Verse 12. The song now contrasts the condition of the righteous with that of the graceless. The wicked "spring as the grass", but The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, whose growth may not be so rapid, but whose endurance for centuries is in fine contrast with the transitory verdure of the meadow. When we see a noble palm standing erect, sending all its strength upward in one bold column, and growing amid the dearth and drought of the desert, we have a fine picture of the godly man, who in his uprightness aims alone at the glory of God; and, independent of outward circumstances, is made by divine grace to live and thrive where all things else perish. The text tells us not only what the righteous is, but what he shall be; come what may, the good man shall flourish, and flourish after the noblest manner.
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. This is another noble and long lived tree. "As the days of a tree are the days of my people", saith the Lord. On the summit of the mountain, unsheltered from the blast, the cedar waves its mighty branches in perpetual verdure, and so the truly godly man under all adversities retains the joy of his soul, and continues to make progress in the divine life. Grass, which makes hay for oxen, is a good enough emblem of the unregenerate; but cedars, which build the temple of the Lord, are none too excellent to set forth the heirs of heaven.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 12. Like the palm tree. Look now at those stately palm trees, which stand here and there on the plain, like military sentinels, with feathery plumes nodding gracefully on their proud heads. The stem, tall, slender, and erect as Rectitude herself, suggests to the Arab poets many a symbol for their lady love; and Solomon, long before them, has sung, "How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights! This thy stature is like a palm tree" (So 7:6-7). Yes; and Solomon's father says, "The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree", etc. The royal poet has derived more than one figure from the customs of men, and the habits of this noble tree, with which to adorn his sacred ode. The palm grows slowly, but steadily, from century to century uninfluenced by those alternations of the seasons which affect other trees. It does not rejoice over much in winter's copious rain, nor does it droop under the drought and the burning sun of summer. Neither heavy weights which men place upon its head, nor the importunate urgency of the wind, can sway it aside from perfect uprightness. There it stands, looking calmly down upon the world below, and patiently yielding its large clusters of golden fruit from generation to generation. They bring forth fruit in old age.
The allusion to being planted in the house of the Lord is probably drawn from the custom of planting beautiful and long lived trees in the courts of temples and palaces, and in all "high places" used for worship. This is still common; nearly every palace, and mosque, and convent in the country has such trees in the courts, and being well protected there, they flourish exceedingly. Solomon covered all the walls of the "Holy of Holies" round about with palm trees. They were thus planted, as it were, within the very house of the Lord; and their presence there was not only ornamental, but appropriate and highly suggestive. The very best emblem, not only of patience in well doing, but of the rewards of the righteous -- a fat and flourishing old age -- a peaceful end -- a glorious immortality. - -W.M. Thomson.
Verse 12. The palm tree. The palms were entitled by Linnaeus, "the princes of the vegetable world"; and Von Martius enthusiastically says, "The common world atmosphere does not become these vegetable monarchs: but in those genial climes where nature seems to have fixed her court, and summons around her of flowers, and fruits, and trees, and animated beings, a galaxy of beauty, -- there they tower up into the balmy air, rearing their majestic stems highest and proudest of all. Many of them, at a distance, by reason of their long perpendicular shafts, have the appearance of columns, erected by the Divine architect, bearing up the broad arch of heaven above them, crowned with a capital of gorgeous green foliage." And Humboldt speaks of them as "the loftiest and stateliest of all vegetable forms." To these, above all other trees, the prize of beauty has always been awarded by every nation, and it was from the Asiatic palm world, or the adjacent countries, that human civilization sent forth the first rays of its early dawn.
