“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope [confidence, security] is in the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8)
Many believe that the tree Jeremiah had in mind when he wrote those words was the acacia tree, which was common in the deserts of ancient Israel.
The bible is filled from cover to cover with tree-focused imagery and analogies, and they featured heavily in the teachings of Jesus. To the agrarian-based ancient biblical-era societies—particularly those living in a desert climate—the deeper meanings and takeaways from tree-based language would have been very clear. But to us today it’s easy to gloss over these verses with only a surface understanding.
Recently I was reading a daily bible devotion that expounded on the acacia and its relation to this verse in Jeremiah:
“This tree has been designed by God to survive decades of intense heat and drought. It can survive tough circumstances because it has a deep root system to sustain it during the hardest of times. Even during a time of drought, this tree is still able to bless local residents by providing shade during the day and wood for fire at night” (from Bible.com).
Psalm 1:3 mirrors our Jeremiah foundation passage, with a few nuances. It tells us that the one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on His law is like a tree planted by the rivers, which yields fruit in due season, whose leaf does not wither, and who prospers in all he does.
These passages give us some important insights into qualities that God wants from His people.
- Planted by a good source of water (proximity, set up for success)
- Deep and wide root structure (stability, connection to sustenance)
- Green leaves, no withering (healthy, growing, provides shade)
- Not anxious in a time of drought or heat (knows that God will provide)
- Does not cease yielding fruit in season (productive even in harsh conditions)
We’ll dig (ha, plant pun!) into these characteristics more in the rest of this study in order better appreciate what God is telling us.
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But first, what’s the purpose of a plant’s roots?
That sounds like a “duh” question, but stick with me here. Despite growing up on a farm, I had to do a little research because I am admittedly NOT a plant person…I don’t really garden, and can’t keep plants alive, no matter what I try.
Roots play such a key role in the survival and health of a plant. They anchor it, keeping it from being blown or washed away. They tap into the water needed for sustenance, and find the nutrients a plant needs to stay alive and produce fruit.
I’m not going to go way down a rabbit hole on the spiritual analogy, because any analogy breaks down eventually, but basically envision roots as your means of connecting to God, utilizing His holy spirit, and being nourished by His words and your relationship with Him.
Let’s briefly explore a few facets that may bring some additional insights into how we view the analogy of spiritual roots.
Roots provide life-sustaining water and food
Perhaps the most obvious thing about roots is that they are the tree’s means of getting water and nutrients, which they use along with sunlight to grow. Our spiritual roots are much the same.
God’s holy spirit is often symbolized as “living water”, and each of us must be spiritually tapped into this source on a daily basis (John 7:38-39). We should be partaking of “our daily bread” (Christ and His words) and seeking out nourishing spiritual food (John 6:35, Heb. 5:12-14).
What I didn’t realize, though, was that roots really have to work for it:
“Plants are not passive actors in the soil environment, humming along to themselves idle while nutrients and water jump into their roots. Rather, it takes a substantial amount of effort by the plants to wrest and wrangle away the basics needed to eke out a living from the soil. As a matter of survival, then, they must invest some of the energy gained from sunlight in this process.” (see article)
The spiritual analogy mirrors this. God provides the water (His spirit), food (Is. 55:2, John 8:51), and the (sun)light (John 8:12, Ps. 18:38) that we need—not only to survive, but to grow, thrive, and bear fruit.
They are there for the taking, but they don’t just *jump* into us. It requires diligence, consistency, and effort on our part. Peter blasts a hole in the “once saved, always saved” myth and makes very clear that God expects His people to actively work toward growth.