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9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
The connection of this parable shows its meaning. The parable itself seems to carry its interpretation on its face. Some of the crowd attending Jesus on a certain occasion reported to him some recent occurrences of a tragical character -- the slaughtering of some Galileans to be offered with their own sacrifices: the crushing of some 18 people to death by the falling of a tower. Their report was apparently made in a tone that suggested the opinion that the said persons must have been more wicked than ordinary mortals for such things to happen to them. Jesus at once offered a comment unfavourable to this view, and made one of those man-lowering remarks that distinguished him from all human teachers:
"Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Then he adds the parable which likens them all to barren fig trees spared at the request of a patient gardener, in the hope that a little further treatment may induce fecundity, but on the distinct understanding that a further failure is to be decisive as to their removal as useless pieces of herbage. The parable was, doubtless, uttered and recorded for general use afterwards. It invites men to regard the continuance of their privileges as a mark of divine patience, and not as an indication of their own merit.
How naturally most men reason otherwise. When prosperity lasts, they complacently take it as a matter to which they are entitled. When adversity comes, they ask, "What have I done?" If they would realise that human life is altogether a matter of divine toleration, because of God's own purpose, and not because of human desert, they would most easily enter into this parable, and take the truly modest and perfectly reasonable attitude apostolically enjoined when we are commanded to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling," and to "pass the time of our sojourning here in fear."
There was, of course, a special applicability in the parable to the generation contemporary with Jesus. The divine displeasure had been gathering over the land of Israel for generations. The iniquity of the people was coming to a head, and the long gathering storm was about to burst, which would sweep Israel from their place among the nations, if reformation did not avert it. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish," had special point as addressed to those who were to be engulphed in the flood of destruction that came with the overflowing of Roman victory 40 years later.
We of the nineteenth century stand related to a similar situation. A dispensation is culminating, and judgment impends that will sweep away vast multitudes for the same reason -- divine patience long misunderstood and abused. God is gracious and long-suffering. The parable illustrates this, and though the fact will remain absolutely without influence as regards the population at large, it is a source of comfort and encouragement in personal cases where there is a disposition to turn from evil.
Nazareth Revisited Ch 30.
21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Leaven in itself is distasteful, though its effect upon fine flour, if the leaven be new and duly apportioned, is to render it light and palatable. The blood of Yahweh's sacrifice was not to be offered with leaven, because this would be to introduce a principle of levity and impurity into the sin-offerings; for, however good it might be in itself, yet in fine flour, not being flour, it is an impurity; and all sin-offerings were to be pure, or without spot or blemish.
But the absence of leaven was not only representative of purity-the sinlessness of the Anointed Sinner, the great antitypical sacrifice for sins not his own-it was also memorial of the thrusting out of the twelve tribes of Israel from Egypt with such haste, that they had no time to prepare leavened bread as in times of peace and quietness.
Hence, the absence of leaven was indicative of tribulation and affection; and its presence in an offering of peace and ground for thanksgiving: so that the Mosaic law inculcated that
"Besides the cakes, the worshipper shall offer for his offering leavened bread, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace-offerings."
In the New Testament, the effect of leaven upon meal is presented, in parable, as an illustration of the relation of the kingdom of the heavens to the three parts into which the Roman empire was constitutionally divided, when it should be in the midst of them. It shall ferment, or produce a fermentation, among them, until the whole empire is fermented and brought into peacefulness with God; or, in the words of Daniel, "the stone," which he interprets to signify the kingdom which the God of heaven shall set up,
"shall grind to powder, and bring to an end all these kingdoms"
of the Image-world;
"and itself become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth."
Then will the whole be leavened.
Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, Feb 1855