I was really frustrated about the fig tree withering out of season, so I went and looked it up. I feel much better now. Thanks, God, for the internet.
Some light is shed on this passage by an article in Hard Sayings of the Bible by F. F. Bruce:
Was it not unreasonable to curse the tree for being fruitless when, as Mark expressly says, “it was not the season for figs”? The problem is most satisfactorily cleared up in a discussion called “The Barren Fig Tree” published many years ago by W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland minister in Palestine under the British mandatory regime. He pointed out first the time of year at which the incident is said to have occurred (if, as is probable, Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30, the incident occurred during the first days of April). “Now,” wrote Christie, “the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with [this], and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner. They grown to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry. When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off.” These precursors of the true fig are called taqsh in Palestinian Arabic. Their appearance is a harbinger of the fully formed appearance of the true fig some six weeks later. So, as Mark says, the time for figs had not yet come. But if the leaves appear without any taqsh, that is a sign that there will be no figs. Since Jesus found “nothing but leaves” – leaves without any taqsh- he knew that “it was an absolutely hopeless, fruitless fig tree” and said as much.
Someone else wrote about the same question about Jesus, the certificate of divorce, and Moses. It was an interesting answer:
When faced with a difficult verse, the first thing to do is take those verses in context of the rest of the passage. In Deuteronomy 22, Moses instructs people not to divorce for false charges (vs. 19), and not to divorce her if he has taken her virginity (vs. 28). So, then Moses says when divorce DOES happen(“and it happens” vs. 1)… don’t retake her for your wife again. You see, the emphasis is always on the negative. Just as God allowed polygamy or slavery, it did not mean He approved of it. Jesus states the same when He said “Because of the hardness of your heart Moses PERMITTED you to divorce your wives..” By the way, don’t let that correction go unnoticed. The Pharisees claimed that Moses commanded them to divorce, but Jesus said he only permitted it. The Pharisees knew that, too, for in Malachi 2:14-16 God states “The Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously… ‘For I hate divorce’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment is wrong.’ ”
God knew Israel wasn’t capable of rising above certain social ills of their day. Slavery was deeply entrenched in the economic system of the time, and to try and remove it would have caused more havoc and problems than would have been solved. There were no bankruptcy laws then. So God gave specific commandments to make sure that relationship wasn’t permanent nor life threatening. God doesn’t endorse the institution, but allowed it for a time, until a better way was found. I can also see where God doesn’t endorse the idea of pure capitalism (1 Tim 6:5, Matt 19:23, etc), but He doesn’t ask us to scrap that system for currently there exists none better.
So, you can see that the commandment didn’t change, but rather was strengthened by Jesus’ words. To be accurate, in Deuteronomy God said “don’t divorce for these reasons, and if you do, and she marries another, don’t make claim on her as you wife again.” The certificate was a protection for the woman so that she couldn’t be charged with adultery, which was a capital offense! What Jesus stated does not contradict any of the above, it just goes one step farther. It’s much like the sermon on the Mount (“You’ve heard it has been said… but I say unto you” etc.)
This answer was from Come Reason. I am not as happy with this answer as the other. Maybe because he knocks my economic system?
David Instone-Brewer writes on this question at Tyndale saying:
This implies that the Pharisees wanted to say that divorcing your wife in Dt.24.1 was a command of Moses, and not an innovation of the Pharisees. What were they talking about? They could not have meant that it was compulsory to divorce your wife for ‘Any Cause’ – otherwise it would be compulsory to divorce her after the first spoilt meal or first wrinkle. But they did, around this time, start to teach that it was compulsory to divorce your wife for adultery. As I say in my book (p.96) it was not universally compulsory before 70CE, but (what I didn’t say in my book) it became universally compulsory soon after – cf b.Hag.9b where Judah b. Lakish [T2, just after 70CE] assumes that a cuckolded husband is forbidden to his wife. In other words, most Pharisees already believed that divorcing an adulterous wife was compulsory, but they could not enforce this before 70CE. (It is also possible that the Pharisees meant that it was compulsory to divorce a wife who is not submissive in all things -cf Ben Sira- but this is less likely.)
The main meaning is, however, that Moses ALLOWED divorce in the circumstance where the Pharisees taught that Moses COMMANDED it – ie when the wife committed adultery.
So when Jesus says (in Mt) “but from the beginning it was not so”, it is a wistful reminder that God did not want any divorce any more than he wanted any sin, but both are a painful reality.