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Can you elaborate on the image in Romans 11 of the Olive Tree, and explain why Abraham is the root?


This special topic was recorded on February 9, 2008. Our speaker for this session was Elie Nessim.


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The text for this session:

Another question that is of crucial importance to our understanding - This is how the question runs: -

 

·        “Can you elaborate on the image in Romans 11 of the Olive Tree, and explain why Abraham is the root?” That’s the main question, and there are two sub-headings:-

 

(a) “Could you show how Paul, in Romans, builds up to the Olive Tree image and why the root is Abraham? Why would the root not be Messiah, for example?

 

(b) Please, could you elaborate on the implications for Israel and the Body of Messiah if Abraham is the root?”

 

What I have done is to divide the answer up into two main sections – ‘firstly’ and ‘secondly.’ I’ll start with ‘firstly.’

 

Firstly, by way of definition, three things are mentioned in Romans 11:-

 

  • The Olive Tree
  • The Root
  • And The Branches

 

  • The Olive Tree is the family of GOD
  • The Root is Abraham
  • The Branches are individuals in the family

 

Let us take these three in order. First of all, the Olive Tree is the family of GOD.

 

In Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 14 and 15: “For He Himself is our peace, (that is, Messiah is our peace) who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh, the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.”

 

These verses underline the unity of the family of GOD and again in Ephesians 4, verses 4 through 6: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

 

There’s the unity of the body underlined, and as far as the family of GOD is concerned, Shaul says in chapter 3 of Ephesians, verse 14 and 15: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Yeshua HaMashiach, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”

 

So the Olive Tree is the family of GOD. Initially, the Tree was almost exclusively represented by the nation of Israel. In Psalm 147, verse 19 and 20: “He (that is GOD) declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them. Praise the LORD!” That’s how Psalm 147 ends. And what is underlined here is that GOD revealed His word to the nation of Israel only, so that the Tree was almost exclusively represented by the nation of Israel.

 

Again, in Jeremiah, chapter 11, and verse 16, GOD says: “The LORD called your name, Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit.” GOD is speaking to His nation, to His people, and He says here, “The LORD called your name, Green Olive Tree.” So we can understand why the Olive Tree is the symbol of the nation of Israel.

 

And once more, in the book of Amos, chapter 3, verse 1, GOD speaks to His people and He says: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” So initially, the Tree was almost exclusively represented by the nation of Israel. But subsequently, the Tree now represents Israel and the nations.

 

We go back to the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 11 – 13: “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh – who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands – that at that time you were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.” So now, the Tree is represented by Israel and the nations.

 

And in chapter 3 of the Letter to the Ephesians, verse 4 – 6, Shaul says: “…you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Messiah which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: (and this is the mystery he mentions) that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Messiah through the gospel.” So now the Tree represents Israel and the nations. The difference lies in the Branches. There are two kinds of Branches, and we will be coming to that.

 

Another thing we can say about the Tree before we go on to the Root, is that the Tree itself retains its Hebraic character. Through having different Branches attached to it doesn’t mean that fundamentally, its Hebraic character has been changed. Noah foretold this in his blessings of his sons.

 

In Genesis chapter 9, Noah prophesied concerning Shem, Ham and Japheth. We’ll just read verse 26 and 27: “And he said: “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.”

 

There in verse 26 and 27, Noah celebrates the fact that GOD is the GOD of Shem, and that if Japheth wishes to meet the GOD of Shem, he must dwell in the tents of Shem. “May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem.” Yeshua Himself speaking to the woman at the well said, “…salvation is of the Jews.” So the Tree itself retains its Hebraic character.

 

We come to The Root. The Root is Abraham. In Genesis 22, at the Akkedah, at the near sacrifice of Isaac, GOD made a promise to Abraham. Genesis 22, verse 15 through 18: “Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son – blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”” So the Root is Abraham.

 

There are other verses that proclaim this. We turn to the book of Romans, chapter 3, verse 29 and 30. “..Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”

 

In chapter 4, verse 11 and 12, again Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”

 

What these verses are telling us is that Abraham is the father of all believers, whether they are Gentiles or Jews. In the case of the Jews, they have not only to be physically circumcised, but circumcised in the heart. And this is what Moses emphasizes when he says, “circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiff-necked.”

In Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28 and 29: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. And if you are Messiah’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”

 

What is said there is that in Messiah there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. We are all saved on the same terms. The Root is Abraham. As the Tree lives by the Root, so the family of GOD lives by the faith of Abraham. We go back to Romans, chapter 4, verse 16 and 17: “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, (that is, not only to those who are Jews) but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations.”) There it is again. The Tree lives by the Root; the family of GOD lives by the faith of Abraham.

 

In Habakkuk, chapter 2, verse 4, we read “..the just shall live by his faith.” The Root itself is the conduit of life to the Tree. It’s not the life giver to the Tree. It is the conduit. It conveys the nourishment that GOD supplies. And analogously, Abraham is the father of all believers, from Adam down, and he is their appointed prototype. He isn’t the life giver; the life giver is GOD, but it is through the faith of Abraham that we obtain eternal life. Messiah is the true source of faith.

 

In Ephesians 2 and verse 8: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…” Messiah is the true source of faith.

 

In 2 Timothy, chapter 1, Shaul writing to Timothy, speaks about Faith and Love which are in Messiah. 2 Timothy 1, verse 13: “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Messiah Yeshua.” Faith and Love are found in Him. He is the true source of Faith and of Love. He is the One that planted the Tree, and it is from Him that life flows to the Tree via the Root, and the Root is Abraham.

 

We come to The Branches. The Branches are individual believers and they are part of the family. We return to Romans 11, verses 16 through 18. “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.”

 

The Branches are individual believers, part of the family, and they are Jewish and Gentile. The cultivated branches spoken of here, are represented by Jewish believers, trained in the ways of GOD; brought up from the beginning as a nation in the ways of GOD and in the word of GOD as we saw in Psalm 147. “He showeth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them…” So the cultivated branches are represented by Jewish believers. The uncultivated branches are represented by Gentile believers, initially untrained in the ways of GOD, but now – trained in GOD’s ways.

 

The conditions for continuing to be part of The Tree are the same for Jews and for Gentiles. They are two – faith and fruitfulness.

 

In Romans 11, verse 18 through 20. The Bible says “do not boast against the branches.” The uncultivated branches are being addressed. “do not boast against the branches.” That is – do not boast against the cultivated branches. “But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty but fear.””

 

Faith is necessary if the branch is going to abide on The Tree, whether it’s the cultivated branch or the uncultivated branch. Faith is one of the two conditions.

 

The other one is fruitfulness. GOD spoke severely against His people in Isaiah the prophet, chapter 27, verse 11. Speaking about the nation with unfruitful branches, this is what GOD says:

 

“When its boughs are withered, they will be broken off; the women come and set them on fire. For it is a people of no understanding; therefore He who made them will not have mercy on them, and He who formed them will show them no favour.” Unfruitful branches are broken off and thrown into the fire.

 

Messiah Yeshua Himself, in the Upper Room, said much the same thing. In John, chapter 15, verse 4 – 6: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”

 

So the conditions for The Branches to remain on The Tree are faith and fruitfulness. That’s the first main heading.

 

The second main heading is, to illustrate an analogy of the wild olive tree and the good tree. The analogy is found in Romans 11, verse 16 through 24. We already read some of these verses, but for completeness, I’ll read them again.

 

“For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?””

 

What is said here is that they can be put back. They fell off because of unbelief, but if they don’t continue in unbelief, they can be put back where they were broken off from. The method used to transform a wild olive tree into a good one, was by the process of engrafting. Branches from a good olive tree were grafted on to a wild olive tree, transforming the wild olive tree, and making it yield good fruit. The wild olive tree progressively became a good one by this method. But in GOD’s order, the reverse has taken place - “contrary to nature” contrary to custom. The wild olive branches have been incorporated into the good tree. That’s what we read in verse 24. “For if you were cut out of the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”

 

In horticulture, it is the tame branches that are grafted on to the wild olive tree. In this case, it is the reverse. This supernatural work of GOD, results in the transformation of the wild branches. They become fruit bearing, and this, without harming or altering the nature of the good tree. The Tree doesn’t become wild as wild branches are grafted onto it. It still retains its good nature; its quality. On the contrary, under GOD, the wild branches become assimilated to the good Tree – and that is an important point. Again, the reasons for GOD’s sovereign action are because some - remember the word some; it’s not all - some of the good branches became unproductive. We read Isaiah 27, verse 11. We read John 15, verse 6, where Messiah says, “if a man doesn’t abide in Me, he is broken off.” These unfruitful branches were removed in order to make room for others that would prove to be productive. There results a sharing, and that’s another very important word. There results a sharing of “the root and fatness of the (good) olive tree.” Romans 11, verse 17: “And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker (or sharer) of the root and fatness of the olive tree.”

