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Olive, Olive Tree

OLIVE, OLIVE TREE (זַ֫יִת, H2339; ἐλαία, G1777). Normally, olive berry or olive tree is zayit and elaia but the good olive trees (Rom 11:24, KJV) are kalliélaios and the bad or wild olive trees (Rom 11:17, 24) are agriélaios.

The first mention is in Genesis 8:11, where the bird brings back to Noah, in her mouth, an olive leaf, and the last mention is in Revelation 11:4, “These are the two olive trees.”

The olive was one of the “blessings” of the Promised Land. The trees there grow on the mountain side where there is not much soil. Heavy crops are produced, and the oil from the fruits is used in cooking. The ripe fruits are, of course, eaten as a relish before or with a meal, while pickles often are made. It was olive oil that was used to anoint kings (2 Kings 9:6) and it was prob. the fuel used for lamps (Num 4:16).

The timber of the trees is finely grained, and has a rich amber color. This may be the reason why this pleasant colored wood was chosen to make the doors and posts of the Temple as well as for the carving of the cherubim.

There is nothing particularly beautiful about an olive tree, yet Hosea 14:6 says: “His beauty shall be like the olive.” The beauty does not lie in the gray-twisting trunk, or in the small dark green leaves with white undersides, or even in the fruits. To the man, however, who is going to pick a heavy crop and so get an abundance of oil, the tree is indeed beautiful.

The olive is, of course, Olea europaea. It is found all over Pal., and particularly so around Bethlehem and Hebron. The oil used by the apostles in Mark 6:13 was undoubtedly olive oil, and the instructions given in James 5:14 about anointing the sick is surely olive oil also. This oil was used to treat wounds and the Good Samaritan used it effectively in Luke 10:34.

The olive grows well by the seaside, and it is said to like the salty air and mists. The Bible suggests (Deut 28:40) that olive trees should be planted around the coasts.

The golden oil produced from the olive (Zech 4:12) is full of goodness. Paul uses the allegory of Jeremiah 11:16 in Romans 11:17—“the Lord called thy name, a green olive tree...of goodly fruit” (KJV). Earlier, David uses the same idea (Ps 52:8) when he refers to himself as an olive tree in God’s house.

Westerners cannot see the olive as beautiful, but in the E where it is difficult to grow evergreens, the olive-gray of the foliage is attractive. An olive will grow where no other trees can. Further, the olive will yield heavily with the minimum of care and culture.

It is possible to produce twenty gallons of oil from one olive tree. When harvesting, the branches are shaken or beaten. The farmers were told to leave a few olives on the topmost boughs for the fatherless, widows, and strangers (Deut 24:20 and Isa 17:6).

The varieties of olive are grafted on to seedlings of the wild olive. It is this to which Paul refers in Romans 11:17 and 18.

Only one olive flower in every hundred produces fruit. It looks like a snowstorm when the petals fall. This is referred to in Job 15:33, where thousands of petals are thrown off as useless by the olive tree.

The Jews were pictured as olive trees, for they were to yield “fruits” where other trees could not grow. They were to have a spiritual role in a world that was merely crying out for kings and pomp (Jer 11:16; Hos 14:6).