Psalm 52:8 “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Sometimes I think about the blessing of being a grandmother (which I am now) and maybe even a great-grandmother one day. Oh, to be able to see a fourth generation! To be able to see God’s unfolding plan in my grandchildren’s children. With the hope of a long life span and continued production of fruit, the olive tree provides an image of “aging well” by God’s grace and provision.
I retreat to the Outer Banks twice a year with five of my girlfriends. One of our fondest traditions is to feast on green olives, tuna salad, and carrot salad prepared by one of our special ladies. It’s not an everyday thing to eat lots of olives, but we think it is a treat! We truly desire to flourish in the house of God together, now after many years, just like the olive tree pictured in Psalm 52:8. Remembering that our common faith in Jesus Christ brought us together in Bible study many years back, “flourishing” for us has been a continuing spiritual journey. (Always easier at the beach, of course!)
In Psalm 52, David vents his indignation about enemies. In particular, Doeg the Edomite, exposed his whereabouts to King Saul who was trying to conspire against David to kill him. Already David had spent a lot of time running and hiding from King Saul and he didn’t need any more complications to foul up his escape from Saul’s harmful intentions.
Harmful intentions bombard us daily. We wonder how much more we can take. Conspiracies, real and imagined, plague us continuously. Maybe not death threats. But, plots to cause us harm. The enemy of our souls is always looking for a button to push. I have experienced a few whoppers in my lifetime…
What I have learned is that I admire David for choosing to pour out his complaint to God in prayer, preferably as a first response. When I become enslaved by my preoccupation with injustice or the evil actions of someone toward me, I want an olive-tree-like response to be prompted in me by the Holy Spirit. Turning quickly to Him, no waiting, no agonizing, only depending on His strengthening. His unfailing love.
After processing his life-threatening problems, David chooses to trust in God’s unfailing love. David’s writings indicate that he does not want to be forever locked into a personal prison of bitterness and fear. He is, after all, a man after God’s own heart, though not perfect. Something inside his heart causes him to seek God again and again, though sometimes not first.
What is it about the olive tree? It is unwavering. Unmovable. Olive trees can live a really long time, even a thousand years. The tree continues to bear fruit despite the ravages of aging. Even with a gnarled trunk. Even with a hollowed trunk. There is life. There is continued flourishing.
Today I researched the health benefits of olive leaf extract. Just to name a few -gastroprotective, neuroprotective, antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antiociceptive (reduces pain stimuli), antioxidant (prevents cell damage/oxidation). Even protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The nutrient oleuropein found in olive leaves sounds amazing – an antidote for so many bad things that ravage good health. (I’ll be taking this soon!)
So, when I consider the limitations of old age (to which I am relating more and more), the gnarled joints and the hollow bones, I am inspired by David’s hope of continued usefulness in the house of God. Though the trunk might get twisted, irregular, and full of bumps and cracks, flourishing can still happen. Steadfastness. Anti-inconsistency. Faithfulness. Anti-fearfulness. Trusting God completely… Unmovable. Unwavering. A strong tree living well.
In Bible history, cultivation of the olive goes back to the earliest times in Canaan. I discovered that cultivated olives are planted using shoots that grow at the base of another olive tree, rather than seeds. The imagery of such shoots is used in scripture to reference the blessing of children around your family table (Psalm 128:3) and the prophetic Messiah (Isaiah 11:1). I pray that all the shoots around my table will be faithful followers of our great Messiah into the 5th and 6th generations, even those I will not see with my earthly eyes.
While the olive tree’s fruitfulness is not hampered by bare and rocky ground or rainless summers, the tree somehow overcomes its vulnerability to hostility. Still able to thrive, the olive tree is known for its tenacity in great heat with minimum water. The tree’s wood is resistant to decay and when olive tree waste is burned, it becomes renewable energy producing 2.5 times the heat of burning wood. Even the ash becomes a wonderful garden fertilizer.
What a comfort to read the Psalms! Psalm 52:8 makes the olive tree’s attributes worth our study. David envisions the spiritual aspirations of the faithful with his image of this special tree. You might recall the heartiness of the olive tree was apparent after Noah’s flood receded and the dove returned with a healthy olive leaf. You might already know that the olive branch has long been a symbol of peace. Extending the “olive branch” is what the steadfast in the Lord do. It’s what the courageous of heart do. It’s what the faithful do. Living like this sturdy tree in the house of God is the only way to flourish.
Happy New Year (2019)!