Do you know that Fig Newtons got their name from the city of Newton, Massachusetts? Other than eating one of those cookies once in a while, I seldom think about figs, so it’s hard to appreciate what fig trees meant in the ancient Middle East. There weren’t many ways to satisfy a sweet tooth back then, so people loved delicacies like honey and figs.
Fig trees grew slowly, requiring years of patient cultivation, and they weren’t particularly large, reaching an average height of 10 to 15 feet. Mature, fruitful fig trees were considered a sign of peace and godly well-being. During King Solomon’s prosperous reign, the Israelites “lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25). The prophets foretold a coming age of shalom (peace) when everyone would sit “under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4), and “each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree” (Zechariah 3:10). Jesus saw Nathanael sitting under a fig tree, perhaps praying there (John 1:48).
I don’t have any fig trees in my yard, but those biblical promises of security and rest sound good to me. I often feel a sense of godly well-being when I lie back in the overstuffed recliner that sits in my living room. I suppose that comfortable chair is my version of a fig tree—a place where I consistently find shalom. Do you have a favorite spot in your house or a place outdoors where you like to reflect, pray, and thank God for his good gifts?
Surviving Crop Failures
The Bible doesn’t tell us whether Isaac owned any fig trees, but it says he planted crops and “reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). Whatever successes we enjoy, we should recognize them as God’s blessings. Humble gratitude is a better response than pridefully patting ourselves on the back. Job’s faith was tested when he lost his family, his health, and his material possessions; but his faith also was tested when he still had all of those things. Prosperity presents different temptations than adversity does, but it tests our faith nonetheless.
And what about when our work seems fruitless? How should we respond when nothing goes right and life seems to be falling apart? One Hebrew prophet declared his determination to remain faithful even if a total crop failure occurred. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17, 18). Did you catch that? “Though the fig tree does not bud . . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”
Here’s a prayer to ponder as you and I sit in our places of shalom. “Father, thank you that we can sit under our fig trees in peace. We’re grateful for every good and perfect gift you bestow. But, gracious and faithful God, please enable us to find peace and joy in your presence even when our fig trees bear no fruit at all.”
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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