Hardy as the terebinth tree


I’d like to bet that unless you are a fan of biblical horticulture — and I am guessing you are not — you don’t ever recall hearing about the terebinth tree. I ran across a reference to such a tree while I was reading my Bible this morning, and I was curious to find out more.

It’s mentioned at the tail end of Isaiah Chapter 6, when Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord in the Temple and accepts the calling to go and speak to the people on behalf of the Lord. Isaiah was told in so many words that he would take the Lord’s message to the people but that they wouldn’t accept it. In fact, their hearts would become duller, their ears harder of hearing, and their eyes would fail to perceive what was coming. Disaster was coming in the form of enemies who would be successful against them because they had turned their backs on the Lord.

When Isaiah heard the details of his challenging ministry, he asked, “How long, O Lord?” The answer was frightening: until the cities lie in ruins, houses are left deserted, the fields ruined, and the vast majority of the survivors sent off into captivity. Even so, at the very end of the chapter comes a word of hope: “But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” (Isaiah 6:13)

I’d like to rename the terebinth tree as “The Comeback Tree.” Terebinth trees grow in the Middle East as well as in North Africa, often in very dry climates. While they are not fast-growing, they can flourish in the harshest of conditions, with a strong root system and a large canopy of shade. They can live up to 1,000 years. But here is the part I am particularly interested in: if you cut down a terebinth tree but leave the stump, it often starts to grow back, first by pushing a small sprout out of the stump, and then becoming a large and healthy tree again over a long period of time. That is what Isaiah was told would happen with the people of God. They would receive what appeared to be a knockout punch, a tree cut down to a stump (use whatever metaphor works for you). That would not be the end of the people of God, though. The tree (think people of God as a whole) could make a comeback, even after being cut down to a stump.

I’ve known several people in my life that appeared to receive a knockout punch only to get up off the mat, dust themselves off, and thrive from that point on. One of my good friends made a horrible choice as a young man and was incarcerated for over three decades. Now as a returned citizen, he is making a positive impact on people and is thriving in all the opportunities coming his way. I’ve seen people I know and love go through the ending of a marriage, marriages so conflicted and broken that a separation or divorce was necessary.

Now on the other side, I’ve seen them full of new life. I’ve seen people bounce back after a time of grief in the loss of a loved one, finding with the passage of time that the dull ache becomes overwhelmed with peace and even joy. Sometimes I’ve seen people go through tremendous physical illness or difficulty in being able to move without pain after a horrible accident. Some I have seen healed outright, while others lead normal lives that are relatively pain-free after a time of adjustment.

I’ve also seen churches dwindle away as they struggle to reach new people or as they face overwhelming challenges financially. I’ve seen some of these churches make a comeback as they start new ministries and reach out to people who don’t have a church connection. I’d like to think the church universal is as enduring and as hardy as the terebinth tree, able to thrive in environments that are hostile and barren, finding new growth even after times of tremendous loss.

Now let me ask you, do you need a comeback? What difficulty or challenge have you been facing? Have you taken it to God? Do you trust over the long-haul that something may sprout from the stump of what was, becoming something beautiful after the time of struggle? I know I want to have the fortitude and perseverance of the terebinth tree, knowing that whatever confronts me, there is life and joy to be had on the other side. I want to believe when things get rough that the comeback is coming.

Derek Russell is pastor of the Hillsboro Global Methodist Church. He loves Jesus, family, dogs and football.

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