PLANTS AND TREES OF THE BIBLE
by Wayne S. Walker
"Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth;’ and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the third day" (Genesis 1.11-13).
In his well-known Lands of the Bible, J. W. McGarvey in the second part, "The Topography of Palestine," chapter 9, "An Argument from the Agreement of the Land and the Book," made the following observation: "In regard to the trees of a country a writer may so inform himself as to speak with accuracy when formally naming the trees which grow there; but if he locates a narrative in a country with which he is not personally familiar, in his incidental or unstudied allusions to trees he is very likely to betray himself by unconsciously substituting the trees of his own country. Yet nothing of this kind is found among all the Bible writers" (p. 378).
Jericho is called "the city of palm trees." In Deuteronomy 34.3 Moses saw "the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar" (cf. 2 Chronicles 28.15). Palm trees do not grow generally in much of Palestine because it is hilly. However, Jericho is an oasis in a desert region that is of much lower elevation, and palm trees still grow exactly where a Bible writer said that they grow.
The sycamore is a type of fig tree that grows only in the lower elevations, such as the Jordan valley around the Dead Sea or the coastal regions, in contrast to the cedars which were much more abundant in the higher elevations, such as around Jerusalem (1 Kings 10.26-27). Zaccheus climbed a sycamore tree (Luke 19.1-4). This was at Jericho, which is located in the lower elevations. Suppose the writer had located the story at Jerusalem, where there are no sycamore trees!
Jesus said that the mustard seed "becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches" (Matthew 13.31-32). The common field mustard with which most of us are familiar is a fairly small plant. However, in Palestine the mustard does indeed become a tree-like shrub. Dr. William Thompson in his work The Land and the Book wrote: "I have seen this plant on the rich plain of Akkar [Acre] as tall as the horse and his rider" (p. 414). Only someone familiar with this fact would have spoken or written such a statement.
Finally, the Bible pictures oak or terebinth trees as growing in certain places (e.g., 2 Samuel 18.6-10). McGarvey again said: "Absalom is represented as being caught by the head in the ‘thick boughs of a great oak,’ though in almost every other country the boughs of a great oak are either too high nor not thick enough for a man’s head to be caught in them" (pp. 378-379). However, just such kinds of trees are reported to be quite common east of Jerusalem where the battle between the armies of David and Absalom fought. So Bible writers are accurate in their placement of plants and trees. This is as it should be in a book which claims to be inspired by God. (—taken from With All Boldness; Feb., 1996; Vol. 6, No. 2; p. 6; and Dec., 1996; Vol. 6, No. 12; p. 14)