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Plants of the Bible: Olive (Olea europaea)

Grown for thousands of years in the Mediterranean region, the common olive is a small evergreen tree and a member of the Oleaceae family that also includes lilacs, jasmine, and forythia.  The trees grow up to 30′ tall and have narrow, leathery leaves up to three inches long with grey-green tops and silvery white undersides. Clusters of tiny fragrant yellowish flowers are produced in summer and are followed by edible, attractive green fruits that ripen to black in the fall if conditions are favorable. Photo Credit Roberta-F-Wikipedia.

The olive was one of the most important and valuable tree of the ancient world.  There are many olive trees in the Holy Land and the Bible has many references to olives, olive trees, oliveyards,  and olive oil. The fruit was eaten ripe or unripe,  the wood was used for fine cabinetry, and the oil was used for many purposes including sacrificial offerings, fuel for lamps, and tonic for the hair and skin, as well as in cooking. Numerous passages in the Bible refer to anointing and this probably involved olive oil.

Genesis 8:11 (NIV) Noah sent out a dove.

“When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.”

Genesis 28:11 (NIV) After fleeing Esau, Jacob sleeps, has a dream of a ladder reaching to heaven.

“Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.”

Exodus 23:11 (NIV) God hands down the Covenant code.

“but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.”

Exodus 27:20  (NIV) God give instructions to Moses concerning the lamps in the tabernacle.

“Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.”

Leviticus 2:1-7 (NIV) God lays down the laws to Moses for the grain offerings.

1. “When anyone brings a grain offering to the LORD, their offering is to be of the finest flour. They are to pour olive oil on it, put incense on it

2. and take it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest shall take a handful of the flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.”

4. “If you bring a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to consist of the finest flour: either thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in or thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with olive oil.

5. If you bring a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to consist of the finest flour: either thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in or thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with olive oil.

6. Crumble it and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering.

7. If your grain offering is cooked in a pan, it is to be made of the finest flour and some olive oil.”

15. “Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering.”

Leviticus 5:11 (NIV)  God instructs Moses regarding the sin offering.

“’If, however, they cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, they are to bring as an offering for their sin a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour for a sin offering. They must not put olive oil or incense on it, because it is a sin offering.”

Leviticus 6:21 (NIV) God instructs Moses regarding the grain offering at the anointing of the priests.

“It must be prepared with oil on a griddle; bring it well-mixed and present the grain offering broken in pieces as an aroma pleasing to the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 6:11 (NIV)  Before the Israelites enter Canaan, Moses reminds them of the riches God has promised them.

“houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied,”

Deuteronomy 7:13 (NIV) Moses reiterates the gifts that God will bestow according to the covenant.

“He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

Deuteronomy 8:8 (NIV) Moses urges the Israelites to obey God’s commandments because of all the blessings that God has given them.

“a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey;”

Deuteronomy 24:20 (NIV) Moses lays out laws for life in the Promised Land.

“When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.”

Deuteronomy 28:40 (NIV) Moses enumerates the hardships of disobeying God.

“You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off.”

Deuteronomy 32:13 Moses describes God’s faithfulness to Israel in the past.

“He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag,”

Deuteronomy 33″24 (NIV) Moses blesses the 12 tribes.

“About Asher he said: “Most blessed of sons is Asher; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him bathe his feet in oil.”

Joshua 24:13 (NIV) Joshua reviews Israel’s history.

“So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

Judges 9:8-9 (NIV) Jotham tells the parable of the trees to rebuke the men of Shechem for their choice of Abimelech as a king.

8. “One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’”

9. “But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’

1 Samuel 8:14 (NIV) Samuel warns the people of Israel about the responsibilities of having a king.

“He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.”

1 Samuel 10:1 (NIV)  Samuel anoints Saul as the new king.

“Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the LORD anointed you ruler over his inheritance?”

Samuel 12 (NIV) Samuel gives  his farewell address.

3. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”

5. “Samuel said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” “He is witness,” they said.”

1 Kings 5:11 (NIV) Solomon repays Hiram faor the timber Hiram gave him.

“and Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, in addition to twenty thousand baths of pressed olive oil. Solomon continued to do this for Hiram year after year.

1 Chronicles 27:28 (NIV) The overseers in King David’s kingdom are enumerated.

“Baal-Hanan the Gedrite was in charge of the olive and sycamore-fig trees in the western foothills. Joash was in charge of the supplies of olive oil”

2 Chronicles 1:10 (NIV) Preparations are made for the building of Solomon’s temple.

“I will give your servants, the woodsmen who cut the timber, twenty thousand cors of ground wheat, twenty thousand cors of barley, twenty thousand baths of wine and twenty thousand baths of olive oil.”

Nehemiah 5:11 (NIV) Nehemiah rebukes the nobles and rulers who had taken advantage of the children of Israel who worked rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem during financially difficult times.

“Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.”

