Last Mother’s Day I was kidnapped by my son, blindfolded, stuffed in a car and driven in circles, then helped out of the car, walked over asphalt, and through grass. When he removed the bandana the first thing I saw was a sprawling oak tree in a park, from whose lofty bough hung a long rope swing that I had once dreamed of out loud.
The trees have seen it all. A tree was the unwilling accomplice of a snake in setting off our doleful saga. Immediately the violators hid themselves in trees from the presence of God (Gen. 3:8). The terebinth tree saw an old man and all his earthly possessions trundling down the road into a promised land from distant Haran (Gen. 12:6). The same tree would see his offspring arrive under Moses 500 years later (Deut. 11:30). Looking at the barks of poplar, almond, and chestnut trees gave Jacob an idea for outsmarting his oily father-in-law (Gen. 30).
In Exodus, the trees of Egypt ducked in vain from the wrath of God on the day He unleashed hail on Pharaoh’s pride. On the other side of the Red Sea, 70 palm trees awaited Israel to give them shade. When they entered the place they were to conquer, God instructed them not to destroy the fruit trees while besieging a city: “Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?” (Deut. 20:19). And to the very end of time the trees get special angelic protection (Rev. 9:4).
It is because of what God says about trees that we have permission for artists as well as doctors: “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). The merely practical man errs: The value of things is not only their utility, their beauty is as dear to God as any other function of the tree. Art for art’s sake, to the glory of God, is born in Eden.
The fruit of the tree is for sharing with “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deut. 24:19). The oil of the olive tree is for anointing as well as food (Judg. 9:9; Zech. 4:3; Jas. 5:14), but it will not go well with your groves if you are rebellious (Deut. 28:40). Obedience is the stated condition for God’s sending rain in season to grow fruit on trees (Lev. 26:4).
The trees played a small but featured role on that unique day in history when the sun stood still for a man, and five kings of the Amorites were hanged on them (Josh. 10:26). The thick boughs of a terebinth grabbed Absalom’s luxurious hair and sealed his death when he usurped his father’s throne, and left King David inconsolable (2 Sam. 18). But trees were David’s allies when at the Lord’s command they made a sound of marching in their topmost leaves, the signal to fall upon the Philistines.
God has summoned praise from the lips of “great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, ... fruit trees and all cedars ... kings of the earth and all peoples ... young men and maidens together” (Ps. 148:7-12). Who will call that metaphor? God says “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy!” (Ps. 96:12). Who will say it is a figure of speech? There is a language we know nothing of. All we know is that the Lord addresses stars by name (Ps. 147:4), and stones will find their tongues if we do not (Luke 19:40). I got married under a willow tree, and its branches clapped in the April wind.
The Bible begins and ends with a tree. The tale between is sometimes heroic and beautiful but mostly full of sorrow and groaning. The tree’s darkest and finest hour cures the misery of men and trees alike (Rom. 8:22). Even when the sun is no longer needed (Rev. 22:5), the tree remains. And the One who hanged on it for us is there no more but bears the marks forever. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.