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I just love Bible symbolism. I enjoy learning more about the Bible through signs and symbols of most everyday things. In the past, I’ve written about birds in the Bible, specifically. Currently, I am writing two monthly features on color symbolism in the Bible and the names of God.
You may also enjoy learning about the 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.
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 need 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:
Here, he compares 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 grapevine.
And Moses mentions plants and their byproducts to describe the abundance they would find in the promised land.
He didn’t point out 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.
Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun
In addition to water, plants (and humans) need sunlight to thrive. In Job 8:16, we read:
While 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:
Amygdalus communis or Prunus dulcis
The almond is a medium-sized tree with narrow, light green leaves.
The almond is well-known in the study of the 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 a 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 to receive 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), growing almonds overnight was miraculous.
I particularly love the reference to almonds in Ecclesiastes 12:5
The last reference in the Bible to the almond is in Jeremiah 1:11.
God showed a rod of almond to the young Jeremiah; by changing just one letter in this word, it came out meaning “I watch over my words and perform them.” This shows how vital His promise is – he’ll ensure His Word is fulfilled.
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.
More Almonds in the Bible:
- The almond and hazel are also mentioned in an interesting story about Jacob tending Laban’s flocks. (Genesis 30)
- A piece of almond was Aaron’s rod that budded.
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 positively influence wherever we go—making that place “smell good” because of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Usitatissimum means “most useful,” which is an apt description of one of the Bible plants used for food and fiber.
Flax is planted in the winter in the Middle East, and flowers in the late spring. Flax is one of the most beautiful crops when flowering, with beautiful light blue flowers that open only in the morning. It is often planted decoratively or ornamental.
Linen fabric is made from the cellulose fibers that grow inside the stalks of the flax plant.
Linen had more than a few uses in Biblical times. The most common was clothing.
But it was also used for making wicks, shrouds, ship sails, and measuring lines.
The man in Ezekiel 4 had linen (flax) measuring line. 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 the 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. One of the synonyms for a priest is one who “wears the linen ephod.”
Hyssop also features prominently in the red heifer offering in Numbers 19.
My favorite verse regarding hyssop is found in Psalm 51:7.
I often pray that God will wash me so I will be clean and whiter than snow. This speaks to the forgiveness that we have in Christ. Hyssop and its associated verses are excellent reminders of how we are washed clean by God’s forgiveness.
Surprisingly, hyssop is a member of the mint family.
According to the Scriptures, hyssop, ezov in Hebrew, must be grown in a particular way as it should grow on a “wall” according to I Kings 4:33.
juniperus virginiana or juniperus drupacea
The Broom Tree is thought to be a juniper shrub that grows in Palestine. Mentioned in Psalm 120, this passage can be considered in several ways, including that the juniper was used to cleanse, purify and eliminate.
This of the plants in the Bible is a dense, twiggy bush, almost leafless, which grew to about 12 feet tall. It has small white blooms.
Juniper, or The Broom Tree, is common in the desert regions of Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt. As mentioned in the above verse, it was used as charcoal.
It is also where the prophet Elijah rested and found shade.
The Broom Tree roots were not edible, so those were not what Job ate. Instead, he may have eaten an edible parasite that infested the bush.
Lily of the Field (Anemone)
Wild field flowers in Palestine are almost certainly the anemones that Jesus referred to as “lilies of the field.” These beautiful, wild plants can still be found near Lake Galilee.
The Anemone or poppy is one of the first flowers to appear in early spring. It only grows about a foot tall, but its bright colors make up for this deficiency with enthusiasm! These plants do not like wet feet and won’t tolerate freezing either.
They do produce an abundant amount of pollen due to their numerous stamens.
They secrete nectar and attract several insects, which feed on this sweet food.
Mustard has long been extensively cultivated and in biblical times and is the source of mustard-seed oil and medicine.
This plant can grow over six feet tall and is prevalent around the Sea of Galilee and farther north. Its seeds are tiny, just 0.039 of an inch!
Black mustard is a fascinating plant with large leaves that grow near the ground and cluster at its base.
