Psalm 37:35

ESV I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
NIV I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
NASB I have seen a wicked, violent person Spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil.
CSB I have seen a wicked, violent person well-rooted, like a flourishing native tree.
NLT I have seen wicked and ruthless people flourishing like a tree in its native soil.
KJV I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
NKJV I have seen the wicked in great power, And spreading himself like a native green tree.

What does Psalm 37:35 mean?

David reports that he has seen a wicked, violent, strong man tower over others like an overspreading tree that seems to be firmly grounded and immoveable. This reference might be entirely poetic. However, David's personal history included encounters with men who fit this description. Those ungodly men exhibited their own forms of strength and power—wealth, physical prowess, or authority—but were eventually nowhere to be found (Psalm 37:36).

First Samuel 25 portrays Nabal, whose name means "foolish," as a powerful man who insulted David's in response to a polite request for provisions. Though Nabal was very rich and owned 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats (1 Samuel 25:2), he asked David's men, "Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?" (1 Samuel 25:11). Rather than seek revenge, David was convinced to wait (1 Samuel 25:21–35), and Nabal eventually met his deserved end (1 Samuel 25:36–39). Perhaps, David was thinking of Nabal when he wrote these words.

An even more likely example from David's life would be Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4). Though young, with God's enabling, David was able to kill the enormous, intimidating warrior (1 Samuel 17:45–51).

Or David may have had ruthless King Saul in mind. Saul's ungodly jealousy of David forced David to flee for his own safety (1 Samuel 23:14).

All three of these men might have seemed as immoveable and indestructible as a native tree with deep roots and wide-reaching branches. Even today, those who have wealth, strength, or authority can seem to be too big and firmly planted to be toppled. This aura of invincibility is just an illusion (Psalm 37:36).
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