To the leader. A Maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite came to Saul and said to him, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”
Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah
You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying, “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This Psalm really hits hard and can be difficult to read. There is a lot of destructive and violent language. There are two major themes happening in this passage today. First, we see the great uprooting. “God will uproot you from the land of the living.” And then afterwards, the author shifts to the great planting. “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.” The Psalmist gives us two ways of living that we can pursue.
First, let’s take a look at the great uprooting. This is a song written in a very specific context as we see from the first line. It is written by David and addressed to a man named Doeg the Edomite who is in a story from 1 Samuel 22. When Saul was chasing David, because Saul was a bad king and God was going to replace him with David, David went into hiding. However, Doeg the Edomite informed Saul that David was hiding in the house of Achimelech who was a priest. Saul ordered Doeg to go get David at all costs. Doeg massacred eighty-five priests and even more men, women, children, and animals. David begins in lament and anger asking how Doeg could boast in their “mischief done against the godly.”
Does that shift how you hear this psalm now? How do we hear the oppressed when they call out the mighty and powerful for their deeds that keep people oppressed? How do we hear those calls when we are the mighty and powerful? David is sending a warning to all oppressors that God will not be on your side and will in fact uproot you. We can glean some information about the uprooted ones. They did not take refuge in God. They trusted in abundant riches. They sought refuge in wealth. These are the roots that are not strong enough to survive. These roots will not lead to an abundant life but will crumble when challenged.
Where do we grow our roots? Do we trust in power and money? This last week I was advocating at the PCUSA national gathering called General Assembly. General Assembly happens every two years and this year was online. I am part of a group called Fossil Free PCUSA who wants our denomination to stop making money off of fossil fuels by divesting. While I am newer to the group, they have been working for over ten years. General Assembly has always voted against any divestment from fossil fuels in the past and this year because of our advocacy, they voted to divest from five of the worst offenders. I celebrate this monumental movement and still grieve that they chose the safer option while continuing to invest in other fossil fuel companies. It causes me to wonder if our roots are more concerned with making money or with caring for our neighbors and planet?
How do we respond to a Psalm that calls on God’s anger to rain down? What do we do with our own righteous fury? The Psalmist today is calling us to turn that rage against the oppressive systems in our world. Rage is not a bad thing unless it is bottled up or used to hurt others. Rage can be the motivator to help us change ourselves and change our world. We have seen many evil acts over the last few years from anti-trans bills to the overturning of Roe v Wade. Perhaps these items make us scream with the psalmist “All day long you are plotting destruction.”
“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God,” the psalmist declares. Here we turn from the great uprooting to the great planting. The Psalmist says oppressors will be uprooted and the oppressed will survive like an olive tree. The olive tree is an important symbol for ancient Judaism, providing olive oil for various ceremonies and anointings. The amazing thing about olive trees is that when they are protected from human destruction, they can live forever. They can survive the hottest summers and the coldest winters. They will live for thousands of years. In Lebanon there is a grove that is believed to have been around for over 6,000 years!
What does it mean to be planted like an olive tree? The Psalmist tells us that these strong roots come from “ trust[ing] in the steadfast love of God.” Practicing the radical ways of God that give freely and generously, ways that enact justice for the oppressed, and ways of living in grace and forgiveness.
The Psalmist urges us to see that God protects the oppressed and uproots the oppressor. Our rage can be divine when it is focused on systems that destroy life. We can become like an olive tree, with strong roots, by trusting in God’s radically loving world instead of hoarding wealth at the expense of others. May we go forth acting in line with God’s world of justice and love, strengthening our roots for the times to come, and protecting the oppressed. Let it be so.