On the northern borders of the Great Desert, at the foot of the Atlas mountains, the groves of date palms form the great feature of that parched region, and few trees besides can maintain an existence. The excessive dryness of this arid tract, where rain seldom falls, is such that wheat refuses to grow, and even barley, maize, and Caffre corn, (Holcus sorghum,) afford the husbandman only a scanty and uncertain crop. The hot blasts from the south are scarcely supportable even by the native himself, and yet here forests of date palms flourish, and form a screen impervious to the rays of the sun, beneath the shade of which the lemon, the orange, and the pomegranate, are cherished, and the vine climbs up by means of its twisted tendrils; and although reared in constant shade, all these fruits acquire a more delicious flavour than in what would seem a more favourable climate. How beautiful a comment do these facts supply to the words of Holy Writ, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree!" Unmoved by the scorching and withering blasts of temptations or persecutions, the Christian sustained by the secret springs of Divine grace, lives and grows in likeness to his Divine Master, when all others are overcome, and their professions wither. How striking is the contrast in the psalm. The wicked and worldlings are compared to grass, which is at best but of short duration, and which is easily withered; but the emblem of the Christian is the palm tree, which stands for centuries. Like the grateful shade of the palm groves, the Christian extends around him a genial, sanctified, and heavenly influence; and just as the great value of the date palm lies in its abundant, wholesome, and delicious fruit, so do those who are the true disciples of Christ abound in "fruits of righteousness", for, said our Saviour, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples."
--"The Palm Tribes and their Varieties." R.T. Society's Monthly Volume.
Verse 12. The righteous shall flourish. David here tells us how he shall flourish. "He shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." Of the wicked he had said just before, "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever." They flourish as the grass, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven. What a contrast with the worthlessness, the weakness, transitoriness, and destiny, of grass -- in a warm country too -- are the palm tree and cedar of Lebanon! They are evergreens. How beautifully, how firmly, how largely, they grow! How strong and lofty is the cedar! How upright, and majestic, and tall, the palm tree. The palm also bears fruit, called dates, like bunches of grapes. It sometimes yields a hundredweight at once.
He tells us where he shall flourish. "Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God." The allusion is striking. It compares the house of God to a garden, or fine well watered soil, favourable to the life, and verdure, and fertility, of the trees fixed there. The reason is, that in the sanctuary we have the communion of saints. There our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. There are dispensed the ordinances of religion, and the word of truth. There God commandeth the blessing, even life for evermore.
He also tells us when he shall flourish. "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age." This is to show the permanency of their principles, and to distinguish them from natural productions.
"The plants of grace shall ever live;
Nature decays, but grace must thrive;
Time, that doth all things else impair,
Still makes them flourish strong and fair."
The young Christian is lovely, like a tree in the blossoms of spring: the aged Christian is valuable, like a tree in autumn, bending with ripe fruit. We therefore look for something superior in old disciples. More deadness to the world, the vanity of which they have had more opportunities to see; more meekness of wisdom; more disposition to make sacrifices for the sake of peace; more maturity of judgment in divine things; more confidence in God; more richness of experience.
He also tells us why he shall flourish. "They shall be fat and flourishing; to shew that the Lord is upright." We might rather have supposed that it was necessary to shew that they were upright. But by the grace of God they are what they are -- not they, but the grace of God which is in them. From him is their fruit found. Their preservation and fertility, therefore, are to the praise and glory of God; and as what he does for them he had engaged to do, it displays his truth as well as his mercy, and proves that he is upright. --William Jay.
Verse 12. The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree.
- The palm tree grows in the desert. Earth is a desert to the Christian; true believers are ever refreshed in it as a palm is in the Arabian desert. So Lot amid Sodom's wickedness, and Enoch who walked with God amongst the antediluvians.
- The palm tree grows from the sand, but the sand is not its food; water from below feeds its tap roots, though the heavens above be brass. Some Christians grow, not as the lily, Hosea 14:5 , by green pastures, or the willow by water courses, Isa 44:4, but as the palm of the desert; so Joseph among the Cat-worshippers of Egypt, Daniel in voluptuous Babylon. Faith's penetrating root reaches the fountains of living waters.
