Trees as Metaphors for People
In the Bible, God uses trees as metaphors and symbols for people and specifically His children. Trees can teach us divine truth about our relationship with God.
Some of the most famous and revelatory portions of the Bible utilize trees as metaphors for people.
He Shall Be Like a Tree . . .
The first three verses of Psalms is one of the most quoted portions of the Bible:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.
Every Tree Which Does Not Bear Fruit . . .
John the Baptist was a prophet and, as prophesied in Isaiah 40:3, prepared the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. John preached, called people to repentence, and prophesied about Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew records seven verses with quotes of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2,7b-12). One of his teachings utilizes trees as a metaphor for people: “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
That they may be called trees of righteousness
One of the most important and powerful portions of scripture is a prophecy in Isaiah 61 and was quoted by Jesus Christ himself. He read these scriptures in the synogogue at the beginning of his ministry, just after he was baptized and tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Needless to say, the following scriptures are eternally important. Note the reference in the final sentence to God’s people being called “trees of righteousness.”
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3
every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
In Matthew 7, Jesus teaches about discerning the fruit of certain people. He said: “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser
In the Gospel of John, Jesus presents divine revelation and truth about the glorious divine life in him. It’s a glorious, amazing teaching about the truth that he is actually the tree and believers in him are the branches of the tree:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
The Psalmist spoke of himself as an olive tree.
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.
Three stages of the harvest of olive trees, as found in the Bible, are metaphors for our walk with God. First, the trees are beaten with stick or pole, causing the ripe olives to fall. Second, the tree is shaken. Third, the olives are crushed to produce the oil.
In Deuteronomy, God told Israel to beat the olive trees one time only during the harvest. In His mercy and graciousness, God wanted Israel to beat the trees for their own olives but to leave some olives for the “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:20).
We as God’s children cannot produce fruit (olives) until we come to the cross of Jesus Christ. If we die to self (see Matthew 16:24 and Mark 8:34, “take up his cross”), then we will bear fruit.
In Isaiah 17:6, the olive tree is shaken so that the best fruit would fall off. We as God’s children are shaken and pruned in our journey with the Master, so that we may grow, mature and bear fruit.
Third, In Micah 6:15,
The olives must be crushed and trodden to produce the oil (Micah 6:15). The crushing speaks of separation from the world and the previous life and the things we were used to.
Any olive tree that drops its fruit without this process is cursed (Deut. 28:40). If the process of the cross, pruning and separation from the world, there will be no anointing or blessings.
The anointing is not for the flesh.
For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,
And floods on the dry ground;
I will pour My Spirit on your descendants,
And My blessing on your offspring;
4 They will spring up among the grass
Like willows/poplars by the watercourses.’
In Psalm 92:12-15 refers to the righteous as a palm tree and cedar tree:
The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Those who are planted in the house of the LORD
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
To declare that the LORD is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
Isaiah the prophet uses the tree analogy in Chapter 65:
They shall not build and another inhabit;
They shall not plant and another eat;
For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people,
And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
Jesus Refers to a Group as Plants
But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. MT 15:13