The Olive Tree—Literal and Spiritual
OF ALL the trees mentioned in the Bible the olive tree may be said to be of the greatest interest. The first reference to it is when Noah identified the leaf brought back by one of his doves as that of the olive tree.—Gen. 2:9; 8:11.
The leaves of the olive tree come in pairs and have a hoary or grayish-green appearance. At blossomtime an olive tree is weighed down with millions of blossoms, although less than 1 percent of these eventually bear fruit.
The olive tree is unique in its being both a leaf-bearing tree and an evergreen. It often reaches “an enormous age,” some trees living on century after century. An olive tree has “almost inexhaustible powers of regeneration, new trunks rising from the roots when the old ones have perished.”—McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopædia.
Of particular interest is the olive tree’s uniqueness as regards grafting. Branches of a wild olive tree when grafted on a cultivated olive tree produce excellent fruit. With other trees just the opposite is true, wild branches grafted on a cultivated tree produce only wild fruit.—Schaaf-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.
In Palestine the evergreen olive tree was much appreciated for its shade and was among the trees whose branches were used to make booths during the festival of booths. Its fruit, the olive berry, was eaten or was pressed for its oil. Its oil was a basic food in Bible times, the widow of Zarephath subsisting on flour and oil. (1 Ki. 17:8-16) The oil also served as a medicament, as noted by both David and Jesus. (Ps. 23:5; Luke 10:34) The lamps in the holy place of the tabernacle and the temple were fueled with olive oil. (Ex. 27:20) It was also one of the ingredients of the holy anointing oil.—Ex. 30:24.
David, after telling of the end of the wicked, exults: “But I shall be like a luxuriant olive tree in God’s house; I do trust in the loving-kindness of God to time indefinite, even forever.” An unknown psalmist promises “everyone fearing Jehovah” that “your sons will be like slips of olive trees all around your table.” The prophet Hosea used a like figure to foretell spiritual Israel’s prosperity: “His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree.” And at both Zechariah 4:3, 11-14 and Revelation 11:4 the anointed footstep followers of Christ that bear witness in all the earth are likened to two olive trees.—Ps. 52:8; 128:1-3; Hos. 14:6, AS.
The anointing oil used to anoint the kings and high priests of Israel, and which had a number of ingredients with olive oil as the base, pictures God’s holy spirit or active force with which Jesus Christ and the members of his body are anointed. We also repeatedly read of the ‘oil of joy or gladness.’—Isa. 61:3; Heb. 1:9; Acts 2:33; 10:38.
Perhaps the most familiar use of the olive tree as a symbol is that by Paul at Romans 11:17-24. It gains added force and meaning in view of the foregoing. Thus Jehovah God, the “olive’s root of fatness,” certainly is of “enormous age” and has ‘inexhaustible regenerative powers.’ Jesus Christ as a trunk of that Tree once died, but the Root caused him to come to life again. And as with the literal wild olive tree—in contrast with other fruit trees—the grafting in of the Gentile wild olive branches is not for the purpose of improving the tree but that it might bear fruit acceptable to Jehovah God, which it could not otherwise do.
Analogies might also be drawn between the usefulness of the natural and the spiritual olive tree. As the one provides soothing natural shade, so does the other provide soothing spiritual shade. (Isa. 32:2) As the one made possible natural light, so the other is a spiritual light. (Matt. 5:14) As the one bears natural fruit, the other bears spiritual fruit. (2 Pet. 1:8) And as the one made possible physical healing, so the other makes possible spiritual healing.—Jas. 5:14-16; Rev. 22:2.