BRANCH: netser, masculine noun (Strong’s 5342); tsemakh, masculine noun (Strong’s 6780); dalit, feminine noun (Strong’s 1808); porah, feminine noun (Strong’s 6288); anaph, masculine noun (Strong’s 6057).
Root & sounds like: נצר (nay-tser); Root: צמח (tseh’mahk); Root: דלה (dah’lah); Root: פארה (poh’rah); Root: ענף (anaf).
My Dad is a Bonsai artist. He painstakingly prunes and cares for dozens of Bonsai, gently guiding the path of each branch. He shapes the little trees with pruning shears, raffia tape and tiny root rakes. He is careful and gentle with each tree, making sure it has the right amount of sunshine, moisture, nutrients and a protected restful winter period.
In the Bible YHWH was frequently represented as the Great Gardener, carefully guiding and nourishing each seed in His Creation. Seeds, trees, branches, roots, blossoms were favourite metaphors throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament). Presenting the story of YHWH and His Creation in botanical terms produced a kind of garden theology. It’s a beautiful, vibrant, way to tell a story.
The Botanic Metaphor
Much like English, Hebrew vocabulary used multiple words (synonyms) to describe the same thing. In English branches could also be limbs, offshoots or shoots, twigs, boughs, sprigs, and tendrils. There are at least five different Hebrew words that have been commonly translated as “branch”: netzar, tsemakh, dalit, porah, anaph… and authors often use them interchangeably, as any author would to add variety to the text.
Botanic metaphors were used extensively in Ezekiel (amongst others) and he used many of the different branch descriptor words to add depth to the text. Ezekiel 17, for example, was filled with these botanical references.
In the text Babylon was likened to an eagle who planted a seed…
Then it sprouted and became a low, spreading vine with its branches [daliohtaw] turned toward him, but its roots remained under it. So it became a vine and produced shoots and sent out branches [extensions: badim].
But when this little seed sprouted it eventually turned towards another eagle, Egypt:
“… [it turned] its branches [w-daliotaw] toward him from the beds where it was planted, so that he might water it. It was planted in good soil beside abundant waters, so that it would produce branches [anaf] and bear fruit, and become a splendid vine.”’
Then YHWH asked a question about this plant that produced branches and bore fruit after turning from Babylon to Egypt:
“Say, ‘This is what the Lord YHWH says: “Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, so that it withers—so that all its sprouting shoots wither? And neither by great strength nor by many people can it be raised from its roots again. Behold, though it is planted, will it thrive? Will it not completely wither as soon as the east wind strikes it—wither on the beds where it grew?”’”
This was an interesting parable… and YHWH later laid out the meaning of the riddle. Ultimately it was the story of Zedekiah, king of Judah. The sprout was the king in Jerusalem, a vassal king of Babylon, but when he tried to stir up an insurrection against Babylon by making an alliance with Egypt, Jerusalem would suffer. Its root would be exposed, its fruit would be cut off, and it would wither and fade.
Similarly YHWH, in the book of Ezekiel, spoke of Assyria as a great tree with long branches (Ezekiel 31:3-9) but it would also be cut down, abandoned, with its branches broken:
Foreign tyrants of the nations have cut it down and left it; on the mountains and in all the valleys its branches [daliyotaw] have fallen, and its branches [forotaw] have been broken in all the ravines of the land. And all the peoples of the earth have gone down from its shade and left it. All the birds of the sky will nest on its fallen trunk, and all the animals of the field will rest on its fallen branches [porotaw], so that all the trees by the waters will not be exalted in their stature, nor put their tops among the clouds, nor will any of their well-watered mighty ones stand straight in their height. For they have all been turned over to death, to the earth beneath, among mankind, with those who go down to the pit.”
Israel was not exempt from this botanical metaphor. They were also likened to a branch, uprooted, torn, withered and consumed:
“Your [Israel’s] mother was like a vine in your vineyard, planted by the waters; it was fruitful and thick with branches [w-a’nefah] because of abundant waters.
And it had strong stems fit for sceptres of rulers, and its height was raised above the clouds, so that it was seen in its height with the mass of its branches [staffs: matoht].
But it was uprooted in fury; it was thrown down to the ground; and the east wind dried up its fruit.
Its strong stem was torn out so that it withered; the fire consumed it. And now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land.
And fire has gone out from its stem; it has consumed its shoots and fruit, so that there is no strong stem in it, a sceptre to rule.”
This is a song of mourning, and has become a song of mourning.
On the whole branches were literary devices used to relate the health of the tree or nation. Branches went one way or the other… either they thrived and produced fruit or they withered, died, and were cut off.
