Psalm 37 Commentary

Open to Psalm 37.

I want to start this lesson by asking a question.

To what or to whom are you called by God in this life?

Are you married? You’ve been called by God to be in that marriage.

Are you employed? Then you are called to that occupation.

Are you a member of a church? God has called you to that very church.

There are other things that God has called each of us individually to do in this life. But those three things are a pretty good start. Family, work, church.

Now, let me ask – are there things that cause you to want to abandon these entities to which you are called?

For instance, is your marriage hard? Do you live with a sinner? In your less guarded moments, you might shamefully want out of that institution to which you know that God has called you.

How is work for you? Do you deal with any sinners there? Do you run into opposition? Are there thorns and thistles – as it were – in your job? You have probably wondered sometimes if you should just leave and pursue something else. But God has called you there.

And how about your church? Are there sinners here? Have we had difficulties? Have people disappointed you? And you wouldn’t be alone historically – whether in this church or any other – if you want to leave the church to which God has called you.

Now, Israel in King David’s time was evidently experiencing these same realities. God had called them to inherit the land. He took them out of Egypt, brought them to Canaan, and had them possess that land.

But they never drove out the wicked Canaanites. And as a result, those Canaanites influenced Israel to sin even worse than those Canaanites.

And so, a righteous man living in the midst of this sin would be tempted to abandon the land that God had called him to. David himself did that temporarily when he fled from Saul to the king of the Philistines. It wasn’t pretty.

Others throughout Bible history have discovered that leaving the land was not a good thing for them – Naomi and her family come to mind.

So, in the midst of the temptation to leave the land, David pens Psalm 37 to encourage his fellow-Israelites to Stay Put and Do Good. Don’t abandon what God has called you to – even when there are evil people there who would destroy you.

So, let’s allow Psalm 37 to instruct us on staying put and doing good in every place that we’ve been called by God to occupy in this life.

Now, Psalm 37 is laid out as an acrostic poem. But there are only 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and 40 verses in this psalm. That’s because it’s generally every other verse that starts with the next Hebrew letter.

And Psalm 37 is also a meditative or reflective psalm. David is leading us to meditate on and reflect upon the fact that they ought not abandon the land simply because they are running into trouble.

So, let’s start by reading the superscription and verse 1.

KJV Psalm 37:1 <A Psalm of David.>

Fret not thyself because of evildoers,
neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.

OK, so why should we not fret over people who do evil – or even go a step farther and envy them? Verse 2.

2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
and wither as the green herb.

Evildoers and workers of iniquity are limited in their duration. Their time to do what they’re doing – evil – is short. It’s temporary.

Just like grass that’s mowed down. I mow my grass about once a week in the summer. And even then I should be doing it more frequently – to avoid my yard becoming a jungle!

And even though I might think of a week being a long time when it comes to cutting grass – compared to the duration of one’s lifetime – and certainly in light of eternity – a week is short.

And that’s what we’re to remind ourselves concerning evildoers and workers of iniquity.

Don’t fear and don’t envy them. They won’t last. They’re not permanent.

And when David speaks of them being cut down – he doesn’t state the actor of that verb. Who’s doing the cutting down of evildoers eventually?

The Lord will cut down the workers of iniquity.

And so, we shouldn’t fear them – but rather we should fear the Lord, as we’re encouraged to do in verse 3.

3 Trust in the LORD,
and do good;

Well, what happens when we trust in the Lord and do good rather than adopt the actions of evildoers?

so shalt thou dwell in the land,
and verily thou shalt be fed.

It seems from this verse and others that part of why David wrote this psalm was to encourage God’s people of that time – the Israelites – to stay in the land of Israel. That’s where God had called them. He gave them that land as an inheritance and he wanted them to stay there and dwell in it.

But apparently, the godly struggled to know if they really ought to stay there. They thought that maybe they ought to leave. Why? Because of the prevalence of these evildoers and workers of iniquity.

Perhaps even, David wrote this psalm when he personally had to flee from Absalom his son – but he advised others to stay in the land.

Or it could be that David wrote this psalm after he was influenced by Saul to escape Israel and go to the Philistines. That situation was a pretty embarrassing mistake for David – and so perhaps he wrote this psalm now to warn against that kind of mistake for others.

