For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? There have been numerous commentaries suggesting what the "Green" and "Dry" Tree is; also, the fact that He addresses the "Daughters of Jerusalem", which is a direct reference to the Song of Songs. What does Jesus mean by "Green" and "Dry" tree?
0) AN APOLOGY FOR THE LENGTHINESS OF THIS POST
Ι realize that by apologizing for the length of this post, I'm actually making the post longer. But so be it. I tried making the post shorter without compromising the content, but was not able to. You can skip most of the verses I quote without missing much, if you want.
1) THE PHRASE "DAUGHTER OF JERUSALEM"
This phrase is used several times in the Old Testament outside of the Song of Solomon:
2 Kings 19:21, Is 37:22 This is the word which the LORD has spoken concerning him: “The virgin, the daughter of Zion, Has despised you, laughed you to scorn; The daughter of Jerusalem Has shaken her head behind your back!
Is. 4:4 When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion
Is. 52:2 Shake yourself from the dust, arise; Sit down, O Jerusalem! Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion!
Lam. 2:10 The elders of the daughter of Zion
Lam. 2:13 How shall I console you? To what shall I liken you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I compare with you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For your ruin is spread wide as the sea; Who can heal you?
Lam. 2:15 All who pass by clap their hands at you; They hiss and shake their heads At the daughter of Jerusalem: “Is this the city that is called ‘The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth’?”
Mic. 4:8 And you, O tower of the flock, The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, Even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”
Zeph. 3:14 Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Zech. 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
For the parallel phrase "daughter of Zion", see 2 Kings 19:21; Psa 9:14; 48:11; 97:8; Song 3:11; Is 1:8; 3:16–17; 4:4; 10:32; 16:1; 37:22; 52:2; 62:11; Jer 4:31; 6:2, 23; 8:19; Lam 1:6; 2:1, 4, 8, 10, 13, 18; 4:22; Mic 1:13; 4:8, 10, 13; Zeph 3:14; Zech 2:7, 10; 9:9; Matt 21:5; John 12:15
As these verses clarify, "daughter of Zion" and "daughter of Jerusalem" simply refer to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and by extension all Israelites (see Is 52:2, where the phrase is used of Jews in Babylon. Sometimes these phrases refer to all Israelites, and sometimes only to females.
2) THE GREEN WOOD / DRY WOOD ANALOGY
Ezek. 20:47 and say to the forest of the South, “Hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree and every dry tree in you; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be scorched by it.
I'm not saying that Luke 23:31 alludes to Ez 20:47 - only that a similar metaphor is used. The difference between dry wood and green wood, especially when it comes to fire (note that the previous verses are about judgment, which is often referred to as fire), is that dry wood burns more easily. More on this later.
3) THE CONTEXT OF LK 23:31
Jesus is on his way to be crucified.
Luke 23:27 And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him.
Luke 23:28 But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
Luke 23:29 For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, “Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’
Luke 23:30 Then they will begin “to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’
Luke 23:31 For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”
The context is clearly about the judgment coming upon Israel. This judgment is elsewhere in Luke expressed in terms of fire:
Luke 3:9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Luke 3:17 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Luke 12:49 “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Luke 17:29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.
Thus when Jesus is speaking of the judgment of Jerusalem in 23:27-31 with phrases like "weep for yourselves and for your children", "the days are coming", "they will begin to say to the hills, 'fall on us' and to the mountains, 'cover us' " - the reference to impending judgment is clear. An implied reference to fire and what kind of wood is easier to kindle, is therefore not foreign to the context.
4) Who are "they"?
Note first the function of the word "they": "they" do the things (present), but things will be done (future). What is being done in the present can hardly be anything other than Jesus' crucifixion, over which the "daughters of Jerusalem" were weeping. One can argue on a historical level over whether this was done by the Jews or the Romans, but Acts (also written by Luke) says that the Jews were the ones who crucified him (Acts 2:26, "Jesus, whom you crucified"; Acts 2:23, "you have taken [him] by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;" Acts 4:10, "let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified,").
Thus "they" are the Jews, and what they are doing in the "green wood" is crucifying Jesus".
5) POSSIBLE INTERPRETATIONS
- a) If the innocent Jesus suffered thus, what will be the fate of the guilty Jews?
