Copyright © 2008 Michael Hugh Sprawson
The Tree of Life
As we read and check out the scriptures, we'll come to see that figures of speech are, generally speaking, given without explanation. The reason for this is that examples that were familiar to the original audience, were used to bring enlightenment to those readers/listeners. However, in our day and age, there may be times when those earlier examples will need to be explained, because, our present day audience is far removed from the culture of the original one. Therefore, we'll very likely need to have an explanation given to explain the "enlightening" figure/s of speech.
One such example may be found in the book of Proverbs;
The book of Proverbs isn't any different to other books in the Bible, in that passages aren't just popped in willy-nilly; at random. Therefore we need to realise that all that is written down for our learning, has been written down in context with other passages that surround it. To put it another way, the passages or verses that we may read in the book of Proverbs aren't a series of sentences collected at random. There is a predictable and understandable presentation contained within Proverbs, as in other books and letters of the Bible.
It's important that we avoid the mistake of interpreting the ancient scriptures from the context of a far away culture, eg, such as our own way of life. All lessons contained in Holy Scripture are for our learning and edification. Therefore, to understand the original message of the scriptures, we need to come to the same understanding of the figures of speech as the first readers/listeners had. Then, and only then, will we also understand what the original message actually meant to them. And subsequently as a result of this enlightenment, we too may receive the same Hope and Encouragement that the first and original audiences were blessed withWho were lovers of righteousness.
So, the question we need to ask ourselves is this, "How would the Hebrews have understood the passage in Proverbs 11:30?" What would a 'tree of life' have meant to the original audience?
We come across the 'tree of life' first in the book of Genesis;
The Lord planted a garden eastward in Eden, and of all the plants and trees, we are told of the 'tree of life' which also was in the midst of the garden:
Alas (that there should be an 'alas,' but there was), our first parents disobeyed the Lord, and He had them removed from the very desirable, garden of Delight.
As our Lord pointed out, the danger of them staying within the garden was that they'd have access to the 'tree of life' and get to live for ever. The message is that there'd be a catastrophe if impenitent man was able to live forever.
Therefore, to avoid this we read how the Lord God responded:
What may be learned from the above passage? Simply this, one cannot help being moved by the determination of the Lord to protect Righteousness, than to read of His resolute intention to keep Adam and his wife Eve well away from the life giving fruit of one particular tree, in this case, the 'tree of life'.
One can only wonder how the Hebrew nation would have thought about, and dwelt upon, their inherited dilemma in times of hardship. It's possible that during their bad times they'd often think of the great blessings of that particular tree, the 'tree of life'.
"If only, if only!" But the Hebrew people and the rest of mankind have had to live, and learn to live, with a separation from the life giving fruit of the 'tree of life'; if only.
While reading about wisdom in chapters 8-11 of Proverbs, it becomes enlightening for us as we come to notice the difference between those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and those who reject it. The different responses by the opposite personalities to messages of wisdom are as different as 'chalk-n-cheese'.
To those who love the Way of the Lord, ie, the ones who hunger and thirst after righteousness, will be encouraged by the kindnesses of merciful brethren who come to their aid in times of trouble. And it is at times such as these that the gracious people who give help, which is the "fruit of the Righteous," will appear as a 'tree of life'. For it isn't only the physical aid that one receives that is uplifting, but also the unconditional, gracious kindnesses of their helpers that is identified as a 'tree of life' by the grateful recipients.
The great Delight in the lives of those who've given themselves to the way of the Lord God of Heaven, is that they themselves have had to go through a time of great trial to overcome their own sinful nature. No one is perfect, so before the Lord is able to use a man or woman, to His Own glory, it's necessary for them to go through a time of testing, and spiritual cleansing. There is a need to be purified as we find in the book of Genesis where the Lord knew that there was going to be a future famine in Egypt, and that His own people would be suffering there.
The one who the Lord chose to lead His people in this time of great distress would need to be prepared in the Spirit, ...unto Maturity. The problem that may be noticed in life in general, is that most aren't able to enter into positions of power without it destroying them spiritually. Therefore, to avoid this ever present danger, the man who the Lord chooses for a position of power, of authority, needs to be, has to be, prepared for this great work that is to be carried out in the name of our Lord.
