All analogies break down. Perhaps you have heard that before. This bit of common sense suggests that nothing is “exactly” like anything else – and so all comparisons are limited. Take this verse from Psalm 92 for instance. The palm tree (the date palm being the exact species) alone does not suffice as a figure for the Christian life. Neither does the cedar. Instead, both the palm tree and the cedar tree are used to illustrate for God’s people what the Christian life looks like. And the message is simple: Christians both bear fruit and grow!
When I was a pastor in Vermont, my wife and I had twelve fruit trees in our back yard – three different apple varieties and two pears. The first year we owned our house, this small orchard produced nothing. Nothing edible that is. There were literally thousands of small sour things all over our backyard come Fall, but nothing with the crisp sweetness of a true Macintosh.
The problem was that the trees had not been tended for twenty years and had grown way too much – the trees’ energy continued going into height rather than fruit. And so we began tending the trees. With severe paring each year, the trees slowly but surely shrank – but began producing increasingly edible fruit.
Ancient, agriculturally informed Israelites also knew that trees – especially the date palm referred to here, either grow or bear fruit. During the date palm’s first four to seven years, all of its energy is spent growing – it bears no fruit at all. After that it grows very little but is extremely fruitful. The cedar of Lebanon, on the other hand, was the tallest tree the Israelites knew of – that species of tree literally never stops growing. The psalmist’s words in this verse must have been heard for what they meant then as now – you, child of God, will both bear fruit and grow!
Sometimes we can be so engrossed in our Bible studies and devotional aids that we don’t leave much time for actually doing ministry, bearing fruit. Conversely, sometimes we can be so busy doing things that we are not growing in the knowledge of who our great, saving God is. Commit yourself to the joyful pursuit of becoming an ever stranger tree – one that increasingly bears fruit and grows even taller at the same time!
NB The painting above is Van Gogh, Orchard in Blossom 4.