(Psalm 92:12 — January 2009)
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon.” —Psalm 92:12
All analogies break down. Perhaps you have heard that before. This bit of common sense suggests that nothing is “exactly” like anything else – and so all comparisons are limited. Take this verse from Psalm 92 for instance. The palm tree (the date palm being the exact species) alone does not suffice as a figure for the Christian life. Neither does the cedar. Instead, both the palm tree and the cedar tree are used to illustrate for God’s people what the Christian life looks like. And the message is simple: Christians both bear fruit and grow!
When I was a pastor in Vermont, my wife and I had twelve fruit trees in our back yard – three different apple varieties and two pears. The first year we owned our house, this small orchard produced nothing. Nothing edible that is. There were literally thousands of small sour things all over our backyard come Fall, but nothing with the crisp sweetness of a true Macintosh. The problem was that the trees had not been tended for twenty years and had grown way too much – the trees’ energy continued going into height rather than fruit. And so we began tending the trees. With severe paring each year, the trees slowly but surely shrank – but produced increasingly edible fruit. Ancient, agriculturally informed Israelites also knew that trees – especially the date palm referred to here, either grow or bear fruit. During the date palm’s first four to seven years, all of its energy is spent growing – it bears no fruit at all! The cedar of Lebanon was the tallest tree they knew of. The psalmist’s words in this verse must have been heard for what they meant then as now – you, child of God, will both bear fruit and grow!
Sometimes we can be so engrossed in our Bible studies and devotional aids that we don’t leave much time for actually doing ministry, bearing fruit. Conversely, sometimes we can be so busy doing things that we are not growing in our knowledge of who our great, saving God is. This year, may we commit ourselves to the joyful pursuit of becoming an ever stranger orchard – one that is full of trees that are bearing even more fruit while growing even taller at the same time!
Happy New Year!