The Parable of the Oak Tree
In a non-Hebraic culture, the word “trust” often has an abstract idea which not always reflects its true Hebraic meaning. Once this meaning is understood in its proper context, it opens the eyes to see its true meanings from Hebraic perspectives.
The Suffering Messiah Psalm 22 reads,
For You are the One who took me out of the belly. You made me trust* on my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from the womb. From my mother’s belly You have been my El[ohim]. Do not be far from me, for distress is near; for there is none to help. (Psa 22:9-11) *Literally, “cling”.
Thus, it will be clear to the reader that the perception of “trust” is expressed by the phrase “You made me cling to my mother’s breasts”. Still more striking is the relation between man and YHVH expressed by “I was cast upon You from the womb”. Together they mean to trust is to cling to someone in a sense of coming or being in close contact with someone or hold together and resist separation.
The psalm therefore portrays one who clings to the Creator, as a baby that clings to the mother’s breast from birth. The main idea is to show not only the strong bond between a baby and a mother, but also the idea of a strong attachment to the Creator in a strong bond.
But when you are in doubt or in despair, what is there left for you to do?
Unheard prayer is like a desperate cry in the desert where there is no one to hear it. The more you cry out, the more desperate you become. Yet you must keep on moving. Navah
It is the object of this work to seek the answer to this question. The reader has therefore to expect that this object is somehow associated with the main title of this work: The Parable of the Oak Tree. We will explain the reason for this in due course.
A good departure point to describing “trust” is to explain certain verses in Jeremiah 17, which we will do diligently.
Trust in man or trust in Elohim?
Thus said YHVH,
Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart turns away from Yehovah. (Jer 17:5)
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and not see when good comes, and shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land that is not inhabited. (Jer 17:6)
Blessed is the man who trusts in Yehovah, and whose refuge is Yehovah. (Jer 17:7)
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and does not fear when heat comes. And his leaf shall be green, and in the year of drought he is not anxious, nor does he cease from yielding fruit. (Jer 17:8)
These four verses in Jeremiah, or rather their perception that reflects the common belief, state the curse of confidence in man and the blessings of confidence in God. It thus appears to express two contradictory views on the importance of trust. But does YHVH say that trust in man is indeed cursed? Why does trust in man deserve a curse? Or there is something in the statement we do not understand completely.
The cursed trust in man
YHVH through the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) contrasts two vivid images: (1) one who trusts in man is compared to a small shrub in the barren desert that does not see when good comes; (2) while one who relies on YHVH is likened to a strong [oak] tree with deep roots flourishing by the river in the desert. Even in the year of heat and drought, he will give fruits, because he has spread his roots in YHVH.
The trust in man is stated in the first clause of verse 5 as an antithesis to the trust in YHVH in verse 7; the former brings curses, while the latter blessings. This trust in man is described with the metaphor “he that makes flesh his arm, i.e., he who seeks strength in one’s own ability.
The following verse 6 compares the person, who trusts in man, to a bush in a barren desert landscape and to an inhabited salt land, alluding to the barren land of the Dead Sea.
The blessed trust in YHVH
To this a direct contrast is set (in opposition to trust in man) in verses 7 and 8 the blessing of man who has put trust in YHVH. Such a man is compared to a resilient [oak] tree that grows by the river and spreads forth his roots in the waters to gain more and more strength for growth. Such a tree does not fear the heat of the drought that will come.
The portrayal of the growth of man who trusts in YHVH is a further extension of the picture of him who has his delight in studying the Torah of YHVH. The comparison to a tree planted by the river, here and in the psalm below, is not accidental as we will see further in this study. For now, we read from Psalm 1,
Blessed is the man who shall not walk in the counsel of the wrong and shall not stand in the path of sinners, and shall not sit in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the Torah of Yehovah, and he meditates in His Torah day and night. For he shall be as a tree planted by the rivers of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither, and whatever he does prospers. (Psa 1:1-3)
The righteous who is blessed is first described according to the things he does not do. The portrays him as one who is not in the state of mind of the ungodly, much less associate with the life of sinners, or even delight in their company.
Then comes the chief thought and point of the whole psalm. The blessing is a reward for what he actually does: the righteous delights in studying the Torah of YHVH. For doing this he is likened to a tree planted by the river of living water; such is the word of YHVH to him who devotes himself to it that he becomes like an ever green tree planted by Him to bring fruits.
However, returning to Jeremiah, despite this, heat and drought are an anticipated reality that even the most well rooted and richly watered tree must confront one day.
In verse 8, the verse of the green tree, whether the tree will not experience and be affected by the parching heat or that the tree will not fear its coming, the underlying message remains the same: the heat is on its way.
What distinguishes, however, the green and fruitful tree from the desert shrub is that the tree possesses a reliable source of water that will enable it to survive the drought and continue bearing fruit, while the shrub will wither and die out. Yet even though a tree is green and fruitful, if it does not have deep roots, it may not survive the coming drought.
