>Of Wars, Vines, and Fig Trees

>The combined image of the “vine and fig tree” appears several times in the Old Testament. The following are some the passages where vine and fig tree appear together:

“During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25).

“Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern” (2 Kings 18:31. The same verse also appears in Isaiah 36:16).

“Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken” (Micah 4:4-5).

There are a few other verses where the two ideas appear together. In the Old Testament the vineyard and the fig tree were two basic elements of the economy of ancient Israel and their absence indicates times of calamity and distress. Thus, to sit under one’s vine and fig tree symbolizes a time of peace and prosperity.

The idea of sitting under one’s vine and fig tree also symbolizes the freedom people had in cultivating the land of promise God had given to Israel as their inheritance. It symbolizes the enjoyment of the blessings and the prosperity God has bestowed upon his people.

This is what Michael Hammond was trying to communicate when he wrote:

U.S. policy and influence in the past has, for better and for worse, helped to shape our current state of affairs. We can’t completely wash our hands of some role in the precarious world we live in today. There is a great verse in the Old Testament that speaks of a world where each shall sit under his own vine, under his own fig tree, making war no more. Most biblical scholars seem to agree that what God means to illustrate in that text is a freedom from want. For me it means having a piece of something. A sense of ownership. A stake in how life plays out and all of the peace and joy that goes along with it when our lives have that sense of relevance. Take that away and children strap bombs to themselves because they’ve been convinced that life in this world has nothing to offer. Adults fly planes into buildings. Through our own actions we can help feed a sense of hopelessness, or a sense of hope. Accountability for the loss of life cuts both ways. If you put a gun in my face, terror is terror, it seems to me, regardless of what patch you’re wearing on your sleeve.

However, when he said: “There is a great verse in the Old Testament that speaks of a world where each shall sit under his own vine, under his own fig tree, making war no more,” he was combining two verses from the prophet Micah:

“Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken” (Micah 4:4-5).

“And he will judge between many peoples, and will decide concerning strong nations afar off: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3).

What Micah was saying is that war is a learned behavior. People have to be taught how to fight wars; soldiers have to be trained for combat and as long as military schools teach people how to fight wars, wars will be fought.

Micah’s view of this idyllic time when wars would come to an end is reversed by the prophet Joel in his description of the apocalyptic war that precedes the Day of the Lord:

“Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong” (Joel 3:10).

Joel was saying that before the people of Judah can sit under their vine and fig tree, there must be the final judgment on the nations. When the armies gather in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, there will be the war to end all wars and the enemies of Israel will be destroyed. In preparation for that final war, the implements of peace will become implements of war. When the war is ended then the people of Israel will sit under their vine and their fig tree and no one will be taught how to fight wars and no soldier will train for combat (Micah 4:3).

But, there is a condition for universal peace to be established and Micah is very clear about the condition: “He, [the Lord] will settle disputes among many peoples and provide arbitration for strong nations that are far away.” Before peace comes, God’s representative must settle disputes among the nations. Then, and only then, nations and people “will beat their swords into plows, and their spears into pruning knives. Nation will not take up the sword against nation, and they will never again train for war.”

Until then, we must wait for the Prince of Peace.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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