- b) If the Romans treat thus One whom they admit to be innocent, what will they do to the guilty?
- c) If the Jews treat like this Jesus who had come to bring salvation, what will be their punishment for destroying him?
- d) If the Jews behave like this before their wickedness reaches its consummation, what will they be like when it does?
Let's begin by eliminating possibilities: d) fails to take into account the difference between the active "do" and the passive "will be done". c) makes it difficult to determine why the wood now would be "green", but later "dry". b) seems to indicate that the Romans are to blame for Jesus' crucifixion (vs. Acts), and also fails to see the difference between "do" and "will be done" - active vs. passive - the same group who does now, will not do in the future. a) seems unreasonable because it says, "they do these things in the green wood", not "they do these things to the green wood".
Yet a) is not so unreasonable when one remembers that the Greek "en" (εν) can also be translated "to", as in 1 Cor 9:15, these things are done "to me". Or in the words of BDAG, "marker denoting the object to which someth. happens or in which someth. shows itself, or by which someth. is recognized, to". Thus the verse could equally well be translated,
For if they do these things to the green wood, what will be done to the dry
In this case, it becomes clearer who the text is referring to: the green wood is Jesus - one who is not by nature ready for the fires of judgment. Yet the Jews crucified him. The dry wood, then, is the Jews who have done these things, who are themselves sinners who are ready for and deserving of the fires of judgment.
In Lk 23:29, two verses before v31, Jesus indicates that those who are not nursing and do not have kids will consider themselves blessed in that day (of judgment). This fits well with another judgment prophecy two chapters earlier:
Luke 21:23 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.
If the Jews crucified Jesus who is the "green wood" in the sense that he was undeserving of the fires of judgment, how much more would the fire judge the "dry wood", the Jews who were sinners before God - and by extension, the sinners of every other nationality as well. The judgment Jesus is predicting is a specific one, but his point in 23:31 is who is worthy of judgment, not whom this specific eschatological event will come upon.
The saying, which begins in Luke 23.28 and concludes with the green tree-dry tree analogy of verse 23.31, fits into the eschatology of the Synoptic Gospels, which is largely focused on the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 21).
A 'green' tree is a living tree. A 'dry' tree is a dead tree. It goes without saying which of the two is easier to burn.
People in Jerusalem (represented by the women) were mourning Jesus' death, which they saw as an injustice. Jesus agrees, warning them to weep not for him, but for their future generation ('your children'). He tells them that the injustice was occurring against a living tree: himself. But he ominously warns what will happen to a dead tree, people who are genuinely deserving of the kind of punishment he was about to face. Within the eschatology of the Synoptics, Jesus is here implying a divine judgment will come within that generation, which he likens to a dry tree, which will go up in flames. This concept is further corroborated by the quotation of Hosea 10.8, a passage about the destruction of Israel, in Luke 23.30.
Turning to rabbinic parallels, one finds a much closer approximation to the Lucan saying. According to Seder ElijR 14 (65), because of the water of contention (cf. Num 20,12f.) Moses and Aaron were punished. The scholars said: "If fire seized what is fresh (moist, green wood, laḥīm), what may one expect it to do to what is dry (yebāšīm)?" The comment does not distinguish between the righteous and the wicked since, to have been punished, even Moses and Aaron must have done wrong. Rather, the comparative liability to judgment looks to greater danger for the dry wood. In Billerbeck's translation, the Jewish argument looks to possible deliverance from dire consequences for the dry wood by suggesting self-improved conduct ("... what should the dry do?"), in which case the parallel would be less pertinent. Luke 23,31 requires that one consider what should or must happen to the dry wood. In any event, it becomes easier to see i nthe light of this rabbinic language how the imagery of green wood can be used by Luke of Jesus not as one who is innocent, but as one considered to be a wrongdoer. ... For the benefit of his typed readership, Luke reenforces in 23,27.31 a historical moral: the fate of Jerusalem is an instance of what will happen to the city and people which does not accept Jesus as the Messiah and whose leaders commit to injustice in bringing about his death. ... If crucifixion is the fate of one reputed to be a criminal, what must be going to happen to those who are less innocent than he?1
1 Charles Homer Giblin, The Destruction of Jerusalem According to Luke's Gospel, p.103-104.
Luke 23:31 is clearly an allusion. Let's requote the whole passage for reviewing;
27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.
