Saturday, October 3, 2009

THE TREE OF LIFE

Trees are fascinating. After driving for ages on a road through a huge forest in southern Tasmania we pulled up to have a look at The Big Tree. It was the tallest and oldest swamp gum I’d ever seen. There was a noticeboard with comments, among other things, on the amount of water hydraulically pumped from its roots to its uppermost branches. What a magnificent piece of engineering!

Trees figure prominently in the Bible from beginning to end. Indeed both Peter and Paul refer to the cross as a tree. Paul, quoting from the Older Testament says, ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree”).’ Galatians 3:13. And Peter speaks of Christ as bearing ‘our sins in His own body on the tree.’ 1 Peter 2:24. A tree then, even Christ’s cross, is a central theme of the Bible.
‘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.’ Genesis 2:9. Like the Tasmanian forest, trees and more trees! Adam and Eve stopped to have a look at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The rest is history! The serpent soon had Eve eating out of his hand and Eve had Adam eating out of her hand and they both partook of the forbidden fruit of that tree.

What about the other tree in the midst of the garden, the tree of life? ‘So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.’ Genesis 3:24. After eating of the tree which had the promise of death attached they now were barred from approaching the tree having the promise of life attached. Why? ‘For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.’ 1 Timothy 2:5. The Word made flesh (John 1:14) alone is go-between between God and men (John 14:6). For, He is the Messenger or uncreated Angel of the Covenant (Malachi 3:1). The One coming to redeem His people by the shedding His own blood (Acts 20:28) and to destroy the works of the devil or serpent (1 John 3:8) also was called BRANCH (Zechariah 3:8).

Consider Moses who pulled up to have a look at a bush: ‘And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.’ Exodus 3:2a. Thus the same Jehovah who had appeared to Abraham ‘by the trees of Mamre’ (Genesis 18:1) appeared to Moses. The Angel in the burning bush is reminiscent of the cherubim and flaming sword that guarded the way to the tree of life: ‘Moses, Moses! … Do not draw near this place’ (Exodus 3:4-5). And, what of the BRANCH and the serpent? ‘So the LORD said to Him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” And He said, “Cast it on the ground.” So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail” (and he reached out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand)…’ Exodus 4:2-4. Blood? ‘Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood.’ Exodus 7:17.

At a later time, ‘Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “we have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He would take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”’ Numbers 21:7-8. Thus the BRANCH, as ‘a root out of dry ground’ (Isaiah 53:2), has become the Tree of Life. As Jesus says, ‘“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die.’ John 12:32-33. ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3:14-15. Thus Christ and His cross are the Tree of Life that saves us from the Hellfire Judgment of God, i.e., from being run through body and soul by the flaming sword in the place where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Mark 9:48.

To escape the fire you need to come to the Tree of Life and eat of its fruit. For Jesus says, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.’ John 6:53-55. There is no tree more remarkable than Jesus Christ, the Tree of Life. Pull up, look at Him, and live.

1 comment:

  1. Is the appearance of a sword in Genesis 3 a fascinating anachronism? Did this cherub/angel wield a "claymore" while fallen man had yet to devise a sword?

    As to the the flaming sword, I wonder if the similarity of shape of sword and flame is pertinent. We can also note Psalm 104:4 (repeated as Hebrews 1:7) which says "Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire". The gleaming brightness of a sword blade in the sun enhances the "flame" connection.

    On a terminological tack, the Hebrew for "cherub" is very similar to the Hebrew for "sword":

    כרוב kĕruwb (cherub)
    חרב chereb (sword)

    To take this a bit further, the above Hebrew for "sword" can mean (with variations of pointing): "drought", "waste", "desolation" - which of course are the opposite characteristics of the verdant, fruitful Eden from which Adam and Eve were banished.

    Of further etymological interest is that the Hebrew of the "sword" term in reverse (with a slight "b" to "p" final change) gives us the following very Eden-reminiscent word:

    פרח parach

    - meaning "to bud, sprout, send out shoots, blossom" (see Gen 40:10).

    Moreover, a wondrous verbal symmetry arises in 1 Cor 15:20: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept". The Greek term used for "firstfruits" here very clearly echoes the aforementioned Hebrew for "sprout", "blossom" etc:

    פרח parach
    ἀπαρχή aparchē (firstfruits/ first portion)

    Thus, well does Isaiah say of the coming Messiah: "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2)

    And well does Paul say of those who accept the Messiah's death for them on the Tree: "And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits (aparchē) of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23)

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