When the Old Testament character Gideon died, Abimelech, persuaded the people to select him as their leader. He then killed all of the sons of Gideon except the youngest, Jotham.
Jotham went to the summit of Mount Gerizim, the mount of judgment, and told this parable regarding leadership. Incidentally, it is considered to be the oldest known fictional writing. In it trees are given personalities and can talk.
The trees needed a leader. They appealed to the olive tree, the fig, and the grapevine for help. All declined.
The trees then turned to the bramble to be their leader. The bramble (Lycium Europaeum) is a shrub with sharp spines and long runners that form a tangled mass. It has lovely white flowers.
When trees, capable and competent leaders, neglect their civic responsibility or are not put in leadership brambles assert themselves.
When there is good responsible government it is because such citizens have gotten involved. After all, ours is postured as a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
A characteristic of a bramble is it is aggressive and asserts itself. Those are traits of leaders depicted by brambles in Jotham’s parable. They entwine themselves among good trees. In the parable they are represented as devouring even the strongest trees of the region, the cedars of Lebanon. Brambles smother even the tallest trees much like kudzu.
I will not personalize the current counterparts of the brambles but the philosophical equivalents must be identified and uprooted. We are blessed to live in a land where the uprooting can be done with minimal negative impact. It is our electoral process.
With a year before a major election, citizens should study issues and evaluate candidates in order to be able to identify the best trees. Our heritage is replete with them.
A grove of Sequoia tree-like men prevailed in leading America to its independence. They crowded out the brambles with faith in what they entitled “Divine Providence,” and forged the Declaration of Independence.
One of them, the exhausted young John Adams, wrote to his beloved wife Abigail on the eve of the signing expressing his hope the event would be commemorated as “the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of Devotion to Almighty God.”
Adams, a redwood of a man, died July 4, 1826, the fifteenth anniversary of his signing of the Declaration. On his tombstone in the First Parish Church of Quincy, Massachusetts, are these words:
“On the Fourth of July, 1776, he pledged his Life, Fortune, and Sacred Honor to the Independence of his country...
“On the Fourth of July, 1826, he was summoned to the Independence of Immortality and to the Judgment of God.”
He was an accountable towering tree. Are we going to prove to be reluctant olives, figs, or grapes? If not, we will sit in the shade of brambles.
Parables are not designed to be pushed for exactness in every detail, but to illustrate points. Jotham changes metaphors and depicts the bramble as destroying those in its shade with fire. Is there a lesson here? If so, will we learn it and avoid the fire?
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.