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A Fascinating Study of Olives in the Bible

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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.

Olives are also one of the seven species of Israel.

image of olive growing on tree for the post A Fascinating Study of Olive Trees and Olives in the Bible

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.

Gleanings will be left in it,
    as when an olive tree is beaten—
two or three berries
    in the top of the highest bough,
four or five
    on the branches of a fruit tree,
declares the Lord God of Israel.

– Isaiah 17:6 (ESV)

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 shall sow, but not reap;
    you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;
    you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.

Micah 6:15 (ESV)
An image of green olives on the plant on a white background and Exodus 27:20 quoted

In the ancient Near East, olive trees and olive oil were an essential source of:


And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.

Nehemiah 9:25 (ESV)

Lamp Oil

“You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn.

Exodus 27:20 (ESV)


From the sole of the foot even to the head,
    there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
    and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
    or softened with oil.

Isaiah 1:6 (ESV)

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

Luke 10:34 (ESV)

Anointing Oil

Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.

1 Samuel 10:1 (ESV)

Then take the flask of oil and pour it on his head and say, ‘Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and flee; do not linger.”

2 Kings 9:3

Sacrificial Oil

“When you bring a grain offering baked in the oven as an offering, it shall be unleavened loaves of fine flour mixed with oil or unleavened wafers smeared with oil.

Leviticus 2:4 (ESV)

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.

Genesis 28:18

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.

 In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high.

1 Kings 6:23 (ESV)

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 trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’

Judges 9:8-9 (ESV)

The olive tree is used symbolically in the Bible as a symbol of productivity, beauty, and dignity.

The Lord once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed.

Jeremiah 11:16 (ESV)

his shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive,
    and his fragrance like Lebanon.

Hosea 14:6 (ESV)

The Olive tree in the Bible is also used to symbolize the “anointed” and “witnesses” of God.

 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

Psalm 45:7 (ESV)

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.

 The Lord once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.”

Jeremiah 11:16–17 (ESV)

Later, in the New Testament, 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.

 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.

So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Romans 11:17-24 (ESV)

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”

But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and ever.

Psalm 52:8 (ESV)

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
    within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
    around your table.

Psalm 128:3 (ESV)

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.

And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering.

Exodus 29:40 (ESV)

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)Click to Tweet 

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.

Then 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 of hosts.

Zechariah 4:6 (ESV)

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.

while Solomon gave Hiram 20,000 cors of wheat as food for his household, and 20,000 cors of beaten oil. Solomon gave this to Hiram year by year.

1 Kings 5:11 (ESV)

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 oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.

1 Samuel 1:10 (ESV)

So he arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel.

2 Kings 9:6 (ESV)

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.

cover of ebook of symbolism of foods in the Bible

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. 

And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.

Genesis 8:11 (ESV)

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 more plants in the Bible, you may enjoy this post.

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

Olive oil from Israel, the Holy Land

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.”

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Michele Morin

Wednesday 1st of July 2020

This is all fascinating! I can see why the olive keeps showing up as a metaphor!

Sharon Hazel

Wednesday 1st of July 2020

Thank you for the free printable - I have saved that for future reference - so much additional information in this post, which I love as it deepens our understanding as we read!

Susan Nelson

Wednesday 1st of July 2020

You are very welcome and I'm so glad. I geek out on this stuff, myself :) Thanks for writing and stopping by! Have a beautiful and blessed day!

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