Green in the Bible

Winds of Change,
Acrylic on canvas
Sara Joseph

Winds of Change, Acrylicon canvas, Sara Joseph

Green conjures up images of verdant fields, pastoral scenes dotted with sheep...

As artists, our palettes usually have some form of this color - viridian, sap green, chrome, olive green, teal… But the use of green in the Bible is not as varied. There are a few specific words that are used, and their symbolism throughout the Scriptures is consistent.

"And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass."Mk 6:39 KJV

Green, Poem by Sara Joseph

As the people sat down on the green grass, in obedience to Jesus' command, they witnessed the miracle of the feeding of five thousand with the ridiculously small provision of five loaves and two fish!

The Hebrew word 'yereq' is one of the earliest words used for green. In Genesis, it is a word that describes the greenness of edible herbs. It is the color of food to be consumed - fresh, vibrant and life sustaining.

"And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein [there is] life, [I have given] every green herb for meat and it was so." Gen 1:30 KJV

In Leviticus, 'abiyb' is used to describe the greening of ears of corn. It was to be part of the first fruits offering – a seasonal offering to be made to God. The same word is used for the season of 'greening', or the onset of spring.

The most frequent use of green in the Old Testament is the word ra`anan, occurring 20 times, always indicating the greenness of the mature leaves of trees. Think of a tree thriving, not in the start of spring, but later, after it has weathered some storms and parched, dry seasons. This is the color of the leaves of towering, established trees that flourish year after year, with roots deep and wide, branches generous and spreading. This is the color of a tree that by its very existence seems to shout of life, with all its complexities of circumstance.

This green tree is also a powerful image of a righteous man, one who heeds the commandments of God.

"For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and [that] spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit." Jer 17:8 KJV

Shady mature trees with spreading branches were sadly the sites of much pagan, idol worship. A majority of the verses using this word for green are found in verses where God condemns the rituals and false worship practiced under the leafy branches of majestic trees in high places.

Why do we gravitate to worshiping creation, when the Creator’s personality is expressed in His wondrous creation?

All sorts of pagan sacrifices and incense were offered under mature trees, whose beauty should have been a visible reminder of the greatness of God. Green is in this context a color of strength, power, and vigor that could only have come from God himself.

In the Old Testament, we see the tree misused, and worship twisted or perverted provoking the following command:

“Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: “ Deut 12:2KJV

Israel, chosen to remedy this idolatry, was instead drawn in to be no different from her pagan neighbors. Hence God referred her to as a harlot for her divided loyalty.

Despite that, just one look at any tree should remind us that its green strength is still under God’s control and is only for a season.

"I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he [was] not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found." Ps 37:36 KJV

"And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the LORD have spoken and have done [it]."Eze 17:24 KJV

'deshe' is another word used for the green of tender new shoots of grass. I suppose this would be a fresh, sprightly, lemon yellow green. It is the word used to describe the green pastures that He leads me to in Psalm 23:2.

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters."

There I must trust Him, recline and rest to have my fill of His provision. Withdrawal of His provision is the dismal absence of green. Imagine a world without green!

"For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate: for the hay is withered away, the grass faileth, there is no green thing." Isa 15:6KJV

In the New Testament the word for green is chlōros. Chlorophyll is familiar enough to us, isn’t it ? In Revelation, the word ‘chlōros’ is used to describe the ‘pale’ (greenish yellow pale) horse of Death. How often have we flippantly used ‘green’ when speaking of being queasy, or even as the color of envy or jealously! It’s helpful to remember that it is equated with the repulsive paleness of death.

In conclusion, green in all its various shades and nuances, is the color of life - either vibrant, flourishing life, or the pale ebbing of life from living things.

It is also the color of abundance, first as the vividness of the tender shoot, then as the deep richness of the mature leaf. Green too must submit to the Master, as the seasons come and go.

My favorite verse for this life affirming color is

"But I [am] like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever." Ps 52:8

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