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Olives in the Bible play a prominent part in many of the biblical stories and passages we enjoy.
For the Christians in a post-Roman world, olive oil was a holy symbol. Believers found their identity, their symbol of belonging, in the olive. Even monasteries used olives for sacraments, food, and lighting, which provided a way to honor martyrs who had been burned alive in oil for their faith.
Let’s take an in-depth look at olives in the Bible as well as olive trees, olive oil and the olive branch.
Olives in the Bible
With nearly 200 mentions of Olives, Olive oil and Olive Trees in the Bible, we can see that they were a critical component to everyday life in biblical times.
Although olives have an extremely high oil content, they were used in great part of the daily diet of the Israelites.
Olive trees blossom in the spring (usually around June) and beare fruit throughout the fall (October and November). They were harvested either by beating the branches with poles or by stripping the fruit by hand. Often the olives that were to be eaten (as opposed to making oil from it) were handpicked to prevent bruising. Some olives were picked while they were green (unripe), pickled in vinegar and salt, then eaten fresh, as were some of the ripe olives. Some green fruit was boiled, then dried and used throughout the year. The black (ripe) olives were the best for oil, often containing over 50 percent oil by volume.
The fruit of the olive tree is like a plum in shape and size, and at first is green, but gradually turns purple, and often black, with a hard stony kernel, and is remarkable from the outer fleshy part being that in which much oil is lodged, and not, as is usual, in the almond of the seed.
Yet some gleanings will remain,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches,
four or five on the fruitful boughs,”
declares the Lord, the God of Israel. – Isaiah 17:6
Most medical professionals agree that olive oil is considered good for health.
The Olive tree is an extremely slow-growing plant and requires years of patient tending to reach full fruitfulness. Being well-suited to grow in the Mediterranean climate, the olive tree played a significant role in the region’s economy.
In the US, California is the leading American producer of olive oil, Olive trees are now also grown in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Oregon, Alabama, and Hawaii (on the island of Maui).
You will plant but not harvest;
you will press olives but not use the oil,
you will crush grapes but not drink the wine. – Micah 16:5
In the ancient Near East, olive trees and olive oil were an essential source of:
They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness. – Nehemiah 9:25
“Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.” – Exodus 27:20
From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
or soothed with olive oil. – Isaiah 1:6
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. – Luke 10:34
Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance?” – 1 Samuel 10:1
Then take the flask and pour the oil on his head and declare, ‘This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and run; don’t delay!” – 2 Kings 9:3
“‘If you bring a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to consist of the finest flour: either thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in or thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with olive oil.” – Leviticus 2:4
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. – Genesis 28:18
Wood for Furniture
In the Temple of Solomon, the cherubim of the ark were made of wood of the olive tree and covered with gold. Additionally, the interior doors of the Sanctuary were also made of olive wood.
For the inner sanctuary he made a pair of cherubim out of olive wood, each ten cubits high. – 1 Kings 6:23
Click on the downloadable, printable PDF of uses for olives in the Bible
Olive Trees in the Bible
There are about 25 Bible verses about the olive tree in the Bible.
The olive tree can grow from about 20 to 40 feet high. It rather resembles the apple tree, at least in the leaves, sterns and willow.
The olive tree is mentioned frequently in the Bible, from as early as the time of the flood when the dove from the ark brought an olive branch back to Noah (more on this later) , to Revelation 11:4, where the two witnesses are represented as two olive trees. As one of the most highly valued and useful trees known to the ancient Jews, the olive tree is significant for several reasons in the Bible.
Its importance in Israel is expressed in the parable of Jotham in Judges 9:8–9:
“ One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’
“But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’ – Judges 9:8-9
The olive tree is used symbolically in the Bible as a symbol of productivity, beauty and dignity.
The Lord called you a thriving olive tree
with fruit beautiful in form.
But with the roar of a mighty storm
he will set it on fire,
and its branches will be broken. – Jeremiah 11:16
his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. – Hosea 14:6
The Olive tree in the Bible is also used to symbolize the “anointed” and “witnesses” of God.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy. – Psalm 45:7
In Jeremiah 11:16–17 God uses the imagery of an olive tree to remind His people of the covenant relationship He has with them.
God’s people (the nation of Israel) are depicted as an olive tree and God as the farmer. He planted them as a beautiful olive tree but warned He would cut them down if they disobeyed His laws and worshiped false gods.
The Lord called you a thriving olive tree
with fruit beautiful in form.
But with the roar of a mighty storm
he will set it on fire,
and its branches will be broken.
The Lord Almighty, who planted you, has decreed disaster for you, because the people of both Israel and Judah have done evil and aroused my anger by burning incense to Baal. – Jeremiah 11:16–17
Later, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul makes refers to this symbolism to teach a lesson to Gentile believers in Romans 11:17–24. Paul chooses the cultivated olive tree to portray Israel and the wild olive tree to represent Gentile believers. The cultivated olive tree is pruned and nurtured so that it bears much fruit. The fruitless, ineffective branches are trimmed and discarded, but the root remains intact. God has preserved the holy root of Israel and pruned off the worthless branches.
