of which our first parents made themselves aprons. But his account, as to the matter of fact, wants even probability to countenance it; for the leaves of this are so far from being, as he has described them, of the bigness of an Amazonian target, that they seldom or never exceed five inches in length, and three in breadth. Therefore, we must look for another of the fig kind, that better answers the purpose referred to by Moses, Genesis 3:7 ; and as the fruit of the banana tree, is often, by the most ancient authors, called a fig, may we not suppose this to have been the fig tree of paradise? Pliny, describing this tree, says that its leaves were the greatest and most shady of all others; and as the leaves of these are often six feet long, and about two broad, are thin, smooth, and very flexible, they may be deemed more proper than any other for the covering spoken of, especially since they may be easily joined together with the numerous threadlike filaments, which may, without labour, be peeled from the body of the tree. The first ripe fig is still called boccore in the Levant, which is nearly its Hebrew name, בכורה , Jeremiah 24:2 . Thus Dr. Shaw, in giving an account of the fruits in Barbary, mentions "the black and white boccore, or ‘early fig,' which is produced in June, though the kermes, or kermouse, the ‘fig,' probably so called, which they preserve and make up into cakes, is rarely ripe before August." And on Nahum 3:12 , he observes, that "the boccores drop as soon as they are ripe, and, according to the beautiful allusion of the prophet, fall into the mouth of the eater upon being shaken." Farther, "It frequently falls out in Barbary," says he; "and we need not doubt of the like in this hotter climate of Judea, that, according to the quality of the preceding season, some of the more forward and vigorous trees will now and then yield a few ripe figs six weeks or more before the full season. Something like this may be alluded to by the Prophet Hosea, when he says, ‘I saw your fathers as בכורה , the first ripe, in the fig tree, at her first time,' Hosea 9:10 . Such figs were reckoned a great dainty." See Isaiah 28:4 . The Prophet Isaiah gave orders to apply a lump of figs to Hezekiah's boil; and immediately after it was cured. God, in effecting this miraculous cure, was pleased to order the use of means not improper for that end.

2. The account of our Saviour's denunciation against the barren fig tree, Matthew 21:19 ; Mark 11:13 , has occasioned some of the boldest cavils of infidelity; and the vindication of it has exercised the ingenuity of several of the most learned critics and commentators. The whole difficulty arises from the circumstance of his disappointment in not finding fruit on the tree, when it is expressly said, that "the time of figs was not yet." While it was supposed that this expression signified, that the time for such trees to bring forth fruit was not yet come, it looked very unaccountable that Christ should reckon a tree barren, though it had leaves, and curse it as such, when he knew that the time of bearing figs was not come; and that he should come to seek figs on this tree, when he knew that figs were not used to be ripe so soon in the year. But the expression does not signify the time of the coming forth of figs, but the time of the gathering in of ripe figs, as is plain from the parallel expressions. Thus, "the time of the fruit,"

Matthew 21:34 , most plainly signifies the time of gathering in ripe fruits, since the servants were sent to receive those fruits for their master's use. St. Mark and St. Luke express the same by the word time, or season: "At the season he sent a servant," &c; that is, at the season or time of gathering in ripe fruit, Mark 12:2 ; Luke 20:10 . In like manner, if any one should say in our language, the season of fruit, the season of apples, the season of figs, every one would understand him to speak of the season or time of gathering in these fruits. When, therefore, St. Mark says, that "the time or season of figs was not yet," he evidently means that the time of gathering ripe figs was not yet past; and, if so, it was natural to expect figs upon all those trees that were not barren; whereas, after the time of gathering figs, no one would expect to find them on a fig tree, and its having none then would be no sign of barrenness. St. Mark, by saying, "For the time of figs was not yet," does not design to give a reason for "his finding nothing but leaves;" but he gives a reason for what he said in the clause before: "He came, if haply he might find any thereon;" and it was a good reason for our Saviour's coming and seeking figs on the tree, because the time for their being gathered was not come. We have other like instances in the Gospels, and, indeed, in the writings of all mankind, of another clause coming in between the assertion and the proof. Thus, in this very evangelist: "They said among themselves, Who shall roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? and when they looked, they saw the stone was rolled away; for it was very great:" Mark 16:3-4 ; where its being very great is not assigned as a reason of its being rolled away, but of the women's wishing for some one to roll it away for them. St. Matthew informs us that the tree was "in the way," that is, in the common road, and therefore, probably, no particular person's property; but if it was, being barren, the timber might be as serviceable to the owner as before. So that here was no real injury; but Jesus was pleased to make use of this innocent miracle to prefigure the speedy ruin of the Jewish nation on account of its unfruitfulness under greater advantages than any other people enjoyed at that day; and, like all the rest of his miracles, it was done with a gracious intention, namely, to alarm his countrymen, and induce them to repent. In the blasting of this barren fig tree, the distant appearance of which was so fair and promising, he delivered one more awful lesson to a degenerate nation, of whose hypocritical exterior and flattering but delusive pretensions it was a just and striking emblem.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Fig Tree'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/f/fig-tree.html. 1831-2.

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