“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3)
The picture of the righteous people, the God fearing people, the Christian people, the obedient people being like a mature tree is one of the richest biblical metaphors. David described himself as a green olive tree (Psalm 52:8) and one of the anonymous Psalmists compared the righteous to a flourishing palm tree growing in God’s house like one of the mighty cedars of Lebanon (Psalm 92:12). Isaiah also takes up this theme calling the Lord’s people “trees of righteousness” and “the planting of the Lord” (Isaiah 62:3).
The best known use of this metaphor, however, is found in the Psalm 1, with the description of the blessed man. While this man is ultimately manifested and reflected in the perfections of Christ Jesus he is also an example of the servant of God. As those whose ambition must be to follow and imitate Christ in our Christian service we have so much to learn from the metaphor of the tree.
As we consider this picture of the the servant of God let us pray that we too would be as a tree planted by the rivers of water.
1: THE PLANTING OF GOD’S SERVANT
Trees are planted. They begin small with a tiny seed, yet from such a humble beginning the powerful oak and the majestic sycamore is formed.
The gardener who has planted the trees of righteousness is God. As the gardener takes the seed in his hand and selects a place for the planting of his tree so God has selected a people to plant in the world.
The tree has no control over where and how it begins its long and stately life, that is in the gift of another. So it is with the people of God – our planting in the world as God’s servants is solely and absolutely a matter of grace alone. The seed of the Word, unrecognised and without acclaim in the world, took hold upon our hearts and we were rooted in the family of God.
“Twas grace that wrote my name, In life’s eternal book ‘Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb, Who all my sorrows took.”
2: THE PLACE FOR GOD’S SERVANT
This tree in Psalm 1 is planted by the rivers of water. Trees often grow successfully by the banks of lakes, rivers and streams because there is a constant supply of moisture to water the roots.
Water in the Scriptures represents both the Word and Spirit:
“That he (Christ) might sanctify and cleanse it (Church) with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26)
“For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:” (Isaiah 44:3)
Christian development can only take place beside this river of life. Without meditating upon the Word and having its truth constantly applied and affirmed through the Spirit’s ministrations, our Christian experience will be impoverished and barren.
Christ described this positioning of the Christian as dwelling in the closet:
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Mathew 6:6).
In employing the closet Jesus emphasised secrecy. The roots of the tree are secret, hidden deep beneath the earth but therein lies the secret of strength. So it is with the Christian. We are only as strong as we are in the hidden place.
The closet was also a place where time had been spent putting these roots down deep into the Lord. Jesus spoke of shutting the door. The Scriptures emphasises the time it takes to cultivate a meaningful spiritual life. There no word more pertinent than “wait”:
“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Psalm 27:14).
Joseph is the greatest example of such a life, a life which endured such hardship and adversity and yet never once faltered. Jacob saw this clearly upon his deathbed:
“Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22).
The fruitful bough, bursting with beautiful grapes, was such a contrast to the brown countryside. A closer inspection showed the secret of the vine’s fruitfulness; the well hidden behind the wall. In like manner Joseph cared for his soul, therein was the secret of his success.
3: THE PROGRESS OF GOD’S SERVANT
Trees take a long time to mature. Unlike the annual plants which burst forth in a blaze of colour in just a few weeks the tree slowly develops over years; positioned correctly and properly rooted development will take place.
The Christian life is one of constant and continual progress. We are not like the annual plant which promises much and then decays as the autumn comes never to bloom again. We are rather like the trees which mature slowly reaching up for sun and sky. In like manner Christian maturity is in a heavenward direction:
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:2)
There something seriously amiss with a tree that does not grow. The planting is wrong, the positioning is incorrect, the roots lack moisture, the ground of is of poor quality. Likewise the Christian who is not progressing is shallow in spirit; the heart is not right in the sight of God.
God has called us to growth as Peter emphasised:
“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”. (2nd Peter 1:5-8).
4: THE PERMANENCE OF GOD’S SERVANT
Trees are a symbols of permanence in the natural world. They are to living things what mountains are to landscapes. While the course of rivers alters over time, while the seas erode the coastline and while men transform the appearance of the land the mountains abide in their lofty fortresses of rugged grandeur throughout the generations. Likewise great trees like the oak, the sycamore, the ash, the beech and other native species grow and prosper towering like giants amid the vegetation outliving all other living things. Trees are intriguing on account of their endurance. From generation to generation they remain growing and developing. Death and decay takes place around yet the tree lives on. The storms howl, the frosts bite but still the tree survives, a symbol of a bygone age and a testimony to the power of nature at its finest.
In like manner the people of God have a certain permanence in a changing world. Living for eternity the servant of God is deeply conscious of his heavenly abode:
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2nd Corinthians 5:1)
In addition to the eternal nature of God’s people, the servant of God is also permanent by virtue of the truth he represents. It is this truth that gives the Church of Christ such virtue and consistency in a corrupt world. The morality and philosophies of the age are in a state of flux. They are without roots. They are more like the clouds and the waves. They have no fixed point. They are not rooted anywhere except in the corrupt and selfish thoughts of man’s deceitful nature:
“These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” (Jude v12-13)
The truth of God is quite different being fixed to the nature of God as revealed in His unchanging Word. This alone can produce peace and fulfilment in this evil world.
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” (1st Peter 1:23-25).
5: THE PRODUCTIVITY OF GOD’S SERVANT
The tree planted by the rivers of water is a fruitful tree and an evergreen tree. The leaf never fades and fruit is produced in season.
Fruitfulness in the world of trees is measured in differing ways.
There are trees which produce fruit which are in turn eaten by humans, birds and animals. The produce of the tree is among the healthiest foodstuffs available; apples, oranges, pears etc..
Trees that are not fruit bearing in this sense, however, are most effective at reproducing. We have seen trees growing in the most unlikely places because a bird had dropped a seed and against all the odds the mighty oak was seeded.
All trees, however, are most necessary as they produce the oxygen upon which all living things rely. These majestic specimens of nature are God’s life support systems cleansing and replenishing the air that we breathe.
Where there are trees there is life both above and beneath the ground. The squirrels scamper up the trunks and along the branches, the birds nest and roost amid the leafy branches and in hot climes animals find shade beneath its shadow.
The servant of God is called to produce spiritual life in the community to which he has been called. As Christians our calling is to be a force for spiritual good – through the Gospel we proclaim and the lives that we lead. Without the Church of Christ there is no hope for cursed world. Without a local congregation filled with zealous and devoted Christians there is no hope for the surrounding community.
Every fruit has its season though. There is a season in the life of the servant of God for converting sinners, there is a season for sowing seed, there a season for comforting and encouraging saints. But whatever the season may we pray that the fruit of the Spirit, those distinguishable marks of grace are observed in every Christian life:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Let us pray today that we would be like those trees planted by the rivers of water.