"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
"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
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
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
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"
WM Thomson, who traveled throughout the Middle East in the
last century, writes this about the palm tree:
"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"
"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
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
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
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
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).
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!
"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