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 for 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.
Hung on a Tree
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
Psalm 37:35 KJV
I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
Psalm 37:35 ESV
By the end of this night, thousands of years ago, it would appear the ways of wicked, ruthless men had flourished; those intent on putting to death Jesus, the Righteous One, had secured his sentence. It seemed that Jesus was cursed to hang on a tree—
The God of our fathers hath raised up Jesus, whom you put to death, hanging him upon a tree.
Acts 5:30 DRA
If anyone is found guilty of an offense deserving the death penalty and is executed, and you hang his body on a tree, you are not to leave his corpse on the tree overnight but are to bury him that day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.
Deuteronomy 21:22-23 HCSB
For Christians, it is common to refer to Jesus’ death on a cross, and to symbolize it so. Yet let us consider the humble reality that the cross, a tall structure or stake of wood, would have been fashioned from the trunk or thick branch of a dead tree—a dry tree, cut off from its roots, no longer drawing water or producing life-giving sap, no longer sprouting and flourishing green leaves.
Not that the cross was made from bay laurel wood. Instead, linger in the alignment that Psalm 37, in which green bay is planted, voices fears that those with wicked schemes would prevail, resounding the horrific tension of this fateful night.
If God in his righteous splendor truly triumphs, why does evil appear to flourish? Why do the wicked seem to be thriving, green and healthy as an upright tree? (Psalm 37:35). Why did the Righteous One, God’s Only Son, die on a wooden cross? It was a horrible twist of God’s glory in the trees, as historical translations poetically rendered “tree” for “cross” (Deuteronomy 21:22 – 23; Acts 5:30). —excerpt from “Bay Laurel,” God’s Word for Gardeners Bible, page 633
As we have looked with wonder over these weeks at beautiful, meaningful, nutritional, delightful trees with illuminating lessons, pause and calmly think on this dark moment in Scripture when the tree was everything opposite: dry, defeated, stripped bare, dead.
The Green and the Dry
Jesus quipped this subtle question on the way to his crucifixion, Again, not that the Savior was speaking specifically about a green bay, or bay laurel tree, but to the contrast between green, life-filled trees and trees dry, desiccate, deceased, and lifeless. May we dare to imagine this retort as a wisecrack, a laugh at the wicked? If “green” trees get burned, how much more will this happen to the dry? In this muttered reference, Jesus offers reassurance, reiterating that evil gets what’s coming in the end.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found…
for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous…
But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.
Psalm 37:10, 17, 20 NIV
We may find our circumstances to be a small measure of this moment, wrongdoing appearing successful or accolades pouring out to the oppressor. Yet Psalm 37 leads our defeated thinking to victory!
The spacious, free life is from God, it’s also protected and safe.
God-strengthened, we’re delivered from evil—when we run to him, he saves us.
Psalm 37:39-40 The Message
Bay Laurel Trees
Likewise, though we have lingered in the shadows of evil’s fluster, the Savior’s victory displays in the luxuriant horticulture of bay laurel trees. Their spring’s leafy luster, and the leaves’ ability to remain fresh-looking and fragrant once cut from the tree, make them ready for garlands and swags—celebratory decoation (plant bay laurel to have branches for Christmas greenery…but I’m skipping ahead on holidays…)! Bay laurel was a favorite in the ancient world for adorning military victors and honoring academic accomplishment, “crowns” or wreaths are commonly pictured on honored Greek or Roman heads. A Proverbs passage agrees, declaring wisdom “to give a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown (Proverbs 4:9 NIV).”
To complete our Lenten Look at Trees, bay laurel trees are a natural for resounding Jesus’ triumph over death.
Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!
1 Corinthians 15:56-57 The Message
H A P P Y E A S T E R ! ! !
Enjoy insight on bay laurel trees in rhyme and meter in the A-to-Z Primer of Plants from God’s Word
Read more on bay laurel trees in the devotions from Jesus The Seed, Root, Branch and Firsfruits, part of Garden Stories, page a-47 & a-48, and in the Garden Tour section Asia Minor and Macedonia, “Lay of the Land,” page 1249
Wishing you a wonderful celebration, whether gathering with few or many! Please join us in two weeks when the Garden in Delight blog returns to its bi-weekly posting. Next Up: Pollinator Gardens meet the land of milk and honey!
Photo Credits: ©2017 Shelley S. Cramm