Liturgical Holidays

“They cut down a tree…” Jeremiah 10:3

Before you bring out your Christmas decorations, take a moment to contemplate this:

The Bible forbids bringing a Christmas tree into your home and decorating it.

Read on before despairing, o’ ye merry gentlemen and gentlewomen.

Some would say that Jeremiah 10:3-4 proves the unlawfulness of “decorating a [Christmas tree] with gold and silver and fixing it with nails so it will not topple over” Jeremiah 10:4 paraphrase.

There is plenty of historical research readily accessible that points to the origins of the Christmas tree as stemming from a traditional component of “sun-god” worship during the winter solstice.

Unfortunately, even secular textbooks would tell you that your “O, Christmas Tree,” is idolatry.

History dates this practice of decorating trees in the winter back to ancient Babylon, Nimrod, and his wife Semiramis who was known in ancient Israel as the goddess Asherah.

Asherah poles, condemned throughout the Old Testament, are considered by detractors to be a type of Christmas tree.

Asherah (Semiramis) is purported to be the one who initiated the practice of bringing Christmas trees into your home.

This tree-idolizing practice was sanctioned by Asherah in honor of the rebirth of her husband, Nimrod who re-incarnated as Tammuz, her son. She supposedly immaculately conceived Tammuz after Nimrod’s death.

The tree was a fitting idol to celebrate Nimrod’s re-birth as he was a hunter, a mighty man of the forest.

I, myself, completely accept this account as the origin of the modern Christmas tree. Now, if you are also convinced, does that mean you must advocate for Christians to forego Christmas trees?

Well, in exploring this question, let’s examine the section of Jeremiah 10:3-4 that is often left out when equating Christmas trees to the “thing cut down and decorated.”

They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol. They decorate it with gold and silver and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails so it won’t fall over. Jeremiah 10:3-4

This little bit here: “A craftsman carves an idol.”

I feel like that little bit changes the surety of a direct biblical decree against Christmas trees substantially. The particular phrase, “carves an idol,” sounds more like a decree about graven images and not very much like a condemnation of trees (Exodus 20:4-5).

Trees are vital imagery throughout the Bible.

Starting in Genesis with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, we see the establishment of the tree as a spiritual symbol.

Most spiritual symbols in the Bible are only good or only bad. They are clean or unclean. They are easily defined by the “law of first usage,” meaning that how the symbol is first introduced is how you can interpret it in every other occurrence in the Scripture.

However, the tree is itself spiritually neutral.

It is the fruit of the tree that makes it good or bad. Or it is what dwells in the tree that makes it good or bad. It is how the tree is used that makes it good or bad.

It is the fruit of a tree that facilitated the Fall of Man. It was the fruit of a tree that God was protecting when He cast out Adam and Eve. Were these trees good or bad?

It was “in groves” of trees that Israelites participated in orgies to worship Asherah.

The kingdoms of Israel and Judah are imagined as trees cut down and transplanted in the book of Ezekiel. And, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom is envisioned as a tree cut down and regrown in Daniel.

The Kingdom of Heaven is called a mustard “tree.”

Zacchaeus was a traitor to his people– a tax collector and a sinner– yet Jesus called him down from a tree so that He could commune with him.

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by, He looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Luke 19:4-5

Jesus cursed a tree that didn’t bear fruit in season. But the fruit of the sycamore-fig tree bore good fruit– the fruit of a repentant sinner.

Jesus was “cursed” because He hung on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).

Yet, the trees of the fields will clap their hands when God’s people are consummated in salvation; and we will be planted like trees along living waters (Isaiah 55:11-13; Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:7-8).

And, while there are many references to the fashioning of idols from trees; there is also specificity in the Old Testament concerning the wood used to fashion both the Tabernacle and the Temple. The type, cut, overlay, and country of origin of each tree used is described in Exodus and 1 Kings.

The best I can tell, trees in the Bible are spiritual kingdoms and physical nations. The fruit on them is the inner person of man.

Trees as symbols are full of ambiguity and equivalency. How they are rooted and how they are used determines how they are judged and valued.

At Christmas time– in this current time of the Kingdom of Christendom– it is a practice to bring a tree into the home during winter.

Perhaps the tree is spiritually neutral. But the heart of man is not.

And the heart of man is spiritually embattled this time of year…which we’ll get into next time as previously promised!