"Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean
depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his
bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars…"
In commenting on Psalm 148:9, the great English preacher Charles Haddon
'Fruit trees and forest trees, trees deciduous or evergreen, are equally full of benevolent design, and alike subserve some purpose of love; therefore, for all and by all, let the great Designer be praised. There are many species of cedar, but they all reveal the wisdom of their Maker. When kings fell them, that they may make beams for their palaces, they do but confess their obligation to the King of trees, and to the King of kings, whose trees they are. Varieties in the landscape are produced by the rising and falling of the soil, and by the many kinds of trees which adorn the land. Let all, and all alike, glorify their one Lord. When the trees clap their hands in the wind, or their leaves rustle in the gentle breath of Zephyr, they do to their best ability sing out unto the Lord' (The Treasury Of David).
Within that area of the world that is known as the Fertile Crescent, a bow-shaped tract of land in South-west Asia stretching from Jordan northwards to southern Turkey, then swinging southwards to the borders of Iraq and Iran and incorporating parts of Israel, Lebanon and Syria, trees played an important part of the people's life.
Symbols, pictographs, writings, and art objects from the cultures that occupied these areas in ancient times are full of trees, tree forms, and references to trees. The date palm in particular, it was said, had as many uses as there are days in the year
Physically, trees are important for a variety of reasons. They protect the soil from erosion, affect the Oxygen/CO2 balance of the air, absorb pollutants, affect climate change, provide shelter for wildlife and humans, give fuel, building materials and paper, provide medicinal and food products, and protect watersheds for communities.
Of course, trees also give focus, stability and beauty to the environment in which they grow. The grandeur of a giant Redwood just cannot be ignored; the flamboyant colours of Fall and delicate beauty of the Cherry blossom are celebrated yearly in many countries. They are symbols of permanence in a world that is constantly changing, landmarks that have survived through some of the most turbulent times in earth's history.
Yet mankind is exerting its privilege of stewardship to make use of the natural resources of this world, or should that be ab-use. Rain forests are being levelled at an unprecedented rate and whole ecosystems destroyed. That which is seemingly immovable is also dependant, vulnerable, and can be felled by a simple axe. Stewardship is a big responsibility!
Spiritually, trees speak to us among other things, about maturity. We all of us start our journey of faith as tender young saplings; easily moved by winds of change, often uprooted by storms that assail us, sensitive to the elements, shallow rooted, in constant need of food and water. We require nurturing and without it we will often fail to grow and show fruit.
As we travel on our way, our spiritual roots become more deeply embedded and able to draw on the natural resources that lie beneath the surface; we become sturdier, protected to some extent against all the elements throw at us; less prone to movement, more efficient and more useful - we ourselves become a resource that can be used.
However, as with the mighty Redwood, we must remember that however tall, mature or self-reliant we might become, there is still a vulnerability which we must never lose sight of - the axe that falls might not be physical, but the effect is still the same.
Vulnerability might be thought of as a sign of weakness, yet it is anything but, acknowledging as it does that our strength comes not from within, but from elsewhere - from the One whom Charles Spurgeon called 'the Great Designer', who feeds and sustains us and is the firm ground into which we are well rooted.
The lessons we learn from the tree are to be sure from where our roots draw their strength, to remain deeply embedded in the firm ground of God's Word and to reach high and wide. We need to be a place of shelter for those in need and a source of help and comfort, to be exuberant in the display of our faith and be a landmark in the place in which we are planted.