July 2014 Yavoh

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1

One of the first spiritual lessons that a believer needs to learn is that of a tree and how it lives. God often uses the things of nature to teach us spiritual principles. Yeshua spoke of this very principle when He explained to Nicodemus that a man must be “born again” to be a spiritual man. If you will recall, Nicodemus seemed confused and could not grasp what Yeshua was saying. Yeshua questioned Nicodemus by appealing to his position as a teacher, to draw the parallel and understand spiritually what Yeshua was saying, and then He spoke to the principle directly.

If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? John 3:12

The writer of Hebrews does something similar in trying to raise our awareness and respect of God.

Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? Hebrews 12:9

The first Psalm draws a natural comparison to a spiritual man for us. As the tree flourishes, so a spiritual man is successful. Let’s examine what is taught in this lesson. It is simple, yet profound.

There is a story of an alien who landed on earth, and when he spoke to a man for the first time, it went something like this:

The alien asked, “What is this place?”

The man answered, “This is earth.”

Then the alien asked, “Would you describe earth to me?”

The man began with the basics, “The earth is made up of land and water.”

The alien wanted more detail, “Tell me about land.”

The man now became concerned. How was he to explain all of the variations of land including the plains, the mountains, the deserts, the arctic, the jungles, the coastlines, the swamps, the cities and towns, etc? So, he answered simply, “Land is everything that is not water.”

The point of the story is that sometimes the best definition of something is to explain what it is not. This is what we see in Psalm 1. The first definition of a spiritual man is to say what he does not do.

He does NOT walk in the council of the wicked. He does NOT stand in the path of other sinners. He does NOT sit in the seat of scoffers.

If you poll new believers, they instinctively understand and can identify the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers. So the first lesson for new believers is NO, not there. We do the same with children in everyday life. We first teach children the word “No” before we can teach them how to make good choices for themselves. So we teach them “No, you cannot go there,” or “No, you cannot have that right now.”

If a new believer could just avoid the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers in this world, their life would be some more successful in their spiritual walk.

The Psalmist continues: But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.

Isn’t that fascinating? Spiritual success is directly connected to hearing what God has to say. It is about hearing and obeying. It is about learning it, thinking about it, and making it a part of your everyday life.

Later, we learn that faith is the key to our relationship with God. We hear what God has said and promised. We believe in God and what He has said, and it is called faith.

Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness. He believed God’s promise for a son, many descendants, and the land that they would all live on. You have heard of the land before. It is called the “Promised Land.”

God used the real-life story of a man called Abraham and his promised son Isaac to illustrate for us a spiritual story. Abraham, having received the promised son, was told to take Isaac to a certain place and sacrifice him back to God. It then followed that Isaac was not slain; instead, a ram, whose head was caught in thorns, was actually sacrificed in place of Isaac. This incident illustrates in the natural how our Heavenly Father promised us that His Son would come and be an acceptable sacrifice for us. Therefore, Yeshua, the Son of God, was sacrificed, and His head was “caught” in thorns at the time of his death as a sign reminding us of God’s promise to Abraham. They actually made a crown of thorns for Him to wear. Again, the natural event illustrates and explains the spiritual application.

We as Messianics have seen how our spiritual lives have been enriched and increased as we turn to the Torah—the Law of the Lord—and we begin to keep it with greater understanding. It is not contrary to grace or the Messiah; it enriches all of our faith and reminds us of the promises of God made to the Fathers that also belong to us. The “Promised Land” belongs to every believer of Yeshua. We are all descendants of Abraham (Romans 4:16).

Now comes the word picture of the tree:

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:3

The strength of a tree is directly related to its root system. We see this in nature. A tree that has deep roots is considerably more stable than one whose roots are shallow. If a storm comes with strong winds, a tree with shallow roots is broken and/or completely uprooted. But a tree with a deep root system has an anchor that keeps the tree steadfast and sure. The tree may suffer some damage to its branches, but the tree itself remains intact.

The same is true of us. Have you seen a believer, someone whom you have fellowshipped with and shared faith in Yeshua, only to see him walk away from the faith (be uprooted) and renounce Yeshua? I have, and sadly many times. Upon closer examination, I found in every case that their faith in Yeshua was not firmly planted (it was shallow at best). They tried to be believers in their own strength; they never sought a relationship with God. In some cases, they participated with us for the social and economic blessings of the group but never developed a personal relationship with God.

