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I just love Bible symbolism. I enjoy learning more about the Bible through signs and symbols of mostly every day things. In the past, I’ve written about birds in the Bible as well as specifically, eagles, ravens and unclean birds. Currently, I am writing two monthly features on color symbolism in the Bible and the names of God.
You may also enjoy learning about essential oils of the Bible.
Recently, our pastor mentioned palms and almonds in the Bible, and, of course, it piqued my interest and I had to know more. So, armed with boatloads of reading and researching, I decided to share some of my findings with you.
Plants in the Bible
Plants and flowers are mentioned throughout the Bible — from the “apples” of Genesis and the “bitter herbs” of Passover to the New Testament’s “lilies of the field.
In scripture plants often serve as illustrations for teaching spiritual truths.
Even modern-day plants are written about or named all over the Bible, including in the Old Testament.
Let’s get “in the dirt” and “dig” into the symbolism of plants in the Bible to learn or get to the “root” of (see what I did there hahaha) their meaning and how it applies to our lives.
Let’s start with a bit of botany. What do plants need to survive? They need water, sun and food of some sort (depending on the type of plant). Sound familiar? Humans needs those things, too.
Both plants and humans thrive when under the care of a Master Gardener. (Do you see where I’m going here? :D)
Hosea compares plant growth to spiritual growth. in Hosea 14:5-7, we read:
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
he will send down his roots;
his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
People will dwell again in his shade;
they will flourish like the grain,
they will blossom like the vine—
Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
Here, he compares the walking in obedience to the Lord to:
- the glory of a lily
- the fragrance of the cedars of Lebanon
- the beauty of an olive tree
- the fruit-bearing of a grape vine.
And, Moses mentions plants and their byproducts to describe the abundance that they would find in the promised land.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills;8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey;
He didn’t point out that there was a market on every corner or safety from enemies. Nope, he illustrated the abundance of plants and food.
Water, Water Everywhere
Water (one of those three important things that both plants and humans need) is illustrated throughout the Bible to demonstrate God’s pleasure or displeasure with His people.
Without water plants will wither and die. Without the Living Water, humans will, as well.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun
In addition to water, plants (and humans) need sunlight to thrive. In Job 8:16, we read:
They are like a well-watered plant in the sunshine,
spreading its shoots over the garden;
While, of course, we need actual sunshine to thrive and produce vitamin D in our bodies, we also need THE Son to shine and reign in our lives.
Let’s Look at some (there are hundreds) Plants in the Bible and their Significance:
The almond (scientific name: Amygdalus communis or Prunus dulcis), is a medium sized tree with narrow, light green leaves.
The almond is well-known in the study of symbolism of plants in the Bible. This is because it represents resurrection as it is the first tree to flower.
Within just a month after flowering, peculiar hairy green fruits begin to develop.
Almonds are mentioned six times in the Scriptures, but only in the Old Testament.
The first reference is in Genesis 43:11 where Jacob, in an sly attempt to gain favor with the ruler of Egypt, orders his sons to take some of the “best products of the land” including almonds. (I don’t know about you, but I love almonds and would love receiving one of the first original fruit and nut baskets!)
Probably the best-known reference to the almond in the Bible is Aaron’s rod that budded and produced almonds overnight. (Numbers 17). Although the almond tree is a fast fruit producer (a month after flowering, as mentioned above), producing almonds overnight was miraculous.
I particularly love the reference to almonds in Ecclesiastes 12:5
when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
The last reference in the Bible of the almond is in Jeremiah 1:11. “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ ‘I see the branch of an almond tree’, I replied.”
Another fascinating thing to point out is that the Hebrew word for almond is shakeid (שָׁקֵד) or shaked which means “wakeful, hastening,” – just as the almond tree hastens to flower.
We also see a motif of the almond motif as part of the design for the lampstand in the tabernacle found in Exodus.
Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms.
The cedar of Lebanon is referred to throughout the Bible including references in 1 Kings, Ezekiel, Amos, Psalms, Jeremiah and several other books of the Bible.
The cedar tree was used to build the temple in Jerusalem and the king’s palace. This tree was special because of its beauty, durability, strength and pleasant aroma.
his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
Just like the cedar tree, as believers in Christ we should be strong and beautiful in our character. And just as cedar balls or chips are placed in closets to make clothes smell good, we should have a positive influence wherever we go—making that place “smell good” because of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
The scientific name of flax is Linum usitatissimum. Usitatissimum means “most useful,” which is an apt description of one of the plants in the Bible that is used for both food and fiber.
