Faith: Tree of death becomes the tree of life

COVID is over. You’ve got more than two years of unspent travel money burning a hole in your pocket and you decide to do one of those bucket list trips, solo.

You’re waiting with a bunch of locals for a bus — for Machu Pichu in Cuzco, Peru, the mountain gorilla reserve in Rwanda, a Mongolian dinosaur dig in the Gobi Desert — whatever.

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You have a pounding headache and no time to look for Tylenol (if there even is any to be had).

Nobody speaks English.

Then you spot it — a big red maple leaf on a backpack. A Canadian!

Probably better prepared than you, with Tylenol and maybe even the latest Canucks game score.

We are one of the few countries in the world with any kind of plant on our national flag. But we are a nation of trees — and that red maple leaf symbolizes who we are. It’s one way to find each other in strange countries.

There is another nation, though, with a tree on its flag — Lebanon.

The cedars of Lebanon come up fairly often in the Bible — 103 times, actually.

Lebanese cedar was used in the construction of Solomon’s temple. King Solomon contracted with Hiram, King of Tyre, to cut cedar logs and raft them down to Israel. It was highly valued as a building material as it was close grained, easy to split for boards and resistant to decay and insect damage.

Jesus, the carpenter’s son, would have been very familiar with it as he worked in Joseph’s shop.

In Psalm 92, the psalmist writes, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord…”

The cedars of Lebanon are symbolic of a long and productive life, a reward for righteousness.

Trees are mentioned more than any other plant in the Bible. Cedar, olive, sycamore-fig, poplar, pine, acacia, algum, cypress, date palm, terebinth, fir, cassia, walnut, willow, almond, tamarisk, juniper, plane and oak are all mentioned.

Many of these trees have either great symbolic value or played a role in significant events in the stories of the Bible.

Acacia wood, for example, was the wood that God directed Moses to use in the construction of the ark of the covenant and the altar table.

The upright frames for the worship tabernacle were also made of acacia wood. Acacia is plentiful in the desert areas of the Middle East, hard and resistant to insects.

Moses’ staff and Aaron’s rod were likely made from the almond tree.

In the book of Numbers, each of the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel was given an almond staff, but only Aaron’s miraculously sprouted leaves and grew ripe almonds.

One fig tree has an unpleasant fate in the New Testament. Figs were often a symbol for the people of Israel. Jesus comes into the Jerusalem and reaching into the leaves of a fig tree, finds no fruit.

He says, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The next day, the disciples pass by the tree and see that it is completely dead.

“Master, look. The fig tree you cursed has withered.”

The story is an object lesson for the spiritual unfruitfulness of the people of Israel.

The identity of the two prominent trees in the Garden of Eden is not known, but they play a huge role in the story of Adam and Eve.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was off limits to them.

It was the fruit of this tree that Eve picked after being tempted by Satan in the form of a serpent.

Western tradition describes the fruit as an apple, but other traditions identify it as a pomegranate, lemon, grape or pear.

Both she and Adam ate the fruit, contrary to God’s prohibition, and were banished from Eden.

The Tree of Life was also prohibited to Adam and Eve after they were banished, guarded by a “cherubim with a flaming sword flashing back and forth.”

Jewish mythology illuminates an interesting role for the Tree of Life.

It is also called the Tree of Souls and each blossom it produces represents an unborn human soul that is transferred into the nascent embryo.

The crucifixion tree has immense significance for all Christians. Eastern Orthodox tradition states that it was made of three types of wood: pine, fir and cypress.

It is an inference drawn from Isaiah 60:13, which refers to these three woods, saying, “I will glorify the place of my feet.”

The wooden footrest, the suppedaneum, was what Jesus’ feet were nailed to in his atoning sacrifice for all our sins.

It is the great mystery of our faith that the cross, the tree of death, became the tree of eternal life.

KTW welcomes submissions to its Faith page. Columns should be between 600 and 800 words in length and can be emailed to Please include a very short bio and a photo.

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