28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.
29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’
30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:27-31 NIV)
Verses 27-30 is an apocalyptic language, prophesized the coming tribulation. Verse 30 requote the prophesy from Hosea 10:8, the coming destruction of Samaria by Assyria. It should be noted that the warning did not just given to the women, but women were the most vulnerable at time of calamity, particular those who had children, Jesus was giving a deep compassion to them. From the language, the calamity is likely referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
Now it comes to the major questions;
- Who were these people?
- What things were done?
- Is tree an allusion?
- What is meant by the tree is green?
- What is meant by the tree is dry?
- For if people (Jews) do these things (crucifixion of Jesus) when the tree (tree of life) is green (Jesus present), what will happen when it is dry (Jesus was gone)?
- For if people (the Romans) do these things (crucifixion of Jesus) when the tree (Romans Empire) is green (the Romans is indulgent), what will happen when it is dry (the Romans is harsh)?
The 1st possibility projecting the spiritual downturn of the Jews, and their violence led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
The 2nd possibility explained at time of Jesus, the Romans still had some kind of tolerance to the Jews and by that time there was a Jewish vassal king. But the continuous uprising of the Jews provoked oppression from the Romans eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
The Context of Christ's Crucifixion
The Context of Luke 23:21 is Jesus, who is now carrying His cross through the streets of Jerusalem on His way to Golgotha. He has been beaten beyond recognition:
As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men(Isa. 52:14)
and the Women of Jerusalem are weeping for Him(as opposed to those who said,"Away with Him, crucify Him",(Luke 23:21). But He stops them and says,"...weep not for Me, weep for yourselves and your children"(vs 28)
Here it becomes important as to who He is addressing, and we see the parallel in the Song of Solomon:
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up , nor awake my love, till he please(Songs 2:7)
The "Daughters of Jerusalem" had been awakened, and yet their "beloved" is being sent to His death; yet it is recorderd in Isaiah 53:10:
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief : when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Jesus Himself told His disciples:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament , but the world shall rejoice : and ye shall be sorrowful , but your sorrow shall be turned into joy(John 16:20)
Therefore Jesus is not talking about what is being done to Him; the life He is laying down is to expiate the sins of the world(John 1:29/Matt. 20:28), this is what will cause the world(and the disciples) to be joyful.
The Upcoming Judgment of Jerusalem-Time of the Green Tree
What He is addressing is the upcoming judgement upon Jerusalem:
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh . 21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out ; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto . 22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled . 23 But woe unto them that are with child , and to them that give suck , in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled(Luke 21:20-24)
And yet, this is done in the Green Tree, before the time of the Gentiles.
The picture is of the "fig tree" that Jesus cursed(Mark 11:13). it was green, it had leaves and branches but no fruit "for the time of the figs was not yet". And yet Jesus was 'hungry' and so He cursed it, which seemed caprious but it becomes an object lesson for Israel, who "missed the time of His coming:
And when he was come near , he beheld the city, and wept over it, 42 Saying , If thou hadst known , even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round , and keep thee in on every side, 44 And shall lay thee even with the ground , and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.(Luke 19:41-44)
Time of the Dry Tree
This is the Time of the Green Tree, what about the Dry?
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be . 22 And except those days should be shortened , there should no flesh be saved : but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened(Matt. 24:21-22)
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened , and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken : 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn , and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.(Matt. 24:29-30)
So it is clear, from this passage, that there will be a time of tribulation greater than any experienced from the beginning of time, and immediately following this time the Lord will come.
The "Dry Tree" therefore, is this time, and more significantly, Israel at this time.
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass , till all these things be fulfilled .(Matt. 24:32-33)
Israel, in this passage, is the "Fig Tree". She wasn't ready the 1st time, when her branches were "green", therefore destruction came upon her. Will she be ready at the "Dry tree", when the Lord returns?
One of the most contentious verses is verse 34, "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled". This passage must be understood along with Matt. 10:23:
Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come .
It's clear Jesus did not "come" in the 1st Century, as described Matt. 24:30; therefore, the disciples(and their followers) have not gone over all the cities of Israel yet. However, it isn't until our day and time that this passage can be fulfilled. Therefore, this 'generation' must continue until the present day, when the "Daughters of Jerusalem" will weep once again.