Dear “Trees of Righteousness,”
New Year of the Trees
There is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar that is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the month Shevat called Tu B’Shevat. This year, the holiday falls on February 6, 2023. It is also known as the “Rosh HaShanah of the Trees” and is one of the four “natural” new years on the Hebrew (lunar) calendar. The others occur in Nisan, the new year for calculating the reigns of Israelite kings and determining the cycle of the calendar festivals, and 1 Elul—the new year for “tithing cattle.” These are followed by the new year of 1 Tishri—the new year for calculating jubilees and agriculture.
On the fifteenth of Shevat, the sap begins to rise in the fruit trees of the Holy Land. The evening
before, Israelis recite passages of the Bible which deal with trees and fruits, including the story of how trees were created (Gen. 1:11-13) on the third day—the day that God said, “It is good” twice.
As Israelis—especially children—plant saplings on Tu B’Shevat, they are reminded that God
planted a garden in Eden and has much to say about trees in His Word. Many years ago, I spent
months studying trees in the Holy Scriptures. It took me almost eight hours to go through my files on
the topic. My challenge now is to discern what the Lord wants to say to all of us in this second month of the new secular year. Two concepts are foundational: God’s dealing with man began with a tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), is resolved with a tree (the tree of sacrifice—the cross), and culminates with a tree (the tree of life of Revelation 22). The other important concept is that throughout the Bible, trees are symbolic of people in metaphors, analogies, and parables. An article on trees by the Jewish National Fund stated, “It is a compliment to be compared to trees, but it takes knowledge of the nature of trees to know why. Trees, like man, are the creation of God, and like man, they acknowledge God’s rule.”
Three verses stand out as compliments to YOU this month: “The trees of the LORD are full of sap. The cedars of Lebanon which He planted” (Psa. 104:16). God sees you as flourishing, filled with His life, strong in the Lord and the power of His might. He has planted you. God has anointed you to preach good tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to give the oil of joy to those who mourn, ” . . . that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (Is. 61:3). That is who you are in the Messiah Yeshua: a “tree of righteousness.” You are destined to touch other lives who will then become godly trees as well. Finally, Psalm 52:8, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.”
The Value of Trees
I have loved trees since I was a child. I remember the fruit trees behind our home in Valhalla, NY: peach, pear, plum, rainier cherry, and my favorite—the McIntosh apple. I climbed that tree and read my books among its branches until my mother called me to supper. I made a clubhouse from a big pine tree and jumped in the fall leaves of our maple trees. I climbed trees with my two boys until I was 46 years old. My last tree-climbing adventure was at a Ladies Retreat in San Diego where I was the speaker. I had a beautiful encounter with the Lord in that tree!
I learned a poem about trees by Joyce Kilmer while in elementary school. Some of you may remember the poem “Trees”:
I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree. A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed, against the earth’s sweet flowing breast. A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray. A tree that may in summer wear, a nest of robins in her hair. Upon whose bosom snow has lain; who intimately lives with rain. Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.
Trees are special creations of God. They purify the air, and provide food and homes for birds, insects, and other animals. Trees give us shade, paper, prevent erosion, beautify the earth, and much more. They cause us to look up and to contemplate our Creator.
God cares about trees. For example, He protected them when the Israelites were at war with their enemies. “When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food” (Deut. 20:19). Just as the Lord watches over trees, He watches over us.
Trees are pruned so that they will bear more fruit. So are we (Heb. 12:11). We have been chosen, called, and ordained to bear fruit for God’s kingdom. He wants His people to be fruitful trees (Matt. 7:16-20; Col. 1:10; Gal. 5:22-23; Prov. 11:30). As we are rooted in God, righteous acts result, and the nature of God is manifested in us—the fruit of His Spirit (Gal. 5:22). When we are good trees, we bear good fruit. The Messiah commented on this truth: “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt. 7:17). “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19). Pray with me: “Abba, please help us to be good trees that bear good fruit in 2023! We acknowledge that the flesh can’t bear good fruit. Help us to overcome the sin, pride, and vanity that all have “I” in the center and to keep You, not self, at the center of our lives. In Yeshua’s Name. Amen.”
The Tree of Life
The word for tree in Hebrew is etz עץ (ETZ). Tree of Life is Etz Chaim חיים עץ) (ETZ khi-YEEM).
It is mentioned many times in the Holy Scriptures. We find it first in Genesis 2:9, “And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” After the fall, the Lord had to keep Adam and Eve from the Etz Chaim so that their sin would not be eternal,
never-ending. The Tree of Life represents immortality. It also represents abundant life and the wisdom of God. Every Shabbat, we repeat a statement about the wisdom of God’s Word during the Torah service: “She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (See Prov. 3:17-18.)
Answered prayer or a desire fulfilled is also called a “tree of life” in the Bible. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life” (Prob. 13:12). Positive, godly, good speech is called a tree of life. “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Prov. 15:4). Another verse in Proverbs connects soul-winning with the tree of life. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30). Finally, the Spirit speaks to believers in the Book of Revelation saying, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). What Adam lost, we gain through the sacrifice of the Last Adam, Yeshua. We have access to a glorious Etz Chaim and its luscious fruits. “In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river [the river of water of life], was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2). “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). The “His” in this verse refers to the One mentioned in the previous verse who said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (v. 13). Yeshua. He is the Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life—the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)
The Fruitful Tree
Psalm 1 is an appropriate psalm to meditate on as we enter another year. The psalmist makes an analogy between man and a tree that reinforces the concept of our call and destiny to be fruit trees for Messiah.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psa. 1:1-3). Here we have God’s formula for success—for being a fruitful tree: Meditate on the Etz Chaim—the Torah, the Word of God. Let it become part of your very being, written on your heart through His Ruach HaKodesh, His Holy Spirit. (This truth is confirmed in Josh. 1:8!)
