“Under His Vine and Under His Fig Tree”

ONE of the precious promises found in the Bible which is to be fulfilled on behalf of all mankind was recorded by the Prophet Micah and reads as follows: “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.” (Mic. 4:4) This is a promise of security of every type but, in particular, economic security is indicated. If in today’s society men were to have such security, they would tend to be happier and more contented. Instead, we live in a world of uncertainty which has been well described as a place where the only things that are sure are death and taxes. Every day the news media tells of attempts being made worldwide to solve economic problems. These problems exist for all the nations of the world, the developed nations as well as those that are underdeveloped.

The prophecy of Micah implies a tremendous change in landholding all over the world, very unlike anything that has occurred in history. There have been many changes in land ownership over the centuries. In the last one hundred years, political unrest and upheaval have come about because of the concentration of landholding in a few hands, particularly in such places as Mexico, Spain, Italy, Eastern Europe and China. But redistribution of the land in itself has not solved the economic problems of the world.

Recently, assistance has been given by the United States to the Latin American country of El Salvador, a country that has been frequently in the news because of internal trouble and guerrilla warfare. In the last two years the United States has given nearly thirty million dollars in direct aid to El Salvador to finance a program to redistribute the land. Another twenty-seven million dollars is being given in indirect aid, most of it through grants to the private sector. It also is possible that another two hundred million dollars may be obtained as an emergency economic aid package from other international agencies, mainly through United States influence, to help El Salvador import the machinery and equipment the farmers need. Why is the United States involved in this way?

Latin American countries have been a cause for concern to the United States. In the early years of this nation’s existence, the Monroe Doctrine (issued in 1823) stated that the American continents were not to be considered any longer as a field for colonization by European powers, and that the United States would view with displeasure any attempts by the European powers to subject the nations of the New World to their political systems. Before the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, the Latin American countries had revolted from Spain and the United States had recognized their independence. Since that time, the governments of these nations have taken many forms and come under the influence of various powers in the world. Every time that this happened, the United States hoped that the new regime would be friendly to our nation. In recent times two factions have developed in many of these nations, namely left wing (groups seeking change through revolutionary means) and right wing (conservative, opposed to change) extremists. Warfare between these factions has erupted in several Latin American countries, and guerrilla warfare is now raging in parts of El Salvador.

The aid given by the United States to El Salvador is unusual but highly commendable. With such aid, the United States hopes to stabilize the country. The program has several phases. In the first phase, large plantations were expropriated by the government, representing fifteen percent of the country’s farmland, and given to newly formed cooperatives. It is estimated that 40,000 to 70,000 families are members of the private cooperatives that now operate 282 farms. A second phase of the program, already begun, involves turning over to sharecroppers the small plots they farm. These two phases of the program, when complete, will benefit more than a million people, or half of the rural population, in one of the most sweeping agricultural changes ever undertaken in Latin America.

One would expect that these reforms would be most welcome. Instead, the program has met with resistance and violence. Neither of the extremists in the country are in favor of the program. Landowners charge that the cooperatives are, in effect, socialist collectives. Leftists charge that the program is only creating more private rural capitalists. The killing of thousands of peasants and more than ten government field workers in the first year of the program has led to charges that the government was cynically pushing the program publicly, while secretly trying to insure its failure.

As we view these attempts at reform and the consequential trouble, we are reminded that Satan is still active as prince of this present evil world and resists every attempt to bring about good, unless he can exploit the change to his advantage. There are many changes that God will bring to pass in his kingdom. Man’s attempts to institute them in advance of the kingdom are often failures or partial failures because selfish motives are involved and they lack the righteous authority of the kingdom to make them effective.

Another example of the frustration experienced by the poor people of a land can be found in the neighboring country of Guatemala. Much less publicity is given to the situation existing in that country mainly because the Guatemalan government has barred some foreign correspondents and death threats have frightened away many others. Some of the journalists, writing under pseudonyms, have smuggled information out of that country to the American press, and have written particularly about the violence that has met attempts by United States church groups to help the impoverished Indian population, representing fifty percent of the country’s 7.2 million people. This large Indian population inhabits the interior highlands of Guatemala, where each family living on one or two acres of land is barely eking out an existence. Although independent, their land has not been able to support them and each year 500,000 family heads leave their homes, migrating many miles to the southern coast to work on coffee, cotton and sugar plantations. They have in effect become a very cheap labor pool. Plantation owners are supposed to pay them $3.20 per day, but many pay less.