 

In Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 6, which we read earlier on, the same thing is emphasized: “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Messiah through the gospel” God reserves the prerogative to re-attach the natural branches that were broken off on condition that unbelief is renounced. In Romans 11, verse 23: “And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” And this is echoed in the Law of Moses. In Leviticus, chapter 26, verses 44 and 45: “Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God; I am the LORD.”

 

So there is GOD’s “however”…”nevertheless”…”notwithstanding”…”for all this.” GOD says “For all that, I will not cast them away, not shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them.”

 

There is plenty of room on The Tree, not only for the wild branches, but for the cultivated branches to be put back. Plenty of room for everybody! Remember the parable that Messiah made of the wedding feast of the King. The servant was sent out to gather in as many as they found. When they came back, the servant said, “Yet there is room.” So it is with the Olive Tree.

 

This Olive illustration refers to the incorporation of believing Gentiles into the family of GOD. The Hebraic foundation of the family remains Hebraic. But now the family includes believing Jews and believing Gentiles, without destroying either the identity of the Jews or of the Gentiles.

 

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 18, the word of GOD says: “Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. (That is to say, is anyone saved as a Jew? Don’t let him deny or abrogate his Jewishness). Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised.” Is any Gentile brought into salvation, he should not try and be more Jewish than the Jews. Let him rejoice in his Gentile heritage. It’s as valid and as precious as the Jewish heritage. That’s what the verse is saying. One does not replace the other, but they live together side by side.

 

Lastly, the same conditions for remaining on the good tree for wild branches are as above – faith and fruitfulness – Romans 11, verse 19 through 22: “You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”

 

So there it is –

 

  • The Tree is the family of GOD
  • The Root is Abraham
  • The Branches are individual believers – that’s you and me, Jew and Gentile rejoicing in a common Saviour, a common Salvation.

 

There is, as the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Let’s remember that word – all. Selah.

 

That’s as far as I go today, and now there’s time for questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUESTIONS

 

(Q): Could you explain the Hebraic character by giving a few examples of The Tree?

 

(A): The best example is what the Lord said to the woman at the well:

“You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for

salvation is of the Jews.” So it is a Jewish gospel; it is a Jewish Saviour.

The man Christ Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of the Father is a

Jew; that’s seated at the right hand of the Father – the elder brother, the

First born of the family of GOD and He is a Jew.

(Q): Do you think that Abraham earns the privilege of being the Root based on

the fact that he was the only person GOD asked to sacrifice his own son

or is there some other explanation as well?

 

(A): The answer to that question is Abraham was chosen as The Root

because he was a supreme example of faith. He has become the

prototype or the father of all those who believe. That includes Adam

who was born millennia before Abraham. So, it is Abraham as the

supreme example of faith that is being held up for us here.

 

(Q): Could you give some advice to a Gentile who would like to feed upon

The Root?

 

(A): My advice to the Gentile who wants to feed upon The Root is – follow

the example of Abraham, and trust GOD with all your heart as Abraham

did and obey Him at all costs.

 

(Q): Why do you think Abraham was the first person in scripture to be called a

Hebrew?

 

(A): The reason why Abraham was called a Hebrew most probably is because

the word “Hebrew” comes from Eber.”Eber” was the ancestor of Abraham.

But there is another explanation too. “Avar” in Hebrew means to cross

over. And Abraham had crossed over the river Euphrates in order to

come into the land of Canaan. He was the crosser-over; the one who

crossed over the river on his way to the Promised Land. So for both

those reasons, he was called a Hebrew.

 

(Q): Then it’s possible the meaning of the Hebrew “to cross over” is that some

symbolic recognition that Jews and Gentiles cross over into faith, they

need to leave their life behind and cross over?

 

(A): I would say that’s an application, but I don’t think that’s the intent of the

term.



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