A LESSON FROM THE TREES
by Roger Wyatt | 20th January 2021 | more posts on 'Motifs and Metaphors'
Photograph: Nigel de Rivaz - Trees by the River, Little Woodlands.
Psalm 1 is one of the more well-known of the Psalms, if not the best known. Consisting of only six verses its message is direct, and it seeks to draw a direct comparison between the way and destiny of the wicked, and the way of the righteous:
‘Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers.’ (Psalm 1:1)
Put simply, the psalmist suggests that by resolving not to walk the wrong way in life we discover happiness, or blessedness. Indeed, the verse beautifully illustrates the Hebrew idea that righteousness always meant choosing to walk the right path in life. Of course, the author, probably David, is keen to extend his opening verse by providing the reader with some idea of how they can discover what this right path is, that is, by searching it out in God’s word:
‘but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.’ (Psalm 1:2)
As such, the joy spoken of is not a forced delight, but rather a delight springing from the knowledge that God has chosen to reveal the path of life in the words of a book, something public, tangible, accessible and transformative. The psalmist describes how, when God’s words are thought about, mulled over and digested, in some indiscernible way, they reveal something that can produce life and growth:
‘That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.’ (Psalm 1:3)
And so, in verse three the one who chooses the right path is compared to a great and flourishing tree, that is vibrant and fruit bearing. Moreover, the psalm’s extraordinary claim is that ‘whatever they do prospers’. In short, the one who seeks out God’s right path, in his word, is promised success, fruitfulness and like evergreen leaves, they will not fall when seasons change.
A lesser known passage, hidden away in Jeremiah 17, uses the same metaphor of a flourishing tree. This time however, the writer, the prophet Jeremiah, goes further and speaks more plainly concerning the nature of the right path:
‘“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.”’ (Jeremiah 17:7)
Jeremiah’s emphasis may be different, but his message is one and the same – choosing to walk on the right path in life brings happiness or blessedness. Here however, the right path is described as the path of faith, or trust in God, and of course, this is the message at the heart of the Bible, all life and right living springs from the roots of faith and from nowhere else:
‘“They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”’
Jeremiah’s tree, with its roots in the water, is described as a tree that is not able to just survive drought, but also able to continue to remain vibrant, to grow and be fruitful during difficult and dry seasons. As such, there can be no mistaking what the text of Jeremiah intends - he is using the image of a tree to personify a believer. The happy subject of both passages, as they walk upon the right path of faith, is able to remain standing during seasons of trial, and more than that, can enjoy fruitfulness and success. Moreover, the psalm and the prophecy of Jeremiah, considered together, represent an encouragement to each of us, in all seasons, to keep ourselves rooted in God, in his word and in the way of trust.