Bible Study

3. “Stunted Shrub or Tall Tree?”

Lt. Colonel Dean Hinson explores Jeremiah 17:5-8 NLT in October's "Gardening with God." by Lt. Colonel Dean Hinson

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest sits in the far–western North Carolina mountains, I have hiked its 3,800 acres of old-growth trees, some more than 20 feet around and over 100 feet tall, and many more than 400 years old. This forest is a memorial to the author of the poem “Trees,” who was killed in action in France during World War I. In hiking the trail and experiencing the mammoth trees, I came across his memorial and was reminded of these famous words.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks 
at God all day 

And lifts her leafy arms 
to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

A survey of Scripture reveals that God loves trees. From the trees planted in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2) to the tree beside the river flowing from the throne of God (Revelation 22), God’s Word is filled with images of trees. I find this especially interesting, because trees are not what first comes to mind from my visits to the Holy Land. The limestone rocks of Jerusalem or the volcanic basalt rocks of the Galilee dominate my memories. 

And yet, a “tree planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season with leaves that never wither” is the description of a righteous person found in Psalm 1:3. This image is rather scarce in the Holy Land, found along the one and only river—Jordan—or in northern Israel at the base of Mount Hermon along the source springs of the Jordan. Still, the idea of a tree with deep roots soaking up a constant flow of water that continually produces fruit describes people who “delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.”

Jeremiah expands this theme in 17:5-8 (NLT):

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.’”

Jeremiah has been given the task of warning the people of God of the coming disaster and fall of Jerusalem if they continue to disobey. He weeps and laments for those who continue to put their trust in horses and chariots instead of relying on the Lord. In the midst of God’s warnings, he gives Jeremiah a message of contrast between those who “rely on human strength” and those who have “made the Lord their hope and confidence.” The former are like “stunted shrubs in the desert” starved for a drop of water in a salty land. They have no hope for the future, since they have turned their hearts away from the Lord.

The opposite is true for those “who trust in the Lord.” They are not worried by heat or drought, since they are constantly soaking up water. The roots, while invisible to the eye, provide a solid foundation and a source of nourishment from soil and water. The purpose of planting a garden—or planting a tree—is the production of fruit. Jesus says that a branch that doesn’t produce fruit is cut off and burned (John 15:8). If we have confidence in God and meditate on His Word, we will be like solid and strong trees.

On a vacation in Estes Park, Colorado, at the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park, I came across a selection of cards identified as “Advice from Nature.” I read titles such as “Advice from an Elk,” “Advice from a Mountain,” “Advice from an Eagle,” etc. You get the idea. Then I picked up this one that I purchased and think of when I encounter images of trees in Scripture. I trust it will be of some benefit to you.

Advice from a Tree

Stand tall and proud.
Sink your roots into the Earth.
Be content with your natural beauty.
Go out on a limb.
Drink plenty of water.
Remember your roots.
Enjoy the view!