“But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over the trees?’” (Judges 9:9).
The Old Testament prophet Gideon led the Israelites in victory over their enemies, providing God’s people with four decades of peace and prosperity.
But when Gideon died in his old age, one of his sons, Abimelech, hatched a scheme to seize control of the nation. Abimelech conspired with the men of Shechem to assassinate his seventy brothers so he could usurp the throne and exercise tyranny over the people.
Only one of the brothers, whose name was Jotham, evaded the attempted fratricide. Jotham later offered the following fable, often called the Parable of the Thornbush, condemning his countrymen for their inaction which enabled the bloody coup d’etat:
The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?’
Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?’
Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?’
Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’ (Judges 9:8-15).
Jotham’s fable explains what happens when God-fearing people are so busy with their own lives that they neglect their responsibility to provide prophetic leadership in politics and culture. Because the righteous trees failed to enter the fray and get involved, a thornbush takes control, even though the thornbush can’t provide the conditions, like shade, that will allow the forest to flourish.
Notice that all the righteous trees are busy doing good things, serving both God and men. Nothing is wrong with the olive tree producing oil or with the fig tree bearing fruit. In fact, these are good and noble pursuits, much like when we focus our attention on our families, our churches, and our vocations.
The problem comes about when our involvement in good things leads us to overlook political and cultural matters. The hardworking trees were so busy with other good things that they failed to get involved in politics when the hour demanded it. Regrettably, their negligence created a vacuum that allowed a tyrant to rise to power.
Political commentators have long observed that when liberals are out protesting, conservatives are at work providing for their families. Obviously, we shouldn’t fail to look after the other responsibilities God has given us in the spheres of family, work, church, and elsewhere. But our nation is burning down! And Christians oftentimes stay so singularly focused on their private affairs that they neglect to fulfill their God-given mission to exert a godly influence in politics and culture.
Now more than ever, we need Christian men and women studying the truth and turning their knowledge into action. This is the only way we will preserve liberty and our cultural values for the next generation.
PRAYER. Good God, we recognize that the sad state of our government and culture today is the result of Christians failing to take a stand and bring the principles of Scripture to bear on all of life. Forgive us. Please send us opportunities to get involved so we can redeem these spheres for your glory. In the name of King Jesus we pray, amen.