OK, so it should come as a surprise to no one that I read the Bible with some regularity. I don’t follow a set reading plan, though. Rather, when I embark on a full reading of the Bible, I begin at 3 different places (Genesis 1, some place in the middle, in the “wisdom” or “prophets” sections, and Matthew 1). I’ll read 2 chapters from each of the OT books and one of the NT as I make my way through. On some mornings, there appears to be no correlation between the different sections, but on others it seems as though I’ve aligned portions with such symmetry that it speaks to the cohesive, single message of redemption in the unified Bible. As the featured image illustrates, the readings of the 3 different sections sometimes seems to unlock some important truth that I need to contemplate and remember. So, when you see the lock image on a post, you’ll know that I’ve had one of these moments with my Bible reading. If you are interested, please read on….
This morning it was Deuteronomy 19-20, Isaiah 2-3, and John 8. And there was a theme of trees (NLT translation):
Deut 20:19-20: 19 “When you are attacking a town and the war drags on, you must not cut down the trees with your axes. You may eat the fruit, but do not cut down the trees. Are the trees your enemies, that you should attack them? 20 You may only cut down trees that you know are not valuable for food. Use them to make the equipment you need to attack the enemy town until it falls.”
Isaiah 2:12-13: 12 “For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has a day of reckoning. He will punish the proud and mighty and bring down everything that is exalted. 13 He will cut down the tall cedars of Lebanon and all the mighty oaks of Bashan.”
John 8:28-30: 28 “So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I AM he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. 29 And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him.’ 30 Then many who heard him say these things believed in him.”
As I read these passages, I was reminded to be thankful for God’s provision for me and to be wary of my feelings of self-sufficiency. The context of the Deuteronomy passage is God making promises (and commands) for the people of Israel as they were warring with their enemies upon possessing the land that God had promised. It is clear from the passage that God is providing what the needed to live on, food and supplies, and they were to respect that, even in enemy territory. The trees that were good for food shouldn’t be cut down, but otherwise, they could be used for means of advancing civilization (I’m extending beyond just the value of trees for war).
The passage in Isaiah was written after Israel had gotten rich and powerful and had begun to turn away from God. They no longer humbly recognized God as the provider of all blessings but began to proudly believe in their own self-sufficiency, even to the point of idolizing things created instead of their Creator. Isaiah uses the imagery of the beautiful, prized “cedars of Lebanon” and the “oaks of Bashan” as symbols of Israel’s pride and warns that the Lord will discipline Israel by, among other things, laying low these ornamental (non-fruit-bearing trees). The relationship between Provider and adorer had been perverted; God would humble his people to the point of destroying all of their man-made possessions of comfort and wealth.
Finally, we see in John the man Jesus explaining that he will be lifted up on a cross and something will happen that will make man understand His purpose…that God had sent him to save the world. Jesus was predicting his death but was careful about the timing of it. He was careful about overly provoking those that spoke against him or about publicizing his miracles because his “time had not yet come” (John 7:8). Jesus was to be the fruit of life, though hung on an article of man’s war with God, a man-made tree, a cross. At the depth of His humiliation and the height of our pride, Jesus obeyed the will of His father to establish eternal peace between man and God. His ministry and death was the ripening leading to the resurrection event that made the ultimate provision, salvation, available to all God’s people.
So for me, there’s warning and encouragement in all of this. I must remember to be thankful for the blessings of this life and humbly live for God’s glory, not my own. World history shows that I’m a failure at this, so God relieved me of the responsibility for obtaining righteousness, meaning I’m forgiven because of what Christ did on my behalf. That being said, God did *not* relieve me of the accountability for my actions, because these are the visible signs of the state of my heart, not to mention that detail of the consequences impacting my life and those around me. So, with my heart set on following Jesus another day, I hope to be a tree “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 17:8).