The ABGs of the Wicked
Unlike most other books in the Bible, chapters in Psalms stand independent of one another.
You don’t need to read the surrounding chapters for context or to get an understanding of what’s going on, like you’d need to do in Genesis or Amos or Romans or 1 Corinthians, for example.
Each psalm, or song, in the book of Psalms stands on its own. However, when the book of Psalms was compiled, they organized some of the psalms in a thematic way.
So last week, we picked up where we left off last summer, and we read Psalm 36, a psalm about the wicked.
Here this morning—Psalm 37—we read more about the wicked: truths about the wicked and the righteous, truths about the LORD and how He deals with the wicked and the righteous.
Psalm 37 is a little different than some other psalms. It’s not quite as poetic (though it has its moments). It actually reads more like wisdom literature; at first blush, it feels a little more like a chapter in Proverbs than a psalm.
The reason for this, in part, is because Psalm 37 follows an acrostic pattern. In Psalm 37, each group of (usually) two verses begins with the next successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
David is here, in this psalm, working through his A-B-Gs (the first three letters of the Hebrew alphabet are Aleph, Bet, and Gimmel, so it’s not the ABCs, bu the ABGs).
Psalm 37 is written as the A-B-G’s of the Wicked.
It’s a little difficult to organize it into themes. It doesn’t come in neat divisions like I would want, but we’re going to deal with the text before us, and see what the LORD is teaching us as we humbly approach His Holy Word.
If you have your Bible (and I hope you do), please turn with me to Psalm 37. We’ll read this a section at a time, and you will be well-served by keeping your copy of the Bible open in front of you this morning because this—the Bible—is the most important part of any sermon.
This is the Word of the LORD:
1 Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; 2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. 3 Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: 6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. 7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. 8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.
Using the Hebrew alphabet to organize his thoughts, David has several words for the assembly of God’s people on the subject of the wicked.
The first four letters of his poem spell out this message:
Don’t Fret Over the Wicked (vv. 1-8)
Don’t Fret Over the Wicked (vv. 1-8)
You see don’t fret in verse 1, and then again in verse 7 and verse 8. Don’t fret, don’t fret, don’t fret.
A good percentage of the time the repetition of a word or a phrase will clue you in on what is the main point of a passage.
Don’t fret, don’t fret, don’t fret.
Don’t fret is different than saying, “Don’t be afraid,” or “Don’t worry.” This is, literally, “Do not get heated.”
“Don’t get heated when you think about the wicked. Don’t get sucked up into anger, rage, and envy over the success of the wicked. Don’t become stressed, obsessed, or distressed over it.” - Dale Ralph Davis
Three times David forbids us to get ‘burned up’, ‘heated’, or ‘steamed’ in relation to the wicked.
Unfortunately, there are many, many times we get heated over those who do evil, over the evil who do wrong.
God’s word instructs us here: Do not fret.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply take that advice. “Oh, sure. Thanks, Dave. ‘Don’t fret.’ Got it. Thanks. Whew. Why didn’t someone just tell me that earlier.”
It’s like being told, “Calm down.” Most of the time, that will just serve to rile you up.
Don’t fret, says David.
But how are we to do it? How are we to remain cool when we see evil people prospering? Especially when wicked people prosper at the expense of truly righteous people, as is often the case?
Thankfully, David doesn’t leave us with an unaccompanied “Don’t get worked up. Calm down.” He gives us some positive direction.
One negative command—don’t fret—followed by a handful of positive commands.
Verse 3: Trust in the LORD and do good.
Verse 4: Take delight in the LORD.
Verse 5: Commit your way to the LORD.
Verse 7: Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.
Do you see what David is doing? Do you see what the LORD would have us do? In a similar lesson to last week—the faithful focus on God—David is seeking to direct the attention and energy and behavior and perspective of God’s people Godward.
David would have our focus be on how the LORD is working and on the character of the LORD—His trustworthiness, His sovereign control of all things, His promises, His blessings.
“Don’t fret,” says David.
Christians are sometimes viewed like the grumpy old man sitting on his front porch, yelling at the neighborhood kids, “GET OFF MY LAWN!”
