A Tree Planted by a River
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1‑3 NKJV)
Trees play an important part of the world in which we live. The Amazon Rain forest is known as "The lungs of the world," for converting carbon dioxide to supply 20% of the World’s oxygen, they and the hedgerows hold the soil and its nutrients in place, can act as a windbreaks and hold in moisture. Apart from this, trees are good for fruit, like the apple, pear, fig and other fruit. Olive oil comes from olives grown on trees. In manufacturing, trees are used to make the paper in our Bibles, and for all manner of furniture and building materials. Wood can be burnt and made into charcoal pellets, to make electricity. The latest idea is a way to bury carbon rather than to release it in the atmosphere. No wonder they seem a major part of the plans into going carbon neutral and offsetting the use of energy in our homes, cars, and any air travel we undertake.
Trees in Eden
God said, "See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food…and indeed it was very good." (Genesis 1:29,31 NKJV) Also Gen.2:8‑10 (NKJV) tells us "The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads." So we see, that trees were created, and our first earthly biological parents, Adam and Eve, were in the garden in Eden and through it ran a river.
Trees commonly picture people. One example of this is the parable in Judges 9 when the trees went to find a tree to be their king from the olive and fig and vine before settling on a much lesser tree. Ecclesiastes 11:3 likens a falling tree to the death of a human being. Hence Psalm One uses this same picture language. Those, the godly, the righteous being like a tree planted by rivers they have good leaves and are producing fruit. This group consults the word of God, the Bible, daily. It contrasts them to the ungodly who are like chaff, dried loose grass being blown by the wind. Water is necessary for a tree to stay alive, have good leaves and produce fruit. Being on a riverbank means there is plenty of moisture for the roots to pick up the water and nutrients in the soil often brought from upstream. Think of Mount Hermon with its snows and rain leading down to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River with the nutrients flowing down from upstream. The opposite to that picture would be a desert.
John Edgar in his booklet "A Tree Planted by the Rivers of Water" likens the growth of a tree from a seed to producing fruit to those verses in 2 Peter 1 where new creatures super‑add to their faith a root, the fortitude of a stem, the branches of knowledge, the pruning of self‑control, the patience of a leaf, the budding of godliness and piety, the blossoming of brotherly love and fruit of agape love. Edgar was a doctor in Glasgow before the First World War and therefore had a scientific background with a good knowledge of Biology. Nevertheless gardens are something most British people love and understand as is borne out by the lyrics of Jimmie Rodgers. "There is joy in the spring when the birds begin to sing in an English country garden."
The Root of Faith
A new tree starts with a seed in the ground. Not all ground is good ground as the parable of the sower says. There are weeds and rocks and hard ground. Faith is the starting point and the root begins to emerge as Rom.5:1 says being justified by faith we have peace with God, and we are saved by grace through faith. (Eph.2:8) The seed meets the moisture of water to produce roots that then can absorb more water and take in the nutrients in the soil. Water is about 75% of the weight of most plants. It reminds one of the Samaritan woman at the well to whom Jesus said that those drinking of living water shall never thirst but will be as a well of water springing up to everlasting life and those that worship God shall worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4) This truth can be partly, at least, attributed to the word of God, working on that seed and the first little radicle or root.
Stem of Fortitude
Eventually if there is sufficient water and hopefully minerals, the first little stem will be produced as well as the roots and it will appear above the ground for the first time. The root of faith now needs to be able to survive in the open air. This can be a challenging time for any plant. Some small plants get eaten by slugs, snails, or birds. So also the new creature must have the courage of their conviction to survive in the World and keep the faith and even speak up for their faith, despite the battering of creatures and weather conditions. This stem will eventually grow into a trunk. A young plant will need to bend in the wind, but as it gets stronger and it continues to uptake water and nutrients it will be able to survive adversity.
