Throughout the Bible, up to the last chapter of Revelation, trees are seen as important to mankind.
Symbolic Trees in the Bible
Many varieties of trees are cited in the Bible. The cedar became a temple, the fig, a covering, and the gopher an ark. A tree was connected with man’s sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:1-7). Another tree played a key role in the price of man’s sin. At Calvary, the Lord Jesus Christ died by crucifixion upon a tree.
The Fig Tree
The first species mentioned by name in the Bible is the fig (Gen 3:7). This tree has sometimes been labeled a hypocrite tree because the fruit is green and not easily detected among the leaves until it is nearly ripe. It is only by close examination in the early stages that the fruit can be detected. Jesus came to a fig tree, desiring fruit, but found only leaves. He cursed the tree, and it fried up from the roots (Mark 11:12-14, 20).
After they have sinned, Adam and Eve used fig leaves to try to hide their sinfulness from the eyes of a searching God (Gen 3:6-13).
One time a fig tree was used to enable someone to see Jesus (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus climbed into a sycamore tree (a type of fig tree) to see Jesus as he passed that way. It is not unusual for a sycamore tree to reach a height of fifty feet.
The Olive Tree
Another tree of importance, especially in the land of Israel, was the olive. The tree became the Biblical symbol for the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:15-25). Its berries continue to be leading articles of Israeli commerce. This tree has been called an emblem of peace, prosperity, and wealth (Ps. 128). When the olive crop fails, it is considered to be a sign of divine wrath (Jer. 11:16-23).
Needing no irrigation, the olive tree thrives well in the Palestinian hills. Since animal fat cannot be kept for a long time, olive oil became the only source of fat for consumption and frying. Additionally, the oil served as a base for all cosmetics and cleaning products. Used in clay lamps, it was the main source for lighting.
Its economic value was much enhanced by the fact that the great river valleys of Egypt and Mesopotamia have unsuitable soil and climate for the cultivation of olives; therefore, olive oil became a major item of export.
Olive oil was also used in the tabernacle for light and ceremonial anointing by the priests of God (Exod. 30: 24- 25; Lev. 24:2-4). It even plays a role in the book of Genesis. When the dove returned with an olive leaf in its mouth, Noah knew the waters had receded from the earth.
The Cedar Tree
The cedar tree was chosen for the temple of God in Jerusalem (I Kings 6:9-20). There are several possible reasons for these trees having been chosen. “The wood is not attacked by insect pests; it is free from knots. It has remarkable lasting qualities.”
The cedar forests in Lebanon were famous, and the people traveled great distances just to see them. These trees grew to heights of 120 feet and girths of 40 feet. Their life span was often over two thousand years. The cedars of Lebanon are now very rare; their glory has passed.
The cedar tree was used to build not only the temple of the Lord but also Solomon’s house and other public edifices in Jerusalem. It was used for roofing the temple of Diana at Ephesus and that of Apollo at Utica, and other famous buildings.
The Oak Tree
Another tree known for its longevity is oak. The sturdy oak stood as a witness to certain events. In the time of the patriarchs, Jacob took the false idols from the members of the household and buried them under an oak at Shechem (Gen. 35:4). It was by an oak tree that, years later, Joshua took idols from the nation of Israel, who promised to serve only the true God (Josh. 24:14-26). Was it the same tree? The scriptures do not tell us, but some scholars infer that this may be true.
When the land of Israel was oppressed by Midian, the Angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon under an oak tree. There the angel made a covenant with Gideon to deliver Israel from their oppression (Judg. 6:11-19)
Some oak trees also witnessed evil. The heathen worshipped idols in oak groves (Ezek. 6:13); Absalom, David’s son, died in an oak tree (II Sam. 18:6-17); and King Saul was buried under an oak tree. (I Chron. 10:12).
One of the most interesting uses of trees in the Scriptures is as a simile for a person’s life – a productive tree and a barren tree. The principle of comparison still applies to our lives today.