One of my dear friends recently shared with me about one of her many trips around the world, where she visited Lebanon. One of the highlights of her trip was to go and see the cedars of Lebanon.
Cedars of Lebanon are evergreen trees…they are from the coniferous family (like pines) and they have been used since ancient times for building.
Rulers in the ancient times would order the wood for religious and civil constructs. In the bible, the most famous example is King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and David’s and Solomon’s Palaces. Because of its significance the word Cedar is mentioned 76 times in the Bible, and played a pivotal role in the cementing of the Phoenician-Hebrew relationship.
Beyond that, it was also used by Romans, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians.
Trees are pretty cool…they bring a lot to our lives…they give wood for furniture, houses, fuel (for heat and cooking), they give fruits for eating, they give shade and some trees are the oldest living things in this planet being thousands and thousands of years old.
Trees also appear as important elements in bible narrative. They feature as literal elements and as symbolic elements.
Trees in the Bible as literal figures:
1.Trees in the Garden of Eden for fruit (Genesis 3:8)
2. Trees as boundary markers (Genesis 13:18, 12:33, 1 Sam 14:2, 1 Chr 10:12)
3. Many Cedar’s of Lebanon were used in the construction of the temple of Solomon (1 King 5:6-10, 6:15-20).
Trees in the Bible as symbolic figures:
1. Trees symbolize powerful Kings (Dan 4:10)
2. They symbolize a fulfilled wish (Prov 13:12)
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
3. Trees symbolize righteous people (Ps 92:12-13, Ps 1:3)
There is a tree in the bible that has both symbolic and literal meaning. Is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The bible talks about it in Genesis 2:
Adam and Eve
“15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
This tree plays a crucial role in the history of mankind; it serves both a literal and a symbolic element in bible narrative.
1. Literal because it is an actual tree, with branches and leaves and all of the normal tree characteristics.
2. Symbolic because it has the role of a decision point in bible narrative; God said to Adam and Eve that they should abstain from eating its fruit, that if they did eat of the fruit of the tree, the outcome would be death…
There was a certain criterion of expected behavior that was attached to it, it is perhaps the first symbol in the history of mankind. Anytime there is a message and an expected behavior attached to an object, this object becomes a symbol. The tree in the garden became a symbolic element for a moment of choice with two clear outcomes; life or death.
In Western Christian art, the fruit of the decision tree in the garden of Eden is commonly depicted as the apple, however some scientists argue that this is not possible, as the apple tree rarely grows in Mesopotamia, which is the area where the garden of Eden is believed to have been located.
Even though it is not clear which kind of fruit-tree the tree of good and evil was (in a literal sense), it is possible to say without a doubt, that in a symbolic sense, the tree of good and evil is a DECISION TREE.
What is a decision tree? A decision tree is a schematic representation of a set of choices used in economics, management and the business world in order to anticipate possible outcomes for a decision…thereby enabling people to make better decisions.
If you want to learn more about decision trees go to:
Seeds of a decision tree
The underlying assumption upon which a decision tree rests is that of rational choice. Gary Becker, the Nobel Prize winning economist, postulated that people make decisions based on rational choice, which means that given a set of options, people will choose the course of action that renders the most advantageous outcome for their own purposes.
Lately, however, psychologists, and other behavioral scientists have challenged the assumption of rationality.
In 2010 an MIT behavioral economist called DAN ARIELLY did some studies on why people act in ways that do not always reflect RCT…and he found out three things:
1. People act irrationally because THEY DO NOT HAVE ALL THE INFORMATION…
2. People act irrationally, because THEY ARE OVERWHELMED BY THE CHOICES
3. People act irrationally, because THEY ARE STIRRED UP EMOTIONALLY OR BY EXTERNAL FACTORS
If you want to learn more about Dan Ariely’s books go to his blog at http://danariely.com/
In his books, Dan Ariely describes several experiments in which he demonstrated that people did not always act in accordance to their own criterion of what is beneficial for them, or even worse, people did not act accordance with their own values. One of my favorite examples has to do with Coca-Cola and money.
Like many other college dorms, the MIT dormitories have refrigerators in every floor for the use of all residents. In one of the buildings, Ariely went to every floor and put inside each fridge, a six-pack of coke, and also, he put on top of the fridge the equivalent value of the six-pack in US dollars (approx. six dollars). After doing this, he checked periodically to see whether the coke cans, and the money were still there. To his surprise, the cokes didn’t last longer than 72 hours the entire building, and even more surprisingly, he found out that no-one had touched the money that he left in every floor.
Dan Ariely found out that people will “fool themselves” to betraying their own values by stating for example, “stealing a coke is not stealing”, however they wouldn’t dare to steal the equivalent in money value of that coke. The bible says it in this way:
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
We can see examples in daily life and also in the bible, which show that people do indeed make irrational choices; one such biblical example is the case of Jacob and Esau.
Jacob and Esau were twin brothers who were born to Rebeccah and Isaac. In Genesis 25, the bible narrates how Esau was born first, and Jacob was born second. During bible times, being a firstborn meant carrying the family name and inheriting double portion of the family’s estate. Thus, it was a great privilege.
Any person acting rationally would’ve considered the first-born right as something of great value both financially and emotionally. However, the bible narrates that Esau traded his first-born right for a plate of lentil stew.
“One day Jacob was cooking a stew. Esau came in from the field, starved. Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stew—I’m starved!” That’s how he came to be called Edom (Red).
Jacob said, “Make me a trade: my stew for your rights as the firstborn.”
Esau said, “I’m starving! What good is a birthright if I’m dead?” Jacob said, “First, swear to me.” And he did it. On oath Esau traded away his rights as the firstborn. Jacob gave him bread and the stew of lentils. He ate and drank, got up and left. That’s how Esau shrugged off his rights as the firstborn.”
It is clear that Esau was stirred up emotionally and was overwhelmed by hunger and tiredness when he came to the decision point where he traded his first-born right.
This passage of the bible illustrates how people fail to act rationally, and the most dangerous part of our failure to act rationally is that there are certain decisions that can’t be taken back, the bible calls it the “Esau Syndrome”.
“Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.”
– Hebrews 12:15-17
Esau traded something of greater value, for something of lesser value because he was stirred up by external factors…he traded a better future for immediate gratification, and the bible cautions us against doing the same thing.
So how can we avoid ending up like Esau? The answer is in the chapter 12 of Hebrews and it can be subsumed in one word; DISCIPLINE.
Hebrews 12:11 says the following:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Discipline in the bible is closely related to trust and submission to God, even beyond our own understanding. This in my opinion, should be more evident in light of the fact that we are not always able to do what is best for ourselves.
Thus, according to the bible it is necessary to take time evaluate our decisions, not in the light of our immediate gratification, or our own interpretation of ‘what is desirable in our own understanding’ but put our trust in God…in his discipline.