Friday, August 24, 2018

Lessons From A Fig

When I once read about Zacchaeus up in the sycomore tree, I wondered why the specific tree was recorded and if there was something biblically significant about a sycomore tree.

To make sure I had the right tree I looked up the Greek; συκομορέα (sykomorea) Strong’s G4809, and Hebrew; שקמה (shiqmah) Strong’s H8256, and also found the Latin name; Ficus sycomorus. I always had a vivid imagination of this little man determined and excited to see Jesus and I wanted to find a treasure in this part of God’s word with the same attitude.

After more than a year I have the answers to the following questions which were filed away in my mind, “Why have I never seen a fig tree in flower and what is it about this sycomore tree that it is mentioned in the bible?”

The only time I have seen a sycomore fig tree was at Sdot Yam Kibbutz, Caesarea, Israel while walking along a path. I had stopped to look at an enormous tree with a multi stemmed trunk. I am sure this tree, which bore many unripe green and yellow figs, was taking up a quarter of an acre with its widespread branches.

I picked up a yellow fig from the ground and opened it up. Inside there were ants smaller than sugar ants, yet smaller still were the tiny winged insects that the ants were carrying. This is all I had time to observe. In months to come I studied the Ficus sycomorus by reading university reports and other articles.
To give a bit of a background of the sycomore fig tree, I will start with something of historical interest. Sycomore fig trees were symbolic of security and prosperity and were cultivated by persons of the lowest condition which it seems that Amos was expressing, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit.” (Amos 7:14)

 Perhaps because the figs ripen in successions over several months of the year, anyone who found the trees in the wild, would be pleased to pick the figs to be sold at the market. People relied on them for their livelihood, sustaining people, even if of low condition, respectfully so. I connected this with the attribute of God being our Provider.

Now, let us look at the record about Jesus and Zacchaeus then dig deeper:

Luke 19:1-10

"And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 

And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 
And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 

And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 
And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."

I found that other people had written how Zacchaeus repented and humbled himself, and that coming down from the tree was symbolic of that. I thought there must be more to be learned and pursued the previous records and parables in Luke chapter 18.

In Luke chapter 18 Jesus told a parable about two men, a Parisee and a publican:

Luke 18:9-14

"And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."

Jesus spoke with a very rich man who trusted in himself by following the Commandments perfectly. He thought he had to do something to inherit the Kingdom of God. To just follow Jesus was unattainable due to his absence of faith. Jesus then said:

Luke 18:25

“How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Interestingly, it is said, in order for a camel to pass through the place called “The Needle’s Eye,” which was a narrow, short gate through a stone wall, all the bags that the camel was carrying must come off- that is, luggage, trading goods, riches or personal belongings. The rider who lead the camel would have had to dismount as well.

The one who would be saved is like the camel, “letting go and letting God,” better put by Jesus:

Luke 18:27

“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

Zacchaeus who was rich and a chief among publicans, surrendered. Many people would be able to relate in some way to the life of Zacchaeus. Issues like letting go of the fear of man, letting go of
worrying about repercussions concerning career and co-workers or how one might be sustained or have a livelihood. Giving it all up to God is worth it. In contrast, the certain ruler who was very rich, was very sorrowful, overwhelmed due to the absence of faith.

Jesus said these comforting words:

Luke 18:29-30

“Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.”

Zacchaeus found his first love in Jesus at some point between running, climbing up into the tree to see Jesus, and listening to him speak. Then he heard Jesus say to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house,” for Zacchaeus certainly made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. (Luke 19:4-6)

There may be a clue of when a heart turns to Jesus when Jesus saw Nathanael in the first chapter of John:

John 1:45-49

"Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the prophets foretold—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do You know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” 
“Rabbi,” Nathanael answered, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”"

When Nathanael asked Jesus, “How do You know me?” the Greek word for “know” means to come to know, recognize or perceive. It is also the same Greek word used in Luke 1:34 “And Mary [a virgin] said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I do not know (Strong’s G1097 /ginosko= sexual intimacy) a man?”’
Did Jesus perceive the most inwardly part of Zacchaeus’ heart as soon as he saw Zacchaeus up in the tree? Jesus knew him by name at least and surely his heart as well as he must have with Nathanael. In fact, Jesus knew he would run into a very rich man then Zacchaeus that day, due to his parable about the Pharasee and the publican.

