The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, Reign you over us.…
By casting his ideas in the form of a parable, Jotham not only makes them graphic and striking, he exalts them into the light of general principles, and thus teaches lessons which are applicable in all ages.
I. MEN ARE TOO READY TO SHELTER THEMSELVES UNDER THE INFLUENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERS OF THEIR OWN CHOOSING. The trees combined to elect a king; but this was contrary to their natural functions. They fulfilled their vocation perfectly in their individual life and fruit-bearing. So Israel resolved to have a king, though in opposition to the simple form of government which a realisation of the idea of the theocracy would have shown to be the noblest and happiest. Men trust too much to organisation; but organisation is injurious without wisdom and strength to use it aright. There is a common temptation to throw upon others the responsibility which should be borne in common. Thus in the kingdom of Christ the Church is inclined to leave to ministers and official persons the work which belongs to all her members. Men generally fear to be independent, though they are proud of their boasted liberty. The usual habit is to repose under the leadership of others. Such conduct implies unfaithfulness to our supreme King and the neglect of our own responsibility.
II. POSITIONS OF HONOUR DEMAND SACRIFICE FROM THOSE WHO CAN RIGHTLY OCCUPY THEM. Each of the fruit trees sees that it must sacrifice its own peculiar advantages in undertaking to rule over the forest. Rank and power involve loss of opportunities for private usefulness, anxiety, danger, responsibility. The quieter life is the happier. Nevertheless, it will be wrong to press these personal considerations to the neglect of public duty. For the good of others we should be willing to suffer personal inconvenience. It might have been better if one of the fruit trees had accepted the crown instead of letting it fall on the bramble. The selfishness which allows public offices to come into the hands Of inferior men is a sin on the part of the more capable.
III. USEFULNESS IS BETTER THAN BANK. The olive, the fig, and the vine are fruitful. Unless they were absolutely needed as kings, the world would be the poorer by their forsaking their useful vocations for the glory of royalty. It is better to feel that we are doing good, however obscurely, than that we are reaping barren honours. God is glorified not by our fame or rank, but by our fruitfulness (John 15:8). To bear good fruit we must be rooted like the tree - be content, patient, willing to fill a small space if God be glorified. There is nothing so fatal to Christian fruitfulness as ambition.
IV. THE LOWEST NATURES ARE THE MOST AMBITIOUS. The bramble alone covets the crown. Ambition aims at greatness, but it arises out of littleness. The ambition of great men is their weakness, the smallest, meanest thing in them. True greatness will perceive the hollowness of the rewards of ambition, and the true glory of honest, faithful work in whatever sphere it is done. We must not therefore be deceived into judging of the fitness of a man for any post by the eagerness with which he seeks it. For ourselves we should learn that self-seeking in all its branches is a low and despicable habit of life.
V. THE EXALTATION OF THE MEAN WILL END IN DISASTER. Weakness is better than ill-lodged power. Better have no king than a bad king. As a good government is the first blessing of a nation, so a bad government is its greatest curse. They who enter blindly into needless obligations will have their eyes opened when these begin to work them harm. It is easier to confer power than to withdraw it. There is one King under whose shadow all can rest secure (Isaiah 11:1-5). - A.
Parallel VersesKJV: The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.