My childhood home, located in the Central Valley, was surrounded by mature, fragrant, green-orange groves. I often rode my bike down the service road next to our home through these groves. In between the seemingly endless rows of citrus were several rows of olive trees. I always thought they appeared dull in comparison to the oranges. Their leaves didn’t shine and their branches and stump were gnarled. While they were less than aesthetically pleasing in my memory, I have learned how useful, hearty, and resilient these trees are. There are olive trees in existence today which are thousands of years old.
In Scripture, the olive tree first makes its appearance when the dove returns a fresh olive leaf to Noah, signaling that the floodwater had abated and of God’s deliverance of Noah and his family. While travelling in the desert, olive oil played an important role in the daily lives of Israel. Olive oil was used for meals, offerings, anointing, healing, and burning lamps.
The verse that initially piqued my interest in the olive tree was Psalm 128:3, “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table.” The gnarled stump of the olive tree is explained by how a wild tree propagates. The parent tree sends out shoots around its base. These shoots are completely new plants, distinct from its parent. As the parent tree dies, these shoots grow up and around the dead tree and the process continues. So when looking at an olive tree, you’re seeing generations of trees. Such a beautiful picture the Psalmist paints of how those who would fear the LORD would be blessed, not just for an individual family but for all of Jerusalem.
In Isaiah, Christ is described as a shoot which would spring from the stump of Jesse, the father of David. Even an olive tree which has been severely cut down can send out new shoots. Christ would be that new and strong tree, bearing good fruit. Now, fast forward to Christ’s ministry here on earth – the New Testament frequently records Christ’s association with the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is here that Christ gave the Olivet discourse, wept over Jerusalem, and prayed in the place called Gethsemane.
Gethsemane, meaning “oil press,” lies at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Immense stones would bear down upon already crushed olives. Their weight pressed as much oil as possible out of the pulp. It was near this oil press and among groves of olive trees where Christ prayed to His Father for the cup of suffering to pass from Him. Since that was not the Father’s plan, Christ, “while being reviled, did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:23, 24).
Soon after Christ prays in the place called “the oil press,” He is crucified, dies, and is buried. On the third day He rises from the dead and for forty days appears to many people. Finally Scripture records that He ascended, or was taken up, into heaven from the mount called Olivet.
Looking back, I am embarrassed of my presumptions about the olive tree. While it did not meet my childish standard of beauty, Scripture displays how ripe with meaning it is. It’s all Christ!
“But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give you thanks forever, because You have done it” (Psalm 52:8, 9).