The wisdom of Proverbs speaks to this very word picture.

A man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will not be moved. Proverbs 12:3

Here is an interesting fact. Olive trees have been known to be completely broken off at the trunk only to sprout back up because of their strong roots. In fact, this is the very word picture used to speak of the hope for Israel and the Messiah.

For there is hope for a tree, when it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and its shoots will not fail. Job 14:7

The surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 2 Kings 19:30

In the days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will blossom and sprout; and they will fill the whole world with fruit. Isaiah 27:6

In particular, the great Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53 uses the word picture of a tree’s roots bringing forth new growth for the whole tree.

For He [the Messiah] grew up before Him [our Heavenly Father] like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. Isaiah 53:2

Back to our word picture of a tree in nature: As you know, the purpose of the roots is not only to be firmly established, it is the feeding system for the entire tree. Roots are able to gather nutrients and water for the tree through absorption within the ground. The water provides the method of irrigation and carries the necessary nutrients needed for the tree to grow. The lack or abundance of water directly affects to the growth and health of the tree.

The tree of Psalm 1 is described as planted by streams of water. Waters come and go. Rains from above and fountains from below are not always constant. There are times of drought. The same is said of a stream, a creek, or a river. They can be abundant and they can be dry. The tree of Psalm 1 has several sources for water. The operative term is “streams of water,” thus, that tree has multiple sources of supply and does not suffer loss just because one goes dry.

So, what are the streams of water for a spiritual man? How is he nourished and able to be fed regularly? The answer is simple. He needs to take in the Word of God from a variety of sources: personal study of the Scriptures, hearing a teaching from the Scriptures, fellowshipping with other believers, and being active in his faith by sharing with others (as you teach you learn it even better).  But there is an even better spiritual source that remains faithful to the spiritual man. Yeshua spoke of this faithful source of nourishment when He spoke with the disciples in the Gospel of John. He compared Himself to being a vine from the root that would feed the branches.

“I am the vine, you are branches…As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me...” John 15:1-6

The tree is described further: which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.

Actually, if a plant does not bear fruit (and seed), what good is it? It is very important that a successful tree bears fruit. This is the goal. The whole purpose of the growth and strength of the tree was to produce the fruit. The same is true for spiritual men. God has commanded man from the beginning to “be fruitful and multiply.” This is more than physical offspring. We are to spiritually bear fruit and help others to be “born again” in keeping the Great Commission. We are to be about the business of edifying the brethren and helping them to mature in the Lord, so they can bear fruit as well.

But it is not for the lack of fruit that is the greatest mistake of some spiritual men. Instead, it is trying to bear fruit “out of season.” Fruit trees don’t blossom or bear fruit in the winter. The reason is natural. It doesn’t work for the fruit. Instead, blossoms come in the spring and fruit follows naturally in its season. For some spiritual men this requires patience.

Many gardeners and farmers have learned the lesson of planting too early and what a frost can do to plants. I have seen young spiritual men try to get ahead of the cycle of training and growth only to become discouraged. But the tree of Psalm 1 is patient and bears much fruit in its season.

The tree also has much foliage and it does not wither. Many branches and leaves on the tree provide a variety of purposes. First, there is the protection of its fruit when it is very tender and could be hurt by the sun’s radiation. The branches bend in the wind and actually lessen the harm of a strong storm to the tree as a whole. The covering provided by the branches and leaves serves others as shade.

In Israel, the fig tree is prolific when it comes to providing branches and broad leaves for shade. If you will recall, Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. The dead branches of fig trees were the primary wood fuel for the altar. Sitting under a fig tree on a hot day is actually very pleasant. Its shade cools the air beneath, which causes air movement. The breeze near the ground makes the experience absolutely delightful. Do you remember Nathaniel sitting under the fig tree before meeting Yeshua the first time?

A spiritual man will find that his tree also provides cover and aid to many as well. Whether it is a refuge in an emotional storm or some relief from the heat of spiritual warfare, spiritual men offer cover to many. A single tree can benefit many.

