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The two olive trees

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

"And if some of the branches were broken off [ekklao], and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker [sugkoinonos] of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, Branches were broken off [ekklao] that I might be grafted in. Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off [ekklao], and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: severity on those who fell; but goodness toward you if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?" (Romans 11:17-24).

The apostle Paul considers that there is two olive trees [elaios], one is called agri-elaios, the natural or wild olive tree, and the other kalli-elaios, the cultivated one. God regarded Israel as a "Green Olive Tree, lovely and of good fruit" (Jeremiah 11:16), that is why Paul also regards Israel as a kalli-elaios, that is to say, literally 'the best olive tree' because its root is holy (Romans 11:16). Indeed, Paul himself Israelite by birth, considered in Romans 9:4-5 that they received:

  • the adoption – they became the children of God (Exodus 4:22),

  • the glory – the Shekinah was with them (Exodus 13:31),

  • the covenants – God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17) and Moses (Exodus 19-24), and He renewed it with the House of Israel (Jeremiah 31:31) through Jesus (Matthew 26:28) to be accessible to the Gentiles,

  • the giving of the Torah – God gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai, and with Jesus the renewed Covenant was established as a Torah (Hebrews 8:6),

  • the service in the Temple – service offered by priests for forgiveness of sins before it is replaced by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Hebrews 10:9-10),

  • the promises – redemption, reconciliation with God, and the coming of the Messiah,

  • the fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob founded the nation of Israel and received promises which where fulfilled in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20),

  • and "from whom, according to the flesh, the Messiah came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen!

The apostle Paul reminds us that "Concerning the election they (the Israelites) are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:28-29).

God's plan for the Gentiles

When we accept the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, God cuts us off from the wild olive tree to graft us on the cultivated olive tree so that we receive all the sap necessary for our development. Paul uses the Greek word sugkoinonos meaning 'to have in common'. So God separates us from the wild olive tree to add us to the cultivated olive tree in order that we may have everything in common with the existing branches, that is everything that Paul spoke of previously. The Greek word koinonos comes from koinonia that means 'communion', 'contribution', 'liberality'. Since we share [koinonos] spiritual resources of the cultivated olive tree, we are also called to exercise our generosity [koinonia] to other branches (Romans 15:26) and therefore take care of the brothers of Jesus, that is the Jews (Matthew 25:31-46).

And if God takes care of us by grafting us on the cultivated olive tree, Israel, it is because His plans vis-à-vis His people have not changed. And we must consider this as coming from God's grace. God does this by grace so that we cannot take pride in it.

The goodness and severity of God

If the goodness of God is exercised in our favour, we must also consider His severity toward the Israelites in order to have compassion of His people. Indeed, it is because some of the branches of the cultivated olive tree were broken off [ekklao] that we have had access to the divine grace. The Greek verb ekklao means 'to break off', 'to burst into crashing'; the Apostle Paul uses this verb to describe the branches which were separated from the cultivated olive tree.

"The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken [shabar], be snared and taken" (Isaiah 8:13-15).

The Hebrew verb shabar is the equivalent of the Greek verb ekklao. In fact, all the Israelites who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah have collided with Him and have been broken, thus being separated from the cultivated olive tree. God is severe toward them because they have rejected the chief Cornerstone of the Sanctuary (Psalm 118:22) although they had everything possible to recognize His Messiah in the person of Jesus. But God is able to graft them in again on their own cultivated olive tree when they accept His Son as their Messiah. And this is what He does with Messianic Jews.

The goodness of God goes together with His severity, for God is Love and His throne is based on righteousness and justice (Psalm 89:14). What God declared in His Word is the basis of His righteousness, and He cannot change. That is why we must remember that the severity of God may also be exercised toward us if we do not remain in His goodness. Indeed, God will judge the Babylonian Church, "I was angry with My people; I have profaned My inheritance, and given them into your hand. You showed them no mercy; on the elderly you laid your yoke very heavily" (Isaiah 47:6). God had desecrated His legacy by scattering them among the nations (Diaspora), but He asked the 'goyim' to have compassion for them because their punishment was severe enough without any censorious attitude from us. Let us then remain in the goodness of God:

"But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever" (Psalm 52:8).

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