PALM OF THE BIBLE
Of the appearance and natural history of the palm tree we can have no better account than is contained in Mr. Grindon’s admirable chapter (Intellectual Repository, August, 1873). He says:
The palm is a living pillar, slender, cylindrical, and erect, and capable, in one species or another, of attaining the stature of sixty, eighty, one hundred, and even one hundred and ninety feet. Of lateral growth, such as would constitute umbrageousness, like that of an oak or chestnut, there is none—not a single sideways shoot breaks the slim and shafted uniformity; the leaves, unique in their kind, measure many yards in length; they are as large, that is to say, as the entire branch of many an inferior tree of other formation; and, confined to the summit of the pillar, constitute a prodigious and evergreen crown, the principal leaves—such of them at least as are in the full vigor of existence—arching elegantly outwards and downwards. Because of these great dimensions, emulated only by the foliage of bananas and the arborescent ferns, they are called whenever mentioned in Scripture, not “leaves,” but what they really seem to be, as when the people “took branches of palm trees and strewed them in the way.” For the same reason, in the ancient poets, it is never the leaf, but always the “branch,” of the palm that we read of. . . . Like those of most other evergreens, the leaves, individually, are long-lived. Of course they die in time; but the decay is often gradual, the long petiole preserving its foothold, though drooping, and remaining attached for a considerable period; and when it goes there is still usually left a fibrous and projecting stump, though sometimes only a scar. . . . No tree, not even the willow, is fonder of, or more dependent upon, water than the palm. Let the sunshine be ever so fervent, give water enough to the grateful root, and it sees not “when heat cometh”; flourishing so much the more gloriously under the twofold influence, though dying if moisture be withheld.
Hence it is that the appearance of the particular kind of palm always intended in Scripture, the date palm, becomes, in the deserts where it grows spontaneously, an infallible indication of the presence of springs; and nowhere is the association more remarkable than in the northern part of the Sahara. Here the palm islands, or “oases,” are so numerous as to constitute a vast archipelago; the district itself receiving the name of Beled-el-Jerid, or the “date country.” The oases are not, as often supposed, islands of verdure that rise above the surrounding sand, but depressions in the sea-like expanse, in which moisture can be collected and retained, and where both animal life and vegetable can not only be supported, but sheltered from the storms—the latter an important element in the usefulness they subserve, and giving no slight enrichment to the familiar and expressive metaphor which makes the “oasis in the desert” another name for solace and refuge. The great charm of the oasis is that, however, which is found in the alliance of the palm, the emblem of victory, with water, the emblem, so constantly employed in Scripture, of Christian purity and Christian truth.
The flowers of the palm trees are fashioned much after the same plan as those of the lily, having all their parts in threes. Individually they make no show, and are often trifling and unattractive; but the abundance is so vast that, were all to result in fruit, scarcely any plants in nature could be esteemed more fecund. The manybranched clusters, often several feet in length, are developed from the very apex of the stem, sometimes standing erect, and constituting an immense thyrsus; more usually hanging down from among the bases of the leaf stalks. While young, the whole mass of the inflorescence is enclosed in a peculiar sheath, termed a “spathe,” just as in England we may see the panicles of many grasses wrapped round before expansion by the uppermost green leaf.
The staminate and the pistillate flowers of the palm grow upon separate trees. To secure a crop of dates, therefore, the Arabs are in the habit of cutting the bunches of flowers from a stamenbearing tree, and tying them among the clusters of pistillate flowers on another tree. The date palm, the only species of the order made mention of in Scripture, is a tree of sixty to eighty feet in height, less graceful in appearance than some of the others, but in substantial usefulness excelled by none. No palm is in any way deleterious, and the variety of useful products obtained from the order in general has no parallel; the date palm stands, nevertheless, quite at the head, if only from the vast multitude of human beings it supplies with sustenance. But this is not all; the leaves are employed for various household purposes, and for fodder; and the very stones of the fruits, hard and worthless as they seem, when ground up with water, serve as food for horses and camels.
The tall, straight trunk of the palm, stretching up into the heaven, and expanding its great leaves at the top, is suggestive of some spiritual principle that looks directly to the Lord. The precise nature of this principle is indicated by the use that is made of palms in the Scriptures. We read in John chapter 12 that the people “took branches of palm trees,” and went forth to meet the Lord, and cried, “Hosanna; blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
“Branches of palm trees” are, as has been shown, the large palm leaves. From the ancient times, when their meaning was known, came down the custom of giving palm leaves to conquerors as emblems of victory. Nike, the goddess of victory, was therefore represented by the Greeks as carrying a “palm branch” in her hand (Murray, p. 213).
The people carried them to the Lord, and went before Him waving them, to express the same feeling that found another utterance in their words, “Blessed be the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The palm leaves, therefore, here represent the acknowledgment of the Lord as King of Israel, coming in the name and with the power of Jehovah.
In the Apocalpyse (chapter 7), it is said that “a great multitude stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.’” Here again, the meaning of the palms is explained by the spoken words which ascribe salvation to the Divinity and the Divine Humanity of the Lord. Palm leaves in the hand are, then, acknowledgments of the Lord as King and Savior; and growing upon their native tree they are perceptions of the Divine saving power of the Lord.
The tree from which such perceptions spring, and which in turn they increase and strengthen, is the tree of belief in the Lord. This tree reaches up directly toward the Lord; with no branches, but bearing at its highest point these rational perceptions of His Divine attributes. It springs up in the desert of the natural mind in youth and early manhood when the passions are hot, wherever the cooling influence of the Divine truth of life from the Word is felt and cordially received. Such reception of cleansing truth, and experience of its use, prepares the mind for belief in the Lord as our Savior and King.
Therefore it was that as soon as the children of Israel crossed the Jordan, by which this spiritual cleansing was signified, they came to Jericho, “the city of palm trees”—the first city they entered of their Holy Land, and therefore representing the first state of good life from faith in the Lord. On account of its situation, low in the Jordan valley, the climate of Jericho is tropical, well suited to the palm tree, which gives place to the fig and the olive as we climb the hills toward the interior of the land. And, in like manner, the principles represented by the palm flourish best with those who have more zeal than wisdom; and whose works also are, in their manner of initiation, imaged by the fertilization of the palms, in that they are not produced by the quiet love of perceiving truth and uniting it to its own good, but are the fruits of loyal, zealous obedience to the truths taught by the leaders of the Church as the Lord’s instruction.
This is the faith of great numbers in the Christian Church. Their songs of praise are in the same strain with that of the people who went out to meet the Lord, and of their kindred multitude who stood before the throne—they are addressed to the Lord as Savior and King. These are their leaves; and their fruits are the joys of delivering from evil all whom they can bring to look to the Lord with them. The seeds of this fruit are teachings of faith in the Lord, and their stony case is from the truth that there is no Savior but Him.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875