Palm Tree Christians
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”—Psalm 92:12
There is a rabbinical tradition that this Psalm was composed and sung by Adam in the Garden of Eden to celebrate God’s great power in creation. The thought probably comes from the fourth and fifth verses: “For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep.” But this is only a tradition. It is a fact, however, that for centuries this Psalm was sung in connection with the Jewish service every Sabbath morning at the hour when the first lamb was offered upon the brazen altar—just as the wine was being poured out as the “drink offering,” and I have been informed that even to this day in the orthodox synagogue it is sung on the Jewish Sabbath, so for thousands of years it has been wonderfully interwoven into the religious history of the chosen nation.
The great thought of the Psalm seems to be that God’s righteous government will ultimately be made manifest in the overthrow of the wicked and the triumph of those who trust Him. “But thou, Lord, art most high forevermore. For, lo, thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered. But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn.” However, the lesson for today is from the two-fold figure in verse 12—“the palm tree” and “the cedar in Lebanon,” dwelling especially upon the former. Now first let me remark that
God Speaks Through Nature
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heart. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun.” When we know our Bible and believe it, we find that nature is the handmaid to revelation, for it hath pleased the Almighty God to use things that are natural to convey spiritual and eternal truths. The sunshine speaks of the ”Light of the world,” the trees of the field remind us of the “Root of David,” the everlasting mountains speak of “His righteousness” and the mighty deep of “His judgment,” while the springtime ever reminds us of the resurrection. The sheep and the sparrows and the old mother hen with her brood of little chicks tell us of His protecting and providing love. Oh yes! Nature will talk to you about God if you know your Book. As we see the farmer going forth to sow, we think of that matchless parable (Matthew 13) and pray “Lord, give me an honest heart so that the seed of the Word may bring forth 30, 60 or 100 fold. As the summer grass falls before the keen blade of the mower, we are reminded of the brevity of life. “All flesh is as grass…the grass withereth, the flower fadeth,” springing up in the morning, in the evening it is cut down and withereth, and again we lift our hearts to God and say “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” As the golden grain and ripened fruit are gathered in the harvest, we think of the end of the age when He shall come and the wheat shall be separated from the tares and gathered into His eternal garner. As the beautiful snow throws its white mantle over all that is ugly and unclean, we hear Him say “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” and we thank God for “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son that cleanseth us from all sin.”
Lessons From The Palm Tree
One great naturalist tells us that the palm tree is called “the princess of the vegetable world,” while another says “it is the loftiest and most stately of all vegetable forms,” suggesting that the calling of the Christian is “high” and “holy.” We will consider where the palm tree grows, how it grows, when it grows, and why it grows.
First—Where The Palm Tree Grows
While it grows in many parts of the world, the point here is that it will grow where nothing else can possibly exist. It is independent of the conditions which other trees depend upon. Travelers tell us that on the northern border of the Great Desert under the Atlas mountains, where lives no other form of vegetable life, there you will find groves of palm trees not only existing but flourishing, bearing fruit and giving shelter from the blistering sun. The suggestion surely is that by the grace of God a Christian may live the triumphant life under any conditions. Throughout all the ages there have been palm tree Christians who have demonstrated this truth: Joseph, amid the flesh pots of Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, all his life surrounded by licentiousness and sin, yet so true and clean that he was “greatly beloved in Heaven,” Obadiah at the court of wicked Jezebel and Ahab, and “the saints in Caesar’s household” “flourished like the palm tree.”
Second—How The Palm Tree Grows
It grows tall and straight. We are told that a heavy weight placed upon its head when young could not turn it from its upward course, eventually the weight was thrown aside and it went on its way straight for the sun. “They are upright as the palm tree,” says Jeremiah. Now no one objects to the Christian being tall if he is as straight as he is tall; God has some Christians that are outstanding. They will bear investigating. I know there is the crooked type also and a good many of them, but I never like to hear a man excuse himself for not being what he ought to be because of some hypocrite he knows. Whenever you try to hide behind a crooked Christian it is well to remember that you are not any better than he is, for you can never hide behind anything that is smaller than yourself.
David tells us the kind of man to observe in Psalm 37:37, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.” They are good to look at and they are worth following.
Recently I was speaking to you regarding our citizenship being in Heaven but the apostle would have us recognize the practical side of that statement as well as the judicial, hence he urges us to “set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” “Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” The palm tree Christian ever longs for more intimate communion with Christ and greater conformity to His image. He grows in grace daily and will continue until he comes “in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Third—When The Palm Tree Grows
As long as it lives, we are told that it never stops growing and it is always minding its business, bearing its very best fruit in old age (verse 14). Some of these trees bear as much as 365 pounds of dates a year, which is about a pound for each day. Then the palm tree can be used for 360 different purposes—not one particle of it but what is useful, even the date stones can be ground into powder and used for food for camels.
