Read Psalm 52.
We have trouble growing trees in our yard, though it’s not the soil or the weather. It’s not that they don’t get enough water, and it’s not that we’ve planted too early or too late. It’s that we have young boys.
There are six trees in our backyard proper right now—three crepe myrtles along our fence line and three Japanese maples in pots waiting to be transplanted. I’m surprised any of these scrappy, little trees are still alive, because at one time or another, each has faced a direct assault from one of our kids. We’ve read The Lorax to them, but they just aren’t getting its message.
Though I scratch my head trying to understand why, my two oldest sons have both gone through phases where they think it’s fun to strip a tree of all its leaves or pull down all its branches to “make sticks.” With the three maples in pots, there was a time not too long ago when I went outside to discover my boys had dug up and repurposed all the soil in those pots to make mud cakes. The trees were simply left for dead under the deck. (I’m still surprised they came back to life after I replanted them.)
For the most part, trees are defenseless, especially from the ravages of small children. They don’t poke you in the eye when you rip off a leaf or pull down a branch. They don’t kick and squirm when you mess with their soil. They just stand there, without animation yet so full of life, at peace with their troubles. So when David describes himself as “an olive tree flourishing in the house of God” (Psalm 52:8), it might seem an odd choice—and it’s an odd picture.
When I first read this line, the image in my mind was of an olive tree growing up through the floor in the most holy place, planted in front of the ark of the covenant. But there were no trees in the temple proper. What David is describing is an olive tree planted in the temple courtyards—still rooted in holy ground but cared for and tended by the Levites. He is not some wild olive tree, left to the elements and to the mercy of those who want to pluck leaves and branches. He is protected, guarded, safe at home in the temple complex. He is regarded as holy because of the ground where he is planted.
On the other hand, for those who rejoice in doing evil, David has a message from the Lord: “He will uproot you from the land of the living” (v. 5). They are trees without protection, because they have planted themselves far from God.
The title for this psalm tells us, “When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelek.’” That episode in David’s life is recorded in 1 Samuel 22:6–23. Saul wanted to kill David. In fact, at this point he was becoming unhinged. When Doeg told Saul that he had seen David, Saul had Doeg murder all the priests in the town of Nob, along “with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep” (v. 19). No one was left alive, save one son of Ahimelek named Abiathar. He was the last in this line of priests.
It’s a grim situation. David understands that life can end quickly, though he has confidence that God will give him the throne of Israel He promised. All the same, he recognizes we are all, like trees, defenseless against our enemies. No one can run forever. No one can withstand every attack to rise another day. David is not leaning on his own cunning or strength. He knows he’s a tree, but he’s a tree in the house of the Lord. God will protect him, whether in life or in death. There is nothing Saul or Doeg or any other enemy can do to uproot him from the presence of God: “I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever” (Psalm 52:8).