Twice in the New Testament, people appear crying out to God for salvation, or praising Him for accomplishing it, holding palm branches. Why palm branches?
The Hebrew word “palm” is tamar, the name of Judah’s daughter whose husband die and who has to disguise herself as a temple prostitute to get a son and to be plugged into the line of Judah. Perez and Zerah were born of her, and these were the sons of Judah who produced the tribe of Judah and the king. Kings are sons of the Palm Tree. Palm trees while shouting “Hail to the Son of David” are fitting: The Son of David is a son of Tamar the palm tree. Tamar is a Canaanite brought into the line of Judah by bearing his son, because Judah planted his seed in Tamar and did not spill it on the ground like his son Onan.
The first use of palm with reference to trees is in Exodus 15:27 (cf. Numbers 33:9), where Israel finds an oasis in the wilderness after the exodus. It is the first well-watered place in the wilderness, with twelve springs and seventy palm trees. Palms are thus initially associated with oases and water, but also with the number 70, the number of the Gentiles. It’s fitting that the multitude in Revelation 7 is holding palm branches, since they are a mixed multitude of Gentiles, fed by the streams of Israel. They are the ones who have come through the tribulation, come through the sea and come to the first sign of the land of promise. The Tamar narrative is in the background. As Judah made Tamar fruitful, so the twelve springs of Elim make the tamar-trees fruitful.
Palm trees are among the trees used to make booths at the feast of booths (Leviticus 23:40; cf. Nehemiah 8:15). This fits with the symbolism of palms in Genesis and Exodus. The feast of booths commemorated the wilderness period, when Israel lived in booths. But it was also a harvest festival that looked ahead to the gathering of the Gentiles, to the harvest from the seventy palm trees, to the incorporation of the Gentiles into the line of the Davidic king. Several times, Jericho is described as the “city of palms” (Deuteronomy 34:3; Judges 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chronicles 29:15). The first city taken in the conquest is like Elim, a place of palms.
Palm trees are also carved into the temple (1 Kings 6:29, 32, 35, 36; 2 Chronicles 3:5; Ezekiel 40:16, 22, 26, 31, 34, 37; the word here is timmorah). The temple is the oasis where the twelve springs flow, but also a house of prayer for the nations, where the palm trees can flourish. The temple is a permanent “booth.” The temple is the true city of palms, the house of palms. In the Song of Songs, the bride is like a palm tree. She is Tamar, black but beautiful, an outsider incorporated into the royal line. In Song of Songs 7, the beloved is compared to a palm tree that the lover climbs to get to the fruit at the top. The temple is this tree, and the lover is like a sacrifice ascending to the top of the bridal temple where he can enjoy its fruit.
People hold palm branches in Revelation 7, then, because they are Gentiles who have come into the line of David, the Savior. They are Tamar. They are cherubim on the temple walls with their palm branches. They are the city of palms. They are celebrating the harvest, the Feast of Booths.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm
Permission is given to use material on this site, provided the source is cited, blog entries are republished in full, and the author is notified in advance.