To the weary traveler crossing the arid desert, what a pleasant sight a grove of palms must be, for they mean shelter from the blistering sun; food and water, always water where the palm grows. You remember in Israel’s pilgrimage across the desert they came to Elim where there were “70 palm trees and 12 wells of water.”
“Palm tree Christians” always have a testimony. They are ready for any emergency. I knew a man some years ago who worked in a large mill. He was a professing Christian, but he was not the “palm tree” type. One day a fellow workman was terribly burned with liquid iron and while he was writhing in pain and the agony of death he cried, “Oh, can’t some of you fellows pray?” and this man told me that if he had been a criminal at the judgment bar he could not have felt more guilty. After the life he had lived before the men, he dared not kneel to pray. In contrast to this, I have a friend who is a preacher of the Gospel who tells of how, when a young man, he with three others, all wild and reckless, were brought face to face with the claims of Christ and felt their need of a Savior. One night they stood talking together about this matter on a street corner. They wanted to go to some Christian who would guide them in the way of salvation, but, said my friend, “we never questioned the religious status of our community before, but that night we could not think of one among those who professed to be Christians in our community to whom we cared to go in this hour of soul need.” But finally one of the boys suggested an old auntie, who lived on the outskirts of the village. She was very plain in her living, but genuine in her Christianity and it was unanimous that they call upon her and state the case. “I shall never forget,” said this brother, “how she looked over her glasses at us when she came to the door. I informed her that we were troubled about our sins.” “Oh, bless your dear souls,” said the old lady, as she ushered us into the little cottage and there about the table we sat as she read to us different passages from God’s Word, making plain the way of salvation through the Cross of Christ. How we knelt together and each one prayed for himself.” How happy was this mother in Israel to have four souls born anew. She was a Christian of the “palm tree” type.
I am afraid there is a tendency for the old saints to retire from active service too quickly, while like the palm tree, they should keep on growing, flourishing and bearing fruit to the end of the journey.
Fourth—Why The Palm Tree Grows And Flourishes under these adverse conditions. It grows in a desert, comes up through the hot, dry sand, but it draws its supply from a hidden source. The tap root goes down deep to an invisible spring. We are told that this tree is ENDOGEN while other trees are EXOGEN. The ordinary tree puts on its new life on the outside near to the bark. It adds a new circle of wood each year, so that you can tell its age by the number of circles, but the palm tree puts on its new life on the inside, near the heart. The life of the ordinary tree passes up between the bark and the wood. The palm tree feeds through its heart. If you girdle the apple or other trees they will die, but you may girdle a palm tree again and again and if you leave it connected it will grow and bear fruit. It feeds through the heart. Now “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.” How are you standing the girdling which you are getting these days from the world? Does it dry you up and make you barren? Or like the palm tree do you keep on growing? “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” We have “bread to eat that no man knoweth.” We may not be able to take any joy out of our circumstances or environment, but we may “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We may “have nothing but possess all things,” we may be “poor yet make many rich,” like a little girl in Korea, who had only been a Christian 24 hours when she led the rough sinner to Christ. She could not tell him the way very intelligently, so she brought him to the native pastor and the sinner was saved and we are told that in the first twelve months of her Christian experience she led over 100 to the Saviour. She was “poor” and uneducated, yet she made “many rich.” She was a little palm tree.
“By their fruits ye shall know them,” said Jesus. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature and it is just this that makes the difference between the true and the false; between the real and the artificial. Christianity is essentially life, yea Divine life, and where life is it will manifest itself. There is such a thing as “a form of godliness,” a hollow, empty form that “denies the power thereof.” A man may be baptized like Simon Magus and yet be in the “bond of iniquity”; a man may preach like Baalim, yet die among the enemies of God. It is sad to see so many trying to produce the fruits of Christianity before they have received the principle of life. They work from without to within; God always works from within to without—like the palm tree, the believer is fed through the heart. “No more I but Christ liveth in me” is the secret of the triumphant Christian life.
“‘Not I, but Christ,’ be honored, loved, exalted,
‘Not I, but Christ,’ be seen, be known, be heard;
‘Not I, but Christ,’ in every look and action,
‘Not I, but Christ,’ in every thought and word.”
Just one other word about this wonderful tree, it loves company. It will have other trees around it, but nothing but palms. It produces its own kind—not thorns or thistles, just palms and so the “palm tree Christian” must have fellowship, but it is not the fellowship of the world, it seeks its own company. “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”
I learn also that you cannot graft anything into the palm tree nor can you graft it on anything else.
I haven’t time to speak about the other figure in the text—“the cedar in Lebanon.” This also is full of suggestive truth. Later, we may say something on this phase of the subject.