Nehemiah 9:25 (NIV) After the walls of Jerusalem are completed, the children of Israel come together and recall their past sins and God’s help.

“They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.”

Job 15:33 (NIV) Eliphaz groups Job with the wicked who deserve and receive judgment.

“He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms.”

Job 29:6 (NIV) Job recalls his former blessings.

“when my path was drenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil.”

Psalms 23:5 (NIV) David sings the praises of the blessings he has received in the presence of danger.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Psalms 52:8 (NIV) David contemplates the fate of  evil Doeg the Edomite

“But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.”

Psalms 128:3 (NIV) Sung by travelers on their way to Jerusalem probably for one of the yearly feasts, God’s work in and through the family is celebrated.

“Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”

Proverbs 27:9 (NKJV) The saying compare the pleasure of fragrant oil and perfume to the pleasure of friendship.

“Ointment and perfume delight the heart, And the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel.”

Isaiah 1:6 (NIV) God states His case against people of Judah.

“From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness— only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.”

Isaiah 17:6 (NIV) Good speaks of the doom of Damascus and Ephraim.

Yet some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs,” declares the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Isaiah 24:13 (NIV) The scene of God’s judgement is described.

“So will it be on the earth and among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, or as when gleanings are left after the grape harvest.”

Ezekiel 27:17 (NIV) Ezekiel laments the prophesied fall of Tyre.

“’Judah and Israel traded with you [Tyre]; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections, honey, olive oil and balm for your wares.”

Hosea 2 (NIV) God gives his judgment on Israel, personified a a harlot.

5. “Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.’

8. “She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold— which they used for Baal.”

Hosea 12:1 (NIV) The people of Israel are rebuked for trusting in alliances and deals with other nations rather than in God.

“Ephraim feeds on the wind; he pursues the east wind all day and multiplies lies and violence. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt.”

Hosea 14:6 (NIV) God promises to restore a repentant Israel.

“his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.”

Joel 1 :10 (NIV) Joel mourns the destruction by the locusts.

“The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the olive oil fails.”

Joel 2:24 (NIV) Joel looks forward to the restoration of prosperity as God promised to a repentant Israel.

“The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.”

Amos 4:9 (NIV) God describes his chastisement of Israel for turning away from Him.

“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, destroying them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

Mich 6:15 (NIV) In the wake of the  injustice and deceit of Israel, God pronounces his judgment on the greedy and wicked.

“You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.”

Habakkuk 3:17 (NIV) Habakkuk trusts God even in a crisis.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,”

Zechariah 4: (NIV)  Zechariah’s vision of the olive tree and lampstand is told and explained.

3. “Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”

11.  “Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”

12.”Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?””

14. “So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.”

Zechariah 14:4 (NIV) The Lord  will intervene for Jerusalem and the people of Israel when they are besieged by other nations.

“on that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.”

Matthew 6:17 (NIV) Jesus lays down the rules for fasting iin the Sermon on the Mount.

“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,”

Matthew 25 (NIV) The parable of the ten virgins

3. “The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.”

4. “The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”

8. “The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’”

Mark 6:13 (NIV) After rejection by the people in his hometown, Jesus sends out the disciples to preach repentance to them.

“They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

Luke 10:34 (NIV) Jesus teaches with the story of the Good Samaritan.

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

Luke 19:29 (NIV) Careful preparations are made for the entrance into Jerusalem.

“As he [Jesus] approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them,

Luke 21:37 (NIV) Jesus camped out while in Jerusalem.

“Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives,”

Acts 1:12 (NIV) After Jesus ascended into heaven his followers returned to Jerusalem.

“Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.”

Romans 11 (NIV) Paul explains that God has not caste away the people of Israel and that they will be restored.

17. “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,”

24. “After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

James 3:12 (NIV) James discusses the difficulties of controlling what we say.

“My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

James 5:14 (NIV) James urges the elders of the church to help the suffers.

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

Revelation 11:4 (NIV) Recalling the passage in Zaccarah 4 (see above) there will be 2 witness that will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.”

Revelation 18:13 (NIV) The items that will no longer be available when Babylon fall are enumerated.

“cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.”

Olive likes full sun and fertile, moist, well-drained soil in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, but are heat and drought tolerant.   The trees need hot summers and a 2-3 month chill period (below 50 degrees) in winter for optimum production of fruit. They are generally healthy but are susceptible to scale, root rot and verticillium wilt.  Propagation is by cuttings, layering or division; grafting is essential for good fruits.  Growth is slow but trees can live for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, and become broad and gnarled with maturity.   There are many cultivars available that vary in growth characteristics, climate requirements, and appearance of the plant, as well as the quality of the olive oil that can be produced from the fruit. Some cultivars, such as ‘Fruitless’ and ‘Swan Hill’ are grown solely for their ornamental value.

The genus name, Olea, comes from the ancient Greek word ἐλαία, the ancient name of the tree.   The specific epithet, europaea, is the Latinized name for Europe, the native habitat of the tree.