Fig Tree and the Jews

Fig tree has a center role in the life in Israel. The tree is found scattered widely among the country’s mountains. The fig was one of the principal fruits of the land of Canaan, even before the entrance of the Hebrews into the Promised Land (Num. 13: 23).

There are many references to it in the various literature of Israeli culture.

The first tree referred to in the Bible is the Tree of life and the second Tree is the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But we do not know what kind of trees these were.

The third tree is specified as a fig tree. Adam and Eve, after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge,  made a covering around their waste with fig leaves to cover their nakedness.(Genesis 3:7).

This first mention of a fruit tree by name in Scripture refers to the leaves of the fig tree, not the fruit. The leaves are as large as a human hand and are hairy on the back side.

Figs are very significant in Jewish culture. When he gave Israel to the Jewish people, it was not just any old piece of deserted land. The land of Israel was blessed with seven fruits. One among them was the fig tree.


Deuteronomy 8:8  a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; (NKJV) 

There are seven species of food mentioned in the above verse, which would be abundant in the land promised to his people. And the fig is a fruit that crops up again and again, is a symbol of Israel that would bud again and again. Repeated prosperity and exile was a part of Israel throughout their history.

There are some other symbolic reference to the fig tree in the Bible.

The saying "every man under his vine and under his fig tree" depicts an era of peace and security in the past and the vision of an ideal future (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; cf. Joel 2:22). On the other hand the prophets repeatedly warn against the destruction of the vines and the fig trees (Jer. 5:17; 8:13; Hos. 2:12; Hab. 3:17). The destruction of vines and the fig trees symbolize misfortune to Israel.

Figs were part of the produce of the land brought back by the spies sent by Moses into Canaan (Numbers 13:23), as well as one of the fruits longed for by the Children of Israel in the desert. (Numbers 20:5)

In the New Testament, Matthew and Mark in their gospels narrates the incident of cursing the fig tree by Jesus and Luke presents a parable of the fig tree. Jesus also spoke the parable of the budding of the fig tree as an end time sign.

We shall discuss these passages later on.

History of the Fig Tree

The cultivation of the fig in Israel goes back to very early times. Excavations at Gezer a place at Judean Mountains, have uncovered remains of dried figs from the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age)

An ancient Egyptian inscription refers to the destruction of the country's fig trees by its conquerors.

The Greeks thought of their figs as so valuable as to be sacred, and consequently it was forbidden by ancient Athens law to steal them or to sell them abroad. Those discovered even reporting the theft were labelled a "sycophant", which means literally "showing the figs".

The fruit, particularly, that grown in the region around Athens, became extremely valuable, so much so that the state took over the running of the industry, and its profits.

The fig has played a notable role in Jewish history.

Figs provided inspiration for Theodor Herzl's (Te'odor Hertsel) dream of a Jewish homeland. Theodor Herzl is the founder of the political form of Zionism, a movement which led to the establishment of the World Zionist Organization in 1897. It aimed to establish a Jewish homeland.

1 Kings 4:25 says: “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan as far as Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.” (NKJV).

This verse inspired Herzl’s dream of a Jewish homeland.

Figs are also one of the core agricultural products produced in Israel. Growing to nearly 20 feet (6 m) in height and with large leaves, the fig tree provides pleasant shade.

The fig tree has many branches, large leaves, and widely spread boughs. Large, shady fig trees are found in Israel, especially on the banks of streams and near springs. Unlike other trees whose leaves may shed in the autumn season fig leaves shed in winter.

The fig served as a basic food, possessing a high nutritional value, largely by virtue of its honey.

In one of the rabbinic literature, there is an interesting statement comparing Torah and the fig tree. It says: “All parts of the fig are edible, as all parts of the Torah are valuable.”

Fig fruit is produced twice a year, once in early summer and then in the autumn season. The fruit that grows early in the year are from baby figs that have not matured the year before. The first crop is eaten fresh, while the second crop is dried for winter.

The Jewish prophet Micah might have been referring to the early harvest. He says in Micah 7:1, “Woe is me! For I am like those who gather summer fruits, Like those who glean vintage grapes; There is no cluster to eat Of the first-ripe fruit which my soul desires.” (NKJV)

The leaves of the fig would be on the tree at the same time the fruit is maturing. So a fruitless leafy fig tree was considered as a sign of hypocrisy.

The fig tree sheds its leaves in winter. At the end of the shedding of leaves in winter, the green figs called paggim (Song 2:13) begin to develop. They will be on the tree even before the tree is covered with new leaves,

They appear in the form of small fruits, they are really tiny flowers covered with a soft skin.

