My Vine and Fig Tree (Article)

MY VINE AND FIG TREE (Article) Dr. Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on September 23, 2021)

“At the age of 65 I am recommencing my Agricultural pursuits and rural amusements…as my glass is nearly run, I shall endeavor in the shade of my Vine and Fig tree…” George Washington to the Earl of Buchan (Mount Vernon, July 4, 1797).

“Vine and Fig tree” was a key phrase in our nation’s founding. The colonists used it to recall the life of peace and security prior to the imposition of Britain’s oppressive taxes and the looming threat of war. It became the ideal for which the founding fathers fought, especially George Washington. He used that phrase about 50 times in his letters, especially in the last years of his life. Here are a few examples, as compiled in Peter Lillback’s George Washington’s Sacred Fire:

  • “…every one (under his own vine and fig-tree) shall begin to taste the fruits of freedom…” (To Marquis de Lafayette, June 19, 1788).
  • “…every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid” (To the Hebrew congregation of Newport, August 17, 1790).
  • “…if ever this happens it must be under my own Vine and Fig tree as I do not think it probable that I shall go beyond the radius of 20 miles from them” (To the Secretary of the Treasury, May 15, 1797).
  • “I am now…seated under my Vine and Fig-tree; where, while I am permitted to enjoy the shade of it, my vows (prayers) will be continually offered for the welfare and prosperity of our country…” (To John Quincy Adams, June 25, 1797).

What is the origin of the “vine and fig Tree?” It comes from the prophecy of Micah in the 8th century BC, when Micah warned God’s people to repent or be driven into exile. The people scorned his words, and the Assyrian exile followed. In his mercy, God gave the remnant a vision of hope that someday “everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:4). In other words, if the people would turn towards God, there would be a Golden age of peace and prosperity without any threat of war or destruction. Sitting under ones “vine and fig tree” not only symbolized tranquility, but it also promised an extended period of peace since it takes time for a vine and fig tree to grow tall enough to provide shade. Although, this would be in the New Jerusalem, the promise was available in the present age to those who obeyed God.

Washington and the founding fathers believed that everyone in America can have their own “vine and fig tree” as promised in Micah 4:4 through trust in God and hard work. They wanted every American to enjoy “Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom of Religion” (Daniel Dreisbach, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers). Washington’s “vine and fig tree” was his ancestral home at Mount Vernon, a source of great comfort to him when he was away bearing the burdens of the nation. After public life, he and his wife Martha enjoyed their time at home, hosting many friends, and even strangers. At his death, he freed all 123 of his slaves, so they too could have their own “vine and fig tree.” His belief was rooted in his faith in Jesus Christ as Savior of all. Those who doubt Washington’s faith tend to categorize him as a Deist or a 17th century Anglican Latitudinarian (Thomas Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?). To the contrary, Washington’s ambiguity in public on the specifics of his faith was to avoid alienating any denomination in the new republic.

In our world today, it is assumed that the only way to have a “vine and fig tree” is to take from those who have it and divide it among those who don’t. Furthermore, it is assumed that all those who have it must have gained it through stealing from others. We desperately need a return to the vision of Washington that everyone in America can have their own “vine and fig tree” if they are willing to trust God and work hard.

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