Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 7:4-8:18 / Revelation 18:17-19:10 / Psalm 148:1-6
If you could be a tree…what tree would you be? Some would like to be a Palm tree because of location – warm and tropical! Others might like to be an Oak tree of strength and might. While others, because of this Christmas season, might desire to be a beautiful Christmas tree full of beauty and brilliance!
Have you ever considered a Myrtle tree? We may be unfamiliar with a Myrtle tree but it was a significant tree to the Jewish nation. A Myrtle tree is similar to an evergreen tree but has dark glossy leaves and white flowers. It was very prominent on the hillsides of Jerusalem. It would not grow extremely high and at times it branched out like a bush.
It was a very sweet fragrant tree and its leaves, berries and flowers were used to make perfume and to season food. It was not only used for practical purposes but also had great spiritual significance. Symbolically, the Myrtle tree is associated with gladness! The Israelites had worked diligently to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and they were physically exhausted, they needed joy.
They were also spiritually dry, as their busyness had pushed away the things of God. When Ezra stood to read the Word of God, the people were convicted of their personal lukewarmness and their forefather’s apostasy. They mourned, wept and grieved over their sin as the convicting power of God took hold of their hearts.
Nehemiah instructed them, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) Instead of grieving over their sin, failure and disappointments, they were to rejoice in God’s forgiveness and faithfulness. The joy of the Lord was their promised strength, a fortress against despondency and a defense against discouragement!
Israel went and celebrated with great joy by feasting and giving gifts to one another. After their celebration, they read the Law and learned about the feasts of booths; a time when Israel was to reflect, remember and rejoice in God’s deliverance from the enslavement of Egypt. They read, “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from MYRTLES, palms and shade trees, to make booths.” (8:15)
For 7 days, they were to encamp under the Myrtle tree of gladness! God desired them to live in the sweet fragrance and seasoning of His joy. Our lives should reflect and bring a sweet fragrance to others as well as add sweetness to the despondent and discouraged. Like Esther, whose Persian given name “Hadassah” is literally “Myrtle…sweet fragrance”, we should all be Myrtles! Seems like a funny name but in reality…it is a joyous name reflecting a gladness of strength and sweetness!