Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Tree of Life Pattern

Big Idea: Tree imagery throughout the Bible shows people meeting with God, having to make a choice to follow Him or not.

Under the Mango Tree

People in Africa clustered in tree shade
Some of my best thinking and prayer times take place under a tree. Near seminary graduation I felt uncertain about what my future would look like. Headed alone to West Africa to work, I had a lot of questions and concerns. I sat in the shade of a tree, leaning on tree bark contemplating and praying about my future. It was a calming, encouraging moment.

Most villages in Guinea, West Africa have a large town tree. Trees are invaluable in the hot, arid land. Buying and selling takes place in its shade. Village fathers gather at the spreading roots of the tree discussing issues and transactions. After I finished shopping at the outdoor market I would wait for my return ride under a tree making small talk with others waiting too. 

Fast forward to my current life. When looking for a retirement home, I wanted a living room view of trees instead of a subdivision fence. I now fold laundry watching the birds and squirrels play in the trees rather than neighbors on their deck.

The Tree of Life Pattern

In Genesis 2 and Revelation 22 Tree of Life verses are like a set of book ends. Between them God’s plan unfolds to reach out to mankind bringing eternal life to those who respond. That first tree of life reference shows the failure of man to trust God. The last tree of life reference in Revelation shows a new heaven for those who are now a new creation in Christ.

Why study how the tree imagery creates a pattern in the Bible?  In ancient literature imagery and metaphors signal an idea. In our modern era think of Star Wars, when you see the light sabers come out you know it is about more than a light saber. It is about "the Force."

Tracing trees through the Bible is more about what happens by these trees. It shows a meeting which results in testing followed by blessing or a curse. The first pattern starts in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are tempted at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The testing was not about the fruit, it was about the choice; trusting God at His Word, or not following Him by choosing our own way.

Abraham, Friend of God

Abraham, the “friend of God,” illustrates the tree imagery exceptionally. Multiple times God meets him under a tree and Abraham responds in contemplative, frank conversations, and most importantly, faith. Many of these events are noted on a high place. Similarly the wood for holy worship in the tabernacle and temple were in a high place. Misguided worship in rebellious times was on the high places, and then in the New Testament, redemption through Jesus on a tree, the cross, also on a high place. Jesus who sacrificed Himself on the tree, becomes the vine and we are the branches. He is the buried seed that died and sprang forth to new life.

Under the cool shade of a beautiful tree, like the first Adam and Eve, we have the choice. To trust Him, or to doubt Him and follow our own stubborn instincts.

The BibleProject video on the Biblical theme/pattern of the Tree of Life.

[The four blogs for October will be based on the four primary patterns (also known as themes) in the movements of Genesis presented by the BibleProject.]

Up next: Blessing and Curse Pattern
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1. Do you have a favorite tree in your life? Why is it a favorite? Or have you had special memories of a tree, such as a first kiss, family time at Christmas, a place of shelter…

2. Why might a tree be a good place to think about God? What kind of decisions might be made at a place of meeting God? Perhaps your place is wood – wood in a fireplace, or a wooden rocker. Take a moment to think about decisions you have made in contemplation.

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