Much of the Biblical story is set in a land much like parts of Arizona and Nevada – a desert place. Images of God and of our relationship with God are drawn from life in the desert. These images are rich vibrant images for us for we know well the cooling relief of shade, the discomfort and danger of thirst and the power of water to bring life. Over the last several months I have drawn life lessons from these desert images as we are called anew to follow. This month I would like to contemplate another image drawn from the Scripture and the desert. Psalm 1 says “The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. Instead of doing these things, these persons love the Lord’s instruction and they recite God’s instruction day and night! They are like a tree replanted by streams of water, which bear fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade.” (Psalm 1:1-3) Some Biblical scholars including Ray Vander Laan believe this passage is using the image of the acacia tree.
The acacia tree grows in the dry river beds of the Judean desert as well as the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. It is known as the Bedouin’s friend because it is so useful to that nomadic tribe that has lived in the desert since before the time of King David. The acacia tree provides precious shade that is life-giving to both humans and animals. It’s leaves are food for camels, in fact, a kilo (2.2 pounds) of acacia pods when boiled in water will feed a camel for a week. When branches are broken or fall off the tree, they will burn hot fires for cooking or warmth. If the tree is scratched or split open, it releases a black sap that is a good medicine for stomach ailments or skin abrasions. It’s no wonder this tree is called the Bedouin’s friend! The tree tends to grow in the floor of the dry river beds sinking their roots deeply into the desert soil. If there is no water for a long period of time the acacia will go dormant until the monsoon rains return bringing precious water to flood through the riverbeds and revive the trees. I think the acacia is a powerful image for our local churches.
As the acacia tree gives life to those who live near it, the local church is to drink deeply of the Living Water of Christ and give its life for others. Just as the acacia tree is helpful in many different ways, sometimes serving to comfort, sometimes to nourish, sometimes to promote healing, our local churches are called to serve in many different ways. As I have traveled through my district listening to the ways people experience God in our local churches and the ways the churches reach into their communities, I realize that each church is unique; it has its own character, its own priorities and passions. God has molded and shaped us to serve different people in different ways that are life-giving, love-centered.
The Hebrew word translated “God’s instruction” is Torah. It is more than an intellectual teaching, the Torah is like pointing in a direction and saying “go this way.” Go this way toward God. Jesus is the Way for us. He is the Living Water for us. Those who follow him, who go his way will not only receive life but will be a source of lifegiving to others. It may feel like a dry spell in many of our settings, but I hope we learn lessons from the acacia tree. I hope that we are so helpful to those in the neighborhoods and communities around us and beyond us that we are called the community’s friend. I hope that our churches are a sign that points to the One whose way leads to everlasting love and life. Be like an acacia tree.
May God bless you with what you need in each unfolding day,