So, enter Joseph of the coat of many colours. It is in Psalms that we read:
That's right, Joseph suffered greatly in his preparation for the work of saving many lives. This is Joseph's explanation to his brothers of the suffering that he had gone through because of their evil of selling him into slavery, which we find explained at the end of genesis just after their father Jacob had died:
Consider the tragedy recorded above of Joseph's brothers in the book of Genesis after Joseph's Father Jacob and brothers had settled in Egypt. Apparently, Joseph's brothers hadn't (intentioningly) confessed to him personally, of their dreadful sin of selling him into slavery. But, after Jacob had died, Joseph's brothers came to him with a trumped up command claiming it was from their father, saying that Joseph mustn't punish them. How many years had they suffered the dread of a future punishment from Joseph, all the while seeing their father Jacob as their meal-ticket? But Joseph was of greater spiritual maturity, wisdom, and mercy, than they gave him credit for. They could have saved themselves from much unnecessary pain, suffering, and dread over the years if only they'd confessed their sin against Joseph years earlier; and apologised.
It seems to me that when the corrupt see someone they've harmed in the past, it brings to their remembrance the sins they've committed against their victim and they feel guilt. The victim has unwittingly become a mnemonic device to the perpetrator. For, as memory works by association, seeing or merely hearing the name of a former victim, may bring to their minds feelings of dread. Not that the troublemaker is likely to admit it. They might accuse their victim of making them feel guilty. It seems as if the long-suffering victim is to be blamed for the still-active-residual-conscience of the troublemaker/s.
It is indeed a painful problem when faults and sins aren't resolved. After all, we are expected, and commanded, to;
...and not deny them; especially not to blame the long-suffering victim. And quite possibly, this is the reason that some haven't been healed of their own sense of guilt, because as Joseph's brothers eventually discovered, there still needed to be honourable closure.
Somewhat belatedly, the brothers came to learn that Jacob had grown spiritually in his service to his Lord, and instead of being bitter against his brothers, he'd become rich in Grace, and therefore, the fruit of Joseph's Righteousness to his brothers, was now like unto a 'tree of life'.
Joseph, and all decent souls like him who suffer greatly for their Lord, have chosen to draw closer to God in their distress, instead of rejecting Him. They choose to become perfected in Righteousness for the common good, by Grace. No on-going bitterness towards others, even in their great sadness, which the perpetrators at times appear incapable of understanding, which, as we have seen above, is to their own detriment.
The result of the wise ones growing in Righteousness is this. Their personality takes on a quality that is winsome, as in, "He who is wise wins souls." Therefore, the effect of being of greater spiritual maturity will have an effect for good.
Consider this, it is only as people come to understand that love covers a multitude of sins, that they'll see the God of heaven as an approachable God, and not someone who is out to get them. Reading through the book of Proverbs will bring enlightenment to those who are lovers of righteousness. And hopefully they'll come to understand, that the ones who have nurtured the spirit in their lives in their dealings with their fellowman, like Joseph, have become winsome individuals. And it is in this way that they too become a rich blessing to those who discover God as their friend also.
It is when we apply the wisdom and love that is from above in our dealings with those who are hurting, that our Lord and Father is glorified and Honoured. And the trickle down effect to our benefit is this, our faith and fellowship may then become greatly strengthened; by Grace.
Therefore, the point for each of us to keep in mind is this, those who are the recipients of help, who are kindred spirits, will recognise that the "Fruit of the Righteous" will be to them as a 'tree of life'. Thus, it is in this way that the Righteousness of God will be honoured for His Work of Grace as it dwells richly in the hearts of the redeemed righteous. The end result of this is that they manifest the love of God in their hearts by bringing to hurting souls who are hungering and thirsting after Righteousness, rich qualities such as:
- and love
So then, let each of us reflect upon the plain words of the apostle Paul:
In the days when Proverbs was written, there wasn't any evangelising as we use the term today. It is missing the point when we use the phrase, "He who is wise wins souls" out of context, by inferring that one becomes wise simply by 'winning' souls (converts?), even without the benefit and necessity of growing in grace as a 'tree of life'. The meaning of this passage is as follows, "One who is wise, has nurtured the fruit of Righteousness within his own soul, therefore, he becomes by default, 'winsome.' He becomes as one who draws lovers of Righteousness towards himself, and thus to God, ie, those who are now recognised as 'kindred' spirits. So, let each of us like Joseph, resolve to become winsome too, for:
Therefore, like Joseph, let each of us nurture the blessings of Proverbs 11:30, so that they become part of our nature, and our Lord Glorified. As this is achieved, each life will be linked together with all the other 'trees of life' (Our kindred Spirits), who are eagerly awaiting His coming again. Amen and Amen.