“The LORD called you a thriving olive tree with fruit beautiful in form.” (Jeremiah 11:16)
The little olive (zayit in Hebrew) gives us a big lesson on how intense pressure produces something of great value for the service of our Lord.
Because October and November is the time to harvest olives in Israel, it is the perfect time to learn how God has set this fruit apart (yes, it is a fruit not a vegetable) from all other fruits in His Kingdom plan.
Olive oil (shemen zayit) is native to the Middle East going back 6,000 years; in Italy, Greece and Spain some 3,000 years. In Israel, olives are one of the seven “native” types of agriculture that identify the land of Israel as a “good land.”
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land — a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.” (Deuteronomy 8:7–8)
Whether in ancient Israel or today, these natural resources are prized possessions for the people and for the God of Israel (YHVH).
God chose to set apart the high priests, kings, prophets, and Tabernacle vessels for His service by anointing them with oil produced from the olive.
“Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. … He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s [the High Priest’s] head and anointed him to consecrate him.” (Leviticus 8:10–12)
He also chose olive oil as fuel for the Menorah, which lit up the Tabernacle day and night.
“‘Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps [menorah] may be kept burning [ner tamid].’” (Exodus 27:20)
Producing this oil began with harvesting the olive tree, which starts to bloom in spring as green buds.
The Harvest Festival
Olive harvesting (masik in Hebrew) is a festive time when families and friends pack a picnic and head off to the Galilee or southern Golan Heights region, where many of Israel’s olive groves are located. However, they are located everywhere in Israel, including the Holy City of Jerusalem.
The most famous olive groves to Christians are also some of the oldest, about 1,000 years old, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Some (not all) growers use agricultural machinery and technology to harvest their olives, but how does the average Israeli get olives off the tree?
Much like they did in the time of Moses, 3,300 years ago: some lay a sheet under the tree to catch the olives as they shake the branches or beat them with a stick.
In the Tanakh (Old Testament), God made sure that growers left some of the olives on the tree for the underprivileged to pick and eat.
Moses told the Israelites, “‘When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.’” (Deuteronomy 24:20; see also Isaiah 17:6)
A gentler method of harvesting became more common in the first few centuries following Yeshua’s (Jesus’) time.
In that method, people would pull with their fingers down the branches in a milking motion so that the olives fell into the hand. This way, the olives remain whole, instead of being bruised by beating them. This is the preferred way to pick olives fit for eating.
However, bruising and beating during harvesting is a fitting beginning for the life of the mature olive, which is about to undergo severe pressure as it transforms into its destiny as oil fit for Divine service.
Over the centuries, the psalmists, prophets, Jewish sages, and God Himself have likened the life of the olive tree and the pressure the olive endures after harvesting to the People of Israel and to their Messiah.
Israelis Under Pressure
Shortly before the Jewish People went into exile in Babylon, the Prophet Jeremiah reminded them that at one time, “the LORD called your name, ‘a green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form.’” (Jeremiah 11:16)
Why did God liken Israel to an olive tree and not some other kind of tree?
Perhaps because just like the olive, God set the people of Israel apart for His own service. He tells them this before He sends them into exile:
“I entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord GOD. “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil.” (Ezekiel 16:8–9)
If the people had repented of their rebellion toward God and returned to their purpose as a people set apart for His service — like a flourishing olive tree — they would have stayed in the good land of Israel where they would continue to prosper and fulfil their mission as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)
Instead, they went into exile.
This is not so difficult to understand. Like so many Believers in the God of Israel today, we tend to repent of our rebellion toward Him and rebuild our lives in Him only after much suffering.
The Jewish sages understood this as well:
“Just as the olive yields its oil only with hard pressure, so Israel does not return to righteousness except through suffering,” said the third century Rabbi Yoḥanan.
The sages also understood that Messiah would one day come and save the Jewish People from all the suffering imposed on them by others as well as by their own actions.
But, He would first have to suffer, too — not because of His own unrighteousness; He would suffer because of theirs.
That suffering began on the Mount of Olives (Har Zetim) in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.
The Messiah Under Pressure
Many Jewish People refer to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem as the Mount of Anointing, since the olives harvested there were used for the anointing of Israel’s kings and priests.
Messiah (Moshiach in Hebrew) means Anointed One, and Jewish tradition says that the Messiah will arrive at the Mount of Olives, the Mount of Anointing.
This makes Yeshua’s time on the Mount divinely significant.
On the Mount of Olives is Gethsemane, which is a Greek name. In Hebrew, it is Gat Shemen, meaning Olive Oil Press, one of Yeshua’s favorite places to get away and pray.
This name is indicative of the pressure that Yeshua underwent at the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, the night He would be arrested.
“My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch,” He said to the disciples as He left them to go pray. (Mark 14:34)
So pressured was He that He sweated what seemed like drops of blood. (Luke 22:44)
“‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.’” (Mark 14:36)
Through His beatings, bruisings, and piercings, to the point of death on the execution stake, Yeshua certainly suffered as the Prophet Isaiah predicted He would:
“He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5–6)
Yeshua suffered because of our unrighteousness; and in doing so, gives His righteousness to all who accept it.
This Divine righteousness is the character of the Messiah whom the Jewish People have been longing and praying for.
In fact, Jeremiah promised that someone divinely righteous would arise as a branch from the line of King David.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
“In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness (YHVH Tzidkenu).’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6)
The Jewish People have suffered greatly over the centuries — not only by their own actions but from anti-Semitism.
Since the time of Yeshua, Jews living in other nations were persecuted.
Economic and social restrictions were placed on them. They could only perform certain jobs, were segregated, could not attend places of higher education, nor hold positions in government.
And millions were killed in the Spanish Inquisitions, pogroms, and the recent Holocaust when six million were murdered.
Yet, Yeshua’s resurrection has fulfilled a promise for Israel that God will turn the sorrow of His people into joy, “to provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3)
This is the very Scripture that Yeshua read on Shabbat when He stood up in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:18): “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” He told the amazed worshipers, whose eyes were “fastened on Him.” (Luke 4:20)
We also are subjected to many kinds of pressure, but we can keep our eyes on the joy of the One who has gone before us.
Through YHVH Tzidkenu (the Lord our Righteousness) we can be set apart for His service and receive an eternal inheritance that no person on earth can take away from us.
He is our king and we are His possession.
He tells us:
“Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.” (John 15:4)