Whatever the backdrop to this psalm – the message is clear. Stay where God has placed you, generally. And if evildoers in any way threaten you in that place, and you can’t understand how you could possibly stay put when so much seems to be wrong – then the answer that we’ve seen already is “trust in the Lord.”

If you do – the promise is that you’ll be fed. You’ll be provided for and taken care of.

And as you’re staying in the place that God has assigned you, your attitude is not to be grudging and brooding and sorrowful. Even if your situation is not as cheery as you’d like – there is always one reality that you can delight you – according to verse 4.

4 Delight thyself also in the LORD;
and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

There are two ways to think of this verse.

The first way is to take this to mean that God is going to reward you for delighting yourself in him. That is, if you consciously enjoy the Lord he will respond to that by giving you what you desire.

Another way to think of this verse is to recognize that as you intentionally enjoy the Lord – his word, his fellowship, etc. – then he is actually going to change your desires to the point where your desires are his and he will be pleased to grant them.

I think that the second way of reading this verse is correct.

5 Commit thy way unto the LORD;
trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.

Literally, “Roll your path upon the Lord. And trust in him and he will do.” Our life is like a path that we walk on every day. For the person who feels stuck in a bad situation like David’s audience was, that person is still on a path – but the path can be heavy and burdensome. That’s why we’re told to roll that path upon the Lord – to commit it to him in that sense. To place it in his hands and no longer carry that burden.

And as we do this – rolling our path onto the Lord – and as we trust him in that way, then “he will do.” He will take care of you. You don’t need to worry. Yield everything to him and he’ll take care of the rest.

Stay on the path – but roll that path onto him. You have your part to play – don’t get off the path. Don’t stop being faithful and doing good. But then the Lord has his part to play of taking care of you as you do his will – even in uncomfortable situations.

And here’s more of what the Lord will do for you – verse 6.

6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light,
and thy judgment as the noonday.

When David speaks of bringing forth righteousness and judgement – what he’s talking about is this. As you keep yourself in a high-pressure situation for the Lord’s sake – you stay in the land, as it were, even when it’s full of evildoers. When that happens it’s very likely that you’ll look like the bad guy. People will question your character. You might be falsely accused – because quite honestly, this is what wicked people like to do.

But don’t let that stop you from going on and doing good and trusting the Lord. If you do trust him like verse 5 spoke of, then he will vindicate you – bring forth your righteousness and judgement. And he’ll do it publicly – as the light and as the noonday. Your vindication will be unavoidable. Everyone will know it.

Now, we understand that sometimes in this life vindication doesn’t come. And yet, in God’s kingdom when it comes you and I most certainly will be vindicated.

And of course, waiting for God’s kingdom to come might take a while. That’s why we’re given the next two commands in verse 7.

7 Rest in the LORD,
and wait patiently for him:

Rest and wait. He doesn’t act according to your timeline. But he will most certainly act.

And while you’re waiting for God to act, don’t do this…

fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way,
because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

And actually, from the middle of verse 7 to the end of verse 10 we have several ways that we should respond to and think about these wicked people that make staying put where god wants you to be so hard.

So, don’t fret. In Hebrew that word fret means to become angry or inflamed even. Don’t get fired up about this kind of person. Even though it looks like he’s winning. God’s counsel – his loving command to you – is to not get angry about him.

And the next verse actually concedes that you probably are angry about him. And God gently commands you to stop that.

8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath:
fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.

Anger against wickedness is such a natural reaction. God himself is angry with the wicked every day.

And yet, God is also patient with the wicked every day. He’s slow to anger. And we need to be, too – which is what this verse is urging on us.

But does that mean that evil people will just go undealt with? Well, that’s what verse 9 anticipates you asking. And David responds…

9 For evildoers shall be cut off:

They will perish – both now and in eternity. They are separated from God both now and eternally.

But in contrast, for you who know and love the Lord…

but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.

The same Hebrew word is translated in the Old Testament as both earth and land. So, again, in context this verse is speaking of Israelites who would have been tempted to leave God’s promised land to them because of the presence and influence of evil men.

And, God says that those who wait on the Lord to take action and don’t take it upon themselves to leave when the going gets tough – those people will inherit the land. Obviously, if you leave the land you can’t inherit it.

So, God’s command to them and you is – stay put.

And David gives more reason to stay put in verse 10. Namely. the wicked are temporary.

