olive tree orchard

An olive tree orchard in Israel today!

I wish I liked olives, but I don’t. Bummer! Olives are served virtually at every meal in Israel. This means that for those who enjoy eating olives, you can eat as many as you like!  But I’m sorry to say that I just don’t like them.

I actually remember a back-packing trip I took in the Sinai Desert. This trip took place in January, 1982 (before the Israelis gave back half of the Sinai to Egypt in June that same year) while I was a student in Jerusalem. This was a trip involving only two of us. Prior to going, Karl (a fellow student) and I pre-packed our food for this week of hiking 100 miles up the coastline of the Sinai. We took along with us a bunch of hard-boiled eggs, peanut-butter sandwiches, apples, oranges, Oreo cookies (for desert), and olives. Now Karl loved olives, but I did not. So by day 3 of our “very isolated” journey, I ended up trading my olives for his Oreo cookies. I actually thought it was a good deal.

Olive trees are mentioned frequently in the Bible. In fact, olive trees, olive oil, and olive presses were in great abundance during the days of the Bible in Israel. Olive trees were part of the land the Israelites inherited. Deuteronomy 8 describes it this way: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you (Deuteronomy 8:7-10).”

Ancient olive press in Israel

An olive press as used in biblical days

Olive oil in biblical days was used in various ways. The best oil was reserved for the sacred use anointing as well as use in the Temple. Olive oil was extracted by the use of an oil press. According to Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, olive oil was considered to be one of the great sources of wealth in the days of King Solomon (cf. I Kings 5:11; II Chronicles 2:10). Solomon gave to Hiram each year in return for services rendered by his men, among other things, twenty thousand baths of oil, one bath being about seven and one-half gallons. The prophets Ezekiel and Hosea make mention of the exporting of oil to other lands (Ezekiel 27:17; Hosea 12:1).

Oil has been used for a great variety of purposes in the Middle East. It largely took the place of butter in eating, and for cooking purposes it was used in place of animal fat. Ezekiel mentions three important items of diet of which oil is one, and flour and honey are the other two (Ezekiel 16:13). And olive oil was used almost exclusively for light in lamps. The most famous example of this is “the ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1).

old olive tree in gethsemane

An old (500- 1,000 years?) olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives, Jerusalem

Also oil is used today in Bible lands in the manufacture of soap, and it is quite likely that it was so used in Bible days. And oil was often used for anointing the body (Ruth 3:3). Then oil was many times used in various religious ceremonies. It formed a part of the meal offering (Leviticus 2:1). The prophet was anointed with oil when he took over his duties (I Kings 19:16). The priest was also anointed with oil when he took over his duties (Leviticus 8:12). And the king was anointed either by a prophet or by the priest (I Samuel 16:13; I Kings 1:34). In New Testament times the sick were anointed for the healing of their bodies (Mark 6:13; James 5:14).

Additionally, an abundance of oil was a sign of prosperity and favor and a lack of oil was one of the many curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:40). Olive trees and their fruit have long since been an agricultural economy as well as a beautiful symbol of peace and provision.

The young olive tree only bears olives after seven years of growth, and it is about fourteen years before the crop reaches its maturity. Harvested usually in September or October in Israel, some twenty gallons of oil are often derived from the olives of one tree. After the olive tree reaches its maturity, its fruitfulness lasts for many years. Some olive trees in Israel are actually close to 1,000 years old!  It lives and bears fruit for centuries.

How olives are harvested is quite interesting. The process of harvesting olives today probably isn’t much different than what harvesting looked like back in biblical days. This short video shows how an olive harvest is done!

The Olive Harvest from SourceFlix.com on Vimeo.

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