[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]
Psalm 52:8–9 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. 9 I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.
There is an interesting metaphor used in Psalm 52:8 which provides an opportunity to explore the use of figurative language in the Psalms. Earlier in the Psalm David described his enemy as a plant which will be completely uprooted (verse 5). Unlike this boastful enemy, David is like an olive tree in the House of the Lord (verse 8). While the enemy will be uprooted and destroyed, David’s roots are like a well-watered olive tree, fruitful and abundant.
Where there olive trees around the sanctuary? Perhaps the town of Nob had olive trees, near where the Tabernacle was set up. It is also possible that the sanctuary was set up among the olive groves around Jerusalem and the image of an olive tree is drawn from the later location of the Tent.
But that there were literal olive trees within sight of the Tabernacle or Temple is not the point, this is a metaphor. As a metaphor, David is highlighting something about the olive tree. Probably the main thing he wants to show here is the continual, almost eternal life of an olive tree. They are like weeds and will continue to grow for hundreds of years. According to radiocarbon dating, an olive tree in Algarve, Portugal, is 2000 years old. In fact, there are many 2000 year old trees, including many in Israel and Galilee today which are nearly 3000 years old and still continue to produce fruit! Sometimes guides will tell tourists int he Garden of Gethsemane that the olive trees next to the Church of All Nations are 2000 years old, from the time Jesus prayed in that very garden. While the trees are likely very old, it is unlikely that trees so close to Jerusalem would have survived two Roman sieges
Since the trees grow quite large and wide, the root system of an olive tree can be massive. In contrast to the little plant of the wicked enemy which is easily uprooted, there is nothing which is going to remove the massive olive tree!
Another aspect of the olive tree which he may have in mind is the fruitfulness of the tree. The trees provide abundant fruit which can be eaten, but more often the olives are pressed and used for cooking oil, lamp oil, even oil for skin.
The point of the metaphor therefore that David is like a tree which is practically eternal, so well rooted that nothing can possibly harm him. He will continue to grow and prosper since he is planted in the most ideal place possible, near the sanctuary of the Lord.
Bibliographical Note: This is an oft-cited article which indicates that there are potentially 3000 year old olive trees in Galilee. The journal article is in Hebrew and I cannot locate it in a nearby library. I suspect that most of the articles which site this source have not read the article either, hence my hesitancy to fully accept these claims. If anyone has access to this article and can confirm that it does have some evidence for olive trees which are 3000 years old, I would love to hear from you. M. Kislew, Y. Tabak & O. Simhoni, “Identifying the Names of Fruits in Ancient Rabbinic Literature,” Leshonenu 69 (Hebrew): 279.