Paggims are green, winter figs, which are unripened, unsweetened and inedible figs

Paggim continue to grow during the summer months.

Not all the paggim or green figs reach the ripened stage, some falling off or withering (Isa. 34:4).

The ripened paggim is called bakkurot or first ripe figs. They are delicious and eagerly sought after. (Isa. 28:4; Jer, 24:2).

But Figs that ripen at the end of summer have an inferior taste (Micah 7:1), as those that burst when overripe (Jer. 29:17).

New branches and leaves grow in the spring season. In contrast to most fruit trees, the figs produce the main crop on these new branches in the autumn season. The arrival of plump purple figs denotes the end of the summer.

The autumn figs were kept dried in the sun as whole or cut up and pressed. (develah, I Sam., 25:18; I Chron. 12:40).

The timing of their season means that figs are often eaten as a symbolic new fruit for the Jewish New Year.

Let me tell you about the timing of the fig fruits once again, so that it will be clearer.

The early fruits are the growth of last year, which did not ripe then. They may be just blossoms or small green figs. These fruits continue to grow in spring and mature in summer, by June or earlier. In spring new leaves and branches do appear. So the first fruits will be covered by the large leaves.

The main crop of figs would appear on the new branches and ripen by the autumn season in August. The unripe fig fruits will survive the winter to the coming spring and ripen in summer.

Hope you understood the cycle of the growth of the fig fruits.


It is interesting to that the ripening of the fig fruits have an association with the Jewish festival.

The early crop is found around Passover time in the spring, even before the leaves have unfurled. And the biggest, best, most juicy fruits are found in September, close to the Jewish holidays of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot (Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles respectively).

The fig tree stand as a symbol for Israel in many passages in the Bible

Fig tree in the Old Testament

Three Trees Compared to Israel

Three trees stand as a symbol to Israel in the Bible. They are, vine, fig tree and olive. These three trees stand for the fruitfulness of the land.

The Vine is a symbol of Israel's Spiritual privileges; the Fig tree is a symbol of Israel's National privileges and the Olive tree is a symbol of Israel's Religious privileges.

These plants don’t grow overnight, and it takes time to culture and nurture them.

Their maturity indicates that the gardener has been continuously and steadfastly there, tending to their growth over the years.

Throughout the scriptures, the fig tree becomes a symbol of prosperity, wellbeing, and security.

Now let us go through some Old Testament passages that refer to the fig tree as a symbol to Israel.

Under their vine and fig tree

"Under their vine and fig tree" is a phrase quoted in the Hebrew Scriptures in three different places: Micah 4:4, 1 Kings 4:25, and Zechariah 3:10.

The phrase refers to the freedom from exile, peace and prosperity. The vine and the fig tree are those grown and mature in Israel.

For Israel, exile and wandering has been a byword for punishment and so sitting under your own vine and fig tree is a sign of blessing and security.

The "Vine" and "Fig-tree" also prefigure the Millennial days in Micah and Zechariah.

Let me quote one of the most popular quotes from the Bible which expresses the desire and vision of the millennial era.


Micah 4:4  But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, And no one shall make them afraid; For the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. (NKJV)

Again in Zechariah 3:10, the images of fig tree and vine is used to signify the peaceful life in the millennial age.


Zechariah 3:10  In that day,' says the LORD of hosts, 'Everyone will invite his neighbor Under his vine and under his fig tree.'" (NKJV)

Fig tree as a symbol of spiritual and physical health

The fig tree is also a symbol in the Bible for the health of the Israel nation both spiritually and physically.

In 2 Kings 20:7 and Isaiah 38:21, the fig is mentioned as a curative for physical illness. A fig compress (develah) was used by Isaiah in the cure of King Hezekiah. This is symbolic of physical and spiritual healing.

The fig tree is a barometer of the health of the nation. The fruits of the tree are taken away as punishment and flourishes in times of restoration.

In the writings of the Minor Prophets we can see warnings to the nation of how God would bring destruction and failure of crops as part of his judgment against them. The failure of the fig-crop and the destruction of the fig-tree were regarded as a misfortune and as a punishment from God.

Empty fig trees that were stripped bare and fruitless was a symbol of God’s punishment by stripping away the peace and prosperity of the nation. (Joel, Habakkuk and Haggai)

A fig tree produces both good sweet figs, the first of the summer figs and poor, inedible, unripe and bad figs. So it was with the nation of Israel. Jews who were true followers of God were likened to ‘good figs’, and the rebellious Jews were likened to ‘bad figs’. For example, Hosea spoke of the ‘fathers of Israel’ as the best fig, the first-fruits of the summer crop.


