There are a lot of different ways to follow the storyline of the Bible. Many of the lenses we use to read the Bible rely on big theological concepts like covenant and kingdom or literary concepts like messenger speech and poetic formulas. In this age of information consumption, it can sometimes be easy to overtheorize the Bible, turning it into a collection of abstractions. And so, we would do well to remember the Bible, for the most part, is a fundamentally down-to-earth saga. As such, it is always insightful to encounter the story from different vantage points. For example, with scripture as our guide, it is possible to follow the trail of trees through the Bible to see how they stand as witnesses to—and sometimes characters in—the major events of the Bible from Adam and Eve’s habitation of the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ crucifixion.
In the beginning God created the earth and filled it with all kinds of creatures in both the earth and sky, with light and darkness, and with sky and land. And in the midst of it all, God said let there be trees. And so there were, and it was good. In the Garden of Eden, God placed Adam and Eve who eventually encounter the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. Fast forward a bit in the biblical arc, and we encounter a great flood covering the earth. Noah sends a dove out in search of some sign of life, and the sign of life and hope the dove returns with in its beak is an olive tree.
Trees are everywhere in the Bible, serving as signposts and symbols of life. Moses stands before a burning bush; Jonah sits under a shade tree God provides and then takes away; King Solomon requests the Cedars of Lebanon be harvested to build the temple; Isaiah speaks of the Stump of Jesse, out of which a shoot (Christ) shall appear; a sycamore tree enables Zacchaeus to encounter God; Jesus is nailed to a tree; and eventually, in the book of Revelation, the Tree of Life reappears on the scene to heal the nations.
From Genesis to Revelation, trees stand as witnesses to the story of God and God’s people. And so, it is beautiful and quite fitting that in the end, the trees themselves sing the song of this story of redemption and praise:
“Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.”