The Parable of the Olive Tree, and God’s Unbroken Covenant with the Jewish People

olive tree

By Jesse ben Yosef.

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Introduction

The common understanding today in both Christian and Messianic circles is that “the gentiles,” or those who have no link to Abrahamic lineage or bloodline, are part of a religious entity that has been dubbed through the ages as “the church.” This belief is based upon an inaccurate understanding of Paul’s message of the Olive Tree in Romans 11, leading to a false conclusion to question of where “the gentiles” fit into the Kingdom of God. A Scriptural study will be given here, in order to understand what the Apostle Paul was really talking about in Romans 11. Further on in the study, I will examine what the ramifications of this study actually mean in terms of real-life application.

The parable of the Olive Tree begins in Romans 11:11, “I ask then, did they stumble that they might fall? May it never be! But by their fall salvation has come to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy.”

The first order of business is to accurately define terms. The common understanding here is that the “they” Paul is speaking about here is the Jews who fell so that salvation could come to the nations. In fact, it is a fairly accurate statement to say that this thesis is the “plum line” of nearly all Christian theology: that through the transgression of the Jewish people, God revealed Himself to the gentiles. In one sense, this thought concept is close to the truth; and in another sense, it is the furthest thing from the truth imaginable.

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A Short History

Before further examining the parable of the Olive Tree, it is important to know the history surrounding the two kingdoms of Israel. After the reign of King Solomon, around 922 B.C., the twelve tribes of the Kingdom of Israel were split into two separate nations: the southern kingdom, made up of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, and the northern kingdom, made up of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, and Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim). The southern kingdom became known as Judah, while the northern kingdom historically retained the name Israel, and is referred to in prophetic texts as Joseph and Ephraim.

During the course of events, both kingdoms disobeyed the commandments that God had given them, resulting in- as Deuteronomy 28-30 prophesied- both kingdoms of Israel going into captivity to foreign nations. The House of Joseph went into captivity to the Assyrians around 722 BC, (2 Kings 17:6) while the House of Judah went into captivity to the Babylonians a bit later, around 608 B.C., (2 Kings 25:21) culminating with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. These captivities were a direct result of their disobedience to the commandments and precepts of God.

From Biblical and historical reference, we know definitively that the Southern Kingdom of Judah was brought back from exile during the first year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia. (Ezra 1:1-4, 2 Chronicles 36:22-23) The people had begun to return to the land in 538 B.C., exactly 70 years after Judah was sent into captivity. This 70 years of Babylonian captivity, followed by the punishment of Babylon, took place to fulfill the prophesy spoken by God in Jeremiah 29:10, “After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.” The southern kingdom, Judah, eventually became known as “the Jews,” as they are known to this very day. In fact, even the modern nation of Israel would rightly be called the reestablishment of the southern kingdom of Judah.

Ezra 1:5 recounts the return of the tribes of the South, “Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up rose up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.” It must be noted here that only two tribes of the children of Israel ever returned from captivity. Yet the promises of God were not made exclusively to the two tribes and Levi, but to all of tribes of the children of Israel, at a time when Judah and Joseph were unified as one kingdom under the leadership of Moses. This is not by any means to downplay the promises that God made to the Jewish nation- rather, it is to put in perspective that these same promises were made to the House of Joseph as well.

Now unlike the exile of the House of Judah, which was temporarily put away as a form of punishment, and brought back only seventy years later, the House of Joseph was full-out divorced for their disobedience to God- just as the Torah prophesied they would be.

Jeremiah 3:1-2, 8 records the giving of the bill of divorce; “They say, ‘If a man puts away his wife, and she goes from him, and become another man’s, will he return to her again? Would not that land be greatly polluted?’ But you have played the prostitute with many lovers; yet return again to Me,” says the LORD. “Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been lain with? You have sat for them by the ways, as an Arabian in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your prostitution and with your wickedness… I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorce…” Likewise, Hosea 2:2-3 records the divorce: “Contend with your mother! Contend, for she is not My wife, neither am I her husband; and let her put away her prostitution from her face, and her adulteries from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked, and make her bare as in the day that she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and kill her with thirst.”

Let there be no doubt about it- the tragedy which befell the House of Joseph, unlike the House of Judah, was beyond simply being sent into exile, but was an outright divorce from their God and their Maker. Yet despite all of this, it is essential to understand, unlike the northern House of Joseph, the southern House of Judah- that is, the Jews- have never been out of covenant with God. Acknowledging this one simple fact will revolutionize the way the “New Testament” is read.Remember this well, because it will come up later in the study. Hence, when the authors of the Apostolic Writings write of any group that was “fallen,” had been “cast off,” or was considered to be “far off,” it is only logical to conclude that they were speaking in reference to the portion of Israel that actually was “fallen,” “cast off,” and “far off,” that is, the northern ten tribes of Israel whom God had promised to bring back.

