Thousands of years ago David made this striking assertion: “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)
The tabernacle (“house of God”) might seem a strange place to plant a tree, but David’s point is the source of his vigour and energy. How is it that David was like a green olive tree in the house of God? David’s relationship with the Lord was a thriving one; this was particularly evident through His praise and worship of the Lord and through continually being in communication with the Lord regardless of the circumstances. The Lord was David’s closest companion. He was his everything, his all in all, and that made him feel like a fresh green olive tree.
Thousands of years later, the fresh breeze of Palestine still whispers through the olive branches. In fact every year in October, Palestinians celebrate the olive harvest. It is a national holiday where families make their way to their fields and olive orchards (or those remaining) to gather the olive harvest. Regardless of the harvest amount, a sense of joy and gratitude fills the atmosphere: good company, joyful fellowship, amazing food (essential), traditional songs, and a stunning sunset. The olive tree is a symbol of the Palestinian rootedness in the land. Alas, many families have lost their land and olive trees during the years of the conflict.
Needless to say, the olive crop is a very important one in Palestine, especially to the economy of the country. Olive wood ornaments and carvings are made from the trees and constitute an essential source of income for local citizens. Olives are pressed and turned into olive oil that is used in daily cooking and both black and green olives are also pickled. A very traditional Palestinian breakfast comprises of olive oil and thyme (Zeit ou Za’tar) and freshly baked bread. It spreads an extraordinary wafting aroma that satisfies both the heart and stomach.
On a symbolic level, the olive branch has always been an emblem of peace: the peace that this nation is still waiting for, dreaming of and working to achieve. Ironic when you think that the Prince of Peace himself, in his physical form, dwelt and walked in this very place and perhaps ate plenty of olives!
Today as I walk in the narrow streets of Bethlehem, or drive up and down the hills, I can’t help but notice the beauty of the green olive trees here, there and everywhere. I can’t help but think how our spiritual lives need to reflect the green vigour of the trees.
In a land like Palestine where many things are complicated – like the difficulties in travelling from one place to another or even getting the simplest things done – and where situations can change in a split second, the reasons to feel frustrated sometimes exceed the reasons to feel rejuvenated. So it is good to remember not only here but elsewhere, that, just like David, we trust in the mercy of God. For ever and ever He is the One who will satisfy us: “though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food…. yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour!” (Habbakuk 3: 17-18)
Blessings and peace