We get heated, all worked up, all steamed, ticked off at the wicked.
Instead, David would have us (God’s Word would have us) be much more sober-minded, living with an awareness of the evil and wickedness around us, not as pie-in-the-sky obliviants; aware of the wicked world and an even deeper awareness of the LORD.
Don’t fret, trust in the LORD, take delight in the LORD, commit your way to the LORD, be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.
Do you see how those work together?
“Don’t do this; instead do that. Don’t give up; instead try this. Don’t give in; look at the situation differently. Don’t focus on the wicked; fix your eyes on the LORD.”
Don’t fret over the wicked.
You see, your thoughts and attention and affections can’t be occupied with the wicked if you are preoccupied with the LORD Himself.
It’s about a shift in will: trust in the LORD; a deliberate redirection of your emotions: take delight in the LORD; an entrusting of your livelihood: commit your way to the LORD; a call to wait: Be still before the LORD.
“Don’t fret over the wicked,” says David, who is about to give us another reason why we shouldn’t.
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. 10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. 11 But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. 12 The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; 13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. 14 The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. 15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. 16 Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; 17 for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. 18 The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. 19 In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. 20 But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke. 21 The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; 22 those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed.
Don’t fret is really good advice (especially when coupled with the other commands—trust, take delight, commit, be still).
In verse 9, we have the reason “why” we shouldn’t fret. Don’t fret, don’t fret, don’t fret…for those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
That’s an important for. A serious “here’s why.” A well-placed “because.”
Why shouldn’t I fret?!?!
BECAUSE, here’s why: those who do evil will be destroyed.
The Wicked Will Be Destroyed (vv. 9-22)
The Wicked Will Be Destroyed (vv. 9-22)
God’s people are meant to realize that the wicked are on their way out. In a little bit, they will be taken out of the way.
In verse 2, David started out his psalm by teaching that the wicked will soon wither, and will soon die away.
Eugene Peterson’s translation says the wicked will “shrivel like grass clippings and wilt like cut-flowers in the sun.”
They’re temporary at best.
The wicked will be destroyed, cut off. That’s a good reason not to fret. And it’s an important reminder.
The verb destroyed or cut off used in verse 9 and verse 22 (the first and last verse of this section). It also appears in verses 28, 34, and 38.
If you trace David’s reasoning in verses 9-22, you’ll see how the destruction of the wicked really is the theme.
The wicked will be no more (v. 10), the LORD laughs at the wicked because He know their day is coming (v. 13), their weapons will be turned against them (v. 15), their power will be broken (v. 17), they will perish—they’ll be consumed and go up in smoke (v. 20).
What we have here in verses 9-22 is a clear message. The wicked will not endure. This helps us not to fret. We know, we know, we know there is an end to the wicked and to this wicked world.
God’s Word tells us so. It’s an unbelievably encouraging truth in a discouraging world. Our thoughts aren’t to be on the wicked, but rather our minds should be set on our secured future with the LORD—when all is made right, all is made new; all sin, all evil destroyed; when the wicked will be judged.
In these verses, David wants the people of God to take the long view. To see the end of the story. To let the ‘last things’ determine how you live in the present.
Ours in not to fret.
Ours is to trust. To believe. To know that the LORD will deal with the wicked.
31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Don’t fret over the wicked. Their day is coming. The LORD will mete out His justice. The Risen Jesus will judge the living and the dead. This should be our perspective.
The wicked will be destroyed; no reason to fret. What’s more, the LORD provides for His people.
23 The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; 24 though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. 25 I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. 26 They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing. 27 Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. 28 For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. 29 The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. 30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. 31 The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip. 32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, intent on putting them to death; 33 but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked or let them be condemned when brought to trial.
The LORD Upholds the Righteous (vv. 23-33)
The LORD Upholds the Righteous (vv. 23-33)
This is the great truth of God’s Word, not just this psalm. And this truth—that the LORD upholds His people—is true, not just where the wicked are concerned. This is gloriously true at all times.
It’s the LORD who upholds us in times of trial, in times of grief, in times of struggle. He makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him.
God directs the believer’s way from the first and also keeps the believer from going under when overwhelmed.