The Fig Tree
Fig tree in Hebrew is etz te’enah עץ תאנה (ETZ teh-ay-NAH). Many Jewish scholars believe that the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden whose fruit was forbidden to eat (Gen. 3:3) was a fig tree, since, after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they saw that they were naked and covered themselves by sewing fig leaves together (Gen. 3:7).
I found in my research, that the fig tree that grows in Israel (ficus carica) bears fruit three times a year: The first figs are paggim, appearing in the spring; the second are the bikkurah, or early figs, ripening in June; and the third, the te’enah, or late figs, come in September. Ludwig Schneider, in his article, “Israel, the Fig Tree,” mentions that in contrast to other trees, such as the olive or date palm, the fig tree develops in three stages that correspond with the biblical pilgrimage festivals. Paggim:
Passover, Bikkurah: Shavuot or Pentecost, and Te’enah: Sukkot or Tabernacles. Some rabbis believe that these figs are symbols of the end times.
The Brit Hadashah also seems to indicate that the fig tree speaks of Israel in the Last Days. Yeshua teaches about the fig tree in His sermon in Matthew 24:32-33, “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!”
Israel, the Fig Tree, has budded. It is debated whether this budding began in 1948, when Israel became a modern nation, or in 1967, when the city of Jerusalem was recovered. In Luke 21:31, the Messiah clarifies what is near: “So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.” Salvation—Yeshua—is near, right at the door!
The Olive Tree
The olive tree is one of the most important trees in the Bible, as well as in the Mediterranean region where it originated. The Hebrew word for olive tree is etz zayit עץ זית (ETZ ZAH-yeet). The olive tree in Israel was, and still is, a source of food, oil, light, building material, and healing. Olive trees
are known for their tenacity. They grow in almost any condition, on terraced hills or in valleys; in rocky or fertile soil. They can withstand harsh weather conditions and can thrive with minimal water. Some grow from root systems 2,000 years old. Many places in Israel are named after olive trees. Perhaps the best known is the Garden of Gethsemane, Gat Shemanim גת שמנים (GAHT sheh-mah-NEEM) in Jerusalem—literally, the “place of the olive oil press.” When the psalmist says, “Your wife shall be like
a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table” (Psa. 128:3), this is considered a tremendous blessing, indicating the promise of plentiful, hardy offspring.
The indestructible olive tree was still alive after the flood. It was an olive leaf that the dove brought to Noah in the ark. It has been said that you can never kill an olive tree. They produce the precious oil that Solomon sent the king of Tyre (100,000 gallons) and was part of ceremonial worship in Israel, including the use for anointing the prophet, priests, and kings.
Jew and Gentile in One Tree
Three of the most important chapters in the Bible for an understanding of the relationship between the Church and Israel are Romans 9-11. Sadly, many believers are ignorant about the truths found in them. The chapters conclude with the image of an olive tree where the Apostle Paul (Saul) describes the relationship between Israel—God’s covenant people—and the Body of Believers in the Messiah.
The olive tree is Israel. Its root is holy and so are the branches. (Rom. 11:16) Speaking to non-Jews, the Apostle Paul says, “And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Rom. 11:17-18).
Olive trees have a shallow but extensive root system. From these roots, shoots spring up around the trunk of a cultivated tree. The Hebrew word for shoot is netzer נצר (NEH-tzair) from which both Nazareth netzeret נצרת (neh-TZEHR-et) and Christian—notzri נוצרי (nohtz-REE) come. If not cultivated, these shoots produce wild olive trees which are shrub-like, produce inedible olives and very little oil. Normally, a branch from a cultivated tree is grafted into the wild tree to produce good olives. In Romans 11, just the opposite happens when wild branches (Gentile believers) are grafted into the cultivated or natural tree (Israel, the Jewish people). It is contrary to nature (v.24) and is a miracle. Both kinds of branches are supported by the root. What or who is the root? Theologians have vary- ing views on this: believing Israel, Abraham, all of the Patriarchs, or Messiah. Whichever it may be, it is a JEWISH root. Unfortunately, those in the Church who say the root is Messiah somehow manage to explain away the Jewishness of the tree and have the Church replace Israel. No, Israel is the root, which does not exclude the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua. We can consider Him to be the Taproot.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is still in a committed covenant relationship with Israel. “…Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (vs.20-21). “And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (vs.23).
Joseph Shulam, in his Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans, refers to Israel as the holy seed—zera kodesh זרע קדש (ZEH-rah KOE-desh) —of Isaiah 6:13, “. . . So the holy seed shall be its stump.” God has pruned Israel because of her transgression. The original branches were not cut off in order to be replaced, but to be pruned. He will bring them back to Himself at the end of time. Shulam comments: “The end of the times of the Gentiles will end the time of God’s hester panim or hiding of His face from Israel.” (Eze. 39:23-29) God says to Israel, “The Lord called your name, Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit…” (Jer. 11:16). God is not finished with Israel!
The Root and Fatness of the Olive Tree
Gentiles who receive the Jewish Messiah Yeshua become partakers of the anointing in the Jewish root—shoresh שרש (SHOH-resh)—and are no longer strangers from the covenants of promise. (See Eph. 2:11-15) This is cause for rejoicing and gratitude. The Lord never meant for His Body to be cut off at the root (like a Christmas tree) but rather to be like an olive tree with deep roots in the Jewish Scriptures. We are admonished to look to our Jewish/Hebraic roots in Isaiah 51:1-2. As we do, our spiritual lives will be greatly enriched.
A final promise for our Jewish Jewels “grove” family: “…For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands” (Isa. 65:22).
Love in Jeshua,