Last summer I was given a small fig tree to grow in a container in my backyard. I hadn’t realized that such a gardening feat was even possible until I saw a fig tree with ripening figs, growing in a container on a friend’s small wooden deck. I knew then that I wanted one for my back yard, too. Watching an exotic tree grow would be fascinating, I thought, and if all went well, in time I might have the satisfaction of eating a couple of my own home-grown figs.
There were no visible changes in my little fig tree before it shed its few leaves and went dormant for the winter. With the coming of spring, my fig tree suddenly came to life! First there were barely-discernable tiny green bumps on the two stems, signs of fruit to come; then leaves began to sprout. No visible flowers, though. The tiny, green flowers produced by a fig tree grow inside a receptacle called a syncomium, which eventually becomes the fig.
As I watched the transformation unfolding before my eyes, I was reminded of Jesus’ response to his disciples who wanted to know when the prophesied destruction of the Jerusalem Templewould take place: “[L]earn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near, ” he had said to them (Mark 13:28).
My Fig Tree As It Begins to Grow Fruit and Leaves in the Spring
As I thought about this, other occurrences of fig trees in the Bible, both literal and figurative, came to mind. The first mention of a fig tree comes in the third chapter of Genesis in the story of ‘the Fall’.
The Garden of Eden must have been indescribably beautiful: “the LORD GOD made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Ge 2:9). Only two trees in the garden are named: the tree of life standing in the very middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:9). Out of all the trees in the garden, only one was ‘off limits’ to Adam and Eve: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they were to eat of it, God warned them, they would die (2:17).
Nevertheless, our first ancestors, seduced by the lies of the crafty serpent, did eat the fruit (3:6). (What kind of fruit it was, we don’t know, but it probably wasn’t an apple.) Instead of finding themselves clothed in fine white linen like gods, Adam and Eve discovered that they were stark naked, and so they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves up before running off to hide from God among the trees (3:7-8).
Growing up on the prairies and thus having no idea what a fig tree looked like, I had envisioned Adam and Eve frantically stitching together leaves about the size of arugula to make some sort of covering. Their leafy creations have been translated variously by Bible translators: aprons (KJV), loincloths (ESV), loin coverings (NASB), and coverings (NIV). Knowing now just how big fig leaves get to be, even on a tree as small as mine, I think they were able to put something together quite quickly.
My Fig Tree at the Time of Writing This Blog
The primordial pair chose what was no doubt one of the largest leaves among the trees in the garden The suggestive shape of the leaf may have had something to do with their choice as well! Medieval artists seem to have thought so. Adam and Eve and their fig leaves were depicted frequently in medieval art.
A Painting of Adam and Eve by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) (Public Domain)
Making coverings from fig leaves was an act of desperation by the primordial couple, experiencing shame and fear for the first time. Sin had entered the picture, ending their intimate relationship with God. Yet, even before God drove them out of the garden, He announced His plan to restore that relationship. He cursed the serpent and declared war on him: “…I will put enmity / Between you and the woman, / And between your seed and her seed; / He shall bruise you on the head, / And you shall bruise him on the heel” (3:15). Christians believe that the “seed of the woman” is a reference to Jesus and, thus, this passage has come to be known as the Protoevangelium, the ‘first gospel’. The good news: the estrangement between God and humans will not be permanent.