“Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an alter there to the Lord” (Genesis 13:18 NKJV).
As one treks into the remote villages of Dhading district in Nepal he must travel through several forested areas of the Himalaya Mountains. In some of those areas there are huge evergreen trees which four or five men could not reach around with their arms linked together.
Throughout South Asia there are numerous “holy” banyan trees which are often encircled with protective concrete rings. Locals sit under these trees visiting together or simply relaxing and resting. Some religious practitioners meditate there. Many of these trees are of huge size and obviously of great antiquity.
In the U.S. attention was recently given to one of the giant sequoias which fell. The upper surface of its trunk, parallel to the ground, was reportedly 17 feet above the earth. Some estimated its age to be as much as 3,000 years.
It is fascinating to consider that a living thing can be large enough and old enough to attain the status of a landmark. Perhaps nothing alive does this as regularly as do trees.
Abram made his home under the terebinth trees of Mamre. The text of Genesis 13 suggests that when Moses wrote this record (more than 400 years after Abram’s death) the trees of Mamre were still living and known to the people of Canaan.
A casual reading of the Old Testament shows that trees were often considered sacred by pagan peoples and used as sites of worship, and sometimes even as a type of idol.
In other cases, idols were carved from wooden poles and erected before altars. Isaiah ridicules the people for cutting down a tree, using it for firewood or lumber, then making an idol of the residue and calling it “god” (Isaiah 44:9-20).
Though such idolatrous associations are obviously condemned in Scripture, the Bible does recognize trees as having positive spiritual significance.
The righteous man is said to endure and prosper “like a tree planted by the rivers of water” (Psalm 1:3). Heaven is endowed with the tree of life, bearing its twelve fruits throughout the year (i.e., perpetually). Trees were created by God and serve as symbols of his love and bountifulness.
The popular poem declares, “Only God can make a tree.” To that we add, only God can truly create any living thing. As we recognize the autumnal beauty of the forests around us, and the majesty of each large oak or pine, let us be thankful for the power, wisdom and goodness of God who made them. And let us see his hand in all the wonders of this world in which we live.