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Netsers in Nazareth!

Netsers in Nazareth!

My wife, Nancy, and I have lived in the same house now for 33 years, and we have no plans of ever moving. We’ve put down deep roots in central Illinois, where it’s hot and humid in the summer, and can be unbearably cold in the winter.

Just thinking about the Arctic winters we experienced in the late 1970s and early ’80s makes my toes go numb. During the first year of our marriage, it once got down to a wind chill of minus 80 degrees, and the blizzard caused the University of Illinois to shut down for the first time in its history.

Every so often, Nancy says we were crazy not to move someplace where it’s warm year-round when we were first married, before we put down roots. But now we have family, friends, and a church we love in town, so even thinking of moving makes me queasy. Moving might just kill me.

It’s the same with trees, especially older, established trees. Moving them is a major endeavor, and if you don’t do it just right, you’ll kill them.

However, there is at least one variety of trees that’s more adaptable to being transplanted—olive trees, which we saw thriving all over Israel when we visited last spring. I was particularly impressed with what our tour guide told us about the olive trees growing in Nazareth Village, a living history recreation of the ancient village nestled in the middle of the modern-day city of Nazareth.

Our tour guide, interestingly, was a transplant himself. He hailed from the state of Georgia, so his Southern twang seemed slightly out of place in this ancient village in Israel. But he was a tremendous guide, and he told us that an olive tree “can withstand fire and can withstand drought. An olive tree can live for thousands of years and still bear forth fruit.”

Olive trees can also withstand being moved. He said if you move an olive tree from one area to another, it will reestablish its roots and begin to bear fruit once again. Olive trees are nomads of the arboreal world.

Our guide went on to note that one of the trees in Nazareth Village was roughly 400 years old and had been moved there from Cana (of the wedding of Cana fame), and yet it still thrived, even at an old age. Although the tree was believed to be hundreds of years old, our guide said you cannot accurately figure out the age of an olive tree because you cannot cut it open and count its rings, as with other trees.

He also told us the roots of an olive tree are very strong. Even if the upper portion of an olive tree is seriously damaged, new shoots from these strong roots begin to grow and keep the tree going. That’s how some olive trees can live over a thousand years. The olive tree constantly regenerates itself as it undergoes a cycle of death and rebirth.

The tree is born again.

Our guide then explained that the very name of the city, Nazareth, comes from the Hebrew word “netser,” which means “shoot” or “sprout.” Some believe the city of Nazareth was given its name because its residents were transplants from other places, such as Bethlehem. The residents of Nazareth were “netsers,” or new shoots—new growth in a new location. And as you probably recall, the most famous transplant of all was the family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

The Holy Family first fled to Egypt when King Herod the Great tried to hunt down baby Jesus and kill Him. When King Herod finally kicked the bucket, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Israel, but they were warned not to come back to Bethlehem because it was still not safe. One of Herod’s son, Archelaus, was in charge of Judea, where Bethlehem is located, and he too was a nasty piece of work. So Jesus and his family were transplanted to the village of transplants—Nazareth.

But it gets even more interesting.

Our Georgian guide went on to quote Isaiah 11:1, which says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”

In this verse, Isaiah is talking about Jesus the Messiah. The Hebrew word for “branch” is “netser”—the same word from which we get the name of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is the branch, or shoot, of Jesse because he is descended from Jesse, the father of David. Like the “netser” that gives new life to the olive tree in Nazareth, Jesus is the Branch of Life who rose out of death.

When Jesus came to us as God incarnate, you might say He was transplanted from Heaven to Earth. Meanwhile, we will all someday be transplants as well. We will be transplanted from Earth to Heaven, and that’s a move I can look forward to for me and for my family.

I’m pretty sure the wind chill is not minus 80 degrees in Heaven, and I’m confident that will make Nancy a very happy camper.

History by the Slice Family Activity

Look up Bethlehem and Nazareth on a map online to see the route Jesus, Mary, and Joseph took when they returned to Israel from Egypt. Next, read Matthew 1:1-6, Matthew 2:19-23, and Isaiah 11:1-3. Then discuss these questions.

  1. Who was Jesse, according to the genealogy in Matthew 1?
  2. Why is Jesus called “the Branch of Jesse” in Scripture?
  3. Who was Archelaus and why did Joseph, Mary, and Jesus need to avoid him?
  4. What does “netser” mean, and what does it have to do with Nazareth?
  5. Why do you think the dove brought an olive branch back to Noah’s ark? What does it symbolize?
  6. Do you have a favorite tree in your neighborhood or town? If so, why is it your favorite?
  7. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?

By: Doug Peterson has written 42 books for VeggieTales and is the author of four historical novels: The Disappearing Man, The Puzzle People, The Vanishing Woman, and The Lincoln League. His latest book is The Call of the Mild. Visit Doug at

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