Hosea 9:10 "I found Israel Like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers As the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season. But they went to Baal Peor, And separated themselves to that shame; They became an abomination like the thing they loved. (NKJV)

These figs contrast with the green, inedible figs. Both types of fig symbolize the people of Judah before their deportation to Babylon; they are seen as good and bad figs.

Jeremiah 24 speaks of the Israelites who had been carried away into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The prophet had a vision of two baskets of figs set before the temple of God. One basket had very good figs, like the figs that are first ripe; and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten, they were so bad.

The good figs symbolize those Jews who are whole-hearted followers of God, and bad figs symbolize the rebellious Jews who had rejected God.

And God promises that, He will set His eyes on them for good, and will bring them back to the land of Israel. Verse 7 says, “Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.”

Verse 8 - 10 speak about the bad figs, the rebellious Jews: 'And as the bad figs which cannot be eaten, they are so bad” so that God shall scatter them into all the kingdoms of the earth (24:9). God shall send “the sword, the famine, and the pestilence among them” (24:10).

Fig tree in the New Testament

The New Testament also frequently mention fig trees. Jesus cursed a fruitless fig tree along the road to Jerusalem. Both Jesus and James used the production of figs as an example that actions and words flow from the heart of a person (Luke 6:42-44; James 3:12). Jesus used fig tree as a symbol to convey some mysteries of the Kingdom, firstly in the calling of Nathanael who was “sitting under a fig tree” like a “true Israelite” and later he curses the fruitless fig tree, representing unfruitfulness.

Since the fig tree is the last tree to produce leaves and it does so right before summer, Jesus used it as an example of knowing that the end of the age was near when the signs came.

This end-times warning system with the fig analogy is picked up again in Revelation 6:13.

Now let us study some of these incidents in detail.

Nathanael and the Fig tree (John 1:45-51)

In John’s gospel chapter 1, we read about Jesus calling the disciples.

Verse 43 says that Jesus met Philip at Galilee and called him to follow Him.

Verse 45 says how Philip led Nathanael to Jesus. Philip said to Nathanael : "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

At first Nathanael was skeptical, but went to Jesus along with Philip.

As soon as, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!" (47)

The response of Nathanael seems bit irritated. He asked Jesus, “How do You know me?". And “Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." (48)

This statement made him believe in Jesus.

Nathanael answered to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (49)

The statement of Jesus that He knew Nathanael when he was under the fig tree, is not quite ordinary. Jesus hid a mystery in it and Nathanael understood it well. It was a sure proof for him that Jesus was the expected Messiah of the Jews.

What could have possibly happened inside Nathanael's heart and mind to result in such a dramatic change? To understand the deeper mystery in this incident, we must know something about the religious life of a Jewish rabbinic disciple.

First century rabbinic disciples would follow their rabbi as he walked throughout the land teaching with both word and action. The Bible describes learning from a rabbi as “sitting at his feet,” which was often done in the synagogue as well as in the Temple colonnades.

Sitting at the rabbi’s feet was also done under the fig tree. The fig provided the Rabbi and the disciples, the cool shade and sweet fruits.

Many descriptions are found in different Jewish sources about the rabbis discussing and debating the meaning of scripture with their colleagues and students under the cool shade of fig trees.

Soon “under the fig tree” became an idiom for one who sits under the shade of a Rabbi’s teaching enjoying the “sweet” fruit of his instruction and wisdom.

There is another part to the story. The fig tree was a common place for prayer for a young rabbinic student. Nathanael may well have been a rabbinic disciple. So he might have been in prayer under a fig tree when Philip called him. His prayers were interrupted by Philip and so he was bit irritated at first.

The mystery of this part of the story lies in what he might have been praying for.

The first-century rabbis taught that 'he who, when he prays, does not pray for the coming of the Messiah, has not prayed at all.'

With the rise of the Pharisaic movement, basically a 'back-to-the-Bible' group, the hope for the coming of the Messiah had been reawakened. It was on everyone's mind and in everyone's prayers.

Thus, if Nathanael had been at prayer, chances are he was praying for the Messiah.

Perhaps this is why Jesus refers to him as a true Israelite; his faith was focused on waiting for the Coming of the Kingdom.

Nathanael put two and two together in his mind and declared that Jesus is the true Messiah.

Parable of the barren Fig tree

Luke in his gospel 13: 6-9, presents the Parable of the Barren Fig-tree. The parable focuses on those within Israel who might still hear Jesus and accept Him.