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The Broken Olive Branches of Romans 11

With this understanding in mind, let’s revisit Romans 11:11: “I ask then, did they stumble that they might fall? May it never be! But by their fall salvation has come to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy.”

Remember, the House of Judah has never fallen out of covenant with God, so this passage cannot be discussing the Jewish people. It was through the casting off of the House of Joseph, and their subsequent scattering to the nations, that salvation was to come to all the nations of the world, to which the House of Joseph had been scattered.

Romans 11:12 continues, “Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the nations; how much more their fullness?”

When the House of Joseph fell, it became the riches of the world, because the people group whom God had indiscriminately blessed with the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been scattered to every nation of the world. If their fall was so great, how much greater will their coming home be?

Romans 11:13-15 continues, “For I speak to you who are of the nations. Since then as I am an apostle to the nations, I glorify my ministry; if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh, and may save some of them. For if the rejection of them is the reconciling of the world, what would their acceptance be, but life from the dead?”

Paul notes here that, in this specific context, he is speaking to those of the nations; not the House of Joseph specifically, but those of the nations, that is, those who have no link to Israel’s lineage or bloodline. He is speaking to true gentiles about the blessings they received from the casting off of the House of Joseph, and the blessings they will receive during the restoration of the House of Joseph.

Romans 11:16-21, “If the first fruit is holy, so is the lump. If the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them, and became partaker with them of the root and of the richness of the olive tree; do not boast over the branches. But if you boast, it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.’ True; by their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”

Paul now begins his discussion of the broken branches of the olive tree. It should come as no surprise to see that the House of Joseph is described as a broken olive branch in the writings of the prophets; Jeremiah 11:16, for instance, states, “The LORD called your name, a green olive tree, beautiful with goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are broken.” Paul is reiterating his previous point, that the casting off of the House of Joseph was a tremendous blessing to those who were not native born to either Judah or Joseph. In emphasizing how fortunate they are that the House of Joseph, that is, the broken olive branch, was scattered to them, he also warned them very strongly, that if God was not willing to spare the House of Joseph, being the natural olive branch, for their disobedience to His commandments, then certainly He would not be willing to spare them in similar circumstances. Remember, it was not the Jewish people who were the broken olive branches, but rather the House of Joseph.

Romans 11:22-24, “See then the goodness and severity of God. Toward those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness; otherwise you also will be cut off. They also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more will these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”

God, in an act of sheer brilliance, used the punishment of the House of Joseph to confirm His promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham’s seed; for it is through the rejection of the House of Joseph that God could spread out His holy people across the whole earth. If their rejection was such a blessing to these nations, then just imagine how much more spectacular their redemption will be! The nations, having been the recipients of the House of Joseph, also became the recipient the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 22:18, that in his seed all of the nations of the world would be blessed.

Romans 11:25-26, “For I do not desire you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, so that you will not be wise in your own conceits, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the nations has come in, and so all Israel will be saved. Even as it is written, ‘There will come out of Zion the Deliverer, and he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘This is My covenant to them, when I will take away their sins.’”

The phrase Paul uses here, the “fullness of nations,” is the same phrase used in Genesis 48:19 as a prophesy of the House of Joseph, fulfilled through Ephraim. Paul ties the “fullness of the nations” directly to the salvation of all Israel- not just the House of Judah, but the House of Joseph as well. Notice that Paul goes on to quote Isaiah 59:20-21, Isaiah 27:9, and alludes to Jeremiah 31:33-34, all of which had to do with the renewal of the covenant with Israel. This phrase, “fullness of the nations,” was used in the Torah exclusively in the context of the children of Joseph through Ephraim; hence, it is not a prophecy which applies in any capacity to the Jewish people today.

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The Inclusion of “Gentiles”

So where do true, honest-to-goodness “gentiles” fit into the big picture? Israel- the Houses of Judah and Joseph- is God’s chosen people. Equally important to this is the fact that the invitation for true “gentiles” to enter into this Kingdom has always been present, even before Yeshua’s death and resurrection. Yet it is through the door of the House of Joseph that those of the other nations will enter the Kingdom of God on a global scale. This is confirmed in Isaiah 49:6, a prophecy describing the purpose of the Messiah; “It is too light a thing that You (Yeshua) should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give You for a light to the nations, that You may be My salvation to the end of the earth.”

