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Jesus is speaking about hypocrites with planks in their eyes. He then speaks of good trees being known by their good fruit; corrupt trees don’t bring forth good fruit. Then comes the verse in question:

“For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.” (A.V.)

“Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.” (N.I.V.)

Only this morning I was thinking of the forthcoming Palm Sunday, which always causes me to recite G.K. Chesterton’s poem, The Donkey, verse 1 starting:

"When fishes flew and forests walked,

And fig grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood,

Then surely I was born."

I’d always thought of the ‘forests walked’ bit relating to Shakespeare’s play about Cawdor Castle, but never realised he was invoking Luke 6:44 for the figs growing upon thorn! I suppose verse 1 (and 2) show how lowly a creature was the donkey Christ rode into Jerusalem on, as King, but what I want to know is this: Was Chesterton conveying something profound by mentioning that phrase in Luke 6:44 that was appropriate to Christ fulfilling the scripture in Zechariah 9:9, or was he taking a liberty with Luke 6:44 in verse 1 of his poem? If anyone can expound Luke 6:44 more deeply than the illustration that it is, I’d like to read of that.

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  • I do not see a connection between Zech 9:9 and Luke 6:44.
    – Dottard
    Mar 19, 2022 at 20:44
  • @Dottard The Zechariah link is that the donkey was prophesied there to be the lowly animal Zion's King would ride on, when coming to Jerusalem as its King. Chesterton's poem was about that event, so it wasn't any link with Lk6:44 that I was indicating. Sorry for not being clear about that.
    – Anne
    Mar 21, 2022 at 13:29

3 Answers 3

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I will refrain from commenting about Chesterton's poem and concentrate on Jesus' words as recorded in Luke 6:43-45 -

43 No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. Indeed, figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor grapes from brambles. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good treasure of his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil treasure of his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

While Jesus and others were known to use trees as a metaphor for humans (eg, Matt 3:10, Luke 3:9), I do NOT believe that Jesus is using a metaphor here - He is stating a biological fact to illustrate a spiritual fact.

That fact is clear - good trees produce good fruit. That is, an apple tree does not bear apples because it says to itself:

  • if I do not produce apples but grapes or thistles, then I will be judged harshly by God; or
  • I must produce apples to prove that I am an apple tree, or
  • I must try hard to produce apples so God will accept me

... instead the apple tree naturally produces apples because it is an apple tree and cannot produce anything else! The same is true of the fig tree or any other kind of plant.

The same is true of Christians - Christians should produce good works because that is what they are, not because they want to be judged by God to be a good person or to earn God's favor/love. Similarly, a bad person cannot produce good works because they are a bad person.

This strikes at the heart of the matter - a bad person cannot pretend to be good by producing good works any more that we could convince anyone that a fig tree is an apple tree by tying apples on its branches. The converted person is a new creation - a completely new person.

2 Cor 5:17 - Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!

Paul makes this point in many places:

Eph 2:8-10 - For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.

Note what Paul is saying here - we cannot earn salvation - it is a gift. However, good works follow good Christians around because that is their way of life, it is who they are, it is what they do naturally when recreated in Christ's image.

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The Donkey, by K.G. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Many people believe that what is happening at the time of one's birth is highly significant (e.g. astrology).

In the first verse, the donkey attributes its ridiculous nature to this effect; such a creature could have been born only at a time when such ridiculous things were happening.

Notice that "the moon was blood" is a reference to Acts 2:20 — "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come", and "fishes" perhaps to the fish and loaves miracles.

These are introduced in the first verse to foreshadow but not reveal, the last verse's punch line, that even the most pitiful mistreated being can have its moment of glory, albeit in secret.

So, I think these were simply convenient instances of very unusual things, whose true significance wouldn't be known until the end.

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Do men gather grapes from thorns? Or figs from thistles? Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a bad tree brings forth bad fruit Matthew 7:16-18

Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. Matthew 12:33 [Romans 9:21-22, 2 Timothy 2:20-21, Psalm 119:9]

For every tree is known by its fruit; because from thorns, men do not gather figs, and from a bramble bush men do not gather grapes, a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good... for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks Luke 6:44-45

Now, the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Luke 8:11

Those by the wayside are they that hear, but then comes the devil and takes the word out of their hearts, (he does so by confusing them so that they don't understand the word; Matt 13:19) lest they should believe and be saved. .... they on good ground are they, which in a noble and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. Luke 8:12-15

Therefore good fruit are people that hear the word of God and grow to produce more seed, resulting in other people also producing seed.

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