From what I see on social media, she’s been living a charmed life. Every project she tackles is successful, her husband adores her, and her children all sing her praises. She works full-time, homeschools, grows organic vegetables, and in her free time, she published three award-winning novels this year. I’ve never seen her in the same outfit twice, and she makes her own gorgeous jewelry which she sells to support orphans in third-world countries.
Maybe you know her too?
It is entirely too easy for me to fall into the trap of comparison while I’m scrolling social media. However, I must remind myself there is so much more to someone’s life story than what I see in curated artfully filtered images.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been traveling in Psalm 37. Today, in this final section, David offers a study in contrasts between two kinds of people, and how they respond to challenges. We have the blameless waiters and the wicked transgressors. One of these kinds of people is compared to a green laurel tree in this passage.
According to the author, Dr. Matthew Sleeth, “Other than God and people, the Bible mentions trees more than any other living thing.” The Bible begins with some tree stories and trees appear at regular intervals from Genesis all the way to Revelation. The book of Psalms, the focus of this blog, opens with the image of a tree with its roots going deep into living water. This tree is an example of how to follow as one who is deeply connected and drawing from God’s wisdom. (Psalm 1)
However, trees can also be problematic. Jesus cursed a fig tree that bore no fruit (Mark 11:13). In the Garden of Eden, God provided trees bearing a huge variety of fruits. Despite all the options, Eve fell into temptation and picked from the one tree God had forbidden. The results of her disobedience still roll out even to this day.
What is the warning tucked into these final verses regarding the wicked and ruthless man or woman? How does he or she appear on the surface?
34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright, or there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them because they take refuge in him.
(Psalm 37:34-40 ESV)
In verse 35, a particularly ruthless person is compared to a laurel tree. There are many varieties of trees called laurel, but one variety that grows in the Middle East is called an Indian Laurel. I can’t know for sure which kind David is referring to, but perhaps it was one of these. What is noteworthy about it is the description, a majestic shade tree with large leaves. It also remains green all year long.
A wicked person sometimes has large and visible success, provides benefits to others, and is remarkably appealing. However, David warns that God will not tolerate such a deceptive one forever. At some point, this wicked person will be gone in a moment, and no trace of his or her existence will ever be found. For a culture that valued legacy, this was a terrifying warning. As I get older, I have to think more and more about what I will be leaving behind and what I will be remembered for.
How often do I see someone who appears to have all the success, and everything the world has to offer? Not all celebrities are evil. Many are wonderful, generous, and kind. However, people are drawn to the charisma that may go with an award-winning celebrity. Is that person’s heart following God? Do secret sins that damage innocent victims hide behind all the images of accomplishments? Sadly, in recent years we have all seen evidence of this over and over. Someone, on the top of the world, has influence in so many areas. Suddenly an insidious sin or wrongdoing is unearthed. It lay buried beneath the veneer. The poor behavior becomes front-page news and as rapidly as he or she was catapulted to celebrity status, this person drops out of sight.
I think this laurel tree warning serves as a sign to realize that comparison culture can fool me. One who appears to have it all, may not be honoring God. Even in the days of David, there were those who saw the laurel tree people grow big and bold. It is interesting to note that crowns of laurel leaves from the laurel trees were used to celebrate athletes when they won races. However, after the parade of adulation, a wicked person who appears to have everything the world wants will be judged by God. All that will be left of those parades of adoration is the confetti rapidly swept away. The wicked person will simply be gone and very quickly forgotten.
Meanwhile, David describes the blameless waiters as upright people of peace, who wait, keep their way (following God’s guidance daily), and take refuge in the Lord. They know their salvation comes from God’s righteousness, and cling to God as a stronghold in times of trouble. They are delivered from the wicked. Verse 38 shares the promise of a future for these blameless people based on the goodness of God. This seems to point to the legacy of the blameless made possible by God. They will be remembered and have influence into the future.
Lord, thank you that you hold my life and my future in your gracious hands. Help me to focus on your perspective. May wisdom from you guard my tendency to fall for comparison culture. Let me be found blameless by your grace. May I run to the refuge you provide. Thank you that my life may have a legacy because of you. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.