Poignant Pines

starry branches of stone pines

It’s been a month of conifer delight, and no better way to finish off Isaiah’s Evergreens than to plant pines:

[The wood-carver] cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak; he plants the pine in the forest to be nourished by the rain. Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire. With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Isaiah 44:14-14-15 NLT

The Italian stone pine saplings adorning entryways to grocery stores and garden centers this season give us ample opportunity. These seasonal decorations and living gifts will plant easily in gardens or garden pots, pointing us to God’s everlasting beauty and the cozy warmth of His love for seasons to come.

The Italian stone pine, the Aleppo pine, and the Calabrian pine are the three most prominent Pinus species native to the Holy Land,* warmer climate pines hardy to Zone 8. Once again, when it comes to conifers, we do not have wholehearted consensus on which Pinus species the Hebrew word, oren, in this Scripture, might represent. Some scholars translate entirely different tree types—the cedar, fir, or ash. Although, the “wood to make a fire” reference following the mention of the tree might be a further clue, as Pinus species with their higher amounts of resin are the most flammable of the conifers.

Regardless, being led to Isaiah 44 through deck-the-halls greenery is a perfectly poignant opportunity to glimpse God’s great gestures in the Christmas story.

He Helps

O gardeners, I confess I am as scattered as my seeds this week, days are closing in on Christmas! Are you feeling harried, too? Let us sink into the glorious greeting of Isaiah 44 that God is ready with personal help.

But for now, dear servant Jacob, listen— yes, you, Israel, my personal choice. God who made you has something to say to you; the God who formed you in the womb wants to help you.
Isaiah 44:2 The Message

Let us embrace His help and yield to His mystery, always believing, seeking, and asking in the very practical matters before us. These final days will give us a multitude of opportunities to put this Word into practice, yikes!

He Blesses

maturing branch of stone pines Fueling much of the Christmas craziness is our desire to bless our children, to make Christmas magical for our families, to create glee and gladness in whimsical gifts, sweet treats, and “how did you know?” delight on Christmas morning. It can be exhausting, however, to pull this off! Thankfully we read and remember, it is God’s move to pour out blessing on our children.

I will pour out water for the thirsty land. I will make streams flow on dry land. I will put my Spirit into your children. My blessing will be like a stream of water flowing over your family.
Isaiah 44:3 ICB

His blessing to our children in turn refreshes and fills us, shown in the dry-land-to-water-flowing imagery. May we be swept up in the current of His blessing and remember it is not our move, it’s His!

Pointing to Forgiveness

Now the pines get poignant, prompting our acknowledgement that we are never far away from our tendency to turn God’s good gifts into substitutes for Him.

The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes; he is trusting what can never give him any help at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this thing, this idol that I’m holding in my hand, a lie?”
Isaiah 44:20 TLB

Though the story of the wood-carver forming idols from his leftover pine logs (v. 9 – 20) may seem archaic to our modern, sophistication, the pattern will always haunt our human nature: our tendency to trust things to save us, instead of the God who saves. Yet what is Christmas day all about?

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21 NIV

Hallelujah, Christ is born, the One who saves! The good news of God’s forgiveness is tucked right here in Isaiah 44, resounding the gift of Christmas day, including His blessed beckon to come to Him whenever we realize we have been acting in deluded ways:

“Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
Isaiah 44:22 NIV

He Rejoices

And what is the proper response to this good news? The very next verse reveals complete silliness! Child-like wonder! Full merriment, mountains singing, trees clapping, hilarity bursting out:

Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.
Isaiah 44:23 NIV

Isaiah 44 ushers us right to the threshold of Christmas morning, the child-like joys recaptured in God’s saving grace. May the backdrop of evergreens in your landscape make you laugh every time you glimpse them! May every entering to the grocery store bring you a stone pine smile! May Christmas trees sing God’s glory, His faithfulness, and His everlasting love that saves and rejoices.

trio of cypress and stone pines

M E R R Y   C H R I S T M A S ! ! !

 

 

Gods Word for Gardeners book in mustard greens

 

Read more about the evergreens in God’s Word for Gardeners Bible, “Lay of the Land,” for the Cedars of Lebanon series of devotions from the Garden Tour section, beginning page 355.

Garden in Delight gate logo

 

Visit our Plant Guide for more information on evergreens referenced in the book of Isaiah, www.gardenindelight.com/plant-type/isaiahs-evergreens/

 

*Michael Zohary discusses Italian stone pine and Aleppo pine in his book, Plants of the Bible (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pages 113-14.
*Lytton John Musselman discusses three pine species, Aleppo, Calabrian, and stone pine, in his book, Figs, Dates, Laurel and Myrrh (Portland, Ore.:Timber Press, 2007), pages 221-25

 

Photo Credits ©2018 Shelley S. Cramm

Italian stone pine sapling from Home Depot™ repotted and mulched in pinecones

Hmmm… seems to me, not too far from the little pine trees at store entrances, the firewood is stacked…a subtle nod to Isaiah 44:14-15???

Maturing branches of a 4 year old Italian stone pine tree, longer needles are beginning to grow

If your garden is already full of conifers, watch Shelley’s secret to creating the evergreen “tree” on the right in this Facebook video link

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