Trees in the Bible Fr. Sean McDonagh

One way of highlighting the importance of trees is to examine what the Bible has to say about trees. The psalmist in the first psalm likens the person who does not follow the advice of the wicket or loiter with sinners, but finds his pleasure in the Law of God, to a tree planted by a stream.  This tree yields it fruit in season and its leaves never fade. What follows is some reflection on specific trees that appear in the bible.

Vines (Vitis vinifera)

In Jotham’s fable in the Book of Judges the vine speaks, in response to the request that it would become the king of trees.

“Must I forgo my wine

which cheers the hearts of gods and men,

to stand swaying above the trees. (Judges 9:13).

In the book of Isaiah we find poem by the young prophet which casts the relationship of the people of Israel and God in terms of a vineyard and the person who looks after the vineyard.  God does everything to tend his vineyard, yet instead of producing grapes, it yields sour grapes instead. As a result Israel is rejected. (Is. 5: 1-7).

In the New Testament in chapter 15 of his gospel, John presents Jesus as the true vine.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. (Jn. 15:1) The believers are the branches, but they cannot bear fruits unless they are joined to and sustained by the vine tree.  “ Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you re the branches.”(Jn 15: 1-5).  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15: 5).  Being cut off from the vine has serious consequences for the believer. “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.”  (Jn. 15:6).

The Palm tree, (Phoenix dactylifera)

The date palm tree is one of the most useful and beautiful trees in the Bible. Its deep tap-root system means that it can grow where there is very little water.  Not alone did it produce dates, it also produced sugar, oil, wine, thread, tannin and dyes. The seeds could be fed to animals, especially cattle and leaves were used as roofing material. The popular belief that the fruit became sweeter as the tree aged, is reflected in Psalm 92. Mats and bags were also made out of the fibre of the palm trees.  The inhabitants of Jerusalem waved palms and placed them on the road when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass’s colt. (John 12:13; Matthew 21:8).

In the Book of Revelation, the great multitude of the redeemed will greet the resurrected Lord Jesus. They will be “clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands”; crying, “Salvation belongs to our  God who is seated on the throne and to the  Lamb” ( Rev 7: 9-10).

Trees used as Satire.

The author of the book of Judges uses the contrast between useful trees such as the olive, the fig and the vine, and ‘problems’ trees such as brambles to ridicule the ambition of Abimelech to become king. The sarcasm in the final verse is pointed. “And the thorn bush answered the trees

If in all good faith you anoint me king to reign over you,

then come and shelter in my shade.

If not, fire will come from the thorn bush

and devour the cedars of Lebanon. (Judges 9: 7-15).

Susanna and the Judgment of Daniel.

Daniel saved the life of Susanna who when she refused to have sex with two elders was herself accused by the elders of having sex with a young man, who escaped before he could be apprehended. The following day an assembly sentenced Susanna to death on the word of the two elders. They were about to carry out the sentence when Daniel intervened and pointed out that assembly was about to without any real investigation.  Daniel ordered that the judges should be separated.  Then asked each of them,  what tree did they see Susanna and her supposed lover lying under? One said a mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) the other a holm oak (Quercus ilex). Both were seen to be lying, so Susanna life was saved and the wicked judges put to death.  The chapter ends with the sentence;”from that day onwards Daniel’s reputation stood high with the people.  (Dan. 13: 1-64).

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