Strong as Oaks
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of America on 29th August 2005, its 175mph winds and torrential floods were devastating. One million people were displaced; the city of New Orleans was buried in water; the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the hurricane to be “the single most catastrophic natural disaster in US history”; and more than $108billion worth of damage was caused.
But while homes were torn down, fields flooded, and roads turned upside down, something stood strong and tall in the midst of it all – the oak tree. In New Orleans, St. Charles Street was decimated with the rest of the city, but, out of the seven hundred oak trees planted on that street, 696 survived the ferocious hurricane (an endurance rate of over 99%).
The strength and endurance of the oak tree is known in Scripture. In Amos 2:9, we read the phrase “strong as the oaks”; and, in Zechariah 11:2, the “oaks of Bashan” are used to picture the mighty and powerful in Judah. Furthermore, in Genesis 35, Jacob hid items under an oak tree, knowing it would endure for generations. The oak tree presents us with a number of significant spiritual lessons.
You and I may never have to face a physical hurricane, but we will have to face spiritual ones. And, in those spiritual hurricanes, we will need to be as strong as the oaks. Recently, I asked a number of young people who have just commenced university or work what pressures and temptations they faced. Here is a summary of their replies: “Being free from the restraints of home you are told now is the chance to experience the world”. “You are encouraged to go along with the crowd: I have friends who got swept into the clubbing lifestyle and seemed to abandon their faith”. “I was tempted to focus so much on study and socialising that the quiet time with the Lord was easily neglected”. “It is easy to waste so much free time”. “In a world where Christian views of morality and sexuality are marginalised, it is easy to say nothing and keep your head down rather than speak the truth”. Personally, during my student days, I remember a university lecturer telling the class that he was a man who swore and blasphemed. If anyone had a problem with that, they were to speak up now in front of the whole class or else forever hold their peace. The pressure in the room that day was intense, and the silence as I looked around was saddening.
Spiritual hurricanes will come in many forms, places and times, and how difficult it is to stand strong. After all, who doesn’t want to be accepted? Who doesn’t want to be liked and thought well of by those around us? There is certainly a great need to be spiritually as strong as oaks in the midst of such hurricane-like pressures.
The Christian does not face these hurricanes alone. In Christ, there is grace to be as strong as oaks. An oak tree is able to stand strong in the midst of great winds because of its deep roots. While they can grow as high as 100 feet and spread out as far as 80 feet (as Hosea notes in chapter 4:13, “the shadow thereof is good”), yet their roots can be up to twice as deep as the height of the tree.
We need the deep spiritual roots of a firm faith in and a firm love for the LORD. When Satan attacked Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Lord recorded and revealed the strategy Satan uses so that we may learn from it. Satan seeks to weaken our faith and confidence in the LORD. In Genesis 3:1, he sought to make Eve doubt that God was true, and that He was reasonable and good. He focussed on what God forbade Eve rather than what He gave Eve. He declared, “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). It is as if Satan said, “Eve, are you sure God really said you were not to eat from that tree. After all, God made you to eat, and He made trees to be enjoyed. For God to make a tree that you cannot eat and enjoy doesn’t make much sense, and it is not fair!”
Does this type of reasoning sound familiar? “Why not come out with us for a drink at a club? God has enabled alcohol to be created and enjoyed: it would be unfair and unreasonable to forbid you from it!” Or, “Give up living for the LORD – His Word is not true; and, as a result, you are missing out on so much. Life will be better without Him!”
Satan sought to weaken Eve’s faith in the Lord’s love for her, wisdom towards her and honesty with her. The only way to withstand such a battering of doubts is to spend time with the LORD reading His Word and contemplating who He reveals Himself to be. As you do, and as you ask the Holy Spirit to bear witness to your heart, your faith and confidence in the Lord’s love, wisdom and honesty will grow, enabling you to stand strong against the winds of the devil.
Oak trees not only have deep roots, but they also stand strong in hurricanes by actively curling their leaves into the shape of a Fibonacci sequence when the wind hits them. This way, the wind does not get caught up in the leaves but simply passes by them as quickly as it comes to them.
After seeking to weaken Eve’s faith in the LORD, Satan sought to weaken her love for the Lord. Diverting her mind away from the thought of punishment for sin – “ye shall not surely die” and focussing her mind on the pleasure and gain she would receive from sinning, “your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods”, Eve should not have let the love for self get caught in her mind. Instead, she should have turned from the forbidden tree and looked upon the love God had shown to her in all the good trees He had given her. Unfortunately, Eve gazed upon the forbidden tree and considered how pleasant and pleasurable the fruit would be if she ate it. What tragedies came as a result of her sin!
When the temptation comes to love self above God, don’t dwell upon it. Instead, focus on all the love God has shown to you; and, as you do, your love for Him will be strong (1 John 4:19).
Oak trees stand strong by being part of a community. This is observed by the forest of oaks in Zechariah 11:2. The advantage of being part of a community is that, while oak trees may appear to be independent above ground, their roots are intertwined below ground. When a 175mph wind blows against one tree, it is, in essence, blowing against the whole community which is too strong for it.
In Hebrews 10:25, we are told not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together”. Why is this? Because, as Solomon tells us, “in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14); and “two are better than one… if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). As you fellowship with God’s people, not only can you comfort and assure each other from God’s Word, but you can pray one for another. What strength there is to be found in these means.
Before going to the cross, the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We need to be as strong as oaks if we are to glorify the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us. We can be as strong as oaks and glorify the Son of God because, in giving Himself for us, He overcame the world for us and purchased every spiritual blessing we will ever need (Ephesians 1:3).
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my life, my soul, my all.”
Rev Paul Foster
(Minister of Tyndale Memorial Free Presbyterian Church and Free Presbyterian Chaplain, Queen’s University, Belfast and Stranmillis University College)