The meaning of Fig, Fig-tree in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
fig'-tre (te'enah, plural te'enim, specially "figs"; paggim, "green figs" only in Song of Solomon 2:13; suke, "fig-tree," sukon, "fig"):
1. Fig-Trees in the Old Testament:
The earliest Old Testament reference to the fig is to the leaves, which Adam and Eve converted into aprons (Genesis 3:7). The promised land was described (Deuteronomy 8:8) as "a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates," etc. The spies who visited it brought, besides the cluster of grapes, pomegranates and figs (Numbers 13:23). The Israelites complained that the wilderness was "no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates" (Numbers 20:5). When Egypt was plagued, the fig-trees were smitten (Psalms 105:33); a similar punishment was threatened to unfaithful Israel (Jeremiah 5:17; Hosea 2:12; Amos 4:9). It is only necessary to ride a few miles among the mountain villages of Palestine, with their extensive fig gardens, to realize what a long-lasting injury would be the destruction of these slow-growing trees. Years of patient labor—such as that briefly hinted at in Luke 13:7 —must pass before a newly planted group of fig-trees can bear profitably. Plenitude of fruitful vines and fig-trees, specially individual ownership, thus came to be emblematical of long-continued peace and prosperity. In the days of Solomon "Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree" (I Kings 4:25). Compare also II Kings 18:31; Isaiah 36:16; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10; 1 Macc 14:12. Only a triumphal faith in Yahweh could rejoice in Him "though the fig-tree shall hot flourish" (Habakkuk 3:17).
2. Natural History of the Fig-Tree:
The Ficus carica, which produces the common fig, is a tree belonging to the Natural Order. Urticaceae, the nettle family, which includes also the banyan, the India rubber fig-tree, the sycamore fig and other useful plants. Fig-trees are cultivated all over the Holy Land, especially in the mountain regions. Wild fig-trees—usually rather shrubs than trees—occur also everywhere; they are usually barren and are described by the fellahin as "male" trees; it is generally supposed that their presence is beneficial to the cultivated variety. The immature flowers harbor small insects which convey pollen to the female flowers and by their irritating presence stimulate the growth of the fruit. Artificial fertilization has been understood since ancient times, and there may be a reference to it in Amos 7:14.
Fig-trees are usually of medium height, 10 or 15 ft. for full-grown trees, yet individual specimens sometimes attain as much as 25 ft. The summer foliage is thick and surpasses other trees of its size in its cool and dense shade. In the summer owners of such trees may be seen everywhere sitting in their shadow (John 1:48). Such references as Mac 4:4; Zechariah 3:10, etc., probably are to this custom rather than to the not uncommon one of having a fig-tree overhanging a dwelling.
The fruit of the fig-tree is peculiar. The floral axis, instead of expanding outward, as with most flowers, closes, as the flower develops, upon the small internal flowers, leaving finally but a small opening at the apex; the axis itself becomes succulent and fruit-like. The male flowers lie around the opening, the female flowers deeper in; fertilization is brought about by the presence of small hymenopterous insects.
There are many varieties of figs in Palestine differing in sweetness, in color and consistence; some are good and some are bad (compare Jeremiah 24:1, Jeremiah 24:8; Jeremiah 29:17). In Palestine and other warm climates the fig yields two crops annually—an earlier one, ripe about June, growing from the "old wood," i.e. from the midsummer sprouts of the previous year, and a second, more important one, ripe about August, which grows upon the "new wood," i.e. upon the spring shoots. By December, fig-trees in the mountainous regions of Palestine have shed all their leaves, and they remain bare until about the end of March, when they commence putting forth their tender leaf buds (Matthew 24:32; Mark 13:28, Mark 13:32; Luke 21:29-33), and at the same time, in the leaf axils, appear the tiny figs. They belong to the early signs of spring:
"The voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land;
The fig-tree ripeneth her green figs" (paggim)—Song of Solomon 2:12-13.
4. Early Figs:
These tiny figs develop along with the leaves up to a certain point—to about the size of a small cherry—and then the great majority of them fall to the ground, carried down with every gust of wind. These are the "unripe figs" (olunthos)—translated, more appropriately in the King James Version, as "untimely figs"—of Revelation 6:13. Compare also Isaiah 34:4 the King James Version—in the Revised Version (British and American) "leaf" has been supplied instead of "fig." These immature figs are known to the fellahin as taksh, by whom they are eaten as they fall; they may even sometimes be seen exposed for sale in the markets in Jerusalem. In the case of many trees the whole of this first crop may thus abort, so that by May no figs at all are to be found on the tree, but with the best varieties of fig-trees a certain proportion of the early crop of figs remains on the tree, and this fruit reaches ripe perfection about June. Such fruit is known in Arabic as dafur, or "early figs," and in Hebrew as bikkurah, "the first-ripe" (Isaiah 28:4; Jeremiah 24:2; Hosea 9:10). They are now, as of old, esteemed for their delicate flavor (Micah 7:1, etc.).
5. The Cursing of the Barren Fig-Tree:
The miracle of our Lord (Matthew 21:18-20; Mark 11:12-13, Mark 11:10, Mark 11:21) which occurred in the Passover season, about April, will be understood (as far as the natural phenomena are concerned) by the account given above of the fruiting of the fig-tree, as repeatedly observed by the present writer in the neighborhood of Jerusalem. When the young leaves are newly appearing, in April, every fig-tree which is going to bear fruit at all will have some taksh ("immature figs") upon it, even though "the time of figs" (Mark 11:13 the King James Version), i.e. of ordinary edible figs—either early or late crop—"was not yet." This taksh is not only eaten today, but it is sure evidence, even when it falls, that the tree bearing it is not barren. This acted parable must be compared with Luke 13:6, Luke 13:9; now the time of judgment was surely coming, the fate of the fruitless Jewish nation was forcibly foretold.
6. Dried Figs:
While fresh figs have always been an important article of diet in their season (Nehemiah 13:15) the dried form is even more used. They are today dried in the sun and threaded on strings (like long necklaces) for convenience of carriage. A "cake of figs" (debhelah, literally, "pressed together") is mentioned (I Samuel 30:12); Abigail gave 200 such cakes of figs to David (I Samuel 25:18); the people of North Israel sent, with other things, "cakes of figs" as a present to the newly-crowned David (I Chronicles 12:40). Such masses of figs are much used today—they can be cut into slices with a knife like cheese. Such a mass was used externally for Hezekiah's "boil" (Isaiah 38:21; II Kings 20:7); it was a remedy familiar to early medical writers.
E. W. G. Masterman
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