The parable is like this:

A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.

Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?'

But the keeper of the vineyard said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.

The "Fig-tree" is the Jewish nation. The fig tree was planted in a vineyard. The vineyard is the land of Israel. The owner of the vineyard and of the fig-tree was God. He had sought for fruit from the Jewish nation and found none. He therefore decided to cut down the tree. Cutting down the tree is the removal of the nation from the vineyard.

But the tree was not destroyed immediately. Jesus made an intercession for it. And the day of grace was lengthened. After forty years Titus, the then Roman military commander besieged Jerusalem in A.D. 70. And Israel, the Fig-tree, was cut down and cast out of the Vineyard into the field of the world.

The cursing of the barren fig tree

The account of Jesus cursing the barren fig tree is found in two gospels, in Matthew 21:18-22, and in Mark 11:12-14. There are slight differences between the two accounts.

The incident happened during the week before Christ’s crucifixion. On the next day of His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was going to Jerusalem from Bethany. Both Matthew and Mark records that He was hungry and saw a fig tree in the distance covered by leaves. He expected to find fig fruits and went near it. But unfortunately there was no fruits in the tree. So He cursed the fig tree saying, "Let no fruit grow on you ever again." (Matthew 21:19 - NKJV). Matthew says that, immediately the fig tree withered away. Mark says that the disciples saw the withered tree on the next day.

The image of the fig tree in the cursing incident represents Israel. The image is taken from the Old Testament symbol of the fig tree representing Israel. The message in the cursing incident is that Israel has failed and will be destroyed, just as the fig tree withers and dies.

The consequences of rebellion against God is well illustrated in the incidence of the ‘Withered fig tree’. In the description of the incident, Mark adds a particular statement within the story. He says that Jesus found nothing but leaves, "for the time of figs was not yet."

This gives an occasion for the question, why then Jesus curse the tree?

The fruit bearing habit of fig trees are already explained above. I hope you remember the details discussed above.

Still for understanding this passage let me remind you briefly about it once again.

The first fruits of the fig appear in spring before the leaves and branches. They grow on last year’s branches. The first ripe fruit is ready in June or earlier. In spring, while the rig tree has first fruits on its branches, leaves will appear and cover the whole tree. Therefore it is natural to expect fruits in a fig full of leaves.

And also the first fruits are not the main crop, they are the unripe late fruits of the last year’s winter.

The main crop of fruits appear only in autumn season. So it was not the right time for fig fruits.

The first fruits of early summer are sweet and edible but the late winter fruits are green unripe fruits or blossoms.

Jesus knew this cycle and so seeing leaves on the tree, naturally expected to find some of last year's fruit. And when He found none He cursed the tree because of its deceptive character.

The symbolic significance of this incident is very simple. The fig tree represents the Israel nation. They have an out ward leafy appearance but not fruitful. Their appearance is deceptive and hypocritical.

The religious observances, the ceremony of formal worship and sacrifices were only outward appearances.

This incident is said to be prophetic. The Jews were attacked by the then Roman military commander Titus (who later became the Roman Emperor) and defeated in 70 AD. As a result they scattered into the many states. Like the cursed fig tree, the nation of Israel seemingly died.

But later Jesus Himself prophesies the revival of Israel nation.

All religion has descended from a primary true spiritual understanding. The Greek philosophers like Plato called it the ultimate reality. Many people reverse this, influenced by the evolutionary theory, holding the view that religion gives rise to spiritual life. James says otherwise: "Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries?" (3:12). Religion is a vestige of the real thing.

Parable of the Budding of the Fig trees

The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree is a parable told by Jesus. It is narrated in Matthew 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-31, and Luke 21:29-33. This is a short parable which contains great mysteries of the coming Kingdom of God.

As Jesus sat upon the Mount of Olives, on Tuesday evening preceding His Crucifixion, His disciples came to Him and asked three questions together. "Tell us, when shall these things be (the destruction of the Temple)? and what shall be the SIGN of Thy Coming, and of the end of the world (Age)?" (Matthew 24:3). Jesus answered to these questions together.

In His answer to the question, "What shall be the sign of thy coming?", Jesus mentioned several signs that will happen in the world, in the church, in Israel and in the sky.

He spoke of the "abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Daniel 9:27) in the Holy Place of the rebuilt Temple at Jerusalem.

He continued to prophesy about wars, earthquakes, famines, lawlessness, wild weather, invasion, severe persecutions, fearful solar and cosmic disturbances, persecution, apostasy, false prophets and worldwide gospel preaching and so on.