Branches of Knowledge
Every Christian requires knowledge. The knowledge of God’s plans and purposes; his character, his requirements, advice for daily living. Other knowledge of the world that helps us understand Biblical language, history, geography, even languages and more. There are many branches on a tree hence many types of knowledge. Peter advises the Christian to grow in grace and knowledge. (2 Pet.3:18) Paul saw the value of it and counted all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his lord. (Phil.3:8)
In due time all will come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim.2:4) of Jesus who gave himself a ransom to be testified in due time, for as the Old Testament testifies; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Hab.2:14)
The Pruning of Self‑control
But knowledge is not the end point although it does provide a structure on the road to producing fruit. In fact some branches will need pruning as does any tree. Lower branches often need pruning as without sufficient light and space they will not be useful, others grow too high. Then there are diseased ones or dry ones. So the Christian submits to the pruning and chastening of our heavenly Father and forgoes growing less useful knowledge. There is no reason we cannot endeavour to prune ourselves. Paul says we can judge ourselves as well as being judged by the chastening of our heavenly Father. (1 Cor.11:31‑32) The scripture also warns us that knowledge can puff up (1 Cor.8:1) for it is love that builds up. Thus the branches are now nice and strong and ready and in good shape for the next stage.
Patience of Leaves
We all have need of patience to do the will of God that we might be receivers of the promise of God. (Heb.10:36) Patience is a perfecting work. (James 1:4) The scriptures clearly indicate that patience has its part in the process of becoming a mature new creature in Christ Jesus. But how can we relate that to a part of the tree? John Edgar suggests it is the leaves, that can be seen being buffeted on a tree on the windiest days. They move and bend in every direction but remain attached to the tree. It is like abiding in the vine. (John 15:4) In nature, leaves do well and remain healthy and green, so long as they are supplied with sufficient moisture from the root going into the sap of the tree and sunlight makes them green by photosynthesis.
Leaves are the key to absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The underside of a leaf has pores called stomata for this function. The plant splits carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen. The carbon forms 50% of the weight of a tree and appears to bulk it up and stiffen it. The oxygen is needful for animals as well as humankind to breathe. Therefore the leaf means the tree can be a blessing to those they come into contact with as the Christian should be "the light of the world" (Matt.5:14) and "the salt of the earth." (Matt.5:13) And the Church now should bless them that curse it and despitefully use them as it says in Luke 6:28. As in the light of the world picture, leaves need the light to do their work. Additionally they provide cover for animals to hide from those that would prey on them.
The Buds of Piety
However much use the greenness of a tree is, and there are some gorgeous looking green trees, the purpose here is to bring forth fruit. The next stage is the buds of piety. They are the foundation of fruit. They are hard and green at the start. John Edgar likened these buds to some Scottish Presbyterians of the Victorian era who were thought to be hard parents and not always the most patient and affectionate.
Reverence for God is a requirement.1 Tim.4:7‑8 (NKJV) says "reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things.having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come." I bought a large bag of narcissus bulbs in the autumn, which I planted out too late and tightly packed in a large container. Although many gave a blaze of late spring colour some only made it to the bud stage on slightly smaller stems. It was my fault not to tend them properly in a timely manner. So it is a disappointment not to progress and blossom into brotherly love.
Blossoming into Brotherly Love
Blossoms are a beautiful part of God’s creation, full of bright colours. Fruit trees with blossoms are a good sign. A promise that fruit is possible. But insects are needed to pollinate the blossoms from other blossoms. Hence the hum of insects is also a good sign. It seems this joyful colour needs sharing. So brotherly love is something that is shared between family members. Heb.13:1 says, "let brotherly love (Greek philadelphia) continue." After that it says be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Romans 12:10 guides "be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another." Peter and Paul showed brotherly love in all their ministry.