Rejected, Worthless Branches
Because the people had turned to Baal worship and rejected YHWH, YHWH would clean out the worthless branches from His Garden:
YHWH named you “A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form”; with the noise of a great tumult He has set fire to it, and its branches [daliohtaw] are worthless.
Isaiah outlined the sins of the king of Babylon, but he also put a spotlight on the Great cosmic Adversary:
Isaiah 14:12-15, 18-20
“How you have fallen from heaven, You star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth, You who defeated the nations!
But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
Nevertheless you will be brought down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit…”
“…All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb. But you have been hurled out of your tomb like a rejected branch [k-netser], clothed with those killed who have been pierced with a sword, who go down to the stones of the pit like a trampled corpse.
You will not be united with them in burial, because you have ruined your country, you have killed your people. May the descendants of evildoers never be mentioned.”
Anything adversarial to YHWH, and His plan to redeem His people, would be cut off, gathered and burned. Yeshua (Jesus) emphasised this metaphor when He said:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
This was not meant to be a reflection of some kind of continually tormenting hell state, it was a way of saying that dead, worthless, branches did not help a plant grow. They needed to remove the dead to help the living thrive.
Generally the “trees” of nations did not fare well. Those who followed other gods were like the walking dead… but a sprig under the direction of YHWH, would thrive in abundance:
This is what the Lord YHWH says: “I will also take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and set it out; I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the high mountain of Israel I will plant it, so that it may bring forth branches [anaf] and bear fruit, and become a stately cedar. And birds of every kind will nest under it; they will nest in the shade of its branches [daliohtaw]. All the trees of the field will know that I am YHWH; I bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am YHWH; I have spoken, and I will perform it.”
Metaphorically YHWH planted a young sprig on a high mountain and it grew and flourished and its branches bore fruit. This was what YHWH would do with His Anointed (Messiah) King. He would take the once little twig, plant it in a high place, guide it it become strong and stately, and creation would come to depend on it for rest and shade. YHWH would take down the high, earthly, trees and exalted the low, humble, trees. The Messiah, the submissive Branch, would be exalted on a tree (the cross) and we would be humbled by His presence.
The Righteous Branch of David’s Line
Probably the most common metaphor that pointed to the Messiah (the Anointed One) in the Tanakh (Old Testament) was the Branch:
On that day the Branch of YHWH [tsemakh YHWH] will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the beauty of the survivors of Israel.
Isaiah also pointed out that the Branch of YHWH was from the root of Jesse. This is interesting considering Jesse and his son, David, lived three hundred years before Isaiah ever put pen to parchment. This Branch was far removed from Jesse on the family tree. He would be a future descendant from the line of king David:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch [w-netser] from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of YHWH will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of YHWH.
And He will delight in the fear of YHWH, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make decisions by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the humble of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Also righteousness will be the belt around His hips, and faithfulness the belt around His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fattened steer will be together; and a little boy will lead them.
When the Day of YHWH came, and the Anointed One fulfilled His mission, YHWH’s followers would become the righteous ones and new branches of God’s planting, living in a land free of mourning and full of light:
“Violence will not be heard again in your land, nor devastation or destruction within your borders; but you will call your walls salvation, and your gates praise.
No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor will the moon give you light for brightness; but you will have YHWH as an everlasting light, and your God as your glory.
Your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane; for you will have YHWH as an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning will be over.
Then all your people will be righteous; they will possess the land forever, the branch [netser] of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.”
In the scroll of Jeremiah, the Anointed One was described as a Righteous Branch:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares YHWH, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch [tsemakh tsaddiq]; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.
In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will live securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘YHWH Our Righteousness.’”
Ten chapters later Jeremiah spoke again about the Righteous Branch. This time, like Isaiah, Jeremiah associated the Branch with the line of David:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares YHWH, “when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch [tsemakh ts’daqah] of David sprout; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety; and this is the name by which it will be called: YHWH is our righteousness.”
A third prophet, Zechariah, also spoke of God’s Anointed One as the Branch:
“Now listen, Joshua, you high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a sign: for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch [av’di tsemakh]. For behold, the stone that I have put before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes. Behold, I am going to engrave an inscription on it,” declares YHWH of armies, “and I will remove the guilt of that land in one day.”
Through the prophet Zechariah, YHWH called the Branch “My Servant”. Later Zechariah spoke of the “Man whose name is Branch.” In his vision he described a coronation of a Priest-King who would unite the offices of Priesthood and Kingdom. He would build the Temple of YHWH and sit on His throne:
“Also take silver and gold, make an ornate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua [Y’hoshua] the son of Jehozadak [Y’hoh’tsadaq: YHWH is righteousness], the high priest. Then say to him, ‘YHWH of armies says this:
“Behold, there is a Man whose name is Branch [ish tsemakh sh’mow], for He will branch out [yi-tsemakh] from where He is; and He will build the temple of YHWH. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of YHWH, and He who will bear the majesty and sit and rule on His throne. So He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’
Although Joshua, in Zechariah’s writing, was a priest, he was crowned as a portent to a future Priest-King who would build a very different kind of Temple.