In the last ten years, United States church groups and other Guatemalan progressives have tried to help the Indians improve their lot by teaching them how to increase the productivity of the land. Some of these Indians have learned well and have been successful to the point where they have ceased their migrations to the coast and are, thereby, no longer subject to exploitation by the large plantation owners. Now, violence has erupted, designed mainly to discourage this progressive education of the Indians to make them more self-sufficient. In the last year, thousands of civilians were killed and many moderate politicians, religious leaders, union organizers, rural community workers, professors, lawyers, and journalists have been killed or forced into exile. Is it any wonder, therefore, that there is a leftist-led insurgency in Guatemala just as in El Salvador?

The plight of the poor farm worker has been a sad tale through all of man’s history. Originally, when father Adam sinned, God cursed the earth, as recorded in Genesis 3:17-19: And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and has eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Man’s problems in tilling the soil have been difficult enough without the added problem of landlord tyranny. The questions that come to one’s mind are: How did the land first become subdivided? Who held the original right, title and claim to the earth as a whole? All must admit that God, the great Creator, owned it all. The Scriptures clearly state, God speaking, “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof.”—Ps. 50:10-12

Originally God gave control of the earth to Adam for his use and that of his children. When all the earth was available for Adam’s family, a particular parcel of land would be taken by whoever was eager to till that particular land. As Adam’s family multiplied and spread over the earth, various means were used to claim ownership of the land, which in many cases were not much different from today’s methods of using claims, deeds and titles. But people forgot that God is the true owner of the land and that men are merely privileged to use it.

Again, we cannot forget that Satan usurped the authority over earth and became prince of this world, even as Jesus spoke of him in John 14:30 and the Apostle Paul spoke of him in II Corinthians 4:4 and Ephesians 2:2. Satan has been successful in having men believe that they truly own all the property upon the earth with no responsibility to their fellowmen as to its use. His success in deluding the people of the world has led to selfishness, greed, hate, and murder, and the general distress of the poor.

Before God gave the land of Canaan to the nation of Israel, he outlined the rules whereby they were to possess the land. These are found mainly in the twenty-fifth chapter of Leviticus. It is noteworthy that among other things, God says, “the land is mine.” (Lev. 25:3) God also knew that after the people received the land, there would be inequities among them. Some would be more industrious and succeed in ventures and prosper. Others might have adversities and be less prosperous. Hence, every fiftieth year adjustments were to be made to equalize their society. These were referred to as Jubilee years. If a man became involved in debt to the extent that he might be obliged to sell a part of or even all of his property and might with his family go into servitude, every fifty years he and all such unfortunates were to be freed from these encumbrances and given a fresh start for the next fifty years. In the Jubilee year, broken families were to be reunited and lost homesteads were to be restored. We read of this in the following scriptures: “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a Jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A Jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In the year of this Jubilee ye shall return every man unto his possession. And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbor, or buyest ought of thy neighbor’s hand, ye shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee thou shalt buy of thy neighbor, and according unto the number of years of the fruits he shall sell unto thee. According to the multitude of years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of years thou shalt diminish the price of it: for according to the number of the years of the fruits doth he sell unto thee. Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shall fear thy God: for I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 25:10-17) “The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.”—Lev. 25:23,24

God’s dealings with Israel served as a model of the way he would deal with mankind. The Sabbath year and Jubilee year were pictures of the restorative work to be accomplished in God’s kingdom in the millennium. In that kingdom, not only will man be released from the prison house of death, but he will be returned unto his possession. God intended that man should possess the earth and care for it. In that kingdom he will have an opportunity to do so properly and successfully for the first time.

