He is like a tree…
Psalm 1:3 ESV
Moving into verse 3, the psalmist continues his description of the blessed man, the one who is favored by God, with this simple comparison: he is like a tree. While the psalm will elucidate further on this figure of speech, it is worth pausing here to consider why the imagery of a tree is so fitting.
Reflecting first upon a parallel passage in Jeremiah 17:5-8 can aid us in that pursuit:
Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
The similarities between those verses and Psalm 1 are evident. Of course, Psalm 1 speaks of the wicked rather than the cursed, yet both apply to the same category of persons. The wicked are under the curse of God, and those who are cursed by God have incurred His judgment through their wickedness. Also, while Psalm 1 does not explicitly state that the blessed man trusts in the LORD, that is the certainly the implication of verses 1-2. Delighting and meditating upon God’s law rather than following the counsel of the wicked is displaying through actions trust in God rather than in men.
The contrast between a tree and a shrub is a significant one. In comparison to a tree, a shrub is small and weak. Jesus used a similar image when he rhetorically asked people about John the Baptist after learning of his arrest: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind” (Matthew 11:7)? His point being that John was anything but a reed swayed by every wind around him. Instead, John was like a tree. He was firmly planted in his resolve to serve the LORD and even imprisonment and the threat of death could not dissuade him.
We could say the same of all martyrs for Christ. They are all like trees rather than reeds or shrubs. Many were like redwoods that struck awe into the very ones who ordered their deaths. But the thing to remember about trees is that they do not grow up quickly. A shrub can be grown fully in a relatively short time. A tree’s growth must be measured in years.
We are the same. A steadfast, tree-like faith in Christ takes time to develop. The extraordinary resolve of brothers and sisters in the face of persecution and death is grown through day-by-day faithfulness to delight and meditate upon God’s Word. There is a common saying that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, but the second-best time is now. Root yourself in the forest of God’s kingdom today by giving your time and trust to God’s holy Word.