Like a Green Olive Tree in the House of God
Things were going very badly for David when he wrote Psalm 52. He was being chased around the country by King Saul’s army. The priests of Nob sheltered him for a brief time. But after he left, Doeg the Edomite betrayed them to Saul, who then commanded Doeg to slaughter the eighty-five unarmed priests. David begins Psalm 52 lamenting the evil done by Doeg: “Why do you boast, O mighty one (or “O tyrant”), of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth.”
Nevertheless, David has confidence in God’s work in his life. He declares, in verse 8, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.”
What did it mean for David to consider himself “like a green olive tree in the house of God”? And what might it mean for us to see ourselves “like a green olive tree in the house of God” during our own times of struggle?
Susan Barnes comments, “Olive trees are very resilient. They can survive and produce fruit even in harsh conditions.” God is able to supply us and to grow within us the strength and resilience we need to get through the tough times. Indeed, God is able to produce within us the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control even in harsh conditions.
The olive tree has been a symbol of peace and reconciliation and hope since the account of Noah’s dove returning to the ark with a “freshly plucked olive leaf” in its beak. That olive leaf represented new life sprouting again on earth. You may feel that you are going through an unprecedented and impossible situation. It may seem to you that all you knew before has been washed away. You may feel like you are stranded at sea with a boatload of grouchy animals. But the God we worship is a God of new life and new beginnings. He is making you like a green olive tree with reasons for renewed hope.
Derek Kidner stresses, “The olive is one of the longest-living trees.” That is an understatement. The “green olive tree” of Psalm 52 is not just long-living but eternal. David goes on to say, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because of what you have done.” God gives to us eternal life in Jesus Christ who conquered death.
David likens himself (and us) not just to a green olive tree, but to “a green olive tree in the house of God.” The emphasis here is that we are planted in the presence of God and we live our lives in the presence of God. That is great news for us. Someone has written, “Peace is not the absence of trouble; peace is the presence of God.” No matter what troubles we face, we continue to be “like a green olive tree in the house of God.” Therefore we are always in the presence of God. Therefore God’s peace and strength and love are always close to us.