This personal relationship is reflected in this verse from 1 Peter:

1 Peter 3:4

"But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."

This takes me to the hidden things of the sycomore tree’s figs.

Fig pollination is amazing. In order for these figs to be cultivated the fig requires the presence of a tiny symbiotic wasp to reproduce- this is the interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, to the advantage of both. The fig is a swollen piece of branch and an inverted flower cluster or inflorescence, hence, why I have never seen a fig tree in flower.

The female wasp enters through the small hole, called the ostiole, at the bottom of the fig. On her way through this small passage she might loose her wings and antennae, however, she precedes to lays an egg in some of the flowers. Any pollen on her from other figs will inevitably fertilize the fig’s ovaries. She dies inside the fig and is digested by enzymes in the fig providing nourishment for the plant. The eggs will hatch and the wasps which are trapped inside will mate.

The male’s role now is to carve a path through the skin to the outside world for the females to escape through after they have finished their pollen collection. The males will live their whole life inside the fig. When the male wasp makes a whole through the fig, it stimulates the fig to produce ethylene gas which accelerates the ripening and maturing of the fig.

The process of getting the figs to ripen and mature faster can be done by hand as it was commonly done in ancient times or before the more palatable figs were widespread. This is done by going up into the tree and piercing the fig while it is still on the branch. Three days later they will be ready to harvest, ripe and mature.

“Wow!” I thought, when I first learned this. I first thought of Jesus when he was pieced for our iniquity and rose, conquering death on the third day.

Do you get the picture? You might be seeing a lot of pictures now! Here is an expression through poetry by Solomon inspired by God:

Song of Solomon 4:12

"A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed."

Did God want us to know more about Him through His creation? We have no excuse! But a Fig? I thought it was too fascinating to keep to myself when The Holy of Holies came to mind.
What ever was going on between Jesus and Zacchaeus at the moment they were at the tree was like a Holy of Holies moment, that special moment were God knew the heart and it was clean.

It dawned on me that I should include what the Jewish people were to do if they sinned because it has to do with the priest in the Temple at that time period:

Numbers 5:5-10

"And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the LORD, and that person be guilty; Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed. 
But if the man have no kinsman to recompense the trespass unto, let the trespass be recompensed unto the LORD, even to the priest; beside the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made for him. And every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his. And every man's hallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth the priest, it shall be his."

Jesus replaced not only the position of the priest but also the ram that would have been sacrificed, Jesus becoming the atonement. It would have been impossible for Zacchaeus, a “son of Abraham” working for the Romans to go to the temple and have his sin atoned for because he was most likely viewed as a traitor and ostracized by the Jewish community during the Second Temple Period. Jesus came right on time for him!

Remember Abraham said to Isaac that God would provide himself a lamb? Then there was a ram stuck in the thicket. This time God provided the “lamb” for Zacchaeus that Abraham mentioned:

Genesis 22:8

"And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together."

This time it was the lamb of God, Jesus.

Zacchaeus recognized who his messiah was! He also followed the pattern of the law by confessing his sin and restored to people of what he had taken falsely, however, he payed back four times the amount, that is 400% instead of the 120% that was required of by the Law of Moses, then gave to the poor from his heart.

Jesus gave his all for us so why not give our all to Him? Seeing how the tiny wasps have to give up their wings, antennae or even life for the figs to mature which benefits those who eat them and for viable seed to be produced caused me to study and see details in Gods word that I otherwise would not have seen.

Then Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ house. This is a beautiful picture of communing intimately with God, speaking one-on-one, like what people did in the outer courts of the Temple.

The priest in the Holy of Holies was just a foreshadow and the wasp’s love life in the enclosed garden
was obviously for us to observe but ultimately the likeness goes back to when Adam was in Eden before the fall where God spoke to him, when they had fulfilling, close communication with each other.

Genesis 2:15-18

"And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him."

Adam could eventually experience all the forms of love, but the pure expression of love ultimately points to God’s nature and how much He loves us. Our Friend, our Love, our Provider and Sustainer especially when we come to a low estate. Now we can look forward to the time to come, The Marriage Supper of The Lamb, when we are with Jesus, life everlasting.

August 24, 2018

Ngaire McKenzie

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