A Pertinent Christian Symbol
for the Artist

Christian symbols are used throughout the Bible – plants, animals, birds and objects are used as powerful images to embody desirable and wicked characteristics, as well as to teach us wise lessons.

First Fruit
Oil on Linen
Sara Joseph

First Fruit, OIl on Linen, Sara Joseph

Symbolism is not unique to the Bible; its liberal use is evident in all sorts of ancient literature.

However, there is something that is completely unique to the Bible. Although written by 40 authors over hundreds of years, the use of each Christian symbol is consistent in imagery and intent.

Similar to the use of the colors in the Bible, each Christian symbol is used deliberately and with precision.

This is yet another quietly persuasive proof of a divine author. He used the human agency of multiple, unlikely authors, through whom He teaches timeless truths, to anyone who is willing to plumb the depths of His book – the Bible.

Steadfast,
Pen, Ink and Watercolor
Sara Joseph

Steadfast, Pen, Ink and Watercolor, Sara Joseph

As I was praying about how to approach goal setting for the year, the Lord led me to this christian symbol of the fig tree, its varying seasons of growth, and its fruit.  I hope that ideas presented here can help other Christian artists, or anyone who will pay close attention to the lessons of this intriguing Christian symbol. I treasure the accompanying promises, which will form the cornerstone of any goals that I set.

I am not terribly precise when setting goals for a year. Instead, I think in terms of over arching principles, ideas that I would like to appropriate for myself for the upcoming year. I rarely set goals of accomplishing a specific number of pieces of art before the year is over, as some artists do. The symbol of the fig tree encourages me to think instead of God's role and participation in the goals I set for myself.

The fig tree has precise seasons; a season to be planted, tended, and pruned, followed by a season to blossom and to finally bear rich, sweet fruit. With this Christian symbol, there is a certain timeliness expressed in its every aspect, from its origin as well as its growth.

In the Old Testament, the symbol of the fig tree was used frequently as representative of provision and care of each Israelite, by a covenant keeping God.

" And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon." 1Kings 4:25 KJV

Underlying the text is the implication that to profit from this Christian symbol, close attention was required. Tend the fig tree with diligence, and it produced fruit. Neglect it and either miss out on the harvest, or even worse, end up with unpalatable fruit!

They had to respect and honor the Provider of the fig tree, as much as they had to respect the potential of the tree.

When they honored God, the land enjoyed peace and the trees yielded fruit. When they dishonored God, they frustrated His intent of abundant provision for them. The best expression of honoring God in the Old Testament was obeying Him, as a result of an acute awareness of His covenant.

Joy and satisfaction were associated with honoring God, as indicated in the verse below.

"The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, [even] all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men." Joel 2:22 KJV

And of course, Satan always offers a cheap counterfeit, usually while pressing in  with difficult, natural circumstances.

His offer is usually to ignore God completely, and take instead some easy provision that he will readily supply. In the case of the Israelites, they were faced with the potential of starvation and an endless siege, when the King of Assyria made the following offer:

"..for thus saith the king of Assyria, make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and [then] eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern:" 2 Kings 18:31KJV

Of course, it was more challenging to trust God and far easier to agree to covenant with the king of Assyria. The offer of joining the enemy is an offer that is still presented to Christians today.

But why should this be relevant to you as an artist?

I learned that in the Babylonian exile, (which happened not because of the failure of a covenant keeping God, but because of the disobedience of the people) the first wave of exiles that were marched into the city, were the princes, and those who had creative ability and skill – the carpenters, craftsmen, the artisans, smiths, engravers… They were obviously prized by the captors for their usefulness to culture and society!

Jeremiah had a prophetic vision years earlier, of a basket of ripe and unripe figs before the temple of God. The ripe figs were a symbol of those taken captive to Babylon. Though the circumstances were trying, God promised Jeremiah that He would watch over them.

Then He made this wonderful promise for them, despite their prior disobedience in Jeremiah 24:7

"And I will give them a heart to know me, that I [am] the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.

These elite Israelites were promised blessing in the land of their captivity, as well as prosperity, like ripe, sweet figs!

In the New Testament, Jesus expressed his frustration with the fig tree that had not produced fruit, although in its outward appearance it was full and verdant.

"And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever." Mat 21:19 KJV

" A certain [man] had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?"Luke 13:6,7KJV

The importance of the Christian symbol of the fig tree is summarized in this pithy proverb.

"Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honoured."Pr 27:18

As Christian artists, we have been blessed with varying abilities and skill. Some of us are saplings while others are mature trees. The final fruit will reflect our careful tending, or our callous neglect.

Here are the powerful lessons of the fig tree for me. In a way, they form the basis for any goals that I set.

• I will nurture the soil that I am planted in,
by paying close attention to feeding on the Word of God daily.

• I will guard against weeds
that may tend to usurp nutrition intended for me.

• I will trust the Holy Spirit to alert me to any weeds,
in my thoughts or actions. I will trust His power
to enable me to pull them out promptly, before they take root.

• I will be sensitive to light, as it is provided for me
by my Master. I will yield to that light,
straining after it and growing in response to it.

• I will submit to the pruning of anything
that my Master considers unnecessary,
or detrimental to my productivity.

• I will wait on my Master in faith,
eagerly expecting the promised fruit,
and will not waiver, or be double minded.

From a practical standpoint, remember that your creativity only flourishes if you lavish time and attention upon it. Learn your lesson from the promise in Pr 27:18 of the fig tree.

Purpose to spend more time than ever, faithfully nurturing your gift. Do it in faith, fully expecting the promise to be true for you – that you will eat the sweet fruit.

Never forget that all productivity and increase is only because of your Master, who deserves the highest honor - always.

So wait in His presence and wait for His leading. Never wander away, it is simply not worth it.

Let the Christian symbol of the fig tree remind you that there is a day of harvest. May your harvest be sweet.

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