By Maxine Carlill
In Luke 4:16–21, in his home synagogue, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1–3:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favourable year of the LORD. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
In biblical times, the coastal plains, the lower hills, and the hill country were mostly covered by forests – especially oak and terebinth. The last of the oak forests was on the coastal plain stretching from north of Tel Aviv to south of Haifa. This forest was destroyed by the Turks in the 1800’s to provide timber for ship building, railway sleepers and steam train fuel.
When Uzziah became the king of Judah and oppression and exploitation of the people increased, Isaiah prophesied the destruction and renewal of Judah. In his prophecy in Isaiah 6:11-13 in which he asks the LORD how long the destruction of Judah would be. The LORD’s answer included a simile relating to the characteristics of the terebinth and oak trees in autumn.
The people in Isaiah’s day would have understood that in Israel’s autumn, the terebinth leaves turn brilliant colours of red and yellows, surpassing the colour of all other trees in the forest. But then all the leaves fall, leaving the terebinth completely bare and desolate – which in the prophecy represents Judah, the most prosperous and glorious nation in the area, and then being destroyed and left barren.
However, the oak is different in autumn. It’s leaves fall as the terebinth, but the branches stay bare only for a very short time. Some new leaves appear even before all the old leaves have dropped off. Here Isaiah is prophesying that the time of barrenness of the land, or absence from Judea, will be brief.
Oaks are thought of as trees of strength as when God warned of coming judgement in Amos 2:9 He used His destruction of the Amorites as an example – even though, “…he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.”
Unfortunately, oak trees were used to shelter idolatry, something which God railed against through his prophets. “They sacrifice on the mountaintops and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, … where the shade is pleasant.” Hosea 4:13
Well, their shade is pleasant, and today Israeli’s take advantage of the many replanted forests for hikes and picnics. ICEJ has the privilege of a partnership the Jewish National Fund which has been responsible for reforesting the Land with the remarkable achievement of replanting over 260 million trees. The Beeri Forest in southern Israel has suffered from fire in recent years by fire kites and balloons launched by arsonists in nearby Gaza. Yet now, the ICEJ has an exciting opportunity to replant and restore this area and its beauty. Scores of Israelis come to this forest to hike, bike, picnic and just enjoy getting out in nature, and they especially flock here in winter to see the bright carpets of red anemones which blossom during the rainy season. Many also visit the ANZAC Memorial, which is an important site in the story of modern Israel’s national rebirth. CLICK HERE for more information on the Christian Embassy Nature Park.
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