Then Jesus said that when we see these signs then “know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21.31). He said these signs point to His imminent return and the establishment of His kingdom on earth.

After describing these signs, Jesus ends with the parable of the fig tree. He told His disciples:


Matthew 24: 32, 33

32  Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.

33  So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near - at the doors!  (NKJV)

Understanding this parable is the key to unlocking the mystery of what is now happening in the world. The parable leads to a very important sign.

Why did Jesus associate a fig tree with the end time signs? Some argue that Jesus was just using a simple horticultural observation. The fig tree is one of the last trees to bud in the spring and so when its leaves are budding we know that summer is just around the corner. So Jesus was simply saying; when the fig tree buds you know that summer is near – likewise, when you see all these things happening, know that the end is near.

They deny that there is any positive association of Israel with a budding fig tree.

But parables of Jesus were never simple observations of nature or popular stories. He used all parables to imply that underneath He was teaching a deep truth.

Note that Jesus refers to the tender branch, implying new wood and leaves that comes in the spring. It is time for ripened first fruits also. The ripened fruits are the real sign of the coming of summer.

The fig tree is an established symbol of Israelites in the Old Testament, for their physical and spiritual state. So many see this coming ‘summer crop’ as the restoration of the people of Israel to their own land.

The fruitless dead wood of scattered Israel is replaced by fruit on new wood. It is likened to a people drawn back into their own land and a nation that becomes a sign to the Gentiles. A remnant of this people become ‘the good, sweet crop’. This process has been underway now for over 100 years.

The Message behind the Parable is that the re-gathered Israel is a Sign to all Nations.

It seems that when Jesus spoke of the appearance of new shoots on the fig tree as signaling that summer is near, He was actually alluding to the restoration of Israel and His imminent return. He was saying that when we see Israel re-gathered in her own land and ‘budding like a fig tree’ then His return is near – even ‘at the doors’.

This will be the time of the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Jesus uses the fig as a metaphor of how we should recognize the signs of the times.

In Luke 21: 29 Jesus said “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees” and so observe the signs of the times in Israel and all the nations around them. He implied that Israel will be the vortex of the nations.

So let’s now apply the parable of Israel the fig tree to the observed world scenario and ask the question, ‘When did the fig tree (Israel) start to bud?’ ‘When did Israel emerge onto the world scene?’ 

When we trace a timeline of world events from this time we find that many issues of today are closely linked to Israel. We see that Israel is increasingly the vortex of the world.


Zionism and Anti-Semitism

The Signs of the Times clearly point to the revival of the Fig-tree and all the trees.

That means, in Zionism and Anti-Semitism, we see the putting forth of leaves.

"Zionism" is the longing of the Jews to return to their own land and the establishment of a "Jewish State" there. There are three phases of it, Religious, Economic, and Political.

The Religious phase is the revival of faith in the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of the restoration of Jewish worship in a rebuilt Temple in the Holy Land.

The Economic phase is the desire of Israel to escape from their condition of servitude in other nations, where they are persecuted. They dream of a secure home in the Promised Land, associated with the most sacred memories of their race, where they can dwell safely under their own vine and fig-tree.

The Political phase is the revival of their national Hope of a restored nation under the leadership of the promised and long-hoped-for Messiah.

"Anti-Semitism" is the desire on the part of the nations to drive the Jews out of the countries where their number and habits are considered to be a menace.

It is a revival of Egyptian Bondage. Pharaoh did not want to part with Israel, he needed their service in the construction of public works and in the raising of cattle. All he purposed to do was by hard bondage to prevent their increase. 

These two signs, Zionism and Anti-Semitism are becoming more and more marked in all nations and even in the Christian denominations.

The rejection of the Old Testament and the replacement theory are propagating Anti-Semitism. There are certain Christian denomination who want to replace Israel as the Church and as the only Church in the New Testament era.

There are evidences for the fulfilment of the prophecy, “that summer is near”. The return of the Lord is not far off. 


Let me conclude this study about the relation between the fig tree and Israel as a nation and a race.

From Genesis to Revelation, the fig features strongly in scriptural symbolism.

Today Israel is full of fig trees, huge, well developed, shady and mature. It may be considered that the flourishing of figs today in Israel is a Messianic sign in itself. The Israel people are back in the land and the nation is now waiting for the restoration to come. The restoration will be a spiritual revival, and all his people greeting their Messiah Yeshua, saying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.

During the time of Christ, most Jews rejected Him and remained dead in their works and legalism. They were like green, unripened, unsweetened figs. Today, most Jews can be seen as green figs, whilst a few are like the sweetened ripe figs.

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