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Enquiry to the Jews,“ near Gaza. There is something strongly indicative of health and vigour in the fresh look of a flourishing olive tree, but especially when a grove of them is seen together, and the sun is shining on their glossy leaves. The foliage is of a dark and peculiar green, and under a passing breeze the uppermost leaves turn round, and show a fine silvery hue.” When the Psalmist says, “I shall be anointed with green (Eng. tr. fresh) oil” (Ps. xcii. 10), we cannot suppose that he means oil of
a green colour. The word rather means precious, fragrant oil, such as that used by princes in times of prosperity; fragrant as a field which the Lord has blessed; a flowery field, in all its verdure, to the smell of which Isaac compared the smell of the perfumed clothes Jacob had on when his father blessed him. (Gen. xxvii. 27).
The olive tree, from the effect of its oil, in supplying, relaxing, and preventing or mitigating pain, seems to have been adopted, from the earliest period, as an emblem of the benignity of the Divine Nature; and particularly after the fall, to have represented the goodness and placability of God through Christ, and of the blessed influences of the Holy Spirit, in mollifying and healing our disordered nature, and in destroying or expelling from it the poison of the old (spiritual) serpent, even as olive oil does that of the natural serpent or viper. Hence we see a peculiar propriety in the olive-leaf or branch being chosen by Divine Providence as a sign to Noah of the abatement of the deluge (Gen. viii. 11); and may also account for olive branches being ordered as one of the materials of the booths at the Feast of Tabernacles (Neh. viii. 15), whence they became the emblems of peace to various and distant nations. Captain Cook found that green branches carried in the hand, or stuck in the ground, were thus universally understood by all the islanders, even in the South Seas.
In the sacred writings, olives are sometimes represented as beaten off the trees (Deut. xxiv. 20), and at other times as shaken off (Isa. xvii. 6; ch. xxiv. 13). This, however, does not indicate an improvement made in after times on the original mode of gathering them, nor different methods of procedure by different people; it rather expresses the difference between the gathering the main crops by the owners, and the way in which the poor collected the few that were left, and which, by the law, they were permitted to take.
The usual method of extracting the oil from olives, appears to have been by treading them with the feet (Deut. xxxiii. 24, comp. with Mic. vi. 15.)
By what an apt and awful similitude does Paul represent God's rejection of the Jews, and His admission of the heathen, by the boughs of an olive being lopped off, and the scion of a young olive ingrafted into the old tree (Rom. xi. 17, &c.)
THE POMEGRANATE. The pomegranate, or malum punicum of the Romans, ripens in Barbary in the month of August. It was formerly one of the most delicate fruits of the East (Numb. xiii. 23; ch. xx. 5 ; Deut. viii. 8; Cant. iv. 13); and the high estimation in which it was held by the people of Israel may be inferred from its being one of the three kinds of fruit brought by the spies from Eshcol to Moses and the congregation in the wilderness (Numb. xxiii. 22, chap. xx. 5), and from its being specified by that rebellious people as one of the greatest luxuries which they enjoyed in Egypt, and the want of which they felt so severely in the sandy desert.
In Cant. viii. 2, the bride proposes to make for her beloved a beverage of wine mixed with the juice of pomegranates, and Russell observes that at Aleppo the inhabitants give a grateful acidity to their sauces, by pomegranate or lemon-juice.
The pomegranate, classed by Moses with wheat and barley, wines and figs, olive oil and honey, was, in his account, one principal recommendation of the promised land (Deut. viii. 8).
The Hebrew and Greek names of this tree being expressive of the strong projection or reflection of light, either from the fruit, or from the star-light flower at its extremity, Parkhurst conceives that those brazen pomegranates which Solomon placed in the net-work over the crowns on the top of the two brazen pillars (1 Kings vii. 18, 20, 42; 2 Chron. iv. 13; Jer. lii. 22, 23), were intended to represent the stars, strongly reflecting light on the earth and planets. So the artificial pomegranates ordered to be fixed on the skirts of Aaron's robe (Exod. xxviii. 33, 34) were, he thinks, to represent those spiritual stars, even the children of God, who, by a light derived from their great High Priest, shine as lights or luminaries in the world (Phil. ii. 15, comp. Matt. v. 14–16 ; Eph. v. 8; 1 Thess. v. 5 ; Rev. i. 16 -20), and who, like the bells which accompanied the pomegranates, are continually to proclaim the perfections of Him who called them out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Pet. ii. 2).
THE VINE.—This grew plentifully in Palestine,
and was particularly fine in some of the districts. The Scriptures celebrate the vines of Sorek, Sibmah, Jazer, and Abel ; and profane authors mention the excellent wines of Gaza, Sarepta, Libanus, Sharon, Ascalon, and Tyre. The grapes of Egypt being particularly small, we may easily conceive of the surprise which was occasioned to the Israelites by witnessing the bunch of grapes brought by the spies to the camp, from the valley of Eshcol (Numb. xiii. 24). Doubdan assures us, that in the valley of Eshcol were bunches of grapes of ten and twelve pounds, and Forster says, that he was informed by a Religieuse who had lived many years in Palestine, that there were bunches of grapes in the valley of Hebron so large that two men could scarcely carry one (Comp. Numb. xiii. 24). Rosenmuller says, “ Though the Mahomedan religion does not favour the cultivation of the vine, there is no want of vineyards in Palestine. Besides the large quantities of grapes and raisins which are daily sent to the markets of Jerusalem and other neighbouring places, Hebron alone, in the first half of the eighteenth century, annually sent three hundred camel loads, that is, nearly three hundred thousand pounds weight of grape-juice, or honey of raisins, to Egypt.*
To show the abundance of vines which should fall to the lot of Judah, in the partition of the promised land, Jacob says of his tribe, that he shall be found
Binding his colt to the vine,
(Gen. xlix. 11.)
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 “
å 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