One of the images God used for his people, the nation of Israel, was that of an olive tree which he had planted.
“The LORD once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.” (Jeremiah 11:16-17 ESV)
This image is taken from Psalm 52:8, where David describes himself as a green olive tree in the house of God. In Hosea 14:6 the nation of Israel after being restored to God following captivity is described as a beautiful olive tree with its shoots spread out.
In Romans 11, Paul used this same metaphor to explain the relationship between Jews and Gentiles with God. The illustration is that there are two olive trees, a cultivated one (God’s people, Israel) and a wild one (the Gentiles). God has broken off some of the branches of his tree and grafted in branches from a wild olive tree.
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (Romans 11:17-21).
This illustrates how God looks on all people. God selected the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites, to be his people. When the Messiah came, the majority of the Jews refused to accept him. As a result, God cut those “branches” off of his tree because they were no longer producing fruit. God then grafted in the wild olive branches, the Gentiles, who did accept Jesus. Those who are part of the tree are God’s people, Israel.
One of the points that Paul was making was that the Jews were not totally rejected – if they would accept Jesus they could be grafted back into God’s tree and once again take their place in God’s tree. This shows both the kindness and the severity of God.
“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:22-24).
We can see from this illustration how important it is to become a Christian and be part of God’s tree. If we are not part of God’s tree, we will receive God’s severity. Cut-off, dead limbs serve no purpose but to be burned.
Sometimes we hear of Christians being referred to as “the new Israel.” I’ve searched through the Bible but cannot find this phrase ever used. What I do find is that when we become a Christian we are grafted into God’s Israel. We become God’s people, just as the nation of Israel was at one time. We are the Israel of God.
Readings for next week:
28 August – Romans 9
29 August – Romans 10
30 August – Romans 11
31 August – Romans 12-13
1 September – Romans 14