When God creates all things good for human beings, a specific tree is mentioned: the Tree of Life (Genesis 2. 9). It is put in the middle of the Garden of Eden: this garden planted by God (Gen 2. 8).
At the pivot point in the history of humanity is the Tree of the Cross, the life-giving tree.
History comes to an end as the Tree of Life is again mentioned. At the very end of time, it flourishes, perhaps as a group of trees, on both sides of the River of the Water of Life which flows from the Throne of God (Rev 22. 1 – 3). This is in the Holy City of the New Creation.
All through the Bible there is mention of trees and they are often used in familiar stories and events, in poetry and prophesy. They play a part in the story of redemption. In this set of reflections various aspects of trees (some admittedly fairly tenuous) will be examined. Hopefully this will lead to further thought or investigation on the part of the reader.
In general a chronological or historical approach will be used but some freedom and flexibility may also be applied if deemed appropriate or expedient.
This theme has been chosen to take us through the Trinity season because the liturgical colour for this season is green, evoking thoughts of new life, flourishing and hope.
Acacia or Shittim
‘They shall make an ark of acacia wood … You shall put into the ark the covenant I shall give you’
[Ex 25. 10, 16]
After receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, God tells Moses to collect offerings from the people so that a Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) can be made. This tent will move with them on their journey to the Promised Land. It is to house the Ark containing the Tablets of the Law [Ex 25. 1 – 9].
The Ark is to be made from acacia (or shittim) wood. This plant grows in the wilderness. The Ark is to have poles of the same wood to carry it [Ex 35. 10 – 13]. A table for the bread of the Presence is also to be made of acacia [Ex 25. 23 – 30]. Acacia used for the frame and the bars [Ex 26. 15, 26] and for other altars [Ex 27. 1; Ex30.1]. Every skilled person was involved in the construction [Ex 36 – 39] of the Tent and when it was completed and set up, everything, including Aaron and his sons wearing their vestments, was anointed with oil and consecrated [Ex 40. 1 – 33]. Then ‘the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle’ [Ex 40. 34].
The ark was carried with the people wherever they went and on some occasions it was processed before them. As they prepared to enter the Promised Land, Joshua instructed the people to watch for the Ark and follow it [Josh 3. 1 – 3]. To enter the land they had to cross the river Jordan near Jericho. The priests were to go into the water and stand there. When they did God stopped the waters and the people crossed the river safely. When all had crossed the priests brought the Ark out onto the bank [Josh 3. 14 – 17].
The first town they came near to was Jericho which was fortified with great walls. The Lord told Joshua how to capture the city. The Ark was a vital part of the plan. The priests blowing the rams’ horns (shofar) were led by warriors and the priests carrying the Ark followed. Warriors brought up the rear. They paraded around the city for six days in silence. On the seventh day they all marched round the city seven times and on the seventh circuit when the priests had blown the horns Joshua told the people to shout. The walls fell and the city was captured [Josh 6. 1 – 21].
In the time of Samuel the people were at war with the Philistines. They were not able to overcome the Philistines so once again the Ark was brought out and the people ‘gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded’ [1 Sam 4. 5]. When the Philistines heard that the Ark was present they were afraid. They fought but were defeated. However the Ark was captured [1 Sam 4. 11]. It was passed to various tribes but no-one wanted to take responsibility for it: it seemed to bring disaster on any community that kept it. Eventually it was returned by putting it on a cart drawn by cows and letting them take it back. The Ark later went with king Saul as he battled against the Philistines [1 Sam 14. 18] and when David overcame the Philistines he celebrated by bringing out the Ark before the people and dancing [2 Sam 6. 3 – 5 – 23]. Wherever the Ark rests it brings blessing [2 Sam 6. 12]. At this time the Ark was still in the Tent and so it was easy to move it from place to place.
Solomon gave judgement before the Ark [1 Kings 3. 15]. He built the Temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark. [1 Kings 8. 1 – 11], but the Ark would not be needed for ever. In his vision Jeremiah foresees a time when shepherds feed the people ‘with knowledge and understanding’ [Jeremiah 3. 15]. In those days the Ark ‘shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed, nor shall another be made’ [Jer 4 16]. All nations will come to the presence of the Lord [Jer 4. 17].
may we treasure your holy places as gateways to heaven.
Open our hearts so that we may experience
your presence in each holy place.
Inspire us to appreciate the significance of the place:
its atmosphere as a reflection of heavenly peace.
Give us a longing for an encounter with you.
In Jesus’ name we pray.