Trees of the Bible—Deuteronomy 8:8

During Bible times, Israel was much more heavily forested than it was in later centuries. Josephus, viewing Israel from close to the time of Jesus, commented on the wealth of trees he found all over the land. The forests mostly consisted of low trees and high shrubs that were so abundant that ancient records tell about the exporting of timber from Canaan to countries without rich forests, such as Egypt. Such forests were home to boars, lions, and bears.

As the population increased in Palestine, farmers had to clear additional land, but it was difficult to get out all the roots that had penetrated deep into the crevices of the stony ground. Sprouts would grow from the roots, so if the farmers did not maintain the land, trees would quickly take over. “The clearing of forests was always connected with flourishing agriculture, and abundant forests were the results of its [agricultural] decline” (Zohary).

Deuteronomy 8:8 mentions seven species that Israel would find in the Promised Land; four of them are fruit trees: fig, pomegranate, olive, and date. The first fruit tree mentioned in the Bible by name is the fig (Gen. 3:7). About 3-5 meters tall, it grows well in the mountains. We can see its importance from the many references to its destruction in times of disaster (Ps. 105:33; Jer. 5:17, etc.). The fig tree also became one symbol of God’s restoration of the land in the last days (Mic. 4:1, 4; Zech. 3:10).

The pomegranate is a small tree once abundant in local orchards. It represented the bounty of the land when the Israelite spies explored Canaan (Num. 13:23), and the ancients highly esteemed its fruit and flowers.

Olive trees reach 5-8 meters tall, and because they flourish in rocky and poor soil, they could be grown both on the plains and in the mountains. Groves of them carpeted the mountain slopes of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.

Leviticus 23:40 lists types of trees that Israel was to gather branches from on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles to use in religious rituals. The Talmud tells us that these species were the Ethrog (Citron), date palm, myrtle, and willow. The myrtle is a fragrant evergreen bush about two meters tall that enjoys wet terrain such as riverbanks or wetlands, along with the willow. A citron is a small tree with a yellow fruit that reminds one of a wrinkled lemon.

There were four kinds of branches carried during the festival. In addition, Nehemiah 8:15 mentions specific trees used to construct the booths for the Feast of Tabernacles: olive, myrtle, palm, and other shade trees. One of the shade trees was probably the Aleppo Pine, a frequent and beautiful tree and among the tallest in the pine forests, achieving 20 meters in height.

Another common tree in the Levant was the white poplar that Jacob used in Genesis 30:37. Thriving along river and stream banks and other damp places, the straight logs of the white poplar were a source of roof beams. Besides the white poplar, trees inhabiting more moist areas included the willow (aravah; Lev. 23:40, Isa. 44:4), the Oriental Plane tree (armon, Gen. 30:37, Ezek. 31:8), and the common myrtle. The Euphrates Poplar (tzaftzafah), tolerating more arid soil, lived in the southern desert. Since it resembles a willow, many consider it to be the “willow” referred to in Psalm 137:2.

Oaks (Hebrew elon, allon) and terebinths (Hebrew elah, alah) grew alongside the evergreens and shrubs of northern Israel and the mountains of Judah. The oaks and terebinths were often confused with each other, as they both provided shade and burial sites beneath their canopies. They were both strong and sturdy, the people of the land revered and often deified them, especially the tall Tabor Oak. Genesis 35:4 and Joshua 24:26 refer to the terebinth.

Trees provided the Bible writers with rich symbols and imagery, ranging from their use in parables (Judg. 9:7-15), the psalms (Ps. 1:3; 52:8; 92:12), Proverbs (3:18; 11:30), a metaphor for long life (Isa. 65:22), and a symbol for peace and prosperity (Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10). The New Testament employs the olive tree as a way of communicating the concept of salvation (Rom. 11:24) and depicts the cross as a tree (Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 2:4). The ultimate tree in Scripture is the tree of life (Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19).


Jensen, Plant World of the Bible. Bloomington.

Zohary, Plants of the Bible.