A hand or arm reaching down from Heaven with an ax is believed to be the hand of God severing the tree of life. It seems a rather vengeful image, and its initial use during early Colonial times is probably exactly what was intended. Puritans believed in an all-powerful and vengeful God smiting man out of the world.
During the following centuries, God was believed to be more benevolent, and therefore the image was interpreted as Death cutting down the tree. The life of a tree as it survives the seasons reflects a person’s life of birth, adulthood, old age and death.
Stop traveller and weep,
For here beneath death’s shade,
Snatched from his friends,
A lovely youth is laid.
But sleep in hope,
For soon hell burst this sod,
And rise in air
To meet his Saviour God. 1802
As falls a branch beneath the axes blow
So sudden fall this youth who lies below.
The image below shows an angel cutting the tree of life.