The items of significance for Monday are a picture of how pleasant life can be when we follow the Lord, and what terrible things happen when we don’t. To read details of Jesus’ activities during the week, see our 2013 series Easter and Holy Week articles.
Discovering the details of what took place in first century AD, brought a new dimension to the meaning of something simple like a fig tree I didn’t expect to learn about while studying Holy Week!
The details of the thieves also reminded me of my uncle. Butch Cassidy. He too, hid in mountainous caves after terrorizing people by robbing them. One thing is certain. Some things never change!
1 Kings 4:25 “So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.”
Zechariah 3:10 “In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, Shall ye call every man his neighbour Under the vine and under the fig tree.”
Just as the imagery above couldn’t be more different, so are the circumstances we find with the fig tree. The fig tree has played a significant biblical role with the first mention being found in Genesis 3:7, when Adam and Eve are frantically trying to hide their sin by sewing fig leaves together –
Genesis 3:7 “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”
The fig tree is a symbolic picture of the spiritual health of Israel. When they dry up and die, we can know for sure God isn’t pleased with Israel’s behavior. When they flourish, it means Israel was in obedience with His will, and serves as a picture of safety, peace, and prosperity.
Sitting under the leaves of your own fig tree denotes safety, which means God has richly blessed you! The best scenario is for a family’s trust to have plenty of land with a bounty of fig trees. If a man had many healthy fig trees, it was a sign of hard work, and blessings from God.
One can only imagine God’s displeasure when He found Adam and Eve using it to hide their sin…
Matthew 21:12-13 “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
Two types of thieves are mentioned in the Bible. The first group is made of the less violent type who robbed from the poor for self gain, much like the temple priests seen in Jesus’ confrontation.
The phrase ‘den of thieves’ is referring to the nonviolent group, originally found in Jeremiah 7:11 when the prophet chastised priests for robbing the poor, and carrying on as if nothing happened. On the eve of the fall of Jerusalem, we read how temple priests felt they were in the shadows of safety while robbing the poor. Six hundred years later, we see in scripture where Jesus called them out for their wretched behavior, just as Jeremiah had done previously.
The other is type of thief is seen in the story of the Good Samaritan who almost lost his life. Although Jesus used this as a parable, it was an everyday real life occurrence for residents of Palestine, in which everyone could relate. The brutality that bandits imposed on people had become increasingly more violent over time, and each new Roman administration seemed to breed a new level of savagery. It wasn’t uncommon for groups of bandits to find shelter in many of the caves throughout the Judean region.
Notably, by the 30’s to 40’s of the first century AD, groups of bandits roamed the region, making it quite dangerous to travel. No one was exempt from the tirades of their shenanigans. From the Good Samaritan, to the wealthy, if they had locked their sites on you, there’d be a price to pay.
The American Bible Society has an excellent article on first century Palestine experiencing everything from highway piracy, to guerilla warfare. It’s well worth the read!