Psalm 37 – Tree Guy, Evil Twin Edition

Bible opened to Psalm 36 with Theo and Endangered Species salted almond dark chocolate

Today’s passage: Psalm 37

Today’s chocolateTheo Salted Almond Dark Chocolate and Endangered Species dark chocolate with sea salt & almonds

I see a number of familiar themes here. The profits of evil are fleeting, but righteousness plays the long game (vv. 2, 7, 10, 18-20, 25, 35-36, 38). The righteous man defined first by his attitude of trust toward God (vv.3, 5, 7, 23, 39-40). There’s an instance of coyote justice, where the wicked fall on their own swords (vv.14-15). And there’s another “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” (vv.12-13). But after forty verses of the same old song, what stuck out to me were two little verses near the end, a simple simile.

David shifts gears in the song to tell a short story about a ruthless man. He writes:

I have seen a wicked, violent man
Spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil.
Then he passed away, and lo, he was no more;
I sought for him, but he could not be found. (35-36)

He compares this short-lived man to a tree. Where else have we seen a tree analogy? In the very first psalm in the book, where the righteous man is compared to a tree. It’s not the same word for a tree, though, here he uses “ezrach,” a thing that springs up from the soil where it was planted. It can be used of people as well as trees: for example in Exodus 12:19. In Psalm 1, the tree is an “ets,” a more straightforward word for a tree, denoting its strength.

At first I was puzzled by the use of the tree analogy for two very different sorts of guy. But upon closer examination, the two different Hebrew words that David uses highlight a difference between the righteous and the wicked. An evil man might well spring up and flourish briefly, but only the righteous man has the staying power derived from true strength.

I could swear that Jesus told a parable about two plants, one of which withered up quickly while the other prospered, but I appear to be conflating several of Jesus’ agricultural parables. I did, however, find this useful chart of Jesus’ parables. Use of the chart to compare and contrast Jesus’ parables with David’s tree analogies will be left as an exercise for the reader, because now I have to go draw some comics.

 

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