Did you know that we call the Torah the tree of life? Do you recall that God has used the example of trees, not only to explain the events in the Garden of Eden, but also of the good things to come in the kingdom?

If you are like me, I would peradventure that you have had a special tree of some type in your past (in your youth). Most children have. Grant me a moment to share about my childhood experience .

My grandparents’ house had a large elm tree in the backyard. I was the oldest of the grandchildren of that generation so I, at the request of my mother, climbed that tree and crawled out on a big limb to rig a rope swing for all of the kids. It was scary. Climbing the tree to affix that swing caused me to bond with that tree, and subsequently, the reward of hours of swinging only caused me to think of that tree as belonging to me. I actually would sit and look up at the tree, contemplating its structure. I always thought it would be an excellent tree for a tree house and hoped for such a day with one in it.

At the age of seven, my art teacher required the class to each draw a tree. Other kids drew a green ball on a brown stick. I, on the other hand, drew the scene I had studied often, looking up from the trunk that was big and wide and then being divided from large branches to even smaller branches. My art teacher thought I was some kind of child art genius drawing the tree from a “looking-up” perspective and took special interest in me. Actually, it was more about my fascination with my favorite tree than my artistic skills.

I don’t think my fascination with trees is all that unique. I think that God recognizes this about people and trees in general. This may be the reason why we can learn much about trees but that He warns us that they should not be too fascinating to us. The Lord often reminds us to not overdo good things, i.e., wine, sexual activity, and yes, even trees. Setting drunkenness and fornication aside, the Lord specifically states that no tree is to be permitted in His temple or near His altar. He also defines a class of idols as “asherim,” which means “trees of praise.” This is why Christmas trees are such a issue for Messianics; the Scriptures define them as idolatry (Jeremiah 10).

The tree remains a powerful example in nature that illustrates many spiritual concepts. Psalm 1 doesn’t overstate it. A little bit of meditation by the reader will yield many lessons for him. But the second half of the Psalm reverts back to the definition of what is not a successful spiritual man. The contrast is stunning.

The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1:4-6

Again, using natural things… If you have ever been a part of a grain harvest, you will be overwhelmed by one particular feature associated with threshing out the grain—the amount of chaff and the amount grain there is. I used to drive a combine (a harvesting machine). The header of the machine gathers in the stalks of grain that have been waving in the wind. I have seen the open sea and I have seen fields of grain. Although they are different as wet and dry, they move and dance to the same music of creation. As the heads of grain are threshed, the seed falls clear and the chaff that held the head of grain break off. The straw is crunched and mixed with the chaff. The grain drops through the sieves, and the chaff is blown out the back. If you are near the back end, you will be smothered by a cloud of dirt, dust, and chaff. You will find yourself gasping for air, covering your face, closing your eyes, and trying to find a way out of the swirling cloud. You only have to experience this once to understand what the Psalmist said about the wicked: they are like chaff which the wind drives away. The righteous are like the good seed gathered into the bin.

It is interesting to note that the permanent altar in Jerusalem was first a threshing floor. In ancient days, grain was gathered into bundles and bound into sheaves. They would transport them from the field to a clear open area where they would shock the sheaves on a large bare rock. This was the method of threshing out the grain by knocking the heads of grains loose from the straw and breaking the heads open. The grain would fall free along with the chaff. Once the heads were knocked off, they would lay the straw aside and then take a winnowing fork to the pile of grain and chaff. Sometimes they would gather portions of grain and chaff in a large cloth, bouncing it into the air like a trampoline and let the wind blow the chaff away while the grain would fall back into the pile. You would learn quickly the direction of the wind so as not to receive the chaff in your face.

Again, nature gives a lesson about dealing with sinners. Cooperating and being friends with sinners is like being in the midst of a chaff cloud and being blown along with it. It is not fun, and you will find yourself just as filthy as they are, spitting and eating dirt.

Psalm 1 gives us a simple and yet profound contrast for spiritual success. We are to learn the lesson from the tree, staying rooted in the Word, being nourished by the refreshing waters of Messiah’s life, and being a blessing to those around us. As well, let us take heed the warning to the wicked and be the good grain from the Lord’s harvest, and not become the debris that is blown away.