Wisdom is spoken of as a tree of life in Proverbs 3:18. What a picture! It takes us back to the beginning when the newly created Adam and Eve lived in the glorious garden of Eden. This was before the earth was cursed (Genesis 3:17-18; Romans 8:20-21), so it was unlike anything we have ever seen. What an abundant, glorious existence they had!
God had richly provided for them, He was present among them, and they ate from all of the trees in the garden, including the tree of life. (The only tree they weren’t allowed to eat from was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – Genesis 2:16-17). The tree of life renewed them physically—it gave them life.
Returning to Proverbs 3:18, when the writer speaks of wisdom as being a tree of life, he is celebrating the wisdom’s life sustaining qualities. In Proverbs 9:11 we’re told, “For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.” Like much of Proverbs, this is not to be taken as an absolute (there are righteous people like John the Baptist, the apostle James, and others who don’t live long lives), but a general principle. As such, it’s not hard to grasp. By following God’s revealed wisdom, we avoid a destructive lifestyle and its life-shortening consequences and so add years to our lives.
But the writer isn’t finished with the tree of life imagery. He employs it three more times.
- The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives. (11:30).
- Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (13:12)
- The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (15:4)
A couple of things should be clear. “Tree of life” seems to be a favored image of the writer and would certainly resonate with his Jewish audience. For our purposes, the things associated with the tree of life in these verses (righteousness and the soothing tongue), are products of wisdom, while the longing fulfilled is a blessing from God, which certainly comes as a consequence of following the path of wisdom. So, we should look at verses like these as providing some meaningful specifics and layering in our understanding of wisdom.
In the end, this is a beautiful, powerful, redemptive image of wisdom that refreshes us and fills us with the desire to pursue God’s wisdom in all aspects of our lives.