The Agora
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"As the days of a tree..."

There is something about human nature that refuses to understand its limitations. Because we are, we really do feel that we always will be... that we will never cease to be. "Where are we going?" is more than the naiveté of a little child. It is the unspoken but very frequent presumption of the adult too. "You will not surely die," said the serpent to the woman (Gen 3:4), and she apparently believed him. But God says different:
"By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen 3:19, NIV).
Many a tree, past which man rushes heedlessly on his way to nowhere important, has lived and will yet live longer than the man himself. Some giant sequoias, or California redwoods, have been confirmed to be more than 2,000 years old, while the average human life span is between 70 and 80 years. The Bible is rather blunt about us humans and our expectations. We are not like the trees at all, growing on majestically, year after year after year; we are much more like the grass -- green and tender, then mature, then brown and dead, in one all-too-brief cycle:
"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass" (Isa 40:6-8; cp 1Pe 1:24,25).
And the Bible can be even less flattering about human nature. It is compared elsewhere to the weeds of the field, fit only to be burned (Mat 13:25,30,40), to the lowliest thorns and thistles (Gen 3:17,18; Mat 15:13), or to the dry brush of the Judean desert:
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives" (Jer 17:5,6).
There is, however, a hint of a more promising possibility in this last passage:
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream" (Jer 17:7,8).
How a person feels toward his Creator, whether or not he believes in Him, can make all the difference in the world -- the difference, figuratively speaking, between a useless weed or a fragile blade of grass on the one hand, and a lovely, strong, and fruitful tree:
"I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God... for ever and ever" (Psa 52:8).

"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green" (Psa 92:12-14).
WM Thomson, who traveled throughout the Middle East in the last century, writes this about the palm tree:
"The palm tree grows slowly, but steadily, from century to century, uninfluenced by those alternations of the seasons which affect other trees. It does not rejoice overmuch in winter's copious rain, nor does it droop under the drought and the burning sun of summer. Neither heavy weights, nor the importunate urgency of the wind, can sway it aside from perfect uprightness. There it stands, looking calmly down upon the world below, and patiently yielding its large clusters of golden fruit from generation to generation. 'They bring forth fruit in old age.' The allusion to being planted in the house of the Lord is probably drawn from the custom of planting beautiful and long-lived trees in the courts of temples and palaces... This is still common; nearly every palace in the country has such trees in the courts, and, being well protected there, they flourish exceedingly. Solomon covered all the walls of the 'Holy of Holies' round about with palm trees. They were thus planted, as it were, within the very house of the Lord; and their presence there was not only ornamental, but appropriate and highly suggestive; the very best emblem, not only of patience in well-doing, but of the rewards of the righteous -- a fat and flourishing old age -- a peaceful end -- a glorious immortality" (The Land and the Book, pp 49,50).
The tree of life is the first tree mentioned in the Bible (Gen 2:9), as it is the last tree mentioned (Rev 22:14). The fruit of this tree would have conferred the blessing of eternal life upon man -- would have made him, in effect, a "tree of life" himself! But because of sin, man was cast out of the garden of the Lord. All of human history, in a sense, has been a quest, a search, for that lost garden of innocence and that lost tree of life.

Jesus is the "tree of life" -- the one man who perfectly satisfied this description of Psalm 1:
"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" (Psa 1:1-3).
Jesus was, first of all, the "shoot" from "the stump of Jesse", and the "Branch from his roots" that would bear fruit (Isa 11:1). The perfect and beautiful little tree grew out of the root of human nature, and flourished in the fertile soil of God's word. Then the man who lived a perfect life died the perfect death -- a death of obedient love and self-sacrifice. The cross on which he died, a literal "tree of death", became -- to those who believe upon God through His Son -- a tree of life:
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree' " (Gal 3:13).
And so the fruit of that tree of death became life to those who partake of it, who identify themselves with the crucified and risen Savior. Jesus will be the tree of life in the midst of the Paradise of God, the restored and glorified earth, when he returns:
"Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city" (Rev 22:14).
And those who have truly believed in him will no longer be the fragile grass of the field, or the useless weeds or fruitless thistles -- they will be, like him, glorious "trees" of immortality:
"The branch of my planting... they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor" (Isa 60:21; 61:3).

"No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands" (Isa 65:22).
When can we expect this wonderful transformation? It will begin to happen as soon as Christ returns to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. May he come soon!

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