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The Sycamine Tree
by Susan Budensiek
9/02/2017 / Christian Living
After a long time of trying to determine exactly which tree was being talked about before digging into any particular spiritual significance for its use in the mustard seed passages, I have come to the conclusion that despite the different names for the tree used in various translations of the Bible, they are the same kind of tree.
The sycamine tree of Palestine belongs to the fig tree family and is very similar in appearance to the mulberry fig. Even the fruit of the two trees is identical looking, but the taste of the fruit is the distinguishing factor. The mulberry fig fruit is very sweet as well as very expensive, well beyond the means of the multitudes of poor people. However, the plentiful, therefore cheap, very bitter sycamine fig, eaten by the poor folks, has some characteristics that make it a good metaphor for teaching biblical concepts.
The apostles were getting a lesson on forgiveness in Luke 17 and realized that forgiving someone seven times in one day, etc. as Jesus was teaching them, required more faith than they thought they had and asked Jesus to increase their faith. It is at this point that He brings up the sycamine fig tree in relation to forgiveness.
The fruit of the sycamine fig is so extremely bitter that it can’t be eaten all at one sitting. The person who ate a sycamine fig had to take a nibble, wait for a while, and then take another small bite. This is likely why Yeshua chose it for this lesson, since forgiveness is challenging enough as it is, but seven times in one day is a very bitter pill to swallow – or should I say, a very bitter fig to nibble on?
The sycamine tree grew very quickly to a height of thirty feet or more and was known to have one of the deepest root structures of all trees in the Middle East. Because its roots went down so deep into the earth, it would draw from underground sources of water making it very difficult to kill because it would keep resurfacing, even when cutting it off at its base. This makes it a perfect choice to explain how bitterness and unforgiveness grow so quickly and how deeply rooted in the human heart they can be.
Similarities of the sycamine fig and bitterness and unforgiveness:
Both must be dealt with clear to the roots or they will keep springing up again and again.
The sycamine tree grows quickly where water is scarce just as does bitterness and unforgiveness grow quickly in
spiritually dry conditions where negative emotions thrive. People who have rejected the “rain” of God’s Word
become bitter and unforgiving, chewing on their bitter feelings, like the bitter sycamine fig fruit, for a long
time, and returning to nibble another small bite of bitter fruit over and over again.
The poor, who ate the bitter fruit so slowly, are like those who bitterly meditate on all of the wrongs they have
Those deep roots of the sycamine fig tree resemble those roots of bitterness and unforgiveness that lie hidden
deep in a person’s heart that are so hard to kill. The longer the roots grow deeper for more water, the harder the tree (bitterness of heart) is to destroy. For this reason we are warned in Hebrews 12:15.
I found it interesting to compare these different translations of that verse…
Hebrews 12:15 (KJV)
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
Hebrews 12:15 (Complete Jewish Bible)
See to it that no one misses out on God's grace, that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and thus contaminates many,
Hebrews 12:15 (Aramaic English New Testament)
And be careful or else any be found among you destitute of the grace of Elohim; or else some root of bitterness shoot forth germs and trouble you, and thereby many be defiled:
One other interesting thing I found about the sycamine tree is that it is not naturally pollinated. Pollination only took place when a wasp stuck its stinger right into the heart of the fruit. The tree and its fruit had to be “stung” in order to be reproduced. That reminded me of the phrase being “stung” by someone as a bitter remark for having had a bad experience dealing with another.
I also looked into the mustard seed possibly being a different plant than I am familiar with, which is a small plant eaten like spinach and the seed is a yellowish little round seed that is used in making pickles. There are several different species of mustard and I did find one that grows to be a tree, but the point seems to be more comparison from tiny seed, although not literally the tiniest on earth, to huge plant or tree. Jesus used the mustard seed in illustrations in the style of proverbs to illustrate the point that a great amount of faith is not needed to deal with bitterness and unforgiveness, and that he was not speaking in a scientifically accurate sense.
I was raised in church but always felt like I was missing something. Now the Word of God excites me! My curiosity enhances pursuance of discernment. I have often felt discouraged, but not totally defeated knowing that in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
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Read more articles by Susan Budensiek
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