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! – Romans 11:17-24
The flowering olive tree is a symbol of beauty and abundance in the Bible. The tree’s fruitfulness and ability to thrive suggests the model of a righteous person. (See scripture below) And children “will be like olive shoots around your table”.
But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever. – Psalm 52:8
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table. – Psalm 128:3
Jesus Christ is the root of Jesse, or the root of the cultivated olive tree. From Him, Israel and the Church draw their life.Jesus Christ is the root of Jesse, or the root of the cultivated olive tree. From Him, Israel and the Church draw their life.
We learn in Isaiah 11:10 something very interesting about the root of this old tree. Isaiah says: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.” It thus appears that the “Root of Jesse” and the root of the old olive tree are one and the same. It is this root that Gentiles are to seek. Also, in Revelation 22:16, we are given a very urgent message by the risen Christ himself. Here is that urgent message: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” We thus learn without a doubt that the root of the tree is the Messiah, whom we Christians know as Jesus (Yeshua). (from Word of God Today)
Olive Oil in the Bible
There are more than 160 references to olive oil in the Bible.
As shown above, the Olive oil had quite a few uses and was a staple for the Hebrews and the larger society during biblical times. It is safe to assume that when oil is mentioned in the Scriptures, it is always olive oil.
During the time of Jesus, new olive-pressing systems were invented. In one system, the olives were placed in a large circular basin in which a large wheel-shaped millstone rolled in a circle. The stone was turned by an animal (like a donkey) or by people. The pulp was then collected in baskets, which were stacked several layers high in (or over) stone pits. A stone weight was placed on top of the baskets, and a heavy wooden beam, with one end in a hole in the wall nearby (often these presses were found in caves) was placed across the pile of baskets. Stone weights were hung from the beam, applying enormous pressure to the olives and squeezing the oil from the pulp. In a similar method, a great stone pillar was placed directly on the olives to press the oil from the pulp. The oil ran through the baskets and into the pit below. . The oil was collected in jars and stored in a cool place. It was often stored for later use or sold in markets.
In the Old Testament times, the ripe olives were pounded to a pulp in pestles or by stomping on them with one’s feet, much like grapes and wine. The pulp was then collected in reed baskets, and the oil was allowed to drain off. This first oil, the finest, was called “beaten oil”. The Israelites then extracted more oil by heating and pressing the pulp again.
With the first lamb offer a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives, and a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering. – Exodus 29:40
The process by which olives are beaten and crushed to produce olive oil contains spiritual significance as well. Jesus Christ was beaten and crushed on the cross so that His Holy Spirit would be poured out on the church after His ascension to heaven. We can look at, Jesus as God’s olive tree, and the Holy Spirit, His olive oil.
It is significant to mention that Christ’s impassioned prayers, prior to his arrest, occurred in Gethsemane, a place of many olive trees and whose name means “olive press.” (Hebrew gat shemanim, “oil press” גן גששמן)Christ's impassioned prayers, prior to his arrest, occurred in Gethsemane, a place of many olive trees and whose name means “olive press.” (Hebrew gat shemanim, “oil press” גן גששמן)
Olive oil in the Bible is symbolic of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as it was used as the carrier for a mixture of spices that made up the holy anointing oil.
In Zechariah 4, the prophet has a vision of two olive trees standing on either side of a solid gold lampstand. The olive trees supply the oil that fuels the lamps. The two olive trees represent Zerubbabel and Joshua, the governor and high priest. The Lord encourages them not to trust in any resources, be they financial or military, but in the power of God’s Holy Spirit working through them (below). As in other Old Testament analogies, God’s Holy Spirit is represented by the oil of the olive tree.
So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. – Zechariah 4:6
During Old Testament times, there was such an abundance of olive trees in Israel that King Solomon produced olive oil for export.
I Kings 5:11 tells us that Solomon sent the king of Tyrus 100,000 gallons of oil olive for trade.
and Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, in addition to twenty thousand baths of pressed olive oil. Solomon continued to do this for Hiram year after year. – 1 Kings 5:11
Olive oil was also widely used during the coronation of kings, making it an emblem of sovereignty in biblical times.
Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance? – 1 Samuel 1:10
Jehu got up and went into the house. Then the prophet poured the oil on Jehu’s head and declared, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anoint you king over the Lord’s people Israel. – 2 Kings 9:6
The Olive Branch in the Bible
Of course we are all familiar with the story of Noah and the ark and remember from Sunday School that it was an olive branch that the dove brought to Noah after the flood.
It was also the first tree to sprout and grow after the Flood and gave Noah hope for the future.
When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. – Genesis 8:11
The promise of the dove’s olive branch was a new beginning for humanity, peace and reconciliation with God, renewal, and revival. The slow and hearty growth of the olive tree also implies establishment and peace. Some of the oldest olive trees in the world still grow today in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.
Click the image below for a downloadable, printable PDF with Bible verses about olives, olive trees and olive oil for further study or for verse mapping.
For deeper study, you may enjoy these recommended resources:
Taste and see is an amazing biblical culinary adventure. If you love to cook and study the Bible, you will love this book!
Did you learn something new about olives in the Bible? I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below.
Because of Him,