The Righteous Flourish Like the Palm Tree -Exploring the Meaning of Psalm 92:12
Psalm 92 is a worship song full of thanksgiving and praise for all the Lord has done on behalf of His People, and particularly the Psalm’s author, King David. In it, David contrasts the fates of those who do evil and those who honor God. Those who do evil, who are the enemies of God, will perish and be scattered (v. 9) Those who honor God will, among other blessings, flourish like the palm tree.
As I read through this Psalm that phrase – “flourish like the palm tree” – jumped out at me. Verse 12 doesn’t just generically say “flourish” – it specifically says “flourish like the palm tree.” When God gets specific like that, it’s always worth our time to dig in and get the full meaning. I spent some time considering what it means to flourish like the palm tree, and I’d love to share with you what I discovered! However, before we dive into the rich meaning behind that phrase, let’s lay a little interpretive foundation.
Who were the first readers of Psalm 92:12?
First, the original readers of the Bible were Middle Easterners who lived in a primarily agrarian society. This is why there are countless references in the Bible to farming and animal husbandry. Most of us reading the Bible today are far removed from such activities. The temptation for us is to just gloss over those references without grasping their deeper meanings. It’s always worth the effort to unpack those references and see what the author was truly getting at.
Lessons from Creation
Second, Creation reveals much about its Creator. Before God ever inspired a single syllable of the Bible, He wrote volumes all around us. In Romans 1:20 Paul states “For since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made.” Similarly, Psalm 19:1 declares “The heavens tell of the glory of God; and their expanse declares the work of His hands.” We see this in human creative endeavors as well.
We can learn much about an author or an artist or even a chef by observing how and what she creates. Who we are cannot help but be revealed in what we create, because the same is true of our Creator God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Therefore in all things, we can see Him – His order, His artistic flair, His incredible depth and complexity, His delight in unity and synergy. When the Bible points us to something in Creation, it does so to point us to something about its Creator.
Pay Attention to Repeated Things
Third, it always pays to take special notice of repeated things in the Bible. Nothing in the Bible is there for fluff or filler. So repeated phrases or illustrations are big, neon “Pay Attention!” signs. Palm trees are mentioned over 30 times in the Bible (ESV) and they are an important symbol in Israel. It will definitely benefit us to learn a little about them and apply that knowledge to our lives.
One Important Qualifier – Exactly Who is This Verse Addressing?
The last thing we need to consider before diving into the teaching of Psalm 92:12 is who is in view here. Unfortunately, this verse doesn’t say that everyone will flourish like the palm tree. It doesn’t say that most people will. It says a very specific group of people will – the righteous. When the Bible refers to the righteous, it is not referring to people who are perfect. It doesn’t mean the sinless or absolutely morally pure either. Whew! I mean if that was the condition, NONE of us would qualify.
The righteous in the Bible refers to those who love and serve the Lord. Not perfectly, but sincerely. Not in their own strength, but in faith and dependence on the One they serve. The righteous are those who walk clothed not in their own good works, but in the righteousness of our Savior, Christ Jesus. These are the ones who will flourish like the palm tree.
What Does “flourish like the Palm tree” mean?
Now that we’ve laid some groundwork, what exactly does it mean for the righteous to “flourish like the palm tree”? When the Bible mentions Palm trees, the original readers did not need a primer on palm trees to “get” the reference. They saw palm trees every day, they ate their fruit and sat in their shade. They were familiar with how and where they grow. I have family in Florida so I have observed and learned a fair bit about palm trees. Those of us who don’t live near palm trees, however, could probably do with a bit of intel on the subject. I gotcha! 😄🌴
What Do Palm Trees Need to Flourish?
Palms Need The Right Environment
On one of our walks hubs and I noticed a new family in our neighborhood had installed some landscaping. This family must have moved from a much warmer year-round climate than we have here in NC, because they planted several palm trees in their yard. We correctly predicted they wouldn’t survive their first winter. Sure enough, the following Spring fig bushes appeared in place of those poor palms. Unlike palm trees, figs grow like weeds here because we have the right environment for them. Palms need plenty of warmth and sunshine all year to flourish – you won’t see them growing in Alaska.
Palms Need Plenty of Support
Palm trees are normally installed as fairly mature trees. Even so, they have very small, shallow root systems. That’s why gardeners always stabilize newly planted palms with an elaborate bracing system. The trunk is supported on all sides by a scaffolding of thick, wooden boards. Without that support, newly planted palms would quickly topple over. It takes quite a while for a palm to develop enough of a root system to stand without that bracing.
Palms Need Regular Pruning
Properly cared for palm trees are things of beauty. They sway elegantly in warm breezes and are the stars of picture postcards. But palm trees take careful, regular – and difficult – pruning to stay fruitful and beautiful. As palm trees grow, new leaves sprout from the center top of the tree. Lower branches die off as new ones emerge. The “rings” that you see around the trunk of a palm are the joints where old branches have been removed. Pruning palms is tough, but absolutely necessary work.
