The Holy Trees
Trees have been held in high regard by humans for millennia, with many ancient cultures worshiping the trees themselves; it is unsurprising that trees form an important part of the Bible and are held in high esteem. One might even go so far as to describe the trees as holy.
The Bible often speaks symbolically of trees, drawing spiritual parallels to show the growth of faith, fertility, and life. In the Bible, the tree is a “living creature” that speaks to the majesty and knowledge of God (Gen 1:11,12). It is said that gratitude to God can be found in nature with such living examples as the tree.
The Bible speaks of the planting of trees with specific instructions for those planting them. One such example is found in Psalm 1:3, that those who “delight in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night” will be like a tree planted by streams of water.
In an ethical sense, the Bible is clear about not damaging or cutting down trees (Deut 22:6; Job 31:37-41). Trees have also been granted an importance – at times – as a form of witness or covenant even (Isaiah 61: 3, Jer 17:8). It’s not only written in the bible that a tree can be used to bear witness but it is just as the people of old spoke of it: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death is, jealousy is hard as the grave: its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters could not quench love; nor could the floods drown it.”
The Bible also speaks of many examples of trees that were beneficial to society. For example, the trees of knowledge, of healing, and of life that were used in ancient times have been talked about in Biblical texts. In Genesis 2:9, God commands the man to “dress and keep” the garden in the east of Eden. The Tree of Life is the fruit of the tree which grants “eternal life” or immortality, according to Genesis 3:22.
Throughout the Bible, trees also serve as places of refuge (2 Samuel 18:9-5) and a sign of faithfulness and hope for God’s people (Isaiah 40:12; Jeremiah 17:8). In the New Testament, Jesus is described as the Tree of Life (Revelation 2:7).
The Israelite’s Use of Trees
Trees in the Bible are frequently associated with trust, hope, fruitfulness and even salvation. The Israelite’s frequent use of trees in their religious and spiritual practices found acknowledgement in the Bible with numerous references to trees.
In the Tanakh, the Israelites often used oaks and terebinths (oak trees mentioned numerous times in the bible) as places of assembly and reflection (Deut 12:2; Judges 6:11; Jer 2:20). The sacred groves around shrines and temples are also mentioned in the Bible. The “terebinth” was regarded as sacred, and was venerated in early worship (Judges 6:11). The lands of Israel were likewise populated with such trees; the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel frequently refer to trees planted by the Israelites as symbols of their faith.
The Bible also mentions other instances of trees in Jewish mythology, such as the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-4). This was an oak tree imbued with divine fire, used by God to speak to Moses. Likewise, in 1 Kings 19:4-5, the prophet Elijah was told to “go out, and stand upon the mount before the Lord” and behold a “great and strong wind”. Here, Elijah was told to “go into the clefts of the rock”, and God told him that “the majesty of the Lord shall pass by”.
The olive tree was especially important in the Bible, since the olive tree was a symbol of long life and strength (Psalms 52:8). Furthermore, olive oil was used as a sign of purity and in spiritual purifications (Mark 6:13).
Trees in Christianity
Trees were similarly important in early Christianity, with a number of trees often being associated with Jesus, though none of these were ever explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Trees such as the palm tree and the fig tree were frequently referred to by early Christian writers, and were often linked to Jesus and his teachings.
One of the first trees to be linked with Jesus was the Palm tree, which was the tree of victory and triumph. This is because Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was said to have been marked by a great throng of people waving palm branches (Mt 21:8; Mk 11:8; Mc 11:8).
The biblical fig tree also held significance in early Christian literature. The fig tree was believed to have been a tree of abundance and fruitfulness; this was based on the fig tree that Jesus cursed for not bearing fruit (Mt 21:19-20; Mk 11:12-14). It is also thought that this incident from the bible foreshadows the judgement at the end of time (Mk 13:28-31).
Trees as Symbols of God
In addition to trees being associated with Jesus, they were also seen as symbols of God. In the Bible, God’s presence is sometimes described as being like a tree, with its deep roots and branches spreading out into the world.
The prophet Ezekiel frequently referred to God as a tree to illustrate the enormity of His power: “He was a cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches and a shady shelter and a high stature, and its top was among he firs.” (Ezek. 31:3).
Likewise, Psalm 1:3 says that “Those who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on His law day and night will be “like a tree planted by streams of water.” Here, the tree serves as a symbol of the knowledge, nourishment and sustenance that God provides.
Trees as Symbols of Creation
Trees in the Bible often speak of God’s creative power and majesty. In the opening of the Bible, God told Adam and Eve “to dress and keep” the trees of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:17). This serves as a reminder that God made the world out of trees, perhaps even suggesting that trees are evidence of divinity and grace.
Furthermore, certain trees were seen as symbols of creation in the Bible, with the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22) often seen as a symbol of the immortality granted by God and the Tree of Knowledge (Gen. 2:9) seen as a symbol of temptation and the capacity for evil.
The Meaning of Trees in the Bible
In essence, trees in the Bible often stand for spiritual growth and knowledge, in addition to strength, nourishment and sustenance. The olive tree and the palm tree are most commonly associated with Jesus, although many other trees are seen as symbols of creation, faith, and hope.
In examining the Bible, one can see that trees play an integral role in the spiritual and physical life of humanity, representing divine power and wisdom. Trees have long been symbols and symbols of love and peace, and their presence in the Bible reinforces this message.
Trees and Awe of Nature
Trees also serve as reminders of the awe of nature that can arise from a simple encounter with a living organism. In Job 12:7-10, it is written: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; and the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”
This serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of the natural world and the power of God. The reverence and respect offered to the trees in the Bible mirrors the awe of the natural world that the Bible speaks of.
In conclusion, trees form an integral part of the Bible, with symbolism, symbolism and spiritual growth being among their main themes. The Bible talks of trees as symbols of creation, faith and hope, while also offering us crucial insights into the awe of nature and how it reflects God’s power and wisdom.
In a sense, trees in the Bible serve as emblems of knowledge, strength and resilience, as well as special moments of reflection, prayer and gratitude towards God.