The OTHER Verse About Vines and Fig Trees

The Feast of Tabernacles is so close I can taste it.

I’m ready to be there. I’m ready to load up the van and get on the road. I’m ready to hear hundreds of brethren singing their hearts out on opening night. I’m ready to refocus on the hope of a future that serves as the anchor of my soul.

Sometimes, though, I find myself treating the Feast the same way the woman with the flow of blood treated the hem of Christ’s garment. She pushed through the crowd, believing, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well” (Matthew 9:21).

And she was right. She touched the garment, Jesus praised her for her faith, and “the woman was made well from that hour” (Matthew 9:22).

Sometimes, in the seemingly inevitable chaos that precedes the Feast, I feel like the woman pushing through the crowd, reaching for the garment, believing, “If only I can make it to the Feast, everything will be okay.”

The trouble is, it doesn’t really work that way.

I mean, sure—I believe that when we’re assembled in the place that God chooses to put His name, we can expect some extra protection from Satan and his demons. I believe we should push toward the Feast the same way the woman who spent 12 painful years hemorrhaging blood pushed toward the garment of her Savior. We should be reaching toward it with a single-minded focus.

But we shouldn’t expect Satan to be refused entry. We shouldn’t expect eight days where the forces of darkness are powerless to step in and remind us that the Kingdom isn’t here yet.

Because when that’s our mentality—when we expect God to make the Feast a time of untouchable protection—we’re setting ourselves up for a dichotomy when things do go wrong.

And you and I both know things can go wrong at the Feast.

* * *

I can remember two Feasts in the last five years that challenged my perception of what the Feast was supposed to be.

One year, our one-month-old daughter was struggling with GERD and the effects of antibiotics. The whole week was a sleep-deprived blur. We left the house to go to church services and to pick up disappointing takeout, and that was about it.

Another year, we were forced to evacuate our housing because of a hurricane that never actually came anywhere near us. When the mandatory evacuation was lifted the next day, we couldn’t return to our rental for the same price—so we and a few others packed up and drove two hours down the road to somewhere we could afford. I feel like I spent more of that Feast loading and unloading the car than I did being with God’s people.

Why didn’t God step in and change things?

I don’t know. He could have. But He didn’t.

Was He wrong for that?

Absolutely not.

* * *

Last Feast (which didn’t feature any sleepless GERD-filled nights or mandatory evacuations, I’m pleased to say—just unexpected van  trouble that required an unexpected van rental), Mary and I were sitting in our unexpected rental van talking about a beautiful passage in the book of Habakkuk.

Usually, when we talk about vines and fig trees, our minds go to the beautiful Millennial scriptures about the future, where “everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree” (Micah 4:4).

Habakkuk talks about vines and fig trees, but it’s probably not the first place we turn when we’re talking about the Feast. It’s a sobering book about a prophet crying out to God for answers, but never quite receiving the explanation he desperately wants.

And then it ends with a hymn.

The beautiful passage we were talking about is there at the end of the hymn, and I think it’s particularly relevant for meditating on around Feast time:

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.

(Habakkuk 3:17-18)

* * *

The Feast is a reminder of an incredible future—one so beautiful, so perfect, it’s hard to imagine. But right now, it’s still just a reminder. A promise of what’s coming.

And sometimes—sometimes, as excited as we are about the reminder, we’re going to be faced with the reality of the present.

Sometimes the fig trees aren’t going to blossom.

Sometimes there won’t be any fruit on the vines.

Sometimes the Feast is going to be hard and demanding and exhausting. Sometimes it’s going to feel more like a trial than a blessing.

What do we do then?

When the imagery doesn’t match up with the reminder, can we still rejoice in the LORD? Can we still joy in the God of our salvation?

* * *

It’s not an easy thing to do. But it’s possible. And it’s important. The physical abundance and break from the world we often look forward to at the Feast is only part of the picture—and not the most essential part, either. When it’s missing—when God allows Satan to throw a wrench into part or all of our Feast—will we give up and call the Feast ruined? Or will we work harder to praise God even when things aren’t what we hoped they’d be?

What is the Feast of Tabernacles if not a reminder that this life, as long we live it, is a temporary one filled with temporary things that pale in comparison to the glory that’s coming?

I wish it was true that we could say, “If only I can make it to the Feast, everything will be okay.” But what is true is that we can say, “If only I can make it to what the Feast pictures, everything will be okay.”

We’ve been called to inherit a kingdom and reign as children of God. Is that not something we can praise God for, regardless of what our vines and fig trees look like in the moment?

* * *

I hope, wherever you are, this proves to be your best Feast yet. I hope it is filled with wonderful things and wonderful moments and wonderful people. I hope you are able to go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and rejoice before your God during a beautiful and inspiring eight days filled with not one single hardship.

But more than that—if this is a Feast where the fig tree doesn’t blossom for you and you can’t find any fruit on the vines—I hope you are still able to find the strength to praise the God who points our attention toward an incredible future.

A future worth pushing through the crowd and reaching out for.

Until next time,

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