Jesus, whose name in Hebrew was Yeshua (Joshua, from the root, Y’hoshua), said that His body was the Temple (John 2:19-22) and that when He left His Spirit would reside in those who followed Him (John 14:16-20). His followers would become the walking, breathing, Temples of God’s Kingdom on earth. Paul emphasized this:
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
“I will dwell among them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.
We are the seeds, and heirs, of YHWH (Galatians 3:26-29)… We are His descendants, His children. And because YHWH’s Spirit lives within us, we are the walking, living, Temple of God’s kingdom, and the new branches that share the Good News of His Salvation.
Branches and the Crucifixion
God is the root that flourishes into a strong trunk and the Messiah is the Branch that grows from the tree. We are the blossoms on the branch that grow fruit and releases seeds to start new branches… a cycle of birth and rebirth. It’s a striking metaphor!
Not surprisingly the four gospel writers observantly pointed out when branches played a part in Yeshua’s story.
When Yeshua entered Jerusalem on a donkey a week before His crucifixion, He was greeted with people waving palm branches in His honour:
On the next day, when the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of YHWH, indeed, the King of Israel!”
Although He was greeted as King when He entered Jerusalem, within a week He was charged as a traitor and executed on a Roman cross. Before Yeshua was lifted up onto the wooden cross the Roman solders made a crown of thorn branches. This was cleverly symbolic. Discarded thorn branches were gathered together, formed into a crown, and placed on Jesus’ head:
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort to Him. And they stripped Him and put a red cloak on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on Him, and took the reed and beat Him on the head. And after they had mocked Him, they took the cloak off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.
Consider the crown of thorns… it was made up of rejected branches and placed on Jesus’ head, just like the sins of the people were placed on the head Yeshua.
Finally, as He suffered on the cross, Yeshua was given a hyssop branch with a sponge to His lips, to ease His thirst:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture would be fulfilled, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
Although we ought to be careful not to read too much into things, it does seem tragically fitting that Yeshua’s final bit of earthly relief (if you can call it that) came at the end of a branch.
The righteous Branch from the root of Jesse was raised up onto a crucifix tree and brutally executed. He bore the sins of the worthless branches, like He bore the crown of the same. He took one final drop of sour wine from the end of a branch, suffered terribly and died.
But the grave could not hold Him down.
Yeshua defeated death and rose up out of the grave so that we, little saplings of God, could also raise up out of death and sprout anew. By conquering death, Yeshua gave worth, and life, back to the branches, making them blameless in His sight.
Centuries before Yeshua walked amongst us, Job wondered about creation and death. He noted:
Job 14:7-10, 14
“For there is hope for a tree, when it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and its shoots will not fail.
Though its roots grow old in the ground, and its stump dies in the dry soil, at the scent of water it will flourish and produce sprigs like a plant.
But a man dies and lies prostrate. A person passes away, and where is he?…
…If a man dies, will he live again?
All the days of my struggle I will wait until my relief comes.”
Although it would be centuries in the making, Yeshua was the answer to Job’s question. He was the Living Water (John 7:37-38) that would produce new branches out of dead stumps.
The disciple Peter reminded the followers of Yeshua that they had been born again… they were seeds that could not perish:
1 Peter 1:22-25
Since you have purified your souls in obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brothers and sisters, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring Word of God. For,
“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of grass. The Grass withers and the flowers fall off, but the Word of YHWH endures forever.”
And this is the Word which was preached to you.
Of course, humans are sinful and most of the time we, as branches, are withered and fruitless. Paul preached to the Gentiles and he admitted that many of the Jewish people had rejected God and their branches were broken off from the family tree. In comparison, the Gentiles who believed were grafted into YHWH’s family tree, but they were not immune to being cut off and rejected, if they themselves rejected God:
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. See then the kindness and severity of God: to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; for otherwise you too will be cut off.
And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
It is never too late to be grafted back into the family of God. Any branch that is cut off the Tree of Life can be grafted back in. Stand in your faith… believe… and the branch that is you will flourish, bear fruit and remain firmly planted.
I will rejoice greatly in YHWH, my soul will be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a groom puts on a turban, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth produces its sprouts [branches: ta-ts’miakh], and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord YHWH will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
We are branches in the Tree of Life. Don’t let this world cause you to wither, droop and fade away. Be faithful, believe, and be the fruit-bearing branches you were made to be… offering rest, protection, and the good news of Salvation to all who gather in your company.
Next week: Rethinking FAITHFULNESS