>One of the most memorable passages in the book of Micah is his vision of a future where peace would prevail:
This passage describes the lasts days when the Lord will establish his kingdom and all nations will seek the Lord to learn his ways. The expression “sitting under the vine and the fig tree” reflects the peace and harmony that all people will enjoy under the protection of God.
So important was this proverbial expression of peace, security, and rural comfort that it appears several times in the Old Testament (1 Kings 4:25, 2 Kings 18:31; Isaiah 36:16; Zechariah 3:10).
Another person who understood the concept of sitting under the vine and the fig tree was George Washington, the leader of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and the man who served as the first President of the United States of America (1789-1797).
In the introduction to the electronic edition to The Diaries of George Washington, the Library of Congress describes George Washington’s use of this biblical expression:
No theme appears more frequently in the writings of Washington than his love for his land. The diaries are a monument to that concern. In his letters he referred often, as an expression of this devotion and its resulting contentment, to an Old Testament passage. After the Revolution, when he had returned to Mount Vernon, he wrote the Marquis de Lafayette on Feb. 1, 1784: “At length my Dear Marquis I am become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, & under the shadow of my own Vine & my own Fig-tree.” This phrase occurs at least 11 times in Washington’s letters. “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree” (2 Kings 18:31).
One example of Washington’s use of this expression appears in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, written in August 1790:
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
The two last statements in George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport are very important. The first statement is a biblical reference to Abraham and a quotation from Micah 4:4.
The second statement is George Washington’s prayer in which he affirmed his belief in an afterlife: “May the Father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here and, in His own due time and way, everlastingly happy.”
It is amazing how people can say that the Founding Fathers were not religious, that they did not believe in God, and that they did not pray in public.
And remember, Washington wrote this letter, which includes a prayer and a biblical reference to Micah’s book, in 1790, at a time when he was the President of the United States. This means that George Washington quoted the Bible and wrote this prayer “on government time at taxpayers’ expense, and he delivered it in his official capacity as president.”
If George Washington were alive today and had used government time and taxpayer money to write and send that letter, the Supreme Court probably would decide his action was unconstitutional and Congress probably would vote to impeach him.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary