Psalm 37

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Psalm 37 ESV
Of David. 1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2 For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. 3 Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself 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 act. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! 8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. 9 For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. 10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. 12 The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, 13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. 14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; 15 their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. 16 Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked. 17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. 18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; 19 they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance. 20 But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away. 21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives; 22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off. 23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; 24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. 25 I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. 26 He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. 27 Turn away from evil and do good; so shall you dwell forever. 28 For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. 29 The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever. 30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. 31 The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. 32 The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. 33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial. 34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off. 35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. 36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found. 37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace. 38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off. 39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the 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.


In 1688, Benjamin Harris compiled and published a book that was used by thousands of early American colonists. It was titled "The New England Primer". The textbook taught reading and biblical thinking through pictures and short, memorable phrases. But long before that, the book of Psalms contained sections that did the same thing. Such an example is Psalm 37. It is an acrostic poem. It takes the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as the starting letter of words that compose a wisdom Psalm. On the one hand, it can be used to help learn the Hebrew alphabet, but more importantly, it teaches believers about the consequences of following the path of wisdom and obedience to God.

Clues to structure

The book of Psalms was originally written in the Hebrew language. And because we are reading an English translation, we will miss some of the beautiful details of the original text. But we can still gather some crucial clues on the structure. In our sermon series, we have learned that Hebrew poetry is composed of small lines of thought that are connected through repetition, contrast, or completion of the thought. These short poetic lines typically occur in groups of two or three. These line groups are further combined into larger groups of ideas. English translations attempt to show the structure by including extra spaces and indentations to help show the lines and suggested groupings of ideas. When we read this psalm, we should notice that the writer gives us an idea of the larger sections by repeating a particular set of words. The phrases are "cut off", and "