Verse 35. A second time David turns to his diary, and this time in poetic imagery tells us of what he had observed. It were well if we too took notes of divine providences. I have seen the wicked in great power. The man was terrible to others, ruling with much authority, and carrying things with a high hand, a Caesar in might, a Croesus in wealth. And spreading himself like a green bay tree. Adding house to house and field to field, rising higher and higher in the state. He seemed to be ever verdant like a laurel, he grew as a tree in its own native soil, from which it had never been transplanted. No particular tree is here meant, a spreading beech or a wide expanding oak may serve us to realize the picture; it is a thing of earth, whose roots are in the clay; its honours are fading leaves; and though its shadow dwarfs the plants which are condemned to pine beneath it, yet it is itself a dying things as the feller's axe shall prove. In the noble tree, which claims to be king of the forest, behold the grandeur of the ungodly today; wait awhile and wonder at the change, as the timber is carried away, and the very root torn from the ground.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 35. Green bay tree. The LXX translate (!n[r xrzak) as if it were (!nbl xrzak), "Like the cedar of Lebanon;" but (!n[r xrza) according to Delitzsch, means a noble timber tree, one that in the course of centuries of growth has acquired a gigantic trunk, and an umbrageous, dome like crown.
Verse 35. Green bay tree. The marginal rendering -- "a tree that groweth in his own soil" -- is, no doubt, the true one. The idea generally formed of this passage by the reader of the English Bible is that the tree referred to was the bay laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), or cherry laurel of our gardens. But this plant belongs to an entirely different family. The bay and the Portugal laurels, whose forms of growth and evergreen leaves make them highly ornamental in shrubberies, belong to a subfamily (Drupaceae, Lind.) of the rose tribe (Rosaceae), but the bay tree proper, which flourisheth luxuriantly in Southern Europe, is the type of the laurel family (Lauraceae). Several circumstances make it unlikely that the true bay tree represents the Hebrew esrach. There is no evidence that it was ever so plentiful in Palestine as to be chosen by the psalmist in an illustration in a poem for popular use. It is indeed to be met with, but that chiefly in localities on the borders of the eastern shore of the Great Sea. The chief objection to the supposition that the bay tree was referred to by the royal poet is to be found in the Psalm itself. Having mentioned it in the lines quoted above, he adds, "Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found." The idea here is not one which could be represented and illustrated by an evergreen plant, slow of growth, and yet reaching in maturity a height of above thirty feet. The words demand a quick growing tree, in a soil more than usually favourable to its growth. Thus planted, and shooting up in calm and sunshine, it would attract every eye; but when the storm broke over it, when the strong wind swept imperiously through its branches, it would not stand. Torn up by the root, and its timber comparatively useless, like Abraham's dead, it would be buried out of sight. And thus with the wicked. He was sought and could not be found. John Duns, D.D., F.R.S.E., in "Biblical Natural Science."
Verse 35. We see no force in the observation of Dr. Duns; in fact, if there were not other reasons for preferring the translation given in the following note by Wilson, we should see all the more reason to keep to the bay tree. It was a tree of permanence and of long continued verdure, and so the prosperous wicked seem to be. They look as if their happiness would be eternal; yet, for all that, those who carefully note the dealings of providence, observe with holy wonder that divine justice cuts short their glory, and they perish utterly. C. H. S.
I have seen the wicked in great power (terrible, fierce, violent), and spreading himself like a green bay tree (a tree in its native soil, vigorous, and luxuriant, that had never been transplanted). A striking figure of the ungodly man of the world, firmly rooted in earthly things -- his native soil, grown proud and wanton in his prosperity, without fear or apprehension of any reverse. William Wilson.
Verse 35. Like a green bay tree, which produces all leaves and no fruit. Matthew Henry.
Verse 35. I have seen the wicked, saith David, in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. And why like a green bay tree? Because in the winter, when all other trees -- as the vine tree, fig tree, apple tree, etc., which are more profitable trees -- are withered and naked, yet the bay tree continueth as green in the winter as the summer. So fares it with wicked men when the children of God, in the storms of persecutions, and afflictions, and miseries, seem withered, and, as it were, dead, yet the wicked all that time flourish, and do appear green in the eyes of the world: they wallow in worldly wealth, but it is for their destruction; they wax fat, but it is for the day of slaughter. It was the case of Hophni and Phinehas: the Lord gave them enough and suffered them to go on and prosper in their wickedness; but what was the reason? Because he would destroy them. J. Gore's Sermon at St. Paul's, 1633.
Verse 35-36. --
---- Today he puts forth
The tender leaves of hopes, tomorrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours upon him:
Third day comes a frost, a killing frost;
And -- when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a ripening -- nips his root,
And then he falls, as I do.
William Shakespeare, in Henry
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 35-37. Three memorable scenes.