Hymns and Lessons for Proper 6-B — The Cosmic Tree

Ezekiel 17:22-24 is a beautiful oracle of salvation that uses Cosmic Tree imagery.  This powerful Cosmic Tree imagery is all over the Bible and I wanted to call your attention to it because I can’t remember ever preaching on it (teaching on it, yes — but not preaching).  And it is so beautiful!

As you know, Ezekiel spends much time in his earlier oracles telling the Israelites that God is going to stomp Judah and the city of Jerusalem.  He says that destruction is coming at the hands of the Babylonians because God has absolutely, finally lost patience with them for their lack of faithfulness to the Covenant they have with God.  But then, after this destruction actually happens, Ezekiel turns his prophecy to God’s promise of hope for the future.

In a beautiful oracle of salvation, Ezekiel tells God’s people that God Himself is going to intervene in history of their behalf.  God will take a “tender shoot from the top of a cedar” and plant it “on a high mountain”.  This cedar shoot is the Davidic Dynasty that was to produce the Messiah which God will plant on Mt. Zion, Israel’s high mountain and site of the Temple.

This is the great Cosmic Tree that shows up all over the Bible (although you may not have noticed it before) in which “birds of every kind will find shelter” (the nations of the world will come to its shade).

Ezekiel 17:22-24 builds on previous prophetic illustrations of the future of the Davidic Monarchy in terms of a tree.  (See Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12 — all of these references are to “a branch”.  Did you ever ask yourself … “branch of WHAT?”)  And Ezekiel 17:22-24 reminds the Israelites that the God who was responsible for destroying the monarchy (see 17:8-10 and 19:11-12) would restore it (thereby bringing the Messiah).

Ezekiel is telling God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem that what might seem unlikely to happen from a human perspective was GUARANTEED by God’s promise.  In fact, the humiliating destruction that God had previously SAID would happen, and that actually DID happen because He said it would, was in itself confirmation that God WOULD restore His people — because He had SAID He would restore His people.  They could rest confident that God had good plans for His people.

This great Cosmic Tree shows up all over the Bible.  For example, see Daniel 4:1-18 where Nebuchadnezzar dreams that he is the Cosmic Tree, but God cuts him down.  See also Ezekiel 31:1-18 where God tells proud Egypt to remember what happened to mighty Assyria that once thought of itself as the Cosmic Tree, until God cut it down.

If you want to see God’s Cosmic Tree, you need to look at the Tree of the Cross (Have you ever wondered why we call the cross a “tree” and not a “gibbet” or something else?), to which all the nations of the world stream for salvation.  If you want to see God’s Cosmic Tree in action, look at the Mustard Seed of Matthew 13:31-32 and Luke 13:18-19.  And if you want to see a hymn that really captures the mystic sense of what this whole Cosmic Tree theme means throughout the Bible, look at There in God’s Garden (With One Voice #668 — or you could google the hymn There In God’s Garden.)  The first verse sings: “There in God’s garden stands the Tree of Wisdom / whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations / Tree of all knowledge, Tree of all compassion, Tree of all beauty.”  And then each of the soccessive verses is more powerful than the one before.  There’s good reason that we sing this hymn every year on Palm Sunday as the Church walks into the holiest week of the Church Year. This is such good stuff!

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