The Tree of the Lord (Jeremiah 17:5-8)
Jeremiah 17:5–8 - This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6 He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
In Jeremiah 17:5-8 we learn the lesson of the bush and the tree. Each of these represents a person. The bush is the person who trusts in the things of this world. The tree is the person who trusts in the Lord. For each of these there is an outcome based on the object of their faith. If one places confidence in this world then the only reward they can expect is that which is in this world. However, if one places confidence in the Lord then the rewards are endless.
The prophet Jeremiah lived in tumultuous times. The northern Kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Assyrian empire in 722 B. C.. In the middle of the 7th century B.C. the Assyrian empire was starting to collapse. Into this power vacuum emerged the Babylonians to the East and the Egyptians to the West. The rulers of Judah attempted a strategy of playing both super powers against each other in order to maintain their own position of independence and security. In this way they placed their trust in their own political and diplomatic skills instead of seeking the favor of the Lord. In 586 B. C. Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. With that fall came the destruction of the temple and the captivity of the Jews as a result of divine judgment.
Just as the nation of Judah was caught in the middle of two great military machines, so the national leadership was divided among those who sought security in peace and those who sought security in war. Jeremiah was caught between the two. His message pleased neither of these parties. His word from God condemned both approaches and demanded an attitude of repentance and confidence in the Lord as deliverer of the nation in its time of peril. In the various ideas of the leaders of Judah we find a confidence in the flesh that leads to destruction. In the message of Jeremiah we find a confidence in the Lord that leads to life. Which option did the nations of Judah choose? Which option will our nation choose? Which option will you choose?
Russ Harless is a student of theology at Erskine Theological Seminary and under care in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). He holds an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Southern Miss. and a graduated degree from the University of South Carolina, as well as ABD status in a Ph.D. program in Educational Research.