Olive Harvest

Laws Regarding the Olive Trees

Olive trees are plentiful in Israel, and the oil from their fruit has always been a part of everyday life there. In fact, their importance to ancient Israel was so significant that olive trees received specific mention in the laws God gave to his people.

Deuteronomy 24:20 (NIV) “When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.”

Gathering Olives

Then, as now, olives were collected by beating the tree’s branches. The act of beating an olive tree was so common and relatable that it was used as a poetic symbol in the Book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 17:6 (NET) “There will be some left behind, like when an olive tree is beaten—two or three ripe olives remain toward the very top, four or five on its fruitful branches,” says the Lord God of Israel.”

Isaiah 24:13 (NET) “This is what will happen throughout the earth, among the nations. It will be like when they beat an olive tree, and just a few olives are left at the end of the harvest.”

Olive Oil in Worship

Olives were not eaten whole in ancient Israel, but instead were pressed using a variety of implements (such as the ones in this and the following photos). The resulting oil, in addition to being valuable as fuel and as an ingredient, was also an integral part of Israel’s worship of Yahweh.

Exodus 27:20 (NET) “You are to command the Israelites that they bring to you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, so that the lamps will burn regularly.”

Exodus 29:40 (NET) “With the first lamb offer a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a fourth of a hin of oil from pressed olives, and a fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering.”

Symbol of Prosperity

Its diverse uses made olive oil an especially important commodity in Israel. Perhaps due to this importance, oil is used as a symbol in Scripture, with its presence indicating a state of prosperity. This olive bean press was photographed at Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve.

Ezekiel 16:13 (NIV) “So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.”

Job 29:6 (NET) “ . . . when my steps were bathed with butter and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil!”

Symbol of Judgment

The reverse is also true. In Scripture, a lack of olive oil is synonymous with a lack of prosperity, making it a symbol of God’s judgment.

Micah 6:15 (NET) “You will plant crops, but will not harvest them; you will squeeze oil from the olives, but you will have no oil to rub on your bodies; you will squeeze juice from the grapes, but you will have no wine to drink.”

Oil as Tribute

Because of its value, Scripture even mentions olive oil in the context of sending tribute.

Hosea 12:1 (NET) “Ephraim continually feeds on the wind; he chases the east wind all day; he multiplies lies and violence. They make treaties with Assyria, and send olive oil as tribute to Egypt.”

Isaiah 57:9 (NET) “You take olive oil as tribute to your king, along with many perfumes. You send your messengers to a distant place; you go all the way to Sheol.”

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Related Websites

For historical images of olive harvest, see Life in the Holy Land.

Olive (KKL-JNF). A helpful article summarizing some basic facts and history surrounding olive trees in Israel.

Olive (Jewish Virtual Library). The Encyclopedia Judaica’s entry on olives.

Olive Culture in Ancient Israel (Gems in Israel). The archaeologist David Eitam writes about Israel’s history of olive cultivation.

Israel, land of olive oil (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs). This article bragging on the quality of Israeli olive oil offers some interesting details about the modern industry.

Rediscovering Israel’s ancient olive industry (Israel 21c). A story about modern olive production in Israel.