2nd December 2011

The Green Pine Tree

I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.”
Hosea 14:8 (NIV UK)

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” (Alfred Joyce Kilmer).

In around 750BC the prophet Hosea was sent by God to tell the Israelites that they had lost their sense of purpose. They had got diverted into their own sinful ways and no longer fulfilled God’s intention for them. Israel should have like a tree in the shade of which all nations could dwell peacefully (14:7). But instead Israel forgot their Maker (8:14), and there was no peace in the land. Their sins were their “downfall” (14:1).

Hosea told Israel to “take words” and “return to the Lord”. Ask God to “forgive our sins and receive us graciously” (14:2). They would be restored because God loves them “freely” (14:4). The result of this grace would be that Israel would be “like a cedar of Lebanon”, “his splendour would be like an olive tree”, “he will blossom as a vine” (14:5-7). All these are references to the beauty of trees. Israel would be transformed just like a tree blossoms when it is well nourished by water and the sun. Its fame would “be like the wine from Lebanon”, which must have been very special at that time (14:7).

There are at least two ways of interpreting the leading scripture. One is that Israel continues to be compared to a tree. Thus Israel declares in response to God’s grace, “I am like a green pine tree”. And God replies, yes, that is because “your fruitfulness comes from me”. The other is that it is God who says, “I am like a green pine tree”, constant, ever green, and our fruitfulness comes from him alone. Both ideas work and have merit.

The sad thing is that Israel did not repent. It would be the spiritual Israel that would fulfill the tree imagery. Christ compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a simple mustard seed. The seed grows into a tree where “the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew: 13:31). They find shelter there. It’s a bit like saying your congregation is a safe place for all people to come to rest.

Next time you see a green pine tree I hope this verse comes to mind. All our goodness, our fruitfulness, comes from God alone. And our churches, our Christian homes, the environment you create personally, can be safe havens where all can exist without fear, just like the birds of the air can find safety in the branches of a lovely tree.

Heavenly Father, thank you that there is safety in your loving arms, and help me make my congregation to be like a glorious tree that gives shade and safety to all who come to it. In Jesus’ name.

Study by James Henderson

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