The Greek “Sinapis” is believed to be ‘mustard.’ It’s not mentioned in the Old Testament but is often referred to in the Hebrew Mishnah.
The Hebrew and the Aramaic names for myrtle are hadas; the Arabic, as and rihan; the Accadian, asu. It is one of the four species the Israelites were ordered to use on the first day of Tabernacles.
The myrtle was popular with the biblical and post-biblical population of the Holy Land, and its name was given to men, Assa, and to women, Hadassah.
Its lovely, aromatic branches had many uses.
The leaves of this tree are used in betrothal ceremonies and as remedies because they have oil-secreting glands within the palisade tissue.
The myrtle, significant in ritual and art throughout ancient Greece, was dedicated to Aphrodite.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a time when we remember the Israelites’ flight from Egypt and how they were able to survive in harsh conditions. Myrtle branches were used as roofing material for these outdoor booths, which would be temporary homes during this Hebrew festival.
The common myrtle is a plant that grows not only in damp plains like the banks of the Jordan River and Dan Valley.
The plant’s leaves are fragrant and shiny due to tiny oil glands. The summertime flowers are white, star-shaped, with edible olive-like fruit.
Myrtle is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to 6 and a half feet tall.
Myrtles are beautiful plants that grow wild on hillsides in both dry and moist soil. They will not survive a hard winter and produce abundant flowers when planted in full sun.
Olives and Olive Trees
The olive tree was a significant plant in the Bible and used frequently in Biblical times. Olives were pressed to make oil used in cooking and smeared on the skin and hair as part of one’s 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 precious 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 to the olive leaf.
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 unique root system of the olive tree is the secret to 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 reference this practice- “your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.”
Palms/Palm Trees/Date Palm
One of the most recognizable plants in the Bible is the Palm or 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.
The palm was used prominently in decorating the temple. In I Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3, we find that the temple’s walls were adorned with palm trees.
Interestingly, 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 more significant 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.
You might be surprised to find papyrus on the list of plants in the Bible, but, without it, where would they have written the New Testament?
This tropical plant is found on some coastal riverbanks.
The triangular stem of the papyrus plant was used in ancient Egypt for everyday items like boxes, mats, and ropes. It’s also reported that they were able to make boats out of these plants too!
Papyrus is one of the earliest forms of paper and was used by ancient Egyptians.
Papyrus is an ancient writing surface that became popular in the Near East and the Mediterranean. The first surviving texts of the New Testament were written on this material!
The basket in which Moses’ mother hid him on the banks of the Nile was made of papyrus.
Other Bible verses about papyrus:
Grab the eBook on Nature Symbolism in the Bible, including Clay in the Bible – 209 pages of scripture, meanings, and deeper study!
Of all the plants in the Bible, most are quite familiar with the pomegranate. The pomegranate is featured in the Song of Solomon to represent a woman’s beauty. Its many seeds symbolize fertility, while its delicious red juices symbolize the lovers’ nectar. The aroma and beauty of its flowers are said to represent the awakening of spring.
Although the fruit is included in the seven species which blessed the land, it was not a staple of the Hebrew’s diet, such as the date or the fig.
The pomegranate is a fruit that has been used for centuries to treat ailments ranging from skin conditions and stomach problems. In ancient Rome, people would make ink made out of its bark or use it as an ingredient when dyeing textiles due to their high levels of betacyanin pigments which can produce deep colors.
It is referred to many times in the Old Testament and was one of the promised blessings of the new land.
The pomegranate motif was also used to decorate the priest’s robe in the Temple.
Some biblical scholars believe that the pomegranate tempted Adam and Eve.
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:
Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran by Lytton John Musselman
Foods Jesus Ate and How to Grow Them by Allan A. Swenson
“Foods Jesus Ate and How to Grow Them” (Skyhorse Publishing, $14.95, paperback) is by garden writer Allan A. Swenson, who also wrote “Plants of the Bible,” “Herbs of the Bible,” and “Flowers of the Bible.”
You can also listen to them on Audible Plus with a free trial!
What was new to you in this post on plants in the Bible? Which is your favorite?
ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”