Pastor's Piece - He Shall be like a Tree
by Dr Barry Wright
He Shall be like a Tree
Trees are often mentioned in the Scriptures because they are believed to be just like people and have many things in common with them.
As such, in the very first Psalm that David wrote in Psalm 1: 1- 3 we find a reference to trees. This is what he says:
'Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.'
In this verse, the tree becomes the symbol of a man who delights in keeping God's law and this idea continues to be used broadly throughout the Scriptures as a symbol of a righteous life.
Trees come in all shapes and sizes, just like people. Some live long and some do not. Some trees are renowned for their fruit while others yield none. Some thrive in crowded places while others are more sparsely settled. Some exist under conditions that others would not be able to bear and while they may resemble each other, they all have distinctive characteristics.
Just like people they all need food, water and air for their existence. Both respond to sunshine and shower. Both have bloom time and harvest. Both grow and bear fruit. Both have enemies around them and they only grow and live by the power of God.
The growth of a tree can be seen to symbolize Christian living. From a small acorn to a towering oak, the life of a tree becomes one continual process of receiving and giving, of absorbing and dispensing.
Like a tree we receive undeserved blessings, both temporal and spiritual. By serving God and our fellow man we can manifest our appreciation for what comes our way. However, unless our output accompanies our input, a deadening of the soul can take place causing the inner life to wither and die. Any tree will quickly dry up if it is deprived of its nutrients. In the same way, the spiritual life can cease to be fruitful if the channel of God's grace is forever closed. We need to recognise that it is a marvellous privilege to put forth abundant foliage and, by God's help, bring forth rich fruitage in season.
During the time Jesus was on the earth He was confronted by a people who made a great show of piety, but while they had lots of leaves and much foliage they had no fruit. In the story of the fig tree in Matt 21: 19 Jesus was to show that the purpose of a fruit tree was to grow fruit not just to have leaves. The people were claiming to be what they were not. They were putting on the appearance of being able to bear fruit, but could grow nothing but leaves. Here was promise without performance. This was a life full of form and ceremony, but lacking in true godliness.
The child of God is to be like a tree planted by the water and therefore they will always be growing. There will be no season of drought because of the location and no crop failures will come. Because they continue to grow in grace, their lives will ever be green and their experience fresh and invigorating. They become shade for the weary and the tired and will provide protection for those buffeted by the storms of life. This all comes to symbolize the life of a committed Christian.
Among the oldest living things on earth are the giant redwood trees found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada range in California, USA. The largest of them all is the General Sherman Tree that measures 34 meters in circumference and rises to a height of 83 meters. It is estimated to be about 3,500 years old. However, the oldest trees are the bristlecone pines that are found on the eastern slopes of the Sierras and are believed to be in excess of 4000 years old.
Just like the growth of these trees that require many years for their development, Christian character is built only through years of living. It is the work of a lifetime to develop a character like Christ's and growth is slow, growing only a little at a time.
Because trees have this reputation for longevity, it is not surprising that the Bible likens God's people to them. As heirs of eternal life they are seen in the same way as these long living giants of the plant world and we see this confirmed in Isaiah 65: 22. In this verse God compares the life of His people in the hereafter to 'the days of a tree' and in Isaiah 61: 3 He calls them 'trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified'.
This makes clear that we are to live in such a manner as to bring honour to our Creator, our Lord and King.
'Like a tree planted by the rivers of water,' the child of God lives, grows, and bears fruit in the desert of this sin-sick world.
This is God's promise: 'He shall be like a tree.'
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