And this is the message YHVH delivered through the prophet: even the most virtuous person—one who wholeheartedly trusts in Him—sooner or later will confront challenges in life. Yet, when facing loss, the faithful can trust in YHVH.
Therefore, the optimistic message is this: with the heavenly help, the righteous will remain resilient and thrive even in the most trying times that about to come, because he has his roots deeply spread in “the Fountain of Living Water” (Jer 17:13) through meditation in His Torah.
Yet, a man must not trust the illusions of his own heart but trust in Elohim, for He searches the hearts and tries the kidneys, the seats of the most hidden emotions and feelings, in order to repay each according to his works, whether good or bad,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick – who shall know it? I, Yehovah, search the heart, try the kidneys, and give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds. (Jer 17:9-10)
With that said, perhaps, we will now better understand the words of Yeshua, the Living Word of YHVH,
If you knew the gift of Elohim and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. … whoever drinks of the water I give him shall certainly never thirst. And the water that I give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (Joh 4:10-14)
Now we have come to the chief subject of our study, namely, why the trust in man is cursed.
The medieval commentator Rabbi David Kimchi (1160-1235), known as RaDaK, brilliantly explains the true meaning of “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart turns away from Yehovah” and reconciles the apparent contradiction in his commentary on the verse.
If he does not “turn his heart from God,” he is not wrong in trusting that humans will help him, if his intention is that with God’s help the person can help him.
Trust in other people is not unconditionally wrong as Rabbi Kimchi explains; it is legitimate and allowed as long as help from other people is understood as coming from Elohim.
In other words, the third clause of verse 5 (“whose heart turns away from YHVH”) explains the true meaning of the verse, teaching that one is cursed only if the person relies exclusively on men. The trust in man only is what is cursed, because once the faith is accepted not to trust in YHVH Elohim as a source of provision is equal to not having faith in Him.
To trust both in YHVH and in other people, however, is perfectly correct, as long as the universal commands in the Torah to love our neighbor as ourselves and help the poor, the widow, the orphan stand and is applicable to all members of YHVH’s people. Help indeed comes from YHVH through other people; we need to do our part of the job to help the needy.
With that being said, a solid foundation is thus established to understand the Parable of the Oak Tree in its proper context.
The lone oak
In Israel there was a well-known parable: the Parable of the reeds and the oak tree. A strong oak tree and reeds were growing by the river. Whenever storms were coming the lonely oak withstood, while the flexible reeds were bending to survive, until one day the oak tree finally broke down.
Yeshua said to the people concerning Yochanan,
What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in noble garments? Look, those wearing noble garments are in the houses of kings. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say to you, and more than a prophet. Mat 11:7-9
Yochanan was such a strong oak in the midst of the reeds. He confronted the hypocrisy of the religious elite without having compromised his standing–until he was broken. Yeshua asked his disciples whether they would see Yochanan as the flexible reed shaken by the wind or as the strong oak that stands alone in the times of troubles.
Yet even Yochanan had doubts or even despair. While in prison he heard of the works of his cousin was doing, and he sent two of his students to ask Yeshua, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?”
Whether because the darkness of his cell depressed his soul or he had legitimate concerns if Yeshua was the prophet Mosheh told Israel to await, it is not given to us to know.
But how would Yochanan ask such a question, as if he did not know whom he immersed in water and on whom the power of Elohim came? Did he not himself proclaim that the one he just immersed was the Lamb of Elohim? Yet confusion entered his mind.
There is good reason for such a confusion, since there are prophetic Messianic passages in the Tanak that say Messiah would come and suffer and others that say Messiah would come and liberate his people from the oppressors, and reign as king. The former concept became known as “Messiah, son of Joseph” and the later: “Messiah, son of David”.
While in doubt and confusion, Yohanan asked: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?”
Since Yochanan knew who Yeshua was for he immersed him in water, he was essentially asking whether or not Yeshua was the same one who was to come to overthrow the Romans and set up the kingdom all Israel was awaiting.
A storm indeed can take down even a strong oak like Yochanan but there is hope,
For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it does sprout again, and that its tender branch does not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, at the scent of water it buds and brings forth foliage like a plant. (Job 14:7-9)
Here Iyov (Job) contrasts the passing of man to the death of a tree. As a river dries up and the land is parched (Job 14:11), so man shall lie down and not rise. Until the heavens do not pass away, the man and the tree do not awake to a new life (Job 14:12). If the tree is cut down, the stump puts forth new shoots and does not cease but comes back to life. So, is the remnant.
The stump is the remnant that survives the trials, and this remnant becomes the new beginning from which a new life springs up.
Even though, the root of a tree becomes old in the earth and its trunk dies away in the dust, it can be brought back to life, despite the weakness of old age, just by the dew of water. The tree puts forth branches, buds, and leaves to live again, because it has deep roots in the ground.
So, where is the hope for man?
Blessed is the man who trusts in Yehovah, and whose refuge is Yehovah. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and does not fear when heat comes. And his leaf shall be green, and in the year of drought he is not anxious, nor does he cease from yielding fruit. (Jer 17:5-8)
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