10 For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be:
yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.

Evil men don’t stick around forever. Outlast them. Do what you know to be right and know that they will eventually be taken away. You don’t know how that’s going to happen. But that’s why you keep being admonished to wait and watch for what God is going to do.

And in contrast to the wicked – who do not get the land – they’re going to be no more and basically seem to disappear from the land – in contrast to them…

11 But the meek shall inherit the earth;
and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

There’s peace coming. Just wait for it. Wait for… the Lord.

Then David really shines a light on the nature of the wicked and what God is going to do to them, starting in verse 12.

And actually, from verse 12 on to the end of this psalm, David employs these short sayings that sound a lot like proverbs to describe the reality of the wicked, the righteous, and how God reacts to both of these groups.

Verses 12 and 13 speak of the terrible actions of the wicked against the just – and then how the Lord reacts to those actions.

12 The wicked plotteth against the just,
and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.

That sounds unpleasant. Literally, David is having us picture the wicked grinding the just with their teeth. Picture that literally happening. Ouch!

And the first line is no better. The wicked plans to destroy the just.

But who cares? Because here’s what God is going to do to those wicked scheming cannibals…

13 The Lord shall laugh at him:
for he seeth that his day is coming.

There is a day of judgement coming for the wicked. They can do their worst to God’s people in this life. But God is not threatened by them. He knows that he’s going to judge them soon.

Then in verses 14 and 15 we see the devices of the wicked being turned back on themselves.

14 The wicked have drawn out the sword,
and have bent their bow,

to cast down the poor and needy,
and to slay such as be of upright conversation [lit. those who are on the straight road].

Yikes – that’s terrifying! Picturing people lined up with swords and bows and arrows to shoot innocent people down!

But those very weapons will eventually be used against the wicked to destroy them.

15 Their sword shall enter into their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

It will happen. The wicked will get their just desert soon enough. Wait for it.

Then in verses 16 and 17 the Lord compares the poverty of a righteous person with the riches of a wicked person and concludes that the righteous are better off.

16 A little that a righteous man hath
is better than the riches of many wicked.

Why is this? This sounds wrong. All else being equal, we want more than less. Doesn’t it seem like the wicked are in the more enviable position here?

Yes, it does – from a physical, earthly standpoint. But that would be to leave God out of the picture.

17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken:
but the LORD upholdeth the righteous.

Arms being broken of course can literally happen – but it’s often a metaphor for a person’s power being curtailed. So, the wicked will have whatever power he has taken away from him.

In contrast, the righteous man who may have very little in this life will receive this incredible blessing – the Lord upholding him. The Lord destroys the strength of the wicked – but he is the strength of the righteous man.

Then verses 18 through 20 highlight the permanency of the righteous and the temporary nature of the wicked.

18 The LORD knoweth the days of the upright:
and their inheritance shall be for ever.

So, the Lord cares for the upright in this life – he knows our days. And beyond that, he has given us an inheritance that is permanent and eternal.

19 They shall not be ashamed in the evil time:
and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.

And in this life – even in times of famine and leanness he will see to it that we’re taken care of.

That’s not the case with the wicked.

20 But the wicked shall perish,
and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs:

they shall consume;
into smoke shall they consume away.

So, note the contrast here between the permanence of the righteous and the temporary nature of the wicked. They perish and will be burned like the fat of the Hebrews’ sacrifices. They’ll go up in smoke.

Then verses 21 and 22 have another contrast between the righteous and the wicked.

21 The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again:
but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.

22 For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth;
and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.

I think what’s interesting in that last proverb is that you have in verse 21 the way that the righteous and the wicked deal with material possessions in this world. The wicked take and don’t give. The righteous give mercifully.

And then you see that God responds to the giving of the righteous with more giving – he gives them the earth – or the land. Again, David is probably dealing more with the idea of God giving the land of Israel as an inheritance to those who are righteous.

The wicked – on the other hand – get nothing. They are stingy and so God is stingy with them. He cuts them off from the land.

Then verses 23 and 24 contain a fairly well-known proverb that most of us are familiar with.

23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD:
and he delighteth in his way.

24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down:
for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.

And you can see that the word good in verse 23 is actually italicized. That means it’s not there in the Hebrew text. But the KJV translators put it there to make it clear that we’re talking about the righteous here.

God orders the steps of that man. God makes sure that he gets where he should go.

And then it says that “he delights in his way.” And the question is “to whom do these two pronouns refer?” Is “he” God or the righteous? Is “his” God or the righteous?

And it’s really a toss-up. And both work perfectly. God delights in the way of a righteous man. And the righteous man delights in God’s way.

And the Lord acknowledges that there will be failures in the life of the righteous. And yet – he won’t be cut off like the wicked. No – he has God holding his hand and ready to pick him back up and dust him off, as it were.

And then in verses 25 and 26 David relates his life-long experience of God providing for the righteous.

25 I have been young,
and now am old;

yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken,
nor his seed begging bread.

26 He is ever merciful, and lendeth;
and his seed is blessed.

And so again we have this interesting view into how the Lord provides for the righteous and how they in turn provide for others. God is generous with them. They are generous with others. God is merciful to them and they return the favor to others.

And ultimately this results in their children – their “seed” – not lacking what they need but rather being blessed.

And then verses 27 through 29 might be something of a call to the wicked or those who are tempted to be like them.

27 Depart from evil, and do good;
and dwell for evermore.

28 For the LORD loveth judgment,
and forsaketh not his saints;

they are preserved for ever:
but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.

29 The righteous shall inherit the land,
and dwell therein for ever.

Again, we see this theme of inheriting the land. And this privilege comes from departing from evil and doing good.

So, this may be a call to the wicked to abandon what they’re currently doing in light of the fact that their seed – unlike the seed of the righteous in the last proverb we saw – will be cut off if they continue in their ways.

But then it’s like God holds up for the wicked the example and end of the righteous and says “wouldn’t you rather be like this? Inheriting the land, preserved forever, never forsaken?”

Then in verses 30 and 31 we have a proverb that extolls the speech of the righteous that comes from a good heart. And the proverb asserts that this man’s speech and heart lead to a stable life.

30 The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom,
and his tongue talketh of judgment.

31 The law of his God is in his heart;
none of his steps shall slide.

And yet, a stable life is no guarantee of a life free from threats and danger – especially from the wicked, as our next proverb in verses 32 and 33 tells us.

32 The wicked watcheth the righteous,
and seeketh to slay him.

33 The LORD will not leave him in his hand,
nor condemn him when he is judged.

So, there is constant danger for the righteous from wicked people – especially in the context of ancient Israel. And yet the Lord will protect his people. And even when we’re judged by others – the Lord won’t allow our condemnation to be ultimately upheld.

And this takes patience – to endure the persecution of wicked men and expectantly wait for God’s deliverance – especially when it appears that godly people are being victimized by evil men.

And that’s why David comes back in verse 34 to remind God’s people to patiently keep doing good with an eye toward the Lord.

34 Wait on the LORD, and keep his way,
and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land:

when the wicked are cut off,
thou shalt see it.

The wicked haven’t been cut off yet. But when it does happen, the righteous will be there to see it.

But we don’t see it yet – at least we don’t see it universally – and we never will in this age. But David in verses 35 and 36 relates the fact that he has seen this happen – the wicked being cut off – in individual cases. And that’s reason to hope for the time when all of them are dealt with finally.

35 I have seen the wicked in great power,
and spreading himself like a green [i.e., luxuriant/fresh…] bay tree.

36 Yet he passed away,
and, lo, he was not:

yea, I sought him,
but he could not be found.

Wicked men can have great power in this life. But thankfully they’re temporary and so is their evil.

So, that’s the end of the wicked – kind of an anticlimactic disappearing. On the other hand, David speaks in verses 37 and 38 of the end of the righteous.

37 Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright:
for the end of that man is peace.

38 But the transgressors shall be destroyed together:
the end of the wicked shall be cut off.

And finally, David ends this psalm speaking of how the Lord saves or delivers his people from their enemies. And he does this because they trust in him.

39 But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD:
he is their strength in the time of trouble.

40 And the LORD shall help them,
and deliver them:

he shall deliver them from the wicked,
and save them,

because they trust in him.

So, the righteous are saved by faith. See that? Here in the Old Testament – the righteous are saved or delivered because they trust in the Lord.

So, may the Lord help us to Stay Put and Do Good in the places to which he has called us as we wait for his Son to return for us.

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