“I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints.”–Psalm 52:8-9 (NIV)
David was running for his life from Saul and stopped to see the priest Ahimelech. An Edomite named Doeg saw him there and told Saul, who ordered death for Ahimilech and all the other priests who served with him. No Israelite would obey the order, so Doeg was happy to slaughter them.
What does that have to do with today’s verses? They come from a psalm David wrote when he heard about Doeg’s evil deed. Most of it concerns Doeg and his sort of people: folks who seek positions of power, the patronage of people more powerful than they, and who trust only in themselves, their perceptions, and their possessions.
After seven verses of stern condemnation, David abruptly turns to his own testimony. The olive tree is one of the longest living trees, as close to immortal as David could imagine. There is no evidence that priests ever grew olive trees within the confines of the tabernacle, but that’s not what David means.
The house of God, the secret place of the most high, is the presence of God himself. As cultivated trees, olive trees were valued, well cared for, and fruitful. David declared himself all of that, plus personally loved and protected.
So exactly what has God done that David praises him for? The narrative of David’s life at the time he heard about the slaughter of the priests gives no clue of any recent or current praiseworthy deliverance. Saul still threatened David’s life, and David had not yet raised an army of supporters.
God had taken care of his people, including David, in the past, and it must be for past deeds that David gave thanks. In fact, the next thought, David’s expression of hope, fairly well demonstrates that he had not yet seen God’s deliverance. Who hopes for what he already possesses?
David’s word of praise distinguishes him from Doeg and his ilk more than he could know. While Doeg trusted in Saul, whom he could see and from whom he could expect an immediate and tangible reward, David trusted in the invisible God, who rewards the faithful in ways they cannot see during the time of their suffering.