The model given by God concerning possession of land has not been heeded by mankind. Even Israel was not able to do well in keeping the instructions given to them. Instead, men, under the influence of Satan and his principles, particularly of selfishness, have plundered, robbed, murdered, cheated one another and used force to wrest away land from one another. War has dominated life upon earth. The spoils of war have included land as well as people and their possessions. Slavery became a necessary adjunct to the seizure of lands, because to gain the value of the land, agricultural slaves were needed to till it. This was the arrangement in the earth when Gentile dominion began with Babylon’s rise to power, and continued through the reign of the Medes and Persians, Greece and Rome. The growing wealth of each of these successive empires led to an increase in the number of slaves, and the servile class grew to great proportions. The conditions of agricultural slavery were brutal. The introduction of Christianity had little effect in reducing this slavery, although it did mitigate conditions by inculcating principles of humanity. Also, it gave hope and courage to the long-oppressed classes.

As the conditions of society changed in the western world, with the decline of the Roman Empire, the agricultural slave became the serf who had semi-freedom. This type of semi-slavery occurred when people were conquered and for various reasons (including a lack of strength, as prevailed in the Roman Empire) the victors did not reduce the natives to slavery but only depressed them into tributaries. The conquered were permitted to hold their lands as of old but were required to pay dues to the conquerors.

With time, as central authority waned, a feudal system developed, which was a social organization that dominated all Western Europe and existed in other forms in other parts of the civilized world. In this system there was a strict division into social classes: nobility, clergy, peasants and burgesses. The ownership of all the land in a country was vested in the king, and the land was divided through a hierarchy of nobles and then further subdivided to lesser nobles. For these divisions of land there was a pledge to give military support to the nobles and to the king. The peasants worked on the land. Among the nations in this period, there was almost continuous warfare for land.

The feudal system of the Middle Ages started to disappear slowly, faster in some parts of the world than in others. Gradually the serf was emancipated, and by the middle of the nineteenth century emancipation was complete. A new type of slavery followed, called economic slavery. Depressed economic conditions caused much suffering and woe among the poor people. And today we still have tenant farmers, sharecroppers, migratory farm workers, and peasants. Even though there has been much advancement through land reforms, economic conditions have not changed enough to eliminate worldwide suffering for hundreds of millions of people. Nor will these conditions change until God’s kingdom is established on earth.

But first the present order must come to an end. The judgments of the Lord in the earth, as manifested in the trouble and warfare of our day, are a clear indication that God’s kingdom is nigh. This is why the Apostle James, seeing our day, wrote: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.”—James 5:1-6

This is a most heartening prophecy to all the poor and afflicted of the world for it assures them that their cries for equity and justice have not gone unheeded by the Lord of hosts. He has been waiting for the proper time before taking action, and that time will not come until the church has been gathered from all peoples and tongues of the earth. In this waiting time, the Apostle James tells us that the Lord has been exercising patience. He has been just as eager to receive the precious fruits of the earth (the church) as the world is eager to receive the benefits that will accrue therefrom. So, also, we are to be patient in waiting upon the Lord for his wonderful kingdom.—James 5:7,8

If the world could only know what God has in store for them, how happy they would be! Among the many encouraging and heartening prophecies is Micah 4:1-4, RSV: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” This prophecy, which tells of the establishment of God’s kingdom (represented by the symbol of a mountain), has its setting in the conclusion (the last days) of this present evil world. This kingdom will be the highest mountain, meaning that it will be above all other authority on earth (represented by other mountains and hills). When this wonderful event occurs, all the peoples of the world will rejoice and want to come under the authority of the new kingdom. They will want to learn about the ways of Jehovah. They also will want to unlearn many things that were done during the reign of sin and evil. But in particular, they will not learn war any more. Instead of using their resources for making weapons of war, nations shall convert such facilities into manufacture of useful and peaceful products, and wars will cease.

The cessation of war is absolutely essential to economic security. Whereas war was prevalent and was the cause for the loss of lands and life, and brought agricultural slavery into the experiences of man in the past, the elimination of war is the basis for the newly found blessing of economic security, wherein every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree. The blessed promise of making wars to cease goes hand-in-hand with the blessed promise of true security for all mankind. In God’s kingdom there will be no more wars and no more landlords. And all fear of war and economic insecurity will be removed—no one shall make them afraid. How do we know that this will happen? Because, as Micah has said, “The mouth of the Lord of hosts [Jehovah] has spoken!” Praise be to his holy name!

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |