There are some parts of the Bible that make one enthusiastically sign with one’s hands and shout, “That’s what I’m talking about,” (at least that’s what I do) and other parts of the Bible that speak directly to our state of mind and concerns at a given situation or over the course of a lifetime of similar situations. For me, a lengthy conversation on one of my previous blogs on Psalm 45  prompted a discussion about Psalm 37. As some readers of this blog will no doubt be aware of either from seeing me in person, or reading some of my posts , I am definitely a fretter by nature. No matter how phlegmatic I appear on the outside, by nature I am a pessimistic sort of person, melancholy and prone to fretting and worrying and anxiety. I work very hard to fight these tendencies, but they are my natural and instinctual response to the abuses of the wicked that have so frequently occurred during my difficult life.
Psalm 37 is a wisdom psalm written in the form of an acrostic (this is, obviously, most evident from the Hebrew scriptures themselves), and it is a psalm of David. Given the fact that it is an acrostic wisdom psalm, it bears certain similarities to Psalm 119, that famous anonymous psalm praising God’s laws. This particular psalm, however, speaks eloquently (and at some length, though nowhere near 172 verses) about the heritage and the inheritance of the righteous in a world that appears at first glance to favor the wicked. This is obviously a point of considerable personal relevance as a student of politics and global affairs and someone who has often been frustrated at the corruption that can be found among leaders of nations and institutions within my personal experience and purview.
Since this particular psalm is relatively long, I would like to take the passages of this psalm (which are short, mostly two to four verses in length) individually and then make larger overall comments about the contents of this psalm and their own personal relevance to me. Since this psalm does not contain a historical superscription, we do not have a specific incident in David’s life that this psalm can be connected to, and we therefore must consider this psalm to be written as a contemplative statement of God’s ultimate goodwill toward the righteous in light of what David saw over the course of his own mostly faithful and very eventful life. Let us therefore, without further ado, talk about Psalm 37 and then come to some sensible conclusions as to what it means (as well as personal relevance) after we are through.
Psalm 37:1-2 reads: “Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” As human beings we are likely to either fret or worry because of the evildoers and their slanders, their wicked plots and plans, and their hostility toward the righteous and godly of this world, or we are likely to be envious of their apparent success and power. However, David tells us that as human life is short, and as all human beings will be repaid for their works, the success of the wicked (such as it is) is extremely fleeting and will not last. This is an implicit contrast with the eternal blessings that God, who cannot lie, has promised to the righteous who have faith in the Eternal.
Psalm 37:3-4 reads: “Trust in the Eternal, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Eternal, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Here we see the solution to fretting, and that is a trust in God and continuing one’s righteous and good behavior, even in the face of the plots and slanders of the wicked. Thanks to divine providence, God gives us a settled place to rest (shades of Psalm 23) and tells us to feed on His faithfulness in giving us our daily bread. He tells us, no matter our circumstances, to delight in the Lord. As God desires to bless us, we should feel confident that He will give us the desires of our hearts, even if (as is often the case) we have to wait for the time and place of His choosing for those blessings to be given according to His will, assuming that our desires are in accordance with God’s plans.
Psalm 37:5-6 reads: “Commit your way to the Eternal, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” One of the main concerns and desires for the righteous, of course, in a wicked and ungodly world, is the desire to be seen for who we are (and not seen through the lies of our enemies) as well as the desire to see God’s justice on the heads of evildoers who mock God’s ways and oppress the righteous. Therefore, as one of the first desires of the heart of the righteous to be granted, God promises (through David) that God will make our righteousness (or, we should say, based on Psalm 32, the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ that is within the believer) shine like the noonday when the righteous are glorified and enter into eternal life as the children of the Most High at the return of Jesus Christ. And justice will certainly be rendered to the wicked, who will have to answer for their crimes before the Great White Throne Judgment. God willing, they will repent of their sins and seek forgiveness from those they have wronged and receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ in their turn.
Psalm 37:7-8 reads: “Rest in the Eternal, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret–it only causes harm.” Twice this passage reminds us (because some of us, myself included) not to fret about the apparent success of the wicked, like those who make evil plots like coups and hostile takeovers and appear to succeed in this time. Like Paul in Romans 12, David tells us to cease from wrath and anger over the deeds of the wicked because God will avenge, and the vengeance of God is far more fierce and far more just than our own pitiful efforts at avenging ourselves with our own hand. Likewise, part of the rest we should enjoy in God (and not only on the Sabbath, but definitely then) is the freedom from worry and anxiety that comes from trusting in God. This trust is very hard for many of us (myself included), but releasing from ourselves the burden of worry and anxiety will save us from a great deal of harm. David’s advice, though difficult to follow, is very sound.
Psalm 37:9-11 reads: “For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the Eternal, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall for his place, but it shall be no more; indeed, you will look carefully for his place, but it shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” This particular passage shows that God’s longsuffering and patience in dealing with the provocations of the wicked will eventually end in the meek and godly enjoying peace and joy forevermore while the wicked (specifically those who refuse to repent) will not even be remembered in the world to come, nor will a place be found for them in the New Jerusalem. In addition, this verse also echoes the words of Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount that the meek will inherit the earth, pointing to the Christian ethic behind David’s words of divine justice as well as our need for patience while we dwell in this present evil world and await our eternal reward.
Psalm 37:12-15 reads: “The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day is coming. The wicked have drawn the sword and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, to slay those who are of upright conduct. Their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.” Despite the fact that the wicked often trust in their strength, in their wealth and power and privilege and in the armies they have at their disposal, to oppress the righteous and to kill and imprison those who live upright and godly and honorable lives, God promises that in the end they will only harm themselves through their wicked schemes, regardless of the plots and hostility they show to the righteous. It is noteworthy in this context that the word used for God is Adonai, referring to the fact that it is Jesus Christ who will avenge the righteous with His own terrible swift sword and that the wicked have no covenantal relationship with God (in contrast to the righteous, who call on their Eternal Father by name).
Psalm 37:16-17 reads: “A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Eternal upholds the righteous.” As noted previously, let us note how David refers to Yahweh as the God of the righteous, showing the personal and covenantal relationship that the righteous have with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in contrast to the promises of judgment against the wicked who rebel against God’s ways. Here David’s comment echoes that of the Proverbs (see Proverbs 15:16 and 16:8 in particular) that comment on how the blessedness of the righteous does not depend on the amount of blessings that the righteous has, but rather on his state before His God and Creator. Whether we have little wealth or great wealth, our true riches are in heaven in the righteousness and obedience that God works in us through His Spirit.
Psalm 37:18-20 reads: “The Eternal knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. But the wicked shall perish; and the enemies of the Eternal, like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish.” No one wants to be Yahweh’s enemy, if they really know what is good for them. God promises eternal life to the righteous, and an everlasting inheritance in the Family of God, as well as survival during evil and difficult times when famine threatens. This is a promise I take to heart, as famine has threatened me before on several occasions in my own life. Likewise, the passing success of the wicked will be evanescent and will fade away, and the wicked will perish unless they repent of their ways.
Psalm 37:21-22 reads: “The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives. For those blessed by Him shall inherit the earth, but those cursed by Him shall be cut off.” Here again we see the promise that the righteous will inherit the earth. We are used to seeing the offices and resources of the world controlled by large and exploitative corporations and wicked and corrupt rulers, but the earth belongs to God and at the return of Jesus Christ it will be given to the righteous to rule as His kings and priests over His creation, and the wicked will be removed from their offices and cut off from the power and glory they hold so dear in their hearts. Speaking personally, I have always felt horrible and taken it very personally when I have been unable to repay what I have borrowed. Likewise, to the greatest extent possible given my means and resources, I have always sought to be generous and merciful and giving to others. The wicked, though, borrow and run up endless debt with no shame or no thought to how such a debt could ever be repaid, even as they show harshness to those who owe debts to them. This reminds one of the parable of the unforgiving servant from Jesus Christ’s teaching in Matthew 18:21-35.
Psalm 37:23-24 reads: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Eternal, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Eternal upholds him with His hand.” Like many of the other passages in Psalm 37, this reminds one of the words of Jesus that as even a sparrow cannot fall without the Eternal’s knowledge that God has even more concern for mankind, even knowing the hairs of our head. The passage also seems to refer to Psalm 23 and the confidence we have in our Good Shepherd guiding us along the paths of righteousness for His own name’s sake. Likewise, the words of David here in Psalm 37 that echo Paul’s contention in 2 Corinthians 4:9 that we are struck down but not destroyed, able to be confident in God’s good will and pleasure toward us. Again, this is a passage I take to heart, knowing that in my travels and trials that God is with me to accomplish His will and that He directs my steps and not I, leading me where He pleases for His purposes, and not my own.
Psalm 37:25-26 reads: “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendents begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lends; and his descendants are blessed.” This passage continues the theme from earlier (Psalm 37:21) that the righteous are generous, and that even if they have a little, they are blessed and provided for and are not abandoned by God. Given my own difficult straits, I find comfort in this particular passage as well, in the knowledge that even though finding opportunities for earning one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow can be a difficult matter, that God will provide for His people, not only now but in generations to come. This was not merely a passing observation from David, but was the result of a lifetime of watching people from his youth as he reflected upon God’s ways as an old man. May it be the same even in our own evil times.
Psalm 37:27-29 reads: “Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore. For the Eternal loves justice, and does not forsake His saints; they are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell in it forever.” Like Psalm 91 , this passage contrasts the fact that the wicked will fall and be cut off, and will fail to preserve their dynasties, while the righteous will be given eternal life and will dwell in God’s favor and blessings for all time. Eternal life requires departing from evil and doing good and loving justice, as the prophets say (see, for example, Micah 6:8). This standard has always been true for God’s people and always will, as it is a reflection of the unchanging character of God.
Psalm 37:30-31 reads: “The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of justice. The law of God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.” Not only does the righteous man live justice, but he calls for justice for others, speaking wisdom and that which is profitable and useful for all time, and not merely expedient for a moment. The righteous are not afraid of the laws and hostility of evil men who try to make it a crime to speak out against evil, but are men of honor and decency who speak out against evil and injustice and oppression wherever it may be found. Moreover, this passage also points out that the standard of behavior reflected in Psalm 37 as a whole reflects the conduct of those who are in a New Covenant relationship with their Creator, as they have the law written on their hearts (see Jeremiah 31, Hebrews 8), and not merely tablets of stone. This passage is yet another indication of the congruence between David’s teaching and the teaching and example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when He walked this earth to set a perfect model for us, and is a demonstration of why the Word of God tells us that David was as man after God’s own heart.
Psalm 37:32-33 reads: “The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him. The Eternal will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.” Whatever condemnation come from the wicked and evil who seek to destroy either the lives or reputations of the righteous, God promises that He will deliver the righteous from the evil intents of the wicked. Whatever the plots and espionage of the wicked in seeking to target the righteous, God will not deliver us into the hand of the wicked or condemn us, but will bring us into His Kingdom where we will be safe for all time from the wicked plots of evildoers, those whose hostility towards the upright and honorable leads them to persecute the righteous who speak out against their evil and corrupt ways.
Psalm 37:34-36 reads: “Wait on the Eternal, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it. I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a native green tree. Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; indeed, I sought him, but he could not be found.” The justice that God promises to the righteous requires our patience and endurance, and requires that we not lose faith and trust in God. God’s time and schedules are not our own, and ultimately the cutting off of the wicked will occur when Jesus Christ takes all thrones and power for Himself to give to His servants under Him, when the wicked will no longer rule but their dominion and power shall be cut off forever. At that time, this prophecy of David will be fulfilled in full. Until then, we must see in part that the power of the evil is evanescent, for no matter how many decades the wicked may reign, and no matter how they may feign love for God and for their people in their speeches (however absent that love may be in their behavior), eventually they will die and be forgotten and their power and institutions will be broken and shattered and will come to nothing and will no longer be able to be found, even if one went looking for them.
Psalm 37:37-38 reads: “Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” Though none of us are righteous and blameless and upright in our own works, those of us who have the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ within us and walk according to God’s ways will eventually know peace, whatever the conflict in our present lives in this present evil world. For only those who are at peace with their Creator will know peace for all time, and that peace will eventually find its way throughout other relationships (see, again, Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount–blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God). However, the wicked will not endure and their dynasties will fail and they will have no future, unless they repent and seek God’s mercy.
Psalm 37:39-40 reads: “But the salvation of the righteous is from the Eternal; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Eternal shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him.” The righteous know (as surely as I know) that we are not saved by our own power and strength, and that our own power is nothing. Through the strength of God we are delivered from trials, from the hand of those who hate us and seek our lives and seek to destroy our reputation with slanders and false accusations, behaving like their father the Devil. But ultimately the schemes and plots of the wicked will come to nothing, because we trust in God. And if we trust in God, we will not fret and worry and be anxious about this life because we will know that God knows our concerns and the desires of our heart and wishes to give us His blessings in His good time, so long as we remain faithful and obedient to Him.
In examining the whole of Psalm 37, the overriding concern of David is to speak at length and with considerable passion about how God provides for the righteous both now and even more so in the world to come, and how the passing pleasures and temporary success of the wicked will not endure but that the blessings to the righteous will last for all time. David’s theodicy, or justification of the ways of God, is the result both of his faith and trust in God as well as his long experience in seeing how God provides for the righteous and how the wicked pass away and their wealth and power and glory come to nothing. It is in light of both faith and evidence that David tells others (like myself) who are prone to fret and worry and feel anxious about the plots of the wicked to trust in God and see the divine providence of God for ourselves in our own lives, in providing safety and blessings for those who love Him and follow His ways.
Psalm 37 is particularly striking in the way it connects with a great deal of other sections of the Bible in showing how embedded the wisdom of this psalm is with the broader teachings of God’s words. Psalm 37 connects with other psalms of safety and assurance (like Psalm 23 and 91) that point to our present sufferings as being of no account when compared to the eternal glories that await the righteous, an insight also understood by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8. Likewise, this psalm’s wise advise strikes a similar tone to the Proverbs which point to the temporary and evanescent nature of the wealth and power and earthly success of the wicked. Over and over again David reminds us that the righteous will be blessed and will inherit the earth forever, pointing to his knowledge in and assurance of eternal life and eternal rewards, which came because David (like us) was a believer in the New Covenant, where the law is written in our hearts and minds and where we look to spiritual and not only physical blessings. For this reason, David’s words echo the words of Jesus Christ (and also of Paul), given that they come from the same New Covenant perspective that is spoken of in the renewed covenant scriptures that we as Christians hold so dear. To find such a striking Christian message in the heart of the psalms ought to help us to understand the unchanging and eternal nature of God’s moral standard for believers, and ought to encourage us to take David’s advice and depart from evil but rather to keep His way.
As someone who tends to be a fretter and an anxious worrier by nature, a psalm like this is a comforting one in that it speaks directly to my concerns and reminds me of those experiences (especially recent ones) that have shown me the truth of David’s words that God will protect the righteous and upright man from the plots of the evil, that God will keep His followers from starvation in the time of famine, and that God will (eventually) provide His believers with the righteous and proper desires of their hearts. We just have to be patient and wait on His reward in His good time, when He will show His love and His justice to us, and will eventually judge the proud wicked who refuse to repent of their hostility to the ways and people of the Eternal. While we wait, we all fervently pray that God’s kingdom will come, and that His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven, recognizing that David too prayed likewise and saw God’s providential care for the people of God in His time even as we fervently pray for God to do the same for us in our own present evil world.