Before they are symbols for us, trees are examples to us. The psalm writers looked at trees and recognized that their pattern of growth and life was an expression of praise to their Creator. Psalm 96:12 declares, “Let the field and everything in them rejoice. Then all the trees in the forest will sing joyfully.” And Isaiah 55:12 says, “All the trees will clap their hands.” Trees reach upward. Even when planted crooked or sideways, a tree will bend its trunk to vertical-an amazing picture of their purpose to remind us of our own purpose to praise God always. THE TREE OF LIFE
One of the amazing trees of the Bible appears briefly in the beginning and shows up again at the end, in eternity-the Tree of Life. Introduced chapter 2 of Genesis, we are told very little about this tree: “The LORD God planted a garden of Eden, in the east. That’s where he put the man whom he had formed. The LORD God made all the trees grow out of the ground. These trees were nice to look at, and their fruit was good to eat. The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil grew in the middle of the garden” (Gen 2:8-9). The Tree of Life sustained everlasting life. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, they were denied access to it: “Then the LORD God said, “The man has become like one us, since he knows good and evil. He must not reach out and take the fruit from the tree of life and eat. Then he would live forever’ ” (Gen 3:22).
Proverbs uses the expression “tree of life” to describe the effects of wisdom, but this is a figure of speech based on the earlier life-giving tree. For example, “Wisdom is a tree of life for those who take firm hold of it. Those who cling to it are blessed” (3:18; see also 11:30; 13:12; 15:4). The Tree of Life makes its return in the book of Revelation (2:7; 22:;2, 14, 19). This life-giving tree with its varied fruit is available to all who have gained access to the New Jerusalem by the blood of Christ.
The passage from Genesis 3 that introduces the Tree of Life also mentions the ominous Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that ended up supplying the fruit that Adam and Eve tasted in the fall. It presented the first two humans with the only really meaningful choice they had in the garden. The choice about which of any other fruit to eat didn’t matter; but each time they saw the forbidden tree and decided not to eat from it, they were exercising obedience. Then they ate the fruit, and the tragedy called the fall occurred and changed human history.
TREES PLANTED BY WATER
In the landscape of Bible symbols, one of the most beautiful tress is one we are to emulate. Psalm 1 describes a certain person as being “like a tree planted beside streams-a tree that produces fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither. He succeeds in everything he does” (v 3; see also Jer 17:8). According to this psalm, what makes a person such a tree is that he or she “delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night” (v 2). Isaiah later uses a particular tree to represent the kind of people God seeks: “They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, the Plantings of the LORD, so that he might display his glory” (Isa 61:3).
TREES THAT ARE CUT DOWN
In some places the image of a tree being cut down symbolizes the felling of a leader (Judg 9:7-21; Ezek 31:1-14). In this case we have the dual symbolism of a tree not drawing from the life available in Christ and the cutting short of mortal life as a form of judgment. In the life of a believer this might be simple pruning-the discipline of a loving Gardener. But for others it is a symbol of judgment as the life of the tree ends.
In the New Testament, Jesus used a tree symbol in his Sermon on the Mount to describe the difference between lives that bear good fruit and those that bear bad fruit (Matt 7:17-19). As trees were the source of timbers for crosses, crucifixion was sometimes referred to as “death on a tree” (see Acts 5:30; Gal 3:13, quoting Deut 21:22-23). [all ESV], where those executed by stoning or other means would have their bodies hung from trees).
Trees, our steady, longsuffering, and dependable companions throughout life, are present in all their usual roles in Scripture. They remain symbolic sentinels, urging us to have their kind of deeply rooted lives, drawing up nourishment, planted in Christ (Col 2:7).