Planting fig trees
October 17 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Planting fig trees | Friday, Oct. 17, 2003

Friday, Oct. 17, 2003

Planting fig trees

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

I planted a fig tree in our yard this fall.

I don't know why I had not thought of it before now, because I have always loved to eat figs fresh from the tree. When I was growing up, there was always a fig tree in the back yard. I thought everybody had one.

I was fortunate in many ways to spend my childhood in a stable, peaceful environment embellished by a bountiful garden and a variety of fruit trees. I groused about working in the garden, but until I left for college, moving never crossed my mind.

For most of my adult life as a student and pastor, I lived in a string of dorms, rental houses and parsonages, not the sort of environment that is conducive to planting fig trees in the yard. But, we started making payments on our own house when we moved to the Triangle area in 1988, and have been there ever since.

It occurred to me recently that I've lived in our present house even longer than I lived in my boyhood home.

And I decided it was time to plant some figs.

Among the ancient Hebrews, a primary symbol of peace and prosperity was for every family to have its own grapevine and sit in the shade of its own fig tree.

During Solomon's time, 1 Kings 5:5 tells us, "Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees." In 2 Kings 18:31 (repeated in Isa. 36:16), the scalawag Rabshekah campaigned for Israel to abandon King Hezekiah, promising that under Assyrian rule, "every one of you will eat from your own vine and your own fig tree."

When the prophet Micah proclaimed a future era of peace for God's people, he said they would not only hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, but also they would "all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid" (Mic. 4:4).

Likewise, the prophet Zechariah spoke of a great day of redemption for Israel, promising that "On that day, says the LORD of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree" (Zech. 3:10).

The ability to have one's own vine and fig tree implied a time of peace and stability, for neither vines nor fig trees can be expected to produce useful fruit in a single season. It suggested that one had access to enough land for raising crops and grazing cattle, with a spot left over to plant grape vines and fig trees as a source of sweetness and shade, a place of hospitality where neighbors could share their blessings and themselves with one another.

The beauty of the vine and the fig tree was such that the prophets also used them as a metaphor for Israel in times of faithfulness and fruitfulness. But, when God's people turned their trust to the ways of the world and failed to be faithful, the prophets spoke of fruitless times. "The vine withers, the fig tree droops," said Joel (1:12).

Haggai spoke of a time when the vine and fig tree had not born fruit, but saw hope in the laying of a foundation for the temple, promising in God's behalf that "From this day on I will bless you" (Hag. 2:19).

The Baptist world we currently inhabit has known so much strife and uncertainty in recent years that it hardly seems a time to be planting fig trees.

Still, I plant in hope. My father and I planted a tree that is an offshoot of the one behind my boyhood home, a second-generation descendant of the tree behind my great-grandmother's house. I will care for it, water it and fertilize it with manure. In time, I hope to enjoy and to share its fruit.

I planted the tree not only because I like figs, but as a personal sign of hope in the Baptists among whom I work and live, a metaphor of my own commitment to promoting peace and understanding among the various tribes.

I planted a fig tree in the hope that I can still be working for North Carolina Baptists in a meaningful way when the tree reaches its full fruit-bearing potential.

And I hope others will join me.

The nurseries couldn't keep up if we all went out and bought fig trees, but we can all cultivate mutual understanding among brothers and sisters. We can seek not only to accept but also to defend those who may not always see things as we do, but who earnestly seek to serve the same Lord. We can strive for peace in a time of strife.

And that would be sweet.

10/17/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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