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Tu BiShevat: First Fruits and Stewardship

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“Now when you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden. For three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you shall eat its fruit, so that its yield may increase for you; I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:23-25 (NASB)

Tu BiShevat, which means the 15th of Shevat, is known as the “New Year for Trees” or Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot. This is the day that is used to calculate the number of years since a tree was planted and take note of the indications of fruit expected in the coming season. Spiritually it is also a season to take inventory of what is planted in our lives, what is producing fruit? What will be ripe in due time? As Israel’s decisions affected generations to come, our decisions and planning for the fruit in our lives can leave a legacy of blessing or cursing long after we pass away.

Modern day Tu BiShevat is celebrated as Arbor Day, planting trees and focusing on environmental concerns. One of God’s original commands to Adam and Eve was, “fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28, NASB). Subdue is the word kabash [Strongs H3533], which does literally mean to subdue, bring into bondage, to dominate. Not the happiest of words when you think of stewarding creation, but think about subduing in the context of taming an overgrown garden. It might be more gentle to just leave the garden alone, but without subduing the weeds the garden will never flourish in the beauty for which is was created and no fruit will be produced.

We are stewards of our planet with a mission to subdue creation into the picture of The Garden that God gave us as a model. There’s a common saying in Christian circles that, “This world is not my home.” And while the sentiment is good that we are to live seated in heavenly places, I worry that this mindset devalues this Earth God did place us on as our home. If we’re expecting this Earth to just be destroyed, why take care of it? We get to take active part in establishing the new heaven and new earth as we partner with God in making it on earth as it is in heaven.

Abstaining from the fruit of trees the first three years wasn’t just an arbitrary command. God is often an environmentalist in the commands he gave Israel. By letting the trees rest and focus on growing strong roots, the fruit for generations to come was secured. As we reflect on the personal and prophetic significance of Tu BiShevat, let’s not forget the practical wisdom it provides for taking care of this Earth we’ve been entrusted with. Whether you agree with climate change concerns or not, we can all agree that being wise stewards of creation is a Biblical mandate we should not neglect.

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