corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Judges 9



Verse 8


‘The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.’

Judges 9:8

I. From the answer of the olive tree we learn that usefulness is better than honour.—Usefulness, if it be of the higher kind, is attained through long growing and long striving. But when it is attained, when there is a normal regulated usefulness flowing steadily out of a man’s life, when he serves God and man where he is and by what he is, the offer of promotion ought to carry with it some very strong and clear enforcements to induce him to think of acceptance.

II. Notice, next, the answer of the fig tree.—Sweetness is the one quality which the fig tree felt that it possessed. There is in some human souls a sweetness which imparts a fig tree flavour to the whole life. When you meet one who possesses this gift moving about among rough ways and persons, consider that you see something far more than merely pleasant, something of exceeding value to the world.

III. The vine can do only one thing—it can bear clusters of grapes.—But that one thing is of force and value enough to keep the vine steady under temptation. ‘Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?’ As there are some human lives with sweetness in them as their main element, so there are some with this brighter, racier quality, which ‘cheers’ and animates the spirits of others. Be a vine if you can be nothing more; distil and distribute the wine of life.

IV. Society, in all its sections, is full of bramble men, who are striving for every sort of personal elevation and advantage.—By the picture in this parable I want you to scorn the principles they act upon, and to know that, by God’s grace, you stand on a moral elevation far above them.


(1) ‘The true political lesson of Jotham’s parable is surely this:—that the highest places in the State should be given only to the best men; that the bramble should never be permitted to usurp the place of the olive or the vine, and that the vine and the olive should not shrink from the duties which their very sweetness and fatness impose upon them. When men of noble character, and great parts, and refined culture withdraw from public life—as, for instance, we are told they do in America—and leave the administration of public affairs to the ignorant and greedy and unscrupulous; or when, as often happens in England, men who are worthless as brambles, simply because they have a long purse or a long pedigree (and brambles are at least as old as the Curse), are thrust into seats of honour and responsibility—then we may predict, with Jotham, that a fire will break forth from them in which much that we love will be consumed. If Gideon will not rule, and Abimelech will; or if we are base enough to prefer a base Abimelech before a noble Gideon, we may be very sure that evil will come of it, and not good: we shall not gather grapes off briars, nor figs off thistles: we may confidently look for thorns and flames in lieu of wine and honey.’

(2) ‘The fable requires little explanation. It was meant to be, and it is, self-interpreting. We see, too, that it is a felicitous condensation or the principle which regulates the acceptance of many of the high honours and rewards of life. It will not do for every one to say with the fig tree, “Should I forsake my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?” It is important to recognise on the one hand, that we cannot decline all honour, and ought not to shrink from advancement in life; and on the other hand, we must recognise that it may be humility, but it may also be selfish love of ease, which prompts us to say, “Should I leave my fatness and my sweetness, and go to be promoted over the trees?”’

(3) ‘It is the peculiar and strong temptation of the wise and happy, of men of culture and refinement, to pursue their own clear, lofty aims, and leave the world around them to take its own way. All who have stood on the Mount of Vision and Contemplation are disposed to abide there, and to leave the publicans and harlots and demoniacs below to get on as best they can.’


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Judges 9:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology