"Tree of Life"    [ 21 ]   
3,080
 :: Print this page ::
words
Nov 2010

I'm one of those guys who take the Bible pretty literally. If God declared that He created the universe and everything in it in just six days, I believe Him.  After all, He's either GOD Almighty - or He isn't.  Just because we may have a hard time wrapping our minds around the "probability" of the sun appearing to stand still (Joshua 10:11-4) or worse, moving backward in its course across the sky, claiming in effect that the earth's rotation was reversed and then resumed in about 40 minutes (2 Kings 2:11 & Isaiah 38:8), how can we possibly presume to demand that the very Creator of the rules of physics which govern our limited perceptions cannot bend or break those rules at His own discretion?

Now and again in the Bible, you will encounter some obscure and fundamentally challenging verse or concept which, when you take the time to really consider it, can really rock your paradigm!

Take Balaam's donkey, for instance (Numbers 22:21-35) . . .  Balaam was a self-stylized (false) prophet whom God used to reveal Himself not only to Balak, the vile King of Moab (circa 1200 BC) near the end of Israel's 40 years of desert-wandering, but also to the Israelites themselves who, even by this time, were well on their way to establishing their deep-rooted tradition of disavowing God's existence. As Balaam rode his donkey to carry out his task for King Balak, he encountered the angel of the LORD along the way. Though the angel was invisible to Balaam, his donkey saw Him clearly enough, and three times veered away so as to avoid the supernatural being with drawn sword in-hand. Infuriated at his donkey's behavior, Balaam repeatedly whipped his mount:

 

Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to
you to make you beat me these three times?”

Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my
hand, I would kill you right now!”

The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden,
to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

“No,” he said.

Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the
road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

Numbers 22:28-31
 donkey

 

I love this!  Instead of jumping back in astonishment —[ a Talking Donkey! ]— this genius was so § torqued § that he just argued back!  :-D  Forget the myriad connotations, the first and foremost consideration must be: Did this really happen? Could such a thing have actually occurred..?

Well . . . why not?  I'm not talking about fairy tales or fantasies here, but real historical events and actualities concerning people just as real and tangible as you and me. Reading a blog like this on a globe-wrapping electronic network would likely have sounded like pure fantasy-drivel to them, too, if you tried to explain our everyday normal occurrences to the denizens of 1,200 BC!

Another captivating account concerns one of God's boldest prophets, Elijah. He had the dubious honor of serving the LORD faithfully when virtually all of Israel worshiped some made-up 'Baal' as the cultural norm. Imagine that: the very Chosen People of Jehovah God ostracizing (or worse, killing) anyone who dared claim that Jehovah alone is God! So one day, Elijah flat-out challenged half a thousand 'prophets' of Baal to meet him atop Mount Carmel for a showdown:

 

Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for them-
selves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire — he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

“Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD — he is God! The LORD — he is God!”

Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.

1 Kings 18:22-40  
 
 Elijah

"Do it again!" he goaded them - fantastic stuff! Ha! Literally: Fire from on High! Elijah fascinates me as one of God's preeminent followers for the very reasons that made him so human . . mocking the false prophets and their manic cutting behavior (all for some nonexistent 'god' they pretended – or worse, sincerely hoped – was real), daring to charge after this encounter that all these apostates be dragged to the nearest valley and killed! But then literally within hours, he would be running for his life, terrified of a woman (Jezebel) and wrestling with thoughts of suicide! ~ How pathetically human is that?! Going from such unbelievable faith and seeing God move so irrefutably —[ Awesome Power! ]— to quailing in fear from a political monster hissing out orders from her throne beside her spineless dweeb of a husband, King Ahab. Nowhere but in the Holy Bible of God are the 'heroes' of any religion laid bare with such unabashed honesty...

In 2 Corinthians 12:2, the apostle Paul describes being caught up to a 'third heaven', which many people take to mean that there is some mystical societal caste system in the Great Beyond... though Jesus Himself and God the Father explain over and over throughout the Bible how He plays no 'favorites' in heaven: "the first shall be last", etcetera. The fact is, when Paul wrote this, the common understanding of 'heaven' fell into three categories: the sky (terrestrial), the realm of space (ie, stars in space / telestial), and then finally heaven, which is quite beyond all that (celestial). Paul was simply describing a pre-death glimpse of heaven.

And that got me thinking about how weird space is itself.

I don't know why this is.. but it has only just dawned on me in the last few years how the realm of Space resides just 60 miles straight up from the earth's surface. Only 60 miles! Think for a moment of some location, any location, just 60 miles from where you are now, and turn that distance straight up. If you could just drive that mere 60 miles, you would be in legitimate earth orbit (with proper acceleration) floating around the curvature of the earth, space-walking with the astronauts!

The highest mountain in Arizona is found just north of Flagstaff: Humphrey's Peak, elevation 12,633 feet. A buddy and I climbed it one day last summer. We were both pretty winded long before reaching the pinnacle. Another friend of mine just returned from ascending Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. Peaking at an altitude of 19,341 feet, it took a number of days to acclimate and achieve the summit for just a brief, gasping, 20-minute visit! (Wicked-cold up there too: -20° Fahrenheit [-29°C] at 2:30pm)

 

▲  Read this chart from Humphrey's Peak up  ▲

 Hubble
James Webb Space Telescope
(JWST) *
=
  930,000 miles
  (2-4x past the Moon)
The MOON
=
  225,000-405,000 miles
Hubble Space Telescope
=
  353 miles
Skylab (USA)
=
  270 miles
MIR space station (USSR)
=
  184-262 miles
ISS (International Space Station)
=
  215 miles
SPACE
=
  60 miles (10x jet flights)
Commercial Airline Flights
=
36,000 ft
  / 6.6 miles
Mount Everest
=
29,029 ft
  / 5½ miles
K2
=
28,251 ft
  / 5.35 miles
The "Death Zone" **
=
▲ 26,000 ft
  / 4.92 miles
Mount Kilimanjaro
=
19,341 ft
  / 3.66 miles
Humphrey's Peak
=
12,633 ft
  / 2.39 miles
* JWST
=
Scheduled for launch in 2014 -
Click here to learn more about JWST
** "Death Zone"
=
Altitude above which survival is not
possible without supplemental oxygen
 JWST
 
 ISS  Skylab
 
   Space Shuttle
 jet Liner  
 Mt. Kilimanjaro  Mt. Everest

 

When "The Right Stuff" came out in 1983, I thought that was pretty cool. Then "Apollo 13" arrived in 1995 – filmed, literally, in zero-gravity! Completely entranced by these stories, I picked up the 1998 miniseries "From The Earth To The Moon" – an amazing undertaking – then moved on from that to the gripping you-are-there accounts and historical footage in the Discovery Channel's "When We Left Earth" (2008). In that series, projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo are explored, then Skylab, the Space Shuttle program, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the International Space Station. It's so astonishing to me to think that men (and women) have really done this stuff! They've actually lifted off from the only human habitat in the universe, and flung themselves away into the harsh void of space! ~ Step outside sometime and take a good look at the Moon. Try to imagine what traveling 300,000 miles just to get there would be like . . to actually go there, Really Go There, daring to visit that stark other world in boundary-defying rockets, and then to land oh-so carefully, come to rest at last, open the hatch, step outside where temperatures range between -250°F in the shade to +250°F in sunlight, and bounce around in that "inhospitable, hostile, scary place" for a while . . .  Killer-crazy, man!

       
 The Right Stuff [DVD]
 Apollo 13 [DVD]
 Fron the Earth to the Moon [DVD]
 When We Left Earth [DVD]

 

 

And yet - beyond all of this human ingenuity, there is something even more captivating,
 
something Grander by far - as near to Timeless as anything that can ever be touched:

 

 
 Tree of Life ( 'The Fountain' )
 ~    The Tree of Life   ~
   'The Fountain'

Depicted here as seen in a dreadfully forgettable film, "The Fountain" —(a genuine lost opportunity where something truly deep and thought-provoking could have been conveyed)— the Tree of Life had somehow taken up residence in a South American Mayan ruin . .. and eventually found itself cast into deep space in a cool crystal ball of a spaceship, destined to fall into a dying star called 'Xibalba'.  ~  . . okay . .  ~  The reason I bring this up at all (besides the spiffy pic above) is to compare man's woefully inadequate attempts to represent this Truly Amazing Thing in art and literature throughout human history. Take this offering, for instance. Though it looks like a nice but ordinary tree toward the beginning of the film, a mere thousand years later, this timeless wonder is portrayed as a grisly, sickly, anemic thing... with hair.  I know, I know.. those of you (few) who swear Darren Aronofsky's effort is "a visual masterpiece" will be quick to point out that the 'tree of life' in this film is just a metaphor reflecting Tom's undying love for his wife, Isabel. I get that. What peeves me is the hideous looking [quote] "Tree of Life" itself. I guess it just bugs me that one of the most fascinating and promising Realities that God shared with mankind - ever - would be characterized as some kind of dry, crusty, scabrous thing, ironically void of the proclivity of Life for which it is legendary... This example looks like some ghastly overgrown hedge of brittle thorns!

The REAL Tree of Life described in the Bible is not only beautiful to behold, but also essential for the longevity and eventual well-being of all mankind, we who are intended to partake of its various fruits.. even its leaves! The thing was so grand and powerful as it stood in the Garden of Eden, God posted an angel with a flaming sword [!!] to bar Adam and Eve's return to it (after proving their inclination to 'bend the rules') . . . What's more, the Tree of Life shows up in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, as growing in such a way as to literally span the flowing river of Life issuing through the center of God's holy city! When employed as a metaphor in Scripture – * properly * – it represents the fullness of health, vigor, and wisdom:

The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:9     
 Angel guarding Eden
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:24  
   
   
 Proverbs 3:18
[Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.
   
   
 
 Proverbs 11:30
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.
   
   
   Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
   
   
 
 Proverbs 15:4
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

 

Though these indications are so enticing and wonderful to ponder in and of themselves, nothing captures my attention more than the assurances of Jesus Christ Himself, especially in light of two references in particular regarding the Tree of Life as found in the book of Revelation:

 

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.
  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told
  you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare
  a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also
  may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
  —  John 14:1-4 [2]  

 

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
  Revelation 2:7   

 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
  Revelation 22:2  

 

One day, we will * SEE * and * TOUCH * the Actual TREE OF LIFE . . for real, up-close, in-person (check out Philippians 3:20-21, and 1 Corinthians 15:35-58!) . . .  Taste of its fruit . . .  Smell the fragrance of its leaves . . .  Stroll freely beneath its glorious boughs . . .  Dance in the light reflected by the very River of Life . . .   If there is a Living GOD, and His word is True, and Jesus Christ *is* who He claimed/proved to be, and NOTHING He expressed is false, then all of these things are just as assured as attending high school after endless days in grade school when one could scarcely imagine life beyond that sandlot existence.  How much moreso!  As so many things here on earth reflect but dim shadows of the REAL stuff to be discovered after this limited phase of Life (the tabernacle/temple equates shades of God's Holy Throne Room . . marriage & sex echo the Holy Union of Christ and His church . . . so many living metaphors . . ) so too this facet of God's Word may be trusted and anticipated with terrific eagerness. I suspect that our great and loving 'Abba' Father takes pleasure in our Hope and Excitement not unlike an earthly father doting over his own children who delight in the Promises with which he reassures them, promises they *know* they can trust simply because they know him!   :-)

 

People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Luke 18:15-17   

 

 tree stream

 

20  (2010)
21
(2010)  22