Blossoms only get us so far. Think of all the beautiful false blossoming bushes there are. But it is the fruit of agape love that ought to be the aim. One Greek and English‑speaking student of the Bible said one was not higher than another just a different form of love. Nevertheless for this analogy it will be assumed that it is the highest, and surely the purest form of love. The love that God showed in sending His son even if it meant His son Jesus dying on the cross, it even extends to loving one’s enemies. (John 3:16‑17; Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27,35)
Fruit of Agape Love
Even fruit must develop from small hard fruit to large mature fruit. Often on an apple tree if there is a lot of fruit developing on a tree and sometimes three apples growing from one point of a small branch one is often smaller in size and weak. Other enemies come from the birds that would peck the sweet fruit or some insects like caterpillars or any manner of diseases like mildew. Nutrient deficiency can be an issue such as a lack of calcium.
In the message to the church of Ephesus, it commends that church for its patience and work. However they did not continue to agape love as they first did. This a warning to them and all.
There is something else there too in the fruit. There are the seeds. If the fruit falls to the ground it has the possibility and knowledge to grow into another tree, as it says "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die." (John 12:24) See what our Lord Jesus accomplished in his death! It was the birth of the Church in this Gospel age (Christian era). This process continues and will continue into the Messianic or Millennial age.
Modern Israel regathered and trees
"He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit." (Isa.27:6)
There is one small country which has really used the tree. Modern Israel has had an extensive tree planting otherwise known as afforestation scheme. The Ottoman Empire had left the land very much poorer for trees, having plundered that resource.
Theodore Herzl in about 1900 stated "at present the land is poor and neglected: the slopes of the hills are bare, the places with famous names are sad piles of debris and the fields lie fallow. The Holy Land is a wilderness." Chaim Weizmann said the land was covered "with rocks and marshes and sand." Something needed doing. The Holy Land has been planted with 250m trees and since 1948 the percentage of land with trees has increased from 2% to 8.5%. This has enabled land unsuitable for farming like the rocky hills and semi‑arid places to be planted. The marshes were planted with eucalyptus. The Yatir Forest on the edge of the Negev in southern Israel is the largest forest in Israel, allowing in some parts for grazing for the Bedouin which also aids fire management.
Hence large‑scale tree planting has reduced soil erosion, reduced moisture evaporation, helped the wildlife and prepared the soil for more diverse plants. The economy has benefitted from logging and it has employed a lot of people, as well as by putting more oxygen into the atmosphere.
In addition non‑present Jews all around the world have been able to have trees planted there by some schemes in their ancient homeland. This just goes to show how trees picture people.
Jesus’ words of fruit bearing
Jesus used the tree in his ministry. He said a tree is known by its fruit (Matt.12:33) and every tree which does not bear good fruit should be cut down and burnt. (Matt.3:10) This was a warning to the Pharisees and the nation of Israel. He warned them the kingdom of God would be taken from them. (Matt.21:43) This is what happened, and the Gospel message was opened out to include the Gentiles by Peter and Paul.
Jesus told us how we were to do this. (John 15:1,5) He said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing."
The warning states it is possible to bring forth bad fruit or no fruit. The Pharisees were regularly advised of this and we can take this as a warning now. Our task is to bring forth the fruits of the spirit and as in the parable of the sower it can be thirtyfold, sixtyfold or a hundredfold. This can be done if we abide in Jesus, and his words abide in us. (John 15:7)
Trees in the Kingdom
The tree of life appears once more in the last book of the Bible. In Rev.22:1‑2 it is found on both riverbanks with pure, crystal clear water running through it. Here the tree brings forth twelve sorts of fruit and it clearly heals the nations. What more perfect picture can we have.
It’s hardly surprising then that in other passages in the Bible when all appears harmony that trees and water are used to describe that version of harmony and balance. Ezekiel 47, which is with those last chapters of the prophet who was carried away to captivity in Babylon, describes the building and dimensions of what is oft called "The Third Temple" wrote "along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine." (Ezek.47:12 NKJV) Nehemiah who played a major role in restoring Jerusalem and the law after the Babylonian captivity directed the people at the time of the feast of tabernacles to, "go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written." (Neh.8:15) This holy feast was shared among all in the nation to remind them of when they all lived in tents and is the last of the three great feasts when all the harvests had finally been gathered in. Nehemiah understood rebuilding and this pictures a time still yet future.