This page/post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, as well as an affiliate of other programs, this means if you purchase something using these links, I will receive a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you! For more detailed information, please visit our Affiliate Disclaimer page
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.
Olives are also one of the seven species of Israel.
Let’s take an in-depth look at olives in the Bible as well as olive trees, olive oil, and olive branches.
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 bear 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.
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).
In the ancient Near East, olive trees and olive oil were an essential source of:
Wood for Furniture
In the Temple of Solomon, the cherubim of the ark was made of wood from the olive tree and covered with gold. Additionally, the interior doors of the Sanctuary were also made of olive wood.
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 Jewish people, 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:
The olive tree is used symbolically in the Bible as a symbol of productivity, beauty, and dignity.
The Olive tree in the Bible is also used to symbolize the “anointed” and “witnesses” of God.
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, green olive tree but warned He would cut them down if they disobeyed His laws and worshiped false gods.
Later, in the New Testaments, the apostle Paul 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 beautiful 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.
The open flowers of the olive tree are a symbol of beauty and abundance in the Bible. The tree’s fruitfulness and ability to thrive suggest the model of a righteous person. (See scripture below) And children “will be like olive shoots around your table”
The olive tree is a constant reminder of God’s provision.
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 the book of 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, 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.
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)
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 the book of 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.
During Old Testament times, there was such an abundance of olive trees in ancient 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.
Olive oil was also widely used during the coronation of kings, making it an emblem of sovereignty in biblical times.
Are You a Foodie? Do you want to learn more about food in the Bible and its symbolism?
A guide to the symbolism of many foods in the Bible, including milk, honey, bread, and more. Looking at scripture to describe food in biblical times and what it represents in our spiritual life.
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.
The promise of the dove’s olive branch was a new beginning for humanity, a symbol of 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 near the holy city.
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: Discovering God among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers by Margaret Feinberg
Taste and see is an amazing biblical culinary adventure. If you love to cook and study the Bible, you will love this book!
Olive: A Global History (Edible) by Fabrizia Lanza
Personally, I love my subscription to ArtzaBox. Each quarter includes food from Israel (their olive oil is incredible), home decor, self-care, and faith-related items all from the Holy Land. No code is necessary for 20% off for my readers.
Did you learn something new about olives in the Bible? I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below.
Because of Him,
ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”