Sunday, October 30, 2022

Ten Verses on the the Tree of Life

The tree of life is mentioned ten times in Scripture*: 7 times in the Old Testament (3 in Genesis, 4 in Proverbs), and 3 in the New Testament.  

Gen 2:9  And out of the ground the LORD God made grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Gen 3:22  And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

Gen 3:24  So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Pro 3:18  She [wisdom] is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retains her.

Pro 11:30  The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that wins souls is wise.

Pro 13:12  Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.

Pro 15:4  A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.

Rev 2:7  He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches: To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

Rev 22:2  In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, there was the tree of life, which bore twelve crops of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Rev 22:14  Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

The references in Genesis and Revelation discuss a tree, and are taken to mean something that God provides his people to preserve their life and health, along with their strength and vitality through the years. From the standpoint of these texts, it is another way of being like God. 

The references in Proverbs take a different turn, and these things are also called a tree of life: 
  • wisdom
  • the fruit of the righteous
  • desire fulfilled
  • wholesome speech
Based on the first of these where wisdom is called a tree of life, there is an ancient Jewish teaching that the tree of life in Genesis was wisdom, in contrast to the other tree with its knowledge. The book of Proverbs explores how wisdom does what the tree of life does, preserving life and health. 

* As far as I have been able to determine. If there are other references I'd be glad to hear of them. 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Book of Proverbs: Word Cloud as an objective check of its emphasis

I often use a word cloud to get an objective overview of a document. I may have my preconceptions about it, but the word cloud software does not share them. Here is an overview of the Book of Proverbs generated by my go-to WordCloud software: 

created at

This overview can guide my insights: there is a contrast of opposites: foolish or wise, death or life, wicked or righteous. It is grounded in humanity and relations: father and friend and neighbor. The top focus is on a man and the Lord. The book is about the value of being upright, heeding instruction, seeking  knowledge and understanding. These things bring righteousness and honor into life. 

An overview -- much less a word cloud -- is not meant provide a full picture a book, but it can ground our approach. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Point of the Sabbath (Since God never gets tired, why did he rest?)

It is easy for me to think that the Sabbath is about the kind of rest that I am so aware that I need: physical rest after a long week, a break in a busy schedule. For me, the rest is welcome because I am tired. I need the time and space for my mind to lie fallow, the time to refresh. 

Yet God does not tire, as if his strength would be taxed, as if his energy would fade or be consumed. And the text makes no suggestion of that: 
So the heavens and earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made, and rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because in it he rested from all his work which he had created and made. (Genesis 2:1-3)
For God, it is more about completion. Just previously to that, we read: 
God saw all that he had made and found it very good. And there was evening and morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)
For us to enjoy the gift of the Sabbath, of course we rest to enjoy that blessing. Unlike the Lord, we have limits to our power and strength, and we know our human frailty on a daily basis. These passages suggest enjoying the completeness of our work, and the goodness of our work. They also call us to enjoy the completeness of God's work, the sufficiency of the world he has made, and its goodness. From its goodness, we are also reminded of his goodness. 

That is a Sabbath that can refresh me today. 

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Grace as our spiritual orientation

I think of "grace" as a relationship.We usually speak about "grace" when discussing our relationship with God: his kindness, his love, his benevolence, his forgiveness. Because we're dust, it takes grace to build a relationship that has any permanence, one where we are safe and welcome. 

In Christian circles there are debates about what a human is like apart from God, whether grace is "missing from" human nature and then "added to" human nature -- with details on when and how the grace is given or extended. I think those debates are misguided. If grace is a relationship, then we can't look inside ourselves to find grace: it's about how we're related to someone else, to God. It's about the shift when we stop thinking of God in terms of a force or a perfectionistic judge, and instead him call Dad (Abba, Father). It's a shift of relationship, of trust, knowing that we are safe and we are welcome. 

There is a way that medical doctors speak of "orientation" that is about mental awareness. Is the patient tuned-in enough to navigate the world? They may ask questions like, "Do you know who you are and why you're here?" Someone who is disoriented is likely too confused to take care of themselves. We need a certain level of understanding before we can steer our way through the world safely.

Without grace we are spiritually disoriented. Without grace -- that is, without trusting that relationship with God -- we can have a difficult time thinking about who we are and why we are here. The mind without grace is often frightened and angry. Trusting God is a game-changer. We begin to understand that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ. If we confess our wrong, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. We begin to understand that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We begin to understand why an angel's first words are generally "Fear not!" -- not because this world is trouble-free, but that Christ has overcome the world. We need a certain level of understanding in order to steer our way through the spiritual realities around us. Trust in God's goodness leads us to hope and to peace-of-mind. 

With grace we move from being isolated to being connected. And we look differently at other people and their faults. It takes grace to build a relationship that has any permanence, one where someone is safe and welcome.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

The light of the righteous

The book of Proverbs has much to say about wisdom. It also has much to say that is not self-reflective about wisdom, that continues on to observations and understanding that we gain from wisdom. Here is a keen insight on the human condition: 

The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.
(Proverbs 13:9)

Being "snuffed out" is a conventional metaphor for death, and of course the righteous die too. Yet their light continues. Heroes from previous ages are remembered for their light -- their actions or, often enough, simply their words. Things that continue across the years -- across the centuries -- are acts of wisdom in establishing things that last, acts of courage, words of courage and hope and faithfulness. Those kinds of things bring an honor that outlasts us, where the "light of the righteous" continues after the people are gone. 

Solomon built a Temple, and wrote many proverbs. He built a temple that was demolished, rebuilt by others, and is gone again. He wrote proverbs, and many have written proverbs after him: the proverbs remain.