When a palm is neglected an unsightly tangle of old, dead branches begins to engulf the tree (see image above). An unpruned palm is not only unsightly but quite frequently infested with palm rats 😱. Those dead branches provide the perfect environment for pests and diseases to breed and grow. And as every Florida homeowner knows, a palm tree full of rats is a gateway to a house full of rats. Ick!!!
Palms Need Flexibility and Resilience
Palm trees grow in parts of the world frequently ravaged by either severe tropical storms and hurricanes, or sand storms. For them to survive these occasional harsh conditions, palms have to be particularly flexible and resilient. Have you ever watched the Weather Channel’s coverage of a hurricane? As fierce winds knock down reporters and send all kinds of debris flying, notice what the palm trees are doing. They are leaning with the wind as their branches fold up like an umbrella. While other trees are toppling over or losing branches left and right, palms whip back and forth with the winds.
I remember touring my dad’s and my sister’s neighborhoods after Hurricane Irma blew through Florida. The Magnolias? Drowned. The Pin Oaks? Down. The palms? There were a few dead branches down, but other than that, pretty much business as usual. Amazing!
Alright, hopefully, we have a basic idea of how palm trees flourish. Let’s look at how we as believers in Jesus can apply that information to our lives.
How Can We Flourish Like the Palm Tree?
The point of a metaphor, an allegory, or even an historical narrative in the Bible isn’t just to perk up the text or impart some intellectual information. The point is to communicate or illustrate truth AND encourage both right thinking and right action in response. Looking at what palm trees need to thrive gives us insight into what King David, the author of Psalm 92, was getting at when he said the righteous flourish like the palm tree. Let’s look at the similarities:
We Need The Right Environment
God designed us to flourish in community. We need the support and encouragement of a local church family, small group Bible studies, community groups, and solid Christian friendships. And at different seasons in our lives, we also can all benefit from Christian mentors, counselors, and coaches. All of these supports provide an environment where we will not just eke out an existence, but (dare I say it?) flourish.
We Need Plenty of Support as We Get Established in Christ
The right support is especially important when we first become believers. Mentors are important for all believers to have, at every stage of their faith walk. But they are especially critical for the growth of new Christians. I will never forget the wonderful older women who mentored me when I was a new believer. I had been to church every Sunday of my life but had never studied the Bible, prayed in front of anyone, or served in any way in the church. These ladies not only patiently answered my questions and encouraged my growth, but they also taught me how to pray, how to faithfully study the Bible, and apply what I was learning to my everyday life. Their faithful support gave me a safe environment to put down roots and start to grow and serve.
If you are a more mature believer in Jesus I challenge you to find someone younger in the faith than you are to mentor. It doesn’t need to be any formal thing. Just your willing presence as a friend and sounding board will be invaluable. And if you are newer in the faith, I strongly encourage you to reach out to some more mature believers and ask them to mentor you. Aside from being in a regular Bible study, having more mature believers in your life is one of the most impactful things you can do to strengthen your faith.
We Need Regular Pruning
The Bible speaks frequently of God’s careful, loving pruning work in our lives. He does not prune us just so we will be more beautiful. And He certainly doesn’t do it “just because” or to be harsh and mean. No, God prunes us so that we can bear more fruit. He skillfully and surgically nips away bad habits, unhelpful activities, wrong beliefs, selfish motives – and even a few good-but-not-best things from our lives to make room for good fruit. And just like with palm trees, another benefit of pruning is “pest control”. Problems like envy, anger, lust, gluttony, spiritual or physical adultery, etc. flourish in the dead branches of our hearts, minds, and souls. Therefore God also lovingly prunes us to eliminate those breeding grounds. I don’t know about you, but I’m not here for a pack of palm rats to nest in my branches! 🤣
We Need Flexibility and Resilience
As we noted above, palm trees minimize storm damage by folding their branches to let high winds just slip on by like water off a duck’s back. Sure, they may lose a (likely old, dead) branch or two, but they will still be standing after the storm passes. We need to learn to flex and remain standing like a palm tree.
Too many people these days are so brittle and easily offended. Instead of flexing like a palm to let an opportunity for offense or an opening to argue, criticize, or downright bully, these people spread themselves out like sails to catch every bit of ugliness. At the slightest gust of wind, they start losing branches left and right. Eventually, many of them are ripped up by their roots. Even sadder, they often take the people around them down too. I wish I could say this isn’t a problem in the Church, but it is. Increasingly so, which to me is genuinely heartbreaking to watch.
Be sure that you will find whatever you are looking for. If you are looking for conflict and offense, they will arrive with alarming regularity. Life is full of enough trials, conflicts, unpleasant surprises, and dust-ups without seeking them out or whipping them up on your own. Sometimes the most resilient, the wisest, thing to do is turn the other cheek and let the bluster just slip by.
Flourishing like the palm tree isn’t automatic. It takes the right starting point – having our righteousness in Jesus. It takes being in the right environment, having the right support, undergoing regular pruning, and facing storms with flexibility and resilience. The rewards, however, are worth it. Life with Jesus always is.
Hey Friend 😀 –
Looking for more encouragement on how to build your life on a solid foundation and withstand the storms of life? Be sure to check out these helpful articles.