We don’t always grasp ‘how’, but God’s unseen providence in keeping His servants on their feet cannot be disputed.
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
This, by the upholding power of God.
David speaks from a long life. He says he was once young and now he’s old. This is the humble advice of one who’s lived life with the the LORD for a while.
Think of all David’s been through. All he’s seen. The victory and the defeat. He’s experienced blessing and loss. He’s been on the mountaintop and in the valley low.
Old David’s been there. This is one of the benefits of a multi-generational church. We need the counsel and the wisdom of seasoned saints. We need to be encouraged by those who have been through what we’re going through now.
One of the best moves young people can make is to befriend someone older than you, someone further along in their faith.
Young men, find an older man in this congregation and take them to lunch. Ask them about following Jesus and what they’ve learned along the way. Young ladies, ask an older lady if you can come over for coffee. And then talk about faith and walking with Jesus.
Do it. I’m telling you. If I could assign this as homework, I would.
Old David, lived-a-lot-of-life David, a lifetime-of-experience-with-the-LORD David says he has never—never—seen the righteous forsaken.
You might think, “Really?” But this is true: he never has, and he never would. We never have and we never will see the righteous person (the person who belongs to God) forsaken. It will never happen.
The righteous person might be afflicted, but they will never be forsaken. Why? Because the LORD promises to never leave or forsake.
The LORD upholds the righteous.
In these chapter, David throws out the word forever three times. Some, if not many, view this as poetic hyperbole; they think David is exaggerating.
I think the forevers must be given full weight. The inheritance (v. 18) and their dwelling in the land (vv. 27, 29) will be a forever thing.
This means life beyond death with the implication of resurrection.
The LORD isn’t telling the righteous, “Hey, you’ll dwell in the land, that is, when the wicked are destroyed, and then you can possess it—well, until you bite it anyhow...”
This doesn’t have a limited scope. It’s forever. Forever has to mean forever. There is an everlasting possession the righteous have, in the hope of resurrection, that we will be with the LORD forever.
The LORD upholds the righteous, now—right now—and forever.
It’s this assurance that leads David to say:
34 Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it. 35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, 36 but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. 37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace. 38 But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked. 39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. 40 The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.
The LORD Judges and Saves (vv. 34-40)
The LORD Judges and Saves (vv. 34-40)
The psalm wraps up with these final few verses about the fate of the wicked and the fate of the righteous: the wicked to destruction and the righteous to life.
The wicked will be destroyed, all sinners, in fact.
For the moment, the wicked, David says, are flourishing. But they will meet destruction; they will pass away and be no more. There’s coming a day when the righteous won’t have to put up with the wicked.
This judgment is one the LORD makes. The wicked are judged; the righteous are saved.
The key to understanding who the righteous are is found in verse 39.
Ps 37.39 “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord…”
The righteous are those who have put their faith in the LORD. Like Abraham, when they believed, their belief was credited to them as righteousness.
The righteousness of the righteous comes from the LORD; the salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD.
The wicked are those who don’t belong to Him. Those who do not belong to the LORD will be cut off, destroyed; they will fade and wither; they will perish and will be no more.
My good friend, Jerry Bridges, writes: “We’re all found in a state of ruin, but now God has provided a remedy: a righteousness that comes from God through faith in Jesus.”
Faith in Jesus = righteousness. The only way to be righteous is to find the remedy for your state of ruin. That’s Jesus. Take refuge in the LORD. Believe in Jesus and be saved!
The LORD judges and saves.
For the righteous, for the one who belongs to God, there’s salvation, refuge. There’s hope!
I love the poetry of verse 40 when speaking about the righteous, those who have found salvation in the LORD:
The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them and saves them.
The LORD helps and delivers, delivers and saves.
>David’s worked his way through the alphabet and has said quite a lot about the wicked and the righteous.
There are some really good lessons here for us: Don’t fret over the wicked; their time is short. The LORD upholds the righteous; He judges the wicked and saves His own.
All of this is meant to work its way into our hearts and minds.
We are meant to be hopeful.
We find refuge in the LORD, salvation in Jesus, life that lasts forever!