We know that God uses imagery throughout His Word to help us better understand who He is, and what His purpose is for His people. Turning the pages in God’s Word is like opening a portal to new wisdom, knowledge and truths every day.
It is as if we are unlocking mysteries in each chapter and verse, making the scales fall from our eyes to reveal God’s big plan for bringing heaven down to earth—showing how we each play an important role in His story.
Another way to gain more insight into God’s Word, in addition to prayer, is through a process known as hermeneutics—studying what the biblical authors were saying to their original audiences, asking how those teachings apply to us today, and then wrestling with how to live out their words of wisdom.
King David wrote these words about how he was like a green olive tree…
“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.”—Psalm 52:8
We see the olive tree as a symbol of peace, prosperity, beauty, and the relationship between God and His people.
So, what exactly did David mean here? And why did he say, “in the house of God”?
The Root of the Word—the Olive Tree
The Hebrew word for olive tree is es shemen, which simply means tree of oil. However, the primitive root word means to illuminate, to shine, or to cry aloud with joy.
Therefore, if we take its literal meaning, the word olive, which is zayith in Hebrew, translates to yielding illuminating oil.
Wow! Doesn’t that bring light to this ancient symbol of peace?
The Bible speaks of olive trees throughout scripture. The first mention of an olive tree is found in Genesis, in the story of the flood. God brought to Noah a symbolic gesture of covenant peace—the dove with an olive leaf in its beak—signifying that dry land existed:
“Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth; and Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.”—Genesis 8:11
The Symbol of a Promise—the Olive Tree
As we dig deeper into the symbolic message that God was conveying through the olive leaf, we can see that it represented a gesture of covenant peace and hope between God and all mankind. A promise that is sealed with a bow—the rainbow.
“’Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’
“And God said: ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.’”—Genesis 9:11-13
Not Easily Broken—the Olive Tree
Olive trees thrive in well-draining, sandy soil. They need full sun—a long, hot growing season—and a winter of at least 3 months with temperatures ranging from 35 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
When grown in the conditions mentioned above, olive trees will begin producing olives when 5 or 6 years old. Olive production increases with time and will become most plentiful when the tree reaches 40 or 50 years old.
One of the greatest living memorials is an olive tree. Many olive trees in the groves around the Mediterranean are said to be hundreds of years old, while an age of 2,000 years is claimed for a number of individual trees; in some cases, this has been scientifically verified. The average life span of an olive tree is 500 years!
Forever Flourishing—the Olive Tree
Where else do we see the olive tree? In Deuteronomy 8:7-8, we read that in ancient Israel the olive (and its oil) was considered one of the Seven Species, or staple foods, found in the Holy Land. This was true then, and it is still true today!
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land… a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey…”—Deuteronomy 8:7-8 (emphasis added)
We know this because in 1 Kings, we learn that King Solomon exported between 100,000 and 120,000 gallons of olive oil to the king of Tyre annually.
“And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand kors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty kors [that is nearly 120,000 gallons] of pressed oil. Thus Solomon gave to Hiram year by year.”—1 Kings 5:11 (emphasis added)
Today, Israel produces 675,000 to 720,000 gallons of extra virgin olive oil per year—making olive oil a significant export, just as it was in ancient Israel!
David wrote Psalm 52 in response to the evil that was against him. He truly believed that the plans set up to harm him would fail. He knew God would, in His time, administer justice.
And how did David explain what God’s justice looked like?
“…He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place, and uproot you from the land of the living.”—Psalm 52:5
Interestingly enough, it’s the uprooting of a tree that exhibits the justice of God’s mighty hand when there is opposition against His appointed people.
On the contrary, David reflects on God’s continual and lasting love just verses later as an enduring, abundant, life-producing love—like a green olive tree!
“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. I will praise You forever, because You have done it; and in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it is good.”—Psalm 52:8-9
Not only a green olive tree, but one in the house of God. One who dwells in God’s peaceful presence.
Though David was hunted and persecuted, he would not be plucked or destroyed. The flourishing olive tree he used to describe himself lives even in the midst of a drought.
He was a part of God’s divine family and was near to Him, as the olive tree grew in the house of God, he would continue to bear fruit as he put his confidence in the Lord.
Therefore, when we look at a thriving olive grove, full of green fruit-producing trees, we can remember how God protects and guides us. A planted olive tree in the Holy Land is symbolic of our rooted trust in God, as part of His family, and our place in His presence.