David C. Grabbe: In Part Two, we began to consider the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree: "He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none...."
David C. Grabbe: In Part One, we began to dig into the biblical metaphor of producing fruit and the importance of the root to that process. ...
David Maas, cuing in on Paul's declaration of a debt he owed to Greek and Barbarian, to both the Hebraistic Jewish world view and the Hellenistic world view, observing that God has chosen to canonize the Scripture in both Hebrew and Greek, contends that these major two dominant forces in western culture were meant to be symbiotic partners, like husband and wife, each representing only a partial, incomplete aspect of God's character. As maturing Christians, called to judge in God's coming Kingdom, we are called to lay aside the childlike tendency to over-correct, violently and impulsively moving from one ditch to the other. As the mirisms in Ecclesiastes 3 and the comparison examples in Ecclesiastes 7 were meant to be contraries rather than contradictories, we must metaphorically go beyond the simple on-off switch and canoe paddle, devices that served us well when we were first called. But as we mature, we must adopt the steering wheel and the rheostat mechanism, allowing degrees of brightness and intensity, allowing for variables of time, place, and circumstance, which are different for each of us. The only time a jagged spike is desirable is when the line on the electrocardiogram goes flat and we are compelled to use a defibrillator to shock it into activity. In our trials and our spiritual gifts, one size does not fit all, and our overcoming skills, our ability to judge, and especially our ability to grow spiritually and bear fruit should reflect these variables. Whether we are talking about diabetic blood sugar spikes or the spike of malfunctioning heartbeat on an electro-cardiogram, or most importantly, the metaphorical spikes in our spiritual journey, we must seek God's spiritual pace maker (Hebrews 8:10) a balance mechanism for regulating these dangerous fluctuations.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Proverbs 4:7, maintains that our supreme objective in godly living is attainment and cultivation of wisdom, which consists of attributes giving us skill in living. We learn that the Book of Ecclesiastes has no meaning for someone not called of God, relegating it as an epistle of despair from one of life's losers. But to those called of God, the treatise provides practical advice on weathering the trials of life under the sun, preparing us for a highly successful future spiritual life. With an over-the-sun orientation, we realize that the series of comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7 are not to be regarded as absolutes, but only as guideposts dependent upon prior experiences, and definitely require the proper follow-through on our part. The Bible is replete with examples of how things having had a successful launch eventually aborted, and vice versa, things having an insignificant and ostensibly hopeless beginning flourished and prospered. Consequently, we must evaluate the contexts in which the end of something is better. The long way, attended with humility, patience, and dependence on God, is preferable to any shortcut concocted by our willful, carnal nature. God wants us to use our trials to germinate the fruits of patience, peace, and self-control, bequeathing our offspring a legacy of wisdom, following the mindset of our father Abraham, who although an immensely wealthy man, lived in tents as a pilgrim, waiting for the ultimate spiritual prize of living as God does.
David Grabbe affirms that only a mature plant can bear fruit, and only plants that have a strong root system can mature. Likewise, having strong spiritual roots (being thoroughly tapped into Jesus Christ) allows us not only to survive, but to bear fruit. Developing a strong root system takes time, as in the case of the Chinese bamboo. Although the plant takes approximately five years to develop a powerful root system, it can grow exponentially, reaching up to 80 feet. Cultivation and fertilizer can facilitate the process of growth. Likewise, we need to make sure that quality nourishment is going into our minds while we yield to Jesus Christ's digging in the ground around us, altering our circumstances in order that we bear fruit and glorify God.
In His discussion of the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, Jesus does not attribute tragedy or accident directly to any person's sins as the Jews did—instead, He affirms the sinfulness of everyone. The more important factor is will we repent to avoid spiritual death?
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
John Ritenbaugh focuses on Luke's message of Christ the man, the son of man, the high priest of man, and the savior of man, having all the feelings, fears, anxieties, compassions, and aspirations of man. In this account, Luke emphasizes the universality of the message (Gentiles as well as Jews), emphasizing the common concerns of humanity, highlighting many lowly circumstances. Luke, demonstrating Jesus' humanity emphasizes His frequency in prayer, reflecting His total dependency upon God the Father. Jesus, as the pattern man, learned by obedience, by the things He suffered, qualifying as our high Priest and savior, providing a model of perfect man for us to emulate.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the book of Mark, emphasizing the symbolism of the ox, whose enduring servitude and sacrifice produces a great deal in the way of growth. Downplaying or understating kingly authority or lordship (the hallmark of Matthew) Mark concentrates on the uncomplaining and sacrificing traits of a servant. Jesus sets a pattern for us by serving without thought of authority, power, position, status, fame, or gain, but as a patient, enduring, faithful servant, practicing good will and providing a role model of pure religion (James 1:27) for us to emulate.
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
John Ritenbaugh picks up with the account of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion, an event which fulfilled prophecies and significantly dramatized Jesus Christ's messiahship. The crowds welcoming Jesus, while looking for a political or military hero, were actually choosing the sacrificial Paschal Lamb of God on the 10th day of Nisan. Jesus was actually throwing down the gauntlet, laying claim to His role as Messiah. The religious authorities were terrified of losing their power base. Jesus cleansed the temple of opportunistic usurious moneychangers in the courtyard of the Gentiles, an extremely crowded public place. God's Church should never be involved with fleecing the membership in any way. Additionally, God's name should never be associated with junk. After driving out the money changers, Jesus healed the blind and the lame and befriended the children who were engaged in praising Him. The truth is often clearer to the simple and innocent than to the sophisticated intellectuals. Because the fig tree was emblematic of peace and prosperity, and because it was generally prolific in yielding, Jesus cursing the fig tree carried an implied caution against lack of spiritual productivity. If a fig tree does have full leaves, it should also have full fruit; if not, the growth cycle is out of sync or degenerate. The fig tree in the New Testament (Luke 13:6) represents you and me; we are required to bear fruit. God judges by what a person produces; if we don't produce, we are useless. Uselessness invites disaster. Profession without practice is condemned. Jesus taught the disciples that prayer is power and extremely profitable in clearing up mountainous problems. Prayer should be used by us to find the ability to do. God will only do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God wants us to be problem solvers, proved by trials, tests, and experiences He gives us. Prayer should give us the ability to accept our cup- our circumstances. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incompl
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