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yet, even in the latter is manifested the glory of Him
THE CURSING OF THE FIG-TREE. —MATT. XXI. 18-22;
MARK XI. 12-14, 20-23.
The fact that our Lord performed this miracle exclusively before the eyes of His disciples, and that He joined to it a discourse on their future zeal and activity, enables us to characterize it in advance as symbolical and prophetical. Here the saying applies : “What I tell you in darkness, that speak in the light; and what ye hear in the ear, that announce on the house-tops. If this standpoint is taken, the difficulties dissolve of themselves,—difficulties which in all other ways of considering it appear inexplicable. However, before we proceed, it is necessary for us to understand the relation in which the representations of the event by the first and second evangelist stand to one another. Not that they are in mutual contradiction; only that the preference of greater detail is to be credited to the one over the other.
It is, indeed, a matter of indifference, that in Matthew, immediately after the condemning words of the Lord, there follows the account, and presently the fig-tree withered away,' while, according to Mark, it is only on the day following that the tree was found 'dried up from the roots.' But this difference in the reports does not affect the matter itself, only the observation on the part of the disciples. The judgment of Jesus was certainly followed immediately by the results, but just as indisputably was this result observed by the Twelve on the following morning. However, it is of some importance that, instead of the
'Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth' in Matthew, we
Instead of the view generally accepted, “it was not
A satisfactory light is shed on the verse immediately we refer to what went before the concluding remark, 'It was in fact not the time for figs. Our Lord experienced hunger whilst He was on the way. In His need of food He looks around, and His eye sees a fig-tree in the distance (we desire the årò
μακρόθεν to be compared with μακράν, which resembles it in Matt. viii. 30), “in the way' (Matt. xxi. 19),—a fig-tree which, differing from all the others, had leaves already There stood many on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem; in fact, Bethphage must have received from them its name. This circumstance was quite unusual at that time of year; but as the fruit of the figs is developed earlier than the leaves, the leaves only coming out as the fruit ripens, Jesus would expect to find figs also on the tree that was covered with leaves. This expectation is shown by the particle åpa. He approached the fig-tree 'having leaves' with the well-grounded opinion that He would also find fruit on it as well. So much was unusual, that the tree should already appear covered with leaves; but under these circumstances it would justly be expected that it would also have had premature fruit. Hence Jesus seeks for it; but the tree has deceived the expectation which it had awakened; and because it had nothing else than leaves - Nothing but leaves !'—our Lord breaks out (hence the answered' in the 14th verse) in the condemning words.
But if the outward state of matters is hereby satisfactorily explained, our wonder arises as to how Jesus could have let His anger act in such a way against a tree which can have neither a will nor a responsibility of its own, against a tree which His heavenly Father had planted and clothed with this premature fulness of leaves (like the lilies of the field), because it did not answer His need of food, but deceived His expectation. This is just the point on which it is important to take our stand for its consideration. In the first place, we will cast a glance on the connection of the whole passage which belongs to this event. Our Lord had entered into the town of Jerusalem, He had visited the temple,—'and
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having looked round about upon all things' (Mark xi. 1), He returned at eventide to Bethany. On the following morning, when He again wished to visit the town and the temple, He performed the present sign. It thus stands in the midst between the searching glance which surveyed everything and the purification of the temple which was about to take place; and it is by this circumstance that we see the great probability of its referring to the last combat with the leaders of the Jewish theocracy. To this we add a second view: That a fig-tree should be made the symbol of Israel is probable, not only in accordance with the symbolism of the Old Testament, but in virtue also of a former parable of our Lord's, the signification of which He was now in a position to explain.
Our narrative contains, in fact, nothing else than a continuation, or rather the completion, of the parable in Luke xiii. 6-9. This latter had in reality remained incomplete; it had ended with a request which pointed to the future: ‘Lord,' thus spake the gardener, ' let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, after that thou shalt cut it down. Now, when Jesus was at the end of His work, this one year asked for had passed. But what was the result of his digging and dunging? It brought forth, investigation proved ('he looked round about on all things '), even now no fruit! And now had arrived the hour when the 'cut it down' which was formerly considered was to take place. And this is what our Lord shows symbolically, not by the word of a parable, but by a symbolical deed. It thus shows symbolically and prophetically the judgment passed on Israel,—a judgment which was to be fulfilled by those before whose eyes the miracle took place, and who saw with astonishment the result. We ought to
We ought to say that
Jesus Himself testifies to the correctness of this view; for the discourses following it in Matt. xxi. 28–44 are nothing else than an explanatory commentary on the withered fig-tree.
In the head of this narrative, expression is given to the thought, that our Lord sought fruit, and that He expected it, on account of the leaves which were there. Israel was set up in order that it might bring forth fruit; and this was to consist not in works of righteousness, but in faith in the Messiah who had appeared. The leaves being visible, naturally cause this fruit to be expected. For the undeniable piety towards the law and the prophets, the punctuality and anxiety with which the sacrifices and ceremonies were performed, seemed to place in security the joyful reception of Him to whom they all pointed. Nevertheless, it failed to appear. The nation rejected the Angel of the covenant who came to His temple. The tree full of leaves proved itself to the searching eye to be void of fruit. Our Lord is angry; and as there was no motive present for tolerance,' "anger' proceeds to the act of judgment. The children of the household' have not accepted their Lord; they must therefore give up being the people of the possession and of promise. They have not employed their talent in faithfulness; it was therefore taken away from them. The tree was indeed to remain by the way, but withered with the token of dejection that had taken place, unmoved by the stream of new life which henceforth will go through the world,-a monument of the divine earnestness against the despisers of His grace. Hence the thought will no more occur to any one to seek fruit on the tree manifestly dead : “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever.' If any one requires truth, consolation, peace, strength, or whatever it may be, he will
pass over from Israel as a tree withered and laid aside.