An Olive Tree In God's House

Hugo Bouter

'But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.' Psalm 52:8

David and Doeg

David wrote this Psalm on the occasion of what happened to him when he was on the run from Saul, who wanted to kill him. David bid farewell to his best friend Jonathan, who sadly enough did not follow him in his humiliation and therefore in the end did not share in his royal glory but died a shameful death with Saul. David went to Nob, to Ahimelech, the priest, as we read in 1 Samuel 21, and had a short break there. He and his men ate holy bread, the showbread which had been taken from before the LORD, and he also obtained a weapon that was kept in the sanctuary, namely the sword of Goliath the Philistine.

But on that very day an accomplice of Saul was there, Doeg the Edomite, and David immediately suspected him of betraying him to Saul. This came true and the story ended in a dramatic way when Doeg killed a great number of priests and the city of Nob was completely destroyed. In Psalm 52, however, David expressed his faith in God. On the one hand he was convinced that God would find Doeg and judge him, but on the other he could rest assured in spite of all his sufferings that God looked on him with favour.  Although he was constantly fleeing, yet he rejoiced in God's presence and knew he had a sure place in God's house. No enemy could take that privilege from him: he was like a green olive tree in the house of God.

A tree planted in the sanctuary

Elsewhere in the Bible the image of the grass in the field is used to indicate man's mortality and the brevity of his life. A tree, however, is marked by strength and permanence; it also offers protection and bears fruit. King Nebuchadnezzar is compared to a very high and strong tree in Daniel 4. The righteous one is like a tree planted by the rivers of water (Psa. 1:3). He who trusts in the Lord is like a tree planted by the water and its leaves are always green (Jer. 17:7,8). Another passage in the Psalms that resembles the one we are considering is Psalm 92:13-15. There the righteous one is compared to a palm tree and a cedar in Lebanon. But where can we find this tree? It is planted in the house of the LORD, and it stays fresh and flourishing because of its connection with the Spring of life!

Here David uses the image of a green olive tree in the house of God a picture which is also used to describe Joshua and Zerubbabel, after the exile (cf. Zech. 4). They were the two olive trees, the two anointed ones (literally: sons of oil), who stood before the Lord of the whole earth; they supplied the lampstand with the necessary oil. So they kept the light of the testimony in God's house, burning by the energy of His Spirit. In the Bible oil is a well-known symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit. In Israel kings and priests were anointed with oil, and so the believer is anointed with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21; 1 John 2:20). The picture of the olive tree shows that the anointing is not merely an outward matter. The believer himself has become, as it were, a spring of oil, for the Spirit dwells in him and uses him as a vessel for the blessing of others. In the same way as David looked at himself as a green olive tree, so the Christian shows real signs of new life and fresh fruit of the Spirit because he is planted by the streams of living water.

Moreover, this green tree is planted in the sanctuary, which is remarkable. In the temple of Ezekiel there is a river originating from the sanctuary (Ezek. 47:1-12). God is the Spring of living water for His people and those who are planted in His presence will certainly bear fruit. As believers we have a sure and lasting place in the sanctuary. We abide in God's immediate presence, rooted and built up in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22; Col. 2:7).

So, there are three aspects to be noted here: the place, the nature and the condition of the tree. It is in God's house, it is an olive tree and it is fresh and green. It is remarkable that David recognised himself in this picture, for his life was in constant danger because Saul was always after him, as when one hunts a partridge in the mountains. Amidst all the dangers he hid behind the God who knew his wanderings and counted all his tears. The enemy was powerful, but what could he do against God?

The flesh lusts against the Spirit

The opposition between Doeg and David reminds us of the New Testament contrast between the flesh and the Spirit. Whatever the flesh comes up with is enmity against God. And those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:1-13). For the flesh lusts against the Spirit... these are contrary to one another (Gal. 5:17). Doeg was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, who is called a profane person. Just like Esau he hated the man who was to inherit God's blessing, the man after God's heart who was endowed with the Spirit. He was a natural man, and being driven by envy and hatred, he followed in the footsteps of his forefather, Esau, who wanted to kill Jacob. It is the same contrast as the one between Ishmael and Isaac: the son who was born according to the flesh persecuted the son who was born according to the Spirit (Gal. 4:29).

To be carnally minded is death (Rom. 8:6). This is sadly illustrated by Doeg sowing death and destruction among the priests of Nob. The works of the flesh, the influences of legalism, ritualism and Judaism are fatal to all priestly activity in the house of God, to all forms of worship in spirit and truth. After all, the desires of the flesh can never be in agreement with those of the Spirit. This does not imply, however, that the flesh always gains the victory in this conflict. It seemed that way when the priests were murdered and only one of them escaped and sought refuge with David. One more worshipper remained, David himself! His proper place was in the sanctuary, and he was sure that nobody could take it from him. He remained like a green olive tree in the house of God.