Today, I am going to walk you through a forest of different stories, they are linked by a theme of blessing or cursing. What does this mean for someone who has been widowed, gone through a divorce or lost their home? What does this mean for those who are transitioning to new places? These stories symbolize to me God’s providential care and provision represented by the place trees held in the stories.
I was fascinated to learn the role trees played in early Biblical history. In the beginning God created trees and declared them good: they were to be used for man’s food and enjoyment. After Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden, the first thing Adam and Eve did was to sew leaves together to cover themselves and hide in the trees. Instead of food trees were used for cover and protection!
Growing up in Africa with shady trees; we enjoyed many a meal or afternoon tea under a tree with our guests, a place of hospitality and protection from the sun. Abraham bought a plot of land at Mamre that had a cave and trees on it, he entertained God’s messengers under the trees, this is also where he buried his wife Sarah and others who died. Have you noticed that old graveyards have trees planted around them, especially the ones with tall cypress trees standing like sentinels to watch over the dead? Trees provide peace and protection to the dead and living alike.
When Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go, God sent a hailstorm that shattered the trees, and so began a pattern in the Old Testament of destroying trees as judgement. When they were about to besiege a city, the Israelites were instructed not to destroy the fruit trees, so they could eat the fruit but they could cut down non fruit bearing trees to make ladders, portable towers, and battering rams to get into the city. After the enemy was captured quite often the bodies were hung on trees. Jesus was hung on a tree when he was crucified; the symbol of redemption too, provision for our salvation protecting us from God’s wrath. Even in modern times this practice of hanging was practiced as a form of capital punishment.
There is a correlation between blessings and cursing with trees. When people turned away from God, their crops would be stunted, locusts would eat their plants, there would be droughts and fire and olive and fig trees be destroyed or not bear fruit. In other words, their provision and protection were withdrawn. On the other hand, when God blessed the people, their fruit trees and fields yielded bumper crops, and everyone lived in safety. The prophet Habakkuk said even if the fig tree did not blossom and there are no grapes on the vines and the crops and livestock failed, he would continue to rejoice in God his Savior. You may ask whether you are suffering under a curse when things seem bleak after your loss? Turning to God, will help transform your mindset to blessings even if you can’t see them right now, if you rejoice in the presence of God, you will still be under His covenant of provision and protection.
Trees were also used in decoration and celebration. God gave the blueprint for the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, to be made with richly carved and gilded wood. Solomon’s Temple was made with wood brought from the forests of Lebanon, firs, pines, and box trees carved and gilded to beautify the sanctuary. Medieval churches were also richly decorated, something modern man could be missing out on! The Festival of Booths, (boughs were cut from trees and booths were made from them) was to remind the Israelites they had lived in tents in the wilderness and God had provided both food and shelter for them and when they arrived in the Promised land, he gave them vineyards and olive trees they had not planted. This festival was at the end of the natural harvest cycle and was a joyful celebration. Our modern Harvest Festival has a similar tone, to celebrate the provision of God in the harvest.- Even families were likened to olive trees, the psalmist wrote “your wife shall be contented in your home, and the children sit around the dinner table as vigorous and healthy as young olive trees!” Again, a symbol of fruitfulness and provision and children would be a protection in their old age.
We may be travelling through a desolate place right now, through the wilderness, and yet God provides food and shelter in those places. When I think back to the times I have been through the wilderness after my divorce and widowhood, there has always been a roof over my head and food has been provided in one way or another. When I first started my new job in Johannesburg, the company put me up at a hotel for a couple of weeks. As I had made an international move, they extended my stay until the end of the month and my first paycheck. I then stayed with a family member for a month until I could get my own apartment. The company also had a policy of ‘Meal Tickets’ which you could exchange for a meal at the local fast food stores. I had had to move forward in faith not knowing how I would get by until my first paycheck and yet there was not a day I was not provided for. I have had to trust the Lord to protect me to take care of my children going to school, when I was seriously ill with a deep vein thrombosis and when they had to move overseas to make their own way in the world.
Sometimes we may have escaped from a situation where we felt like there was no fruit, no joy and no blessings, that we were being punished for what has gone wrong in our lives and bad choices we had made, our person-hood was under siege or we were the victim of other people’s choices. When next you look at trees, stop to think about what they symbolize – Enjoy their beauty and know that God will provide and protect you especially when you are going through the wilderness. “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4