A Lenten Look at Trees features seven tree species, a sweeping journey from the Garden of Eden to palm’s Sunday prominence, preparing our hearts for the day Jesus hung on a tree. Some trees along the way may be well-suited for your garden; others may be more suitable the table, their fruits found easily in your grocers produce section. Either way, the symbolism and connections yield layers of hidden treasure in God’s Word.
I find typically the fourth week of Lent to be a troubled one. By this time will power tires, and sheer determination fails the test. Somehow, something comes along…a disrupting event trumps my grand plans for intently adhering to the Lord and His Words. All ambition of being good and being ready for a meaningful Easter celebration gets tossed aside, swallowed up by what seems to be more pressing matters. Ugh. During such meek, end-of-the-rope, exhausted moments, I find the story of Hagar especially soothing.
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
Genesis 21:14-16 NIV
My gardener’s heart is drawn to the detail of her settling her son under a bush. The image of her seeking such lowly shelter imparts her desperation, doesn’t it? I can’t imagine finding much solace under the low branches of my garden shrubs, as these spots tend to be barren places. Shade prevents weed growth, yes—and any flourish of soft, verdant, or flowery ground cover. The soil becomes hard-packed, unyielding, unwelcoming, best covered by mulch.
However, Hagar’s lack of comfort becomes comforting: even in this destitute place, even as the sent-away-servant, God sees Hagar and soothes her suffering. He finds the underdog, so-to-speak, “under the bush.” God hears the sobs and restores the mother and son to water.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up.
Genesis 21:17-20 NIV
While “bush” in this story is a generic description, many Biblical botanical scholars, including Lytton John Musselman, author of the Old Dominion University Plant Site featuring Bible Plants, attribute the bush to one of the large shrub/small trees of the Tamarix genus. The story in the Scripture passage following Hagar’s encounter, taking place in the same area, Beer Sheba (Be’er-Sheva in Hebrew), features a tamarisk tree, a species commonly found in the region’s arid landscape where Hagar was wandering.
Tamarisks have an overall mounded habit with branching occurring in curvilinear, sculptural forms. Leaves are warm green, petite, needle-shaped, giving an airy appearance to the tree, if not a little scruffy. Their small, pinkish-white blooms in spring are a refreshing sight.
To the traveler in Palestine the tamarisk trees…often provide a soothing touch of green foliage and a promise of cooling shade which are most welcome.
—Harold N. and Alma L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible, 1952
While the trees are water-savvy, clearly well-adapted to low water landscapes, give careful thought before inviting them to the home garden due to their invasive potential. Instead, get to know these plants on nature hikes along the rivercourses of the American west and Hawaii.
…Other species of tamarisks found in the Levant are also known as salt cedars, as they grow easily in saline soil by eliminating excess salt through their leaf tips. However, the trees increase surrounding soil salinity through leaf litter, thus prohibiting the growth of other plants. Several species of tamarisk shrubs were introduced to the United States in the late 1800s as ornamentals and for erosion control and invaded precious riparian and wetland areas, particularly in the Southwest.
—excerpt from “Lay of the Land, Sinai Desert,” God’s Word for Gardeners Bible, page 93
Further Tamarisk Readings:
Solace in Times of Turmoil
As you may have noticed in the somewhat un-inspiring readings above, tamarisk trees mark times of turmoil and stress in Scripture, stories of rough conflict and desperation. Such trials are a time to remember that though pressed, perplexed, or persecuted, we must not assume misfortune to be punishment or abandonment. It may merely a humble time to hold tight to simple, unflourished truth:
He acts on behalf of those who trust Him, the champion of those “under the bush.”
No one’s ears have ever heard of a God like you.
No one’s eyes have ever seen a God who is greater than you.
No God but you acts for the good of those who trust in him.
Isaiah 64:4 NIRV
©2013 Forest and Kim Starr, Tamarix aphylla (Tamarisk, Salt Cedar) Needles at Kealia Pond, Maui Hawaii click here to view on Flickr Creative Commons
©2011 Steve Dewey, Utah State University Tamarisk click here to view on Flickr Creative Commons
©2010 Salem Naser Al Shekaili Tamarix aphylla in natural habitat in Northern Oman; dry rocky wadi bed habitat click here to view on Flickr Creative Commons