Posted by: Elena's Israel Blog | 12/06/2011


God promised His chosen people, among other things “ . . . a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey. . .” Deut. 8:8

When I visited Israel I was amazed at the vast hillsides of gray green olive trees and lush green vineyards. Although Israel is half desert, today it produces 95% of its own food and has become a major exporter of fresh produce (especially citrus) and is a world leader in agricultural technologies including an innovative irrigation system that wastes not a drop of the small supply of rain water received each year. Biblically the harvest of fruits and grains is especially important to God, as seen in the produce presented in the Temple at various pilgrim feasts, when Jews were required to come up to Jerusalem. First fruits of barley were presented at Passover, wheat at Pentecost, and fruits (grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates) at the Feast of Tabernacles. I saw pomegranates growing on trees, a very different sight for a New Englander, and also date palms which were growing just everywhere. Fresh dates were served at every buffet, along with other wonderful fruits, pastries, beautiful salads and other delicious foods.

Harvesting grapes is not hard work, but it is hot work, done mostly in summer. Many volunteers, including Christian groups, volunteer to work the vineyards, thus fulfilling Isaiah 61:5 – “Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.” Although as many as five tons a day can be harvested in a single day, mostly the grape harvest is done mechanically today. Since the 1880’s Israeli wines are exported worldwide. When Israel came under Islamic rule in the seventh century, all vineyards were uprooted. But now that the Jews are back in their homeland, there are five regions of vineyards and in the past 20 years, 20 wineries have grown to 200. Archeological digs have exposed hundreds of ancient wine presses, proof that it was a popular industry in the past.

This tree was here when Jesus prayed the night before His crucifixion

Ancient Olive Tree - Garden of Gethsemane

Olive trees are very hardy and are found everywhere in Israel. I saw many which were over 2000 years old.  Even though the center may die, new shoots always sprout and keep bearing olives year after year. I learned that one tree can produce both green and black olives. Green ones are immature, reddish-purple ones are more mature, and black are fully mature. I also learned that you don’t eat olives right off the tree – they taste awful! You need to brine them for a week or two before the rich flavor that we love emerges. Besides private gardens and public parks and street medians, 40% of the cultivated area of the West Bank and Gaza is used for olive groves. The easiest way to harvest olives is to shake either a branch or the whole tree. Some harvesters climb a ladder and ‘milk’ them into a sack tied to the waist. Table olives need to be picked by hand, but those intended for olive oil production are harvested by an electronic method. An average olive tree yields 3.3 to 4.9 pounds of olives yearly, even the 2000 year old ones! We saw both ancient and modern process of producing olive oil when touring Israel. The ancient way was like this:

1. The farmer would grab the branches of the olive tree, and tap the branches with a stick. They would then pick up the fallen olives, being careful not to bruise them. Each olive is filled with oil, in fact over half of its weight is pure oil.

2. Next the pits are removed and the olives are gently placed into the large basin, and the pressing begins by rolling the large millstone. There was a large wooden stick placed through the center of the stone, to help roll it in a circle over the olives. Donkeys were tied to this and walked around in circles to roll the millstone. The oil would flow into a container and the crushed pulp into a basket. This first pressing was the purest oil and was used mainly for lamps, cosmetics and holy anointing.

3. The second pressing was for the crushed pulp. It was the actual baskets that were crushed.  It is interesting that the Hebrew word for olive press is “Gethsemane” and the Garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives is where Jesus was in agony as He prayed. Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, and will return again a second time at the Mount of Olives where every eye will see him.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” Psalms 23:5

Whether it’s pomegranates hanging heavily from a neighbor’s fence, overripe figs falling to the sidewalk, golden dates dangling beneath green palm fronds, clusters of grapes hanging gracefully on an arbor, or silvery olive trees shimmering in every direction, all are a testimony to the fruitfulness of God promised when His people are dwelling in the Land. The prophetic ingathering of the Jews to their homeland has resulted in a ‘barren wasteland’ being returned to a land rich in every kind of produce. The land is happy when God’s intended residents dwell in it!


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