Page images

which the Apostle has seized upon, and with admirable tact, to magnify the mercy shown to the Gentiles by grafting them, a wild race, contrary to the nature of such operations, into the good olive-tree of the Church, and causing them to flourish there, and bring forth fruit unto eternal life. The Apostle lived in the land of the olive, and was in no danger of falling into a blunder in founding his argument upon such a circumstance in its cultivation.

But have all the trees in this vast grove been reclaimed from a wild state by grafting?

Certainly not. The Apostle himself speaks of the root of the good olive, implying that, by some means or other, it had been changed. The process by which this result is reached is quite simple. You observe certain knobs, or large warts, so to speak, on the body of this tree. Cut off one of these which has a branch growing out of it, above the place where it has been grafted; plant it in good soil, water it carefully, and it will strike out roots and grow. It is now a good tree from the root, and all scions taken from it are also "good by nature.” But if the knob, or branch, be taken below the grafting, your tree comes wild again. The greater part of this grove is now “good” from the root. I am told, however, by olive-growers, that there is a tendency to degenerate, and that it is often a great improvement to graft even a good tree with one that is still better.

Job says, He shall cast off his flower as the olive. What is there in the casting off of olive-flowers which can illustrate the rejection and ruin of those who trust in vanity, for which purpose the patriarch employs the figure ?

The olive is the most prodigal of all fruit-bearing trees in flowers. It literally bends under the load of them. But then not one in a hundred comes to maturity. The tree casts them off by millions, as if they were of no more value than flakes of snow, which they closely resemble. So it will be with those who put their trust in vanity. Cast off, they melt away, and no one takes the trouble to ask after such empty, useless things, just as our olive seems to throw

I Job xv. 33.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

off in contempt the myriads of flowers that signify nothing, and turns all her fatness to those which will mature into fruit.

This tree is of slow growth, and the husbandman must have long patience. Except under circumstances peculiarly favorable, it bears no berries until the seventh year, nor is the crop worth much until the tree is ten or fifteen years old; but then “ the labor of the olive” is extremely profitable, and it will continue to yield its fruit to extreme old age, like the excellent of the earth. So long as there is a frag. ment remaining, though externally the tree looks dry as a post, yet does it continue to yield its load of oily berries, and for twenty generations the owners gather fruit from the faithful old patriarch. This tree also requires but little labor or care of any kind, and, if long neglected, will revive again when the ground is dug or plowed, and begin afresh to yield as before. Vineyards forsaken die out almost immediately, and mulberry orchards neglected run rapidly to


ruin, but not so the olive. I saw the desolate hills of Jebelel-'Alâh, above Antioch, covered with these groves, although no one had paid attention to them for half a century. If the olive bore every year, its value would be incalculable; but, like most other trees, it yields only every other year. . Even with this deduction it is the most valuable species of property in the country. Large trees, in a good season, will yield from ten to fifteen gallons of oil, and an acre of them gives a crop worth at least one hundred dollars. No wonder it is so highly prized.

The value of this tree is enhanced by the fact that its fruit is indispensable for the comfort, and even the existence of the mass of the community. The Biblical references to this matter are not at all exaggerated. The berry, pickled, forms the general relish to the farmer's dry bread. He goes forth to his work in the field at early dawn, or sets out on a journey, with no other provision than olives wrapped up in a quantity of his paper-like loaves, and with this he is contented. Then almost every kind of dish is cooked in oil, and without it the good wife is utterly confounded; and when the oil fails, the lamp in the dwelling of the poor expires. Moreover, the entire supply of soap in this country is from the produce of the olive. Habakkuk, therefore, gives a very striking attestation of his faith in God when he says, Although the labor of the olive should fail, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Isaiah refers to the gathering of the olive thus : Yet gleaning grapes shall be in it, as the shaking of an olive-tree; two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outermost fruitful branches thereof.? Have you noticed the circumstances alluded to by the prophet?

Very often; and it is the language of familiar acquaintance with the subject. As you may never have an opportunity to watch the process, I will describe it as it occurs in such places as Hasbeiya, where I have studied it to best advantage. Early in autumn the berries begin to drop of 1 Hab. iii. 18.

· Is. xvii. 6.

[merged small][ocr errors]

themselves, or are shaken off by the wind. They are allowed to remain under the trees for some time, guarded by the watchman of the town—a very familiar Biblical character. Then a proclamation is made by the governor that all who have trees go out and pick what has fallen. Previous to this, not even the owners are allowed to gather olives in the groves. This proclamation is repeated once or twice, according to the season. In November comes the general and final summons, which sends forth all Hasbeiya. No olives are now safe unless the owner looks after them, for the watchmen are removed, and the orchards are alive with men, women, and children. It is a merry time, and the laugh and the song echo far and wide. Every where the people are in the trees shaking" them with all their might to bring down the fruit. This is what the prophet had in mind. The effort is to make a clear sweep of all the crop; but, in spite of shaking and beating, there is always a gleaning left; two or three berries in the top of the uppermost boughs, four or five in the outermost fruitful branches. These are afterward gleaned up by the very poor, who have no trees of their own;' and by industry they gather enough to keep a lamp in their habitation during the dismal nights of winter, and to cook their mess of pottage and bitter herbs. I have often seen these miserable outcasts gleaning among the groves, and shivering in winter's biting cold. In fact, the “shaking of the olive" is the severest operation in Syrian husbandry, particularly in such mountainous regions as Hasbeiya. When the proclamation goes forth to "shake," there can be no postponement. The rainy season has already set in; the trees are dripping with the last shower, or bowing under a load of moist snow; but shake, shake you must, drenching yourself and those below in an artificial storm of rain, snow, and olives. No matter how piercing the wind, how biting the frost, this work must go on from early dawn to dark night; and then the weary laborer must carry on his aching back a heavy load of dripping berries two or three miles up the mountain to his home. To comprehend the necessity of all this, you must remember that the olive-groves are in common—not owned in common, but planted on the same general tract of land, and are without fences, walls, or hedges of any kind, mingled together like the trees in a natural forest. This tree belongs to Zeid, that to 'Abeid, as they say, and so on through the whole plantation. Such, at least, is the case with the groves we are describing. This vast orchard of Shwoifat, through which we have been riding for the last hour, has a thousand owners, and in “shaking time” every one must look sharply after his own, or he loses all. There is an utter confounding of the meum and tuum in the general conscience of olive-gath

1 Deut. xxiv. 20.


To what particular circumstance does David refer in the 128th Psalm, where he says, Thy children shall be like oliveplants round about thy table ?

Follow me into the grove, and I will show you what may have suggested the comparison. Here we have hit upon a beautiful illustration. This aged and decayed tree is surrounded, as you see, by several young and thrifty shoots, which spring from the root of the venerable parent. They seem to uphold, protect, and embrace it. We may even fancy that they now bear that load of fruit which would otherwise be demanded of the feeble parent. Thus do good and affectionate children gather round the table of the right

Each contributes something to the common wealth and welfare of the whole a beautiful sight, with which may God refresh the eyes of every friend of mine.

But here we must leave our pleasant grove for this singular sea of sand, which rolls quite back to the gardens of Beirût. Geologists tell us that this sand has traveled long and far before it reached its present resting-place. That, in fact, its original home was in the great African desert, and, during the countless ages of the past, it has been drifted first by the wind into the sea, and then by the current along the northern coast past Egypt, and around the head of the sea, until, stopped by the Cape of Beirût, it has been thrown out by the waves on to this plain. Others say that it is the sand


« PreviousContinue »