Perhaps the most distinctive tree in Bible lands is the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, with its towering, unbranched trunk crowned with immense spreading leaves several meters long. This noble tree is a picture of the upright as clearly indicated in such verses as Psalm 92:12, "The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar on Lebanon." A similar allusion is found in Song of Songs 7:7 8 "This thy stature is like to a palm tree . . . " The palm tree is also associated with victory (Revelation 7:9).
The date palm is native to the Middle East but its relatives are almost entirely tropical in distribution. As we have seen from many other examples including olive, myrtle and fig, many Bible plants belong to families with a center of distribution elsewhere. In nature it is found in desert oases as it will tolerate low rainfall and a fairly high degree of soil salinity. One of the largest desert oases is Jericho which is watered by a very large spring, the spring of Elisha (II Kings 2:21). Jericho is known as the city of palm trees (Deuteronomy 34:3, Judges 1:16 and 3:13) and even today they form the most conspicuous vegetation in that area.
In addition to its fruit, the date palm was once valued for its leaves which were used to make baskets, roofs, etc. The trunk was used in building. The date palm is unisexual, that is, there are male trees and female trees. The female plants bear dates. Many varieties of the date palm are known; some have yellow fruits and some red fruits.
Because the plants are unisexual, only the female trees are planted with an occasional male tree to insure fertilization of the flowers. The palm produces shoots from its base; these are removed to strengthen the main stem although they can also be used to establish new plants. By planting these shoots, the grower knows the sex of the plant as well as the variety and is thus able to plant a grove of uniform trees. If the trees were grown from seed approximately half would be male and half female. Masses of small white flowers are produced on large branches in the spring. The dates are harvested in late summer and early autumn. In modern Hebrew and Arabic the ancient biblical name of the fruit, tamar, is preserved. Tamar is a feminine name used both in Bible and modern times.
The first reference to the date palm is when the children of Israel entered the desert after leaving Egypt (Exodus 15:27). Here, at Elim, they encountered palm trees just as a visitor in many parts of the Sahara today would find oases marked by palm trees.
The palm was prominent in the decoration of the temple. In I Kings 6 and also II Chronicles 3, we find that the walls of the temple were adorned with palm trees. No mention is made of any palm in the tabernacle and it may be instructive to consider this difference. Unlike the tabernacle, the temple is the established place for the dwelling of God on earth. It could not be built until there was peace (I Kings 5:3-4), that is, until the kingdom was firmly and righteously established in the hand of Solomon. The palm tree has an even greater role in the temple of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 40 we find that the palm tree was inscribed upon the posts of the chambers, the gate, and the posts of various gates.
Palm and Palms References