‘At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail’ ~ Job 14:7
If you were a tree, what type would you be? Among the various imageries the Bible uses to describe human beings, one of the key illustration is a tree. King Nebuchadnezzar will tell you that he was a tree, ‘large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air’ (Daniel 4:20-21). This is because he had dominion and influence which extended to ‘distant parts of the earth’ (v22). David would tell you that he was ‘like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither’ (Psalm 1:3). He uses this imagery to describe himself and the other righteous people because ‘whatever he does prospers’ (v3).
A tree can experience death when its water supply is cut. The deepness of its roots is therefore what determines its chance of survival. When it had been decreed that Nebuchadnezzar, the large and strong tree, would be cut by the Lord because of his pride, a loud voice said, ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field’ (Daniel 4:14-15). Daniel interprets the dream to mean that, ‘The command to leave the stump of the tree with its root means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules’ (v26). Since his roots were not taken out, Nebuchadnezzar was still able to grow back. His roots were his source of greatness. They were what ensured that he grew back.
A tree is symbolic of dominion. The larger the tree, the deeper the roots, and hence the greater the dominion. Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty tree because of the nature of his roots, his Source. The Source of the King’s authority was great, meaning that his roots were deeper to enable his flourishing. Daniel notes, ‘You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory’ (2:v37). Nebuchadnezzar’s roots could be traced back to God, and so even though he was cut down, he would sprout again because the roots were still in a water source, God. Even though for a tree, ‘Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant’ (Job 14:8-9). Hence, the trick for tree survival is its roots being deep enough and connected to the source so that when water flows by, it will sprout again.
In the same way, Christians who are considered ‘oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified’ (Isaiah 61:3), need to send their roots deeper into God. This will ensure our survival especially when we grow weary and faint in our walk. Though for a time it seems like we are cut down and our leaves withered, our roots should be our main focus so that at the scent of water, we can be able to rise again. Peter urges, ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord’ (Acts 3:19). Clearly, there are times when God moves to refresh His people, and being constantly in His presence will ensure that we do not miss out on His refreshing. Since water covers the earth and is not biased, so God’s move is for all, but it is the deepness of a tree’s root that determines how much water it can take up, if any at all. But, ‘The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted’ (Psalm 104:16).
Those without deep roots fail to catch the scent of refreshing water, and risk being extinct. In these last days when the ‘earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2:14), there remains no excuse for a lack of flourishing. In fact, those who fail to continuously send their roots deeper in God are likened to a fig tree. Though God gives it a chance to sprout, when He sees that even with availability of water it still does not cast its root deeper to absorb water, He remarks, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ (Luke 13:7). In fact, at one time when Jesus saw ‘a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves, He said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered’ (Matthew 21:19). So, to avoid the risk of running out of chances for growth even when all conditions are favourable, we ought to grow roots in God so that we can bear fruit. This is because our Gardener will soon come to harvest, and when he finds no fruit in us, our destination will be the fire.
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful’ (John 15:1-2). Jesus introduces the fact that while we are trees, He is our Source. Because the Kingdom of God is unified, in reality there is one tree, Jesus, and Believers are those ‘grafted’ (Romans 11:17) into that ‘olive tree’ (v17). However, Jesus bestows each Believer with authority to bear fruit for the Great Commission. So, ‘The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him’ (Psalm 92:12-15). Thus, the only way a Christian can be a well-watered and fruitful tree is by abiding in God, our Root. No matter the changing circumstances experienced in the shoot, our roots must be firm, because as Jesus says, ‘Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me’ (John 15:4). Are your roots in Jesus?
‘Produce fruit in keeping with repentance . . . The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire’ ~ Luke 3:8,9
‘But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit’ ~ Jeremiah 17:7-8
‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him’ ~ Isaiah 11:1-2