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.
King Nebuchadnezzar and his vision of the tree
In section 4 we looked at the fable of the trees. Now we turn to a dream involving a tree.
Written as if in the time of the exile under the Babylonians, in the first part of the book of Daniel are stories of heroes who stand firm in their faith and defy their captors. It is more likely that the book was written later, under the rule of the Greeks in about 165 BCE. The hero, Daniel, and his friends are portrayed as if in times past but their escapades and victories give encouragement to those persecuted at the time of writing. They also give comfort and reassurance at any time of distress and oppression. The style is that of apocalyptic, describing the end of times, similar to Revelation, which we thought about in the previous section.
King Nebuchadnezzar, who lives in sumptuous luxury, has come to rely in Daniel, the Jew, to give him advice and to interpret his dreams. None of the court magicians could understand the dreams. In one of the dreams, Nebuchadnezzar sees a tree ‘at the centre of the earth’ [Daniel 4. 10] which grows and expands. It develops leaves and fruit and it provides food and shelter for all kinds of living creatures. But a holy watcher, an angel, appears and commands that the tree is completely demolished so that only a stump remains. The tree is then transformed into an animal.
Daniel, called Belteshazzar by the king, knew that if he gave the king the interpretation he would be in danger of his life because the interpretation would not please the king: it was bad news. Nevertheless Daniel explains that the magnificent tree is the king in all his pride and arrogance [Dan 4. 22]. He will be cut down to size and reduced to living with animals until he has ‘learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals’ [Dan 4. 25]. The stump will remain so that it can, in time, regrow. The vision and the prophecy are fulfilled.
When Nebuchadnezzar realises why this has happened he admits that the god of Daniel is the true god: ‘his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation’ [Dan 4. 34]. Now he is restored to his former glory and he becomes even greater asserting ‘all his works are truth, and all his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride [Dan 4. 37].
As we approach Advent we need to be reminded of the importance of humility and repentance and of the coming judgement. While this story may not be historically accurate it nevertheless contains truth. It is a reminder to us to stop and consider our lives. We may need to examine our thinking and our actions; give ourselves a hard prune; acknowledge once again Christ the King. Then we will be able to sprout new fresh life-giving shoots and move forward into Advent in expectation.
Lord God, the maker of all,
as we bow down in praise this day,
make us attentive to your voice
and do not test us beyond our enduring;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.