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There are more than 31,000 verses in the Bible, and according to 2 Timothy 3:16, every one of them are comprised of God-breathed words which are profitable for our lives. That would include Genesis 21:33, where “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.”
At first glance this might appear to be a throwaway verse, just a simple statement about a person, place and thing that would likely escape your notice – unless you knew a little bit about each.
First, the person. Abraham is called by God and given the promise of land, seed and blessing (Genesis 12, 13). Despite his age and the improbability of his wife Sarai giving birth, we find she has miraculously delivered a son named Isaac and there is joy in their family (Genesis 21:1-8). Later on we discover Abraham has made a peace treaty with the Philistine king Abimelech and gained water rights to a well (Genesis 21:22-32).
All of this takes place in a town called Beersheba. Geographically, Beersheba marked the southern boundary of the nation of Israel. It is a dry and monotonous land located in the Negev desert. Its name means “Seven wells” and refers to the oath of witness that Abraham and Abimelech declared and confirmed with seven ewe lambs as a sacrifice (Genesis 21:31).
There isn’t much in Beersheba other than sand and rocks. And yet Abraham plants a tamarisk tree there – the only mention in our Bible of Abraham planting anything. A tamarisk tree is a slow growing tree, increasing only an inch per year and taking close to 400 years to grow to full height. Its evergreen leaves collect water vapor from the moisture in the air during the night, and when the sun radiates its heat, the droplets evaporate and produce a cooling system. It is an outdoor air conditioning unit for the blistering desert heat. Further exploration about the tree reveals that insects transform the juice of the tree into a white-like substance that is sweet to eat. Some have called this substance manna.
Abraham. Beersheba. Tamarisk tree. Why did Abraham take the time to plant such a tree? We might deduce that there was much to celebrate in Abraham’s life and so he creates a monument to declare God’s provision. The tree represents the Lord, the Everlasting God who has blessed him with a child, a peace treaty and a water supply. That would be a logical explanation.
But when you put it all together – a tree that takes almost 400 years to grow, a tree that provides shade, air and sustenance, a tree situated in the desert, a tree planted by Abraham – another thought occurs. Who comes through the desert some 400 years later in need of shade, air and some manna? Abraham’s descendants. Rescued from Egypt and headed to the land God had promised Abraham, they would be in need of all the things the tamarisk tree would provide some 400 years after it was planted.
What a different way to read that verse. While Abraham may have indeed planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba to celebrate what God had done for him, he may have also planted a tamarisk tree with the future in mind. Even though he would never find rest in its shade, never feel the cool of the breeze and never eat of its sweet manna, he planted the tree. While he would not reap the fruit of his labor, generations later, his relatives would.
This one verse has changed the way I parent, do my marriage and look at my life. I want to be planting tamarisk trees in the lives of others. With my kids, with my wife with the people God has placed in my path. To invest in them regardless of whether I see what it produces in them, to proclaim the gospel no matter what the outcome, to train them up even if I never experience the fruit. I want my gravestone to read, “Here lies Chris Schultz. He planted a tamarisk tree in Fresno.”
One verse. Profitable for every area of life.