Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Planted on the Source

Psalm 1

The psalmist contrasts the person who hangs around with the wicked--and, by association, is wicked--with the person who is firmly planted and draws nourishment from the law of the LORD. The latter person is perennially (constantly, without interruption, every day and every night) fed by the sweet water that springs from the teaching, or Torah, of God. When drought comes, the person who is not planted on faithful springs of water withers and drops leaves, and eventually dies--while the person who is anchored to a constant water supply bears fruit regularly, predictably.


So soon after April showers, especially near-record rains such as those we just experienced in Indiana, it may seem unnecessary, or even detrimental, to be planted by a stream. Our water table is high, and low-lying areas with streams are prone to flooding, especially in Southeast Marion County. There is such a thing as too much water, even for a tree (Purdue report on effect of wet spring on trees). The ground is often saturated and soft, and heavy winds push trees out of the ground, roots and all. Only water-loving trees--bottomland species such as elm, cottonwood, sycamore, sweetgum, black willow, and river birch--can be planted and expected to thrive in such an environment.

(River Birch. Photo Source, 85/224726234_f2cd16fe83.jpg?v=0)

Other trees--in our area, some maples, oaks, hickories, and the like--will tolerate dry conditions for extended periods of time. But even back home in Indiana, there are times, such as the severe drought of 2007, when trees suffer lack of water (Purdue report on effect of drought on trees). Janna Beckerman's observations about drought-stressed plants echo the Psalmist's description of the wicked (Psalm 1:4), "leaves and needles begin to lose their normal, healthy shades of green during the summer and early fall,...leaves wilted, curled, turned brown and dropped as they normally would in the fall."

Leaf Scorch

PHOTO CAPTION: Drought has caused leaf scorch on the leaves from a cherry tree. Trees often can't get enough water during a drought, causing leaves to wilt, curl, turn brown and drop earlier than they normally would in the fall. (Purdue University photo/Gail Ruhl) A publication-quality photo is available at

At such times, it is imperative to be planted on or near a water source.

As is so often the case, Eugene Peterson's The Message provides an inspired, interpretive turn of phrase in verse three: "You're a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month...." There is no direct reference to Eden (or to Zion) in the Psalm, but the reference to a "tree" and "fruit" and "streams of water" invite the comparison to Eden's "Tree of Life."

(Tree of Life, Image Source,, Vatican Museum.)
The comparison could be extended to the Eden-like qualities sometimes associated with Jerusalem as a holy city, especially the temple precincts. (See Psalm 84 and 46:4 [Hebrew, 46:5, which uses both plg, "channel" or "irrigation ditch," and nhr "river" for the source of this life-giving water].)

(Image Source,
The same motif enters the New Testament in Revelation 22:1-2, where the waters of life flow in a river down the center of the "new" Jerusalem, on either side of which are planted the tree of life bearing fruit monthly. The motif is certainly "fruitful" and suggestive, and is certainly strengthened by the use of the Hebrew word plg in both Psalm 1 and Psalm 46.

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