Aside from providing visibility in darkness, the purpose of a light shining in the darkness is to draw those who see it inward toward a common point. This common point is the household of faith, i.e. the Kingdom of Israel, with which (and among whom) nations were always welcome to sojourn. Hence the nation of Israel, from the very beginning, was called to be a priesthood to the nations, a light in the darkness. See Exodus 19:5-6, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice, and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”

God has never made it His plan to “play favorites” in terms of personal righteousness. An individual who was not native born has always been welcome to sojourn among God’s people- all that God has ever required is obedience to His commandments and precepts and a heart to love Him! Leviticus 19:33-34 specifically states, “If a stranger lives as a foreigner with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

There is no way, in any of these examples of the Scriptures, that one can propagate the notion that the “gentiles” are part of a “Church age” or a “dispensation of grace” that will someday be followed up by the turning of God’s attention back to Israel. Since the beginning, God’s attention has always been upon the House of Judah, i.e. the Jewish people, and upon the House of Joseph, still scattered throughout the world. Although there are two aspects, i.e. the redemption of the Lost Sheep of Israel and the light being shown to the Gentiles, the event itself is one, with Yeshua the Messiah as the catalyst to it all. So while the covenant was made with one people, and one people only- the Unified Kingdom of Israel- the redemption of Joseph and the ratification of this covenant includes an invitation, the “Gospel Message,” that has been spread out to all the peoples of the world: to sojourn with the people of God, and to be joint heirs with His covenant people, and part of His nation, by keeping His commands.

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Vindicating the House of Judah

Now that it has been sufficiently established that Yeshua’s mission was to raise up the House of Joseph, and in doing so, to also be a light to all nations, it is important to take the next logical step, and make an honest assessment of what this means for the Jewish people.

Yeshua stated specifically in Matthew 15:24 that he “…was not sent to anyone but the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” that is, the House of Joseph. He also said in Matthew 9:12, indicating his attitude toward the Jewish people, that “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do… for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” So although what I am about to say sounds heretical, please understand that it is the only logical conclusion to what the Scriptures have already plainly stated. Considering that the House of Judah has never been out of covenant with God, and considering what it was that Yeshua came for, it is only logical to conclude that the House of Judah was not in need of the Messiah at the time of Yeshua’s coming.

Simply put, Yeshua didn’t come for the Jews. Despite the tragedy that Christian theology has painted for the last seventeen hundred years, the fact that the Jews reject Yeshua is virtually meaningless in terms of real-life application. The concept of “missionizing” the Jews quickly becomes a moot point, as nowhere within the pages of the Scriptures can evidence be found that the Jewish people have ever been cast off from God. There is simply nothing to missionize. For the observant Jew, doing all things that the Father has ordained from the very beginning, I would suggest that they are on the right track.

On one hand, I am not suggesting that the religion of Judaism is right in all that it practices; but on the other hand, I cannot logically read the Scriptures, see that they prophesy a specific chain of events, and insert “the rejection of the Jews” as one of those events, when such a thing is never described in neither the Old nor the New Testaments.

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Conclusion

In the introduction to this study, I made the statement that one of the main tenants of traditional Christian theology is that “through the transgression of the Jewish people, God revealed Himself to the gentiles.” I further stated that “In one sense, this thought concept is close to the truth; and in another sense, it is the furthest thing from the truth imaginable.” Allow me to now explain what I mean by this.

In one sense, the previous statement is close to the truth; yet it is not through the transgression of the Jewish people that God revealed Himself to the nations, but rather through the transgression of the House of Joseph. The concept embedded within Christian theology is somewhat accurate, but the timing and application is terribly “off.” Rather than applying this concept to the Jewish rejection of the Messiah in the first century A.D., it should be understood that salvation was in the process of being spread to the nations some seven hundred years prior with the casting off of the House of Joseph.

In another sense, the previous statement is one of the furthest things from the truth imaginable. A direct consequence of this false teaching has been, for the last seventeen hundred years, the direct (or indirect) persecution of the Jewish people. This is an absolute tragedy, because one of Yeshua’s missions was to break down the wall separating the House of Judah and the House of Joseph, causing the two to come together as “one new man.” (Ephesians 2:15)

Let me reiterate again: I am not suggesting that the religion of Judaism is right in all that it practices; and yet I cannot say that it is my place to cast judgment on a people group whom God has never broken His covenant relationship with, or to criticize them for rejecting the Messiah who openly stated He did not come for them.

Much truth can be learned from the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32. Although the Father rejoiced at the return of the younger brother, His attitude toward the older brother reflects His relationship with the Jewish people: “Son, you are always with Me, and all that I have is yours.”

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4 Comments

  1. Marcus

    Shalom. As I process what I’ve read here, I am cautiously excited. This article both answers and creates new questions. Thank you for your diligence in searching the Scriptures, and presenting what you’ve discovered.
    Shalom

  2. Kim

    How do u explain the scattering of the Jews to all the nations, the diaspora, if they had not broken covenant with God ?

    • Jesse ben Yosef

      As per Deuteronomy 28-30, the scattering of the Jewish people was not necessarily a sign of having broken the covenant, as much as it was a symptom of punishment for disobedience to the covenant itself. And certainly, there were some things that went on in the first century which were not necessarily “kosher.” But I don’t think this means that the covenant was broken- after all, the Father is bringing them back to their land today, and has been doing so since 1948.

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