Monday, March 20, 2017

Natural History moment: Palm branches

How wonderful it must have been to a caravan of spice traders to climb the latest hill and see green instead of brown. Swaying palm branches clustered at oasis signaled water, refreshment, and perhaps, an arrival to their destination and an end to their journey.

When I was a freshman attending college way up in freezing Bangor, Maine, and I traveled to Florida during March/Winter break, the sight of the palm trees gracefully swaying in the blue skies at Palm Beach were a most welcome sight. They signaled warmth, and a relaxing of the strain to constantly keep warm.

Palm trees and their branches figure frequently in the Bible. The first mention of palm trees in the Bible is in Exodus 15:27.

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.

Ahhh, rest. Refreshment, shade. In the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary we read about palm trees.

EPrata photo
PALMS: Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was among the earliest cultivated trees. Five thousand-year-old inscriptions from Mesopotamia give instruction for their cultivation. Palms are characteristic of oases and watered places (Exod. 15:27; Num. 33:9). The fruit of the date palm is highly valued by desert travelers since it may be consumed fresh or else dried or made into cakes for a portable and easily storable food. 
Jericho was known as the city of palms (Deut. 34:3; Judg. 1:16; 3:13). The judge Deborah rendered her decisions under a palm bearing her name (Judg. 4:5). The palm was a symbol of both beauty (Song 7:7) and prosperity (Ps. 92:12). Thus, images of palms were used in the decoration of the temple (1 Kings 6:29, 35; 7:36) and were part of Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple (Ezek. 40:16, 22, 26). Palms were used in the construction of the booths for the festival of booths (Lev. 23:40; Neh. 8:15). In John 12:13 the crowd used palm branches to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem.
When the biblical palm is mentioned, it's usually the date palm. The palm tree in Florida is usually the royal palm. Here is a page that has photos of all the types.  After a storm in Florida there would be huge palm fronds all over the road. They are huge. A lot bigger and sturdier than they look while the frond is on the tree. The Road Crews would have to come pick them up or they'd end up presenting a hazard to bikers, motorcyclists, and even some cars.
They have similar characteristics like long feathery leaves-although when you are looking up at them they don’t seem that large on the tree. Once pruned or have fallen you quickly realize they are huge. Some get to be 12-15 ft long. That’s a lot of green and also one reason they are often used in the thatch roofs. With leaves this size they provide some real strength once woven together, allowing the roofs to last upwards of 10 years. (Source)
In Leviticus we read,

And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. (Leviticus 23:40).

Other translations call the palm tree (along with willow, olive, and pine) luxuriant, impressive, majestic, goodly, or magnificent. The context of the Leviticus verse is that God is instructing the people how to make booths for the Festival of Booths AKA the Feast of Tabernacles. The palm leaves were not only used in thatching their booth, but were representative of the joy the Israelites would feel in honoring their LORD.

Speaking of honoring the Lord with palms, we read this in two other verses. Palms were laid on the ground under Jesus feet and waved at Him as he entered Jerusalem. At that time, palm fronds were part of the Israelites' rejoicing:

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"(John 12:13).

Tribulation saints in heaven will use palms to wave and praise the Lord.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"(Revelation 7:9-10).

Palm trees of any type are beautiful to me. They are made more beautiful knowing how the LORD uses palm trees to provide refreshment, shade, and sustenance.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. (Psalm 92:12).


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