Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
The image of a tree planted by rivers is not uncommon in scripture; the picture that Jeremiah is painting has deeply-rooted implications for the saint of God.
Isaiah refers to God’s people as “trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (61:3). When we look at ourself as trees, we need to realize that God is the one who planted us and established us where we are. We should not be upset with where God put us. God plants us by a river, so that our needs will be sustained (Philippians 4:19).
Picturing myself as a tree that is planted by a river of water is especially evocative for me. Growing up in Southern Illinois and playing outdoors in creeks all through my childhood, I am used to seeing massive trees right next to the water, whose root systems extend out into the stream. It is beautiful to behold, and so long as the river flows the tree will have a constant source of sustenance. That tree will never be thirsty, because it has roots down in the river.
When I meditate of the word “river” in Jeremiah 17, I cannot help but think of a few things. My mind goes to the saying of Jesus when he said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hat said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). The next verse goes on to explain that Jesus was talking about God’s Spirit, the Holy Ghost, that believers would receive after Jesus’ ascension. I want to be like a tree that has roots by the river: I want to get roots into the Holy Ghost. I wan’t God’s Spirit to sustain me and nourish me and give me life when the world around me is dry! I want to suck up the nourishment of the Holy Ghost that flows from Jesus Christ. Roots speak of stability. As Christians we should have a firmly established relationship with the Spirit of God. We should have “roots by the river” of living water, the Holy Ghost.
My mind also goes to a prophecy in Ezekiel 47 where “waters issued out from under the threshold of the house” of God. The stream of waters “came down from under the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar” (47:1). As the angel lead Ezekiel through this vision, the small stream that flowed from the side of the altar grew into “a river that [Ezekiel] could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over” (47:5). We not only need to put down roots in the Holy Ghost, but we need to put down roots by the altar. The altar was a place of sacrifice, confession, prayer, and restored fellowship with God.
We need to establish a prayer life with God where we confess our sins and grow in relationship and fellowship with him. How deep are our roots of prayer? When is the last time we tarried before the Lord because we wanted a new depth of prayer with him? We need to have “roots by the river” that flows from the altar. We need to have a prayer life—because the altar will produce a move of the Holy Ghost that we cannot get over! And just as an aside—praying at home isn’t enough. The altar was in the sanctuary, the house of God. Praying at church is part of this!
I don’t think it is any accident that Ezekiel’s vision goes on to say that “by the river upon the bank thereof…shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months…and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine” (47:12). The righteous are going to be like trees who grow by the river, who put down roots into the river, who are sustained by prayer, the altar, the house of God, and the Holy Ghost.
But notice that Ezekiel’s description of the trees is two-fold. It mentions fruit and describes the tree in much the same way that the righteous man is described in Psalm 1. We will address those points in another post. But for right now I want us to notice that Ezekiel’s description very closely matches a description of New Jerusalem when we are resurrected from the dead:
“And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).
Both descriptions mention a river flowing from a piece of furniture (the altar or the throne of God). Both mention trees/a tree growing right by the river. Both mention that these trees produce new fruit every month. Ezekiel says that the leaves of the trees were “for medicine” and Revelation says that the leaves of the tree were “for the healing of the nations”. These two passages are purposely parallel.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that our relationship with God is not only for the present moment. I am so thankful for prayer and the Holy Ghost!—and putting down roots in these areas certainly enrich my day-to-day life. But the reason I want roots by the river is because I want to go be with Jesus one day! I want to see that river that flows from the throne of my Savior; I want to taste the fruit of the tree of life that grows by that river! We should desire a dynamic prayer life because we eventually want to spend forever with the one we are praying to! We should desire a deeper experience of the Holy Ghost in our church services so that we and anyone who desires salvation can eventually go to heaven!
I will have more to say on this topic in an upcoming post. But for now I want to exhort myself and others to put down roots by the river! Let’s go deeper in the Holy Ghost; let’s go deeper in prayer! Let’s remember that the source of our sustenance—physically and spiritually—comes from the Spirit of God, the altar, and the sanctuary. One of these days I want to see a tree in heaven that has roots by the river; so I want to do my best right now to “trust in the LORD” and to hope in the LORD like Jeremiah 17 talks about, so that I can put down roots by the river.