Faith News

A message from St George parish church


Trees: an extended study of the significance of trees in the Bible.

Introduction.

When God creates all things good for human beings, a specific tree is mentioned: the Tree of Life (Gen 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.

 

 The shady bush

‘The Lord God appointed a bush … to give shade over his head’ [Jonah 4. 6]

As Elijah found refuge under a bush so the Lord sent a bush to give Jonah shade.

The story of Jonah contains some important messages. Jonah is set a task by God. He is to go to Nineveh and speak to the people about their wickedness. Traditionally Nineveh is an enemy of Israel.

Jonah is not keen to go so he tries to avoid the task by getting on a boat that is going away from the area. But God is not to be thwarted. A storm brews and the boat almost capsizes even after the cargo is thrown overboard. The sailors find Jonah asleep and ask him to call upon God to still the storm. Jonah knew that it was because of him that there was a storm so he told the sailors to throw him overboard. The sailors were now in fear of the Lord so they threw Jonah into the sea and made vows to Jonah’s God.

Meanwhile Jonah was swallowed by a large fish. He was in the fish for three days and during that time he prayed to the Lord, admitting his bad behaviour and promising to do what God asked. Then the fish spewed him out.

Now Jonah was ready to go to Nineveh and prophesy the downfall of Nineveh. When the king heard this he ordered that everyone should ‘turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands’ [Jonah 3. 8]. As a result God ‘changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them’ [Jonah 3. 10].

Instead of being pleased that his warning had taken effect, Jonah was annoyed. He complained to God because God was being merciful. Jonah said he would rather die than live and he went out of the city and sat grumbling. God is merciful to all so he ‘appointed a bush and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush’ [Jonah 4. 6]. In the morning God sent a worm to attack the bush and the bush withered so that when the morning wind blew and the sun came up Jonah was again very uncomfortable. He once again complained to God. God asks Jonah why he is grumbling about the bush, growing or withering, when God is more concerned about Nineveh and all the people.

Jonah has shown how selfish he is and how he has no concern for all the people of Nineveh. From the start of this episode Jonah only thought about his own safety and comfort and even after he had repented of running away and promised to do the task set for him by God he is not content. Through God’s mercy the tree for shade was given by God even though Jonah was annoyed with God and Jonah had not done what God had asked.

God is not God of one person or one group of people. God is merciful and gracious to all who repent of their sins, ask for pardon, and mend their ways. Everyone can be glad at the repentance of one sinner [Luke 15. 7].

 

King of the universe,
you show the bright glory of your reign
in acts of mercy and enduring love;
raise the spirits of the downcast
and restore those who have fallen away,
that we may sing for ever of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.