- The palm tree is beautiful, with its tall and verdant canopy, and the silvery flashes of its waving plumes; so the Christian virtues are not like the creeper or bramble, tending downwards, their palm branches shoot upwards, and seek the things above where Christ dwells, 3:1 : some trees are crooked and gnarled, but the Christian is a tall palm as a son of the light, Matthew 3:12 ; Philippians 2:15 . The Jews were called a crooked generation, Deuteronomy 32:5 , and Satan a crooked serpent, Isaiah 27:1 , but the Christian is upright like the palm. Its beautiful, unfading leaves make it an emblem of victory; it was twisted into verdant booths at the feast of Tabernacles; and the multitude, when escorting Christ to his coronation in Jerusalem, spread leaves on the way, Matthew 21:8 ; so victors in heaven are represented as having palms in their hands, Revelation 7:9 . No dust adheres to the leaf as it does with the battree; the Christian is in the world, not of it; the dust of earth's desert adheres not to his palm leaf. The leaf of the palm is the same -- it does not fall in winter, and even in the summer it has no holiday clothing, it is an evergreen; the palm trees' rustling is the desert orison.
- The palm tree is very useful. The Hindus reckon it has 360 uses. Its shadow shelters, its fruit refreshes the weary traveller, it points out the place of water, such was Barnabas, a son of consolation, Acts 4:36 ; such Lydia, Dorcas, and others, who on the King's highway showed the way to heaven, as Philip did to the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 9:34 . Jericho was called the City of Palms, Deuteronomy 34:3 .
- The palm tree produces even to old age. The best dates are produced when the tree is from thirty to one hundred years old; 300 pounds of dates are annually yielded: so the Christian grows happier and more useful as he becomes older. Knowing his own faults more, he is more mellow to others: he is like the sun setting, beautiful, mild, and large, looking like Elim, where the wearied Jews found twelve wells and seventy palm trees. --J. Long, in "Scripture Truth in Oriental Dress", 1871.
Verse 12. Palm trees. The open country moreover wears a sad aspect now: the soil is rent and dissolves into dust at every breath of wind; the green of the meadows is almost entirely gone, -- the palm tree alone preserves in the drought and heat its verdant root of leaves. --Gotthelf H. von Schubert, 1780-1860.
Verse 12. A cedar in Lebanon. Laying aside entirely any enquiry as to the palm tree, and laying aside the difficulty contained in the Psalms 92:13 , I have only to compare this description of the cedar in Lebanon with the accounts of those who have visited them in modern days. Without believing (as the Maronites or Christian inhabitants of the mountains do), that the seven very ancient cedars which yet remain in the neighbourhood of the village of Eden in Lebanon are the remains of the identical forest which furnished Solomon with timber for the Temple, full three thousand years ago, they can yet were be proved to be of very great antiquity. These very cedars were visited by Belonius in 1550, nearly three hundred years ago, who found them twenty-eight in number. Rawolf, in 1575, makes them twenty-four. Dandini, in 1600, and Thevenot about fifty years after, make them twenty-three. Maundrell, in 1696, found them reduced to sixteen. Pococke, in 1738, found fifteen standing, and a sixteenth recently blown down, or (may we not conjecture?) shivered by the voice of God. In 1810, Burckhardt counted eleven or twelve; and Dr. Richardson, in 1818, states them to be no more than seven. There cannot be a doubt, then, that these cedars which were esteemed ancient nearly three hundred years ago, must be of a very great antiquity; and yet they are described by the last of these travellers as "large, and tall, and beautiful, the most picturesque productions of the vegetable world that we had seen." The oldest are large and massy, rearing their heads to an enormous height, and spreading their branches afar. Pococke also remarks, that "the young cedars are not easily known from pines. I observed, they bear a greater quantity of fruit than the large ones." This shows that the old ones still bear fruit, though not so abundantly as the young cedars, which, according to Richardson, are very productive, and cast many seeds annually. How appropriate, then, and full of meaning, is the imagery of the Psalmist: "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing." --R.M. Macheyne.
Verse 12-15. The life and greenness of the branches in an honour to the root by which they live. Spiritual greenness and fruitfulness is in a believer an honour to Jesus Christ who is his life. The fulness of Christ is manifested by the fruitfulness of a Christian. -- Ralph Robinson.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The righteous flourish in all places. Palm in the valley, cedar on the mountain.
- In all seasons. Both trees are evergreen.
- Under all circumstances. Palm in drought, cedar in storm and frost.