“I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.” [fn1]
I was leafing through the Psalms, hoping to find some poetic inspiration for stewardship, when I found the green bay tree. The rest of the psalm describes the wicked as prosperous, as aggressive against the poor and plotting against the righteous, as those who borrow, but do not repay, and as the green bay tree.
The green bay tree is such an anomalous image here. It seems to spring up out of nowhere. It doesn’t accord with the way I like to think of trees. I like the tree as a godly symbol: the tree of life in Lehi’s vision, the trees of the garden of Eden, the cross as the tree of death and redemption. And on a mundane note, I use bay leaves in cooking on an almost daily basis. Why would the bay be bad?
Is it because the bay tree is the laurel, used to crown pagan victors, a symbol of prosperity and fame? Does the tree grow quickly, spreading broader than other trees? Does it choke out other vegetation? Does it smell terrible, like the tree of heaven? Is the tree imagined by the psalmist like the eucalyptus, the widow-maker tree, that grows so quickly, the soft wood branches break easily, crash down on anything below?
I found some attempts at an explanation in online bible commentaries. [fn2] For a family home evening activity, I recommend reading the psalm, rereading these verses, and then having everyone offer their own interpretations as to what the psalmist meant by “the green bay tree” and why he chose to use that image. Then read through some of the bible commentary. See which of your ideas have been proposed by others, and which other ideas you would like to adopt as your own. Try it tonight.
I like thinking on the unexpected phrases like the green bay tree. I’m not alone. There have been both a play [fn3] and a novel written title “The Green Bay Tree.” It turns out that the Pulitzer prize winning author of the novel, Louis Bromfield, was also a conservationist and a farmer. [fn4]
Whatever you do, remember the overarching theme of the 37th Psalm. The wicked prosper now, but they shall be cut off. If we are to be the righteous, we must
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore.
The law of God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. [fn5]
[fn5]Psalms 37:3, 8, 11, 27, 31, 37