Flax is planted in the winter in the Middle East and flowers in the late spring. With beautiful light blue flowers that open only in the morning, flax is one of the most beautiful of all crops when flowering. It is often planted decoratively or ornamental.
Linen fabric is made from the cellulose fibers that grow inside of the stalks of the flax plant.
Linen had more than a fewl uses in Biblical times. The most common was clothing.
But it was also used for making wicks, shrouds, ship’s sails and as measuring lines.
The man in Ezekiel 4 had a measuring line made out of linen (flax). Our English word line is from the Latin word for flax. Words such as linear, lineage, etc. also come from the same root word.
The Scriptures are explicit in discussing the significance of linen when used as clothing. Fine linen represents righteous acts of saints.
Put another way, it represents personal holiness and suggests that the person clothed in linen is in a condition suitable to approach God. In fact, one of the synonyms for a priest is one who “wears the linen ephod.”
Hyssop is one of the most recognized plants of the Bible. It is referred to in ten places in the Old Testament, alone, and two in the New Testament.
Hyssop also features prominently in the red heifer offering in Numbers 19.
My favorite verse regarding hyssop is found in Psalm 51:7
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
I often pray that God will wash me so that I will be clean and whiter than snow. This speaks to the forgiveness that we have in Christ. Hyssop and it’s associated verses are great reminders of how we are washed clean by God’s forgiveness.
Suprisingly, hyssop is a member of the mint family.
Hyssop, ezov in Hebrew, must be grown in a particular way according to the Scriptures as it should grow on a “wall” according to I Kings 4:33.
He shall purify the house with the bird’s blood, the fresh water, the live bird, the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet yarn.
Olives and Olive Trees
The olive tree was very important in Bible times. Olives were pressed to make oil that was used in cooking, as well as smeared on the skin and hair as part of one’s personal hygiene care.
I love this narrative by Old Dominion University about the significance of olives and olive trees in the Bible:
“The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray before His crucifixion, was actually an olive vineyard where olives were grown, picked and pressed in large stone mills. Luke 22:41-44 records how Jesus went off by himself to pray and was so overcome with grief that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Isaiah 53:5 predicts that the Messiah would be “crushed for our iniquities.” In the garden where olives were pressed and crushed for their extremely valuable oil, Jesus was also “pressed” by the weight of our sin and the punishment He would soon endure on our behalf.”
isn’t that the way it is in life? We are pressed and feel the weight of troubles and difficulties in our life. We are to trust God through these difficult times so that, if we are obedient, He can use them to bring out the pure and priceless “oil” of His character in us.
The first reference to the olive in the Bible is actually to the olive leaf.
When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.
Also from the same article as referenced above from Old Dominion University:
“The olive tree does not become very tall and lives for up to one thousand years producing fruit during its long life. Trunks often become gnarled, bent and hollow inside, yet the tree continues to produce fruit.
The remarkable root system of the olive tree is the secret of its survival in its dry, rocky, habitat. To produce a good crop, however, the trees need a great deal of attention throughout the year–careful pruning, cultivating, and fertilizing.”
Wow. Life can make us gnarled, bent and even hollow inside, but when we seek Him, we will continue to produce fruit! We just need Him as our Master Gardener to carefully prune, cultivate and fertilize us through His word!
In biblical times, olives were often grown directly from the sprouts. The olive farmer would select sprouts from his best trees, carefully remove them, and plant them where they would be carefully tended. Psalm 128:3 may be a reference to this practice-“your sons will be like olive shoots round your table”.
Palms/Palm Trees/Date Palm
The first reference to the date palm is when the children of Israel entered the desert after leaving Egypt (Exodus 15:27). Here, at Elim, they encountered palm trees just as a visitor in many parts of the Sahara today would find oases marked by palm trees.
It is interesting to note that while the palm is used to decorate the temple, it is not mentioned as being used in the tabernacle.
Unlike the tabernacle, the temple is the established place for the dwelling of God on earth. It could not be built until there was peace (I Kings 5:3-4), that is, until the kingdom was firmly and righteously established in the hand of Solomon.
The palm tree has an even greater role in the temple of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 40 we find that the palm tree was inscribed upon the posts of the chambers, the gate, and the posts of various gates
13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
For fun, here’s an online quiz: Plants in the Bible
Or, you may like sports imagery in the Bible.
If you “geek out” on Bible symbolism, consider my recommended books on the subject:
You can also listen to them on Audible Plus with a free trial!
What was new to you in this post of plants in the Bible? Which is your favorite?
Because He Lives,