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sense of the passage will then be as follows :- " He came to see if he might find anything thereon (for it was not yet the time to gather figs); but he found leaves only ; and he said,” etc. Similar inversions and trajections have been pointed out by commentators in various other parts of the New and Old Testaments, and Campbell particularly notices one in this very gospel (ch. xvi. 3, 4): “They said, Who shall roll us away the stone ? and when they looked the stone was rolled away, for it was very great ”—that is, “They said, Who shall roll us away the stone, for it was very great,” etc. *
The spiritual application of this transaction to the case of the Jews, is sufficiently obvious. Dr. Wordsworth’s comment on the passage is very beautiful:-" The fact of this tree having abundance of leaves and no fruit, is what is here brought out.
And the sin of the fig-tree (so to speak) was that while it had the power given it to bring forth leaves, it had not the will to bring forth fruit. It spent all its sap and strength in making a barren and ostentatious display of exuberant foliage, inviting the hungry passer by from a distance to quit the road and to come, and look for fruit, and then baulking him with barrenness when he came to examine it. A solemn warning to all nations and churches, to all societies and individuals who make a profession of piety, but do not bring forth the fruits of faith and obedience in their lives."
In the East, the fig-tree grows to a considerable size ; so large, indeed, as to afford the wearied traveller a convenient shelter from the rays of the sun. Hasselquist says, that when travelling from Tiberias to Nazareth, they refreshed themselves
* Bloomfield's Critical Digest, in loco.
under the shade of one of these trees, under which was a well, where a shepherd and his herd had their rendezvous, but without either tent or hut. So Moryson, “Coming to a little shade of fig-trees, near Tripoli, in Syria, we rested there during the heat of the day, and fed upon such victuals as we had.” These extracts will remind the Scripture reader of 1 Kings iv. 25; Mic. iv. 4; Zech. iii. 10 ; and John i. 48, where the friendly shade of this tree is referred to.
THE SYCOMORE.—This seems to partake of the two species, the mulberry and the fig, the former in its leaf, and the latter in its fruit, and hence its name sykomoros, is compounded of sykos a fig-tree, and moros, a mulberry tree. It was upon a tree of this sort that Zaccheus got up, to see our Saviour pass through Jericho. The
is of the height of a beech, and bears its fruit in a manner quite different from other trees. It has them on the trunk itself, which shoots out little sprigs, in form of a grape-stalk, at the end of which grow the fruit, close to one another, most like bunches of grapes. The tree is always green, and bears fruit several times in the year, without observing any certain seasons. The fruit has the figure and smell of real figs, but is inferior to them in the taste. Its colour is a yellow, inclining to an ochre, shadowed by a flesh colour : in the inside it resembles the common fig. The tree is pretty common in Egypt.
From 1 Kings x. 27; 1 Chron. xxvii. 28 ; and 2 Chron. i. 15, it is evident, that these trees were pretty common in Palestine, as well as in Egypt ; and from being joined with the vine in Psalm lxxviii. 47, as well as from the circumstance of David appointing a particular officer to superintend plantations of them, they seem to have been as much valued in ancient as they are in modern times. From Isa. ix. 10, we find that the timber of the sycomore was used in the construction of buildings ; and, notwithstanding its porous and spongy appearance, it was, as we learn from Dr. Shaw, of extreme durability.
In Amos vii. 14, there is a reference, no doubt, to the manner in which these trees are cultivated, by scraping or making incisions in the fruit. So the Septuagint seem to have understood it, and so Parkhurst contends, from the united testimonies of natural historians, the original term imports. Pliny, Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Hasselquist, and other writers, state, that the fruit of the sycomore must be cut or scratched, either with the nail or with iron, before it will ripen ; and it was in this employment, most probably, that the prophet was engaged before he was called to sustain the prophetic character. If the words were rendered “
a sycomore tree dresser," instead of “ a gatherer of sycomore fruit,” it would include, as Mr. Harmer has suggested, both the scarification and the gathering of the fruit.
The sycomore strikes its large diverging roots deep into the soil; and on this account, says Paxton, our Lord alludes to it as the most difficult to be rooted up and transferred to another situation. “ If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycomore tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea, and it should obey you "(Luke xvii. 6). The extreme difficulty with which it is transferred from its native spot to another situation, gives the words of our Lord a peculiar force and beauty. The stronger and more diverging the root of a tree, the more difficult it must be to pluck it
up, and insert it again so as to make it strike root and grow; but far more difficult still to plant it in the sea, where the soil is so far below the surface, and where the restless billows are continually tossing it from one side to another; yet, says our Lord, a task no less difficult than this to be accomplished, can the man of genuine faith perform with a word: for with God nothing is impossible, nothing difficult or laborious. In the parallel passage (Matt. xvii. 20), the hyperbole is varied, a mountain being substituted for the sycomore-tree. The passage is thus paraphrased by Rosenmuller : So long as you trust in God and me, and are not sufficient in self-reliance, you may accomplish the most arduous labours, undertaken for the purpose of furthering my religion.
The Palm.—This tree is called tamar, from its straight, upright growth, for which it seems more remarkable than any other tree. It sometimes rises to the height of a hundred feet, and is one of the most beautiful trees of the vegetable kingdom.
Of the ancient types of the mystical tree of life the palm is, perhaps, the earliest. The sacred tree which appears so constantly in Assyrian sculpture, is apparently a traditional form of the date-palm ; but the eves that ninate its branches are sometimes replaced by cones, either of the pine or cedar, but probably of the former, since one species of pine grows to a great size in the Assyrian highlands. For the choice of this and the fig-tree it is easy to account. Both rank, and have always ranked, among the most important food-producers of the East, and it would have been impossible to find more satisfactory types of the mystical tree of life, whose fruit imparted strength and wisdom. “Honour,”
said the prophet of Islam, “ your paternal aunt, the date-palm, for she was created in Paradise, of the same earth from which Adam was made.” Both Jews and Arabs regarded the tree as eminently mysterious, and as possessing several properties that rendered it the emblem of a human being. Much was to be learnt, moreover, concerning things both present and future from certain mysterious movements of its leaves on a windless day; and Abraham, say the Rabbins, was well skilled in this language of Palms.
one of the Scriptural types of a righteous man; and it has been suggested that there is a reference to the palm—which was popularly believed to put forth a shoot every month, and hence to become, at the close of the year a symbol of it—in St. John's description of the tree of life in the midst of the heavenly Jerusalem, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit
The fruit, which is called “ date,” grows below the leaves in clusters; and is of a sweet and agreeable taste, and a considerable part of the inhabitants of Egypt, of Arabia, and of Persia, subsist almost entirely on it. They boast also of its medicinal virtues. Their camels feed upon the date stone. From the leaves they make couches, baskets, bags, mats, and brushes ; from the branches, cages for their poultry, and fences for their gardens; from the fibres of the boughs, threads, ropes, and rigging; from the sap is prepared a spirituous liquor; and the body of the tree furnishes fuel: it is even said, that from one variety of the palm tree, the “phonix farinifera,” meal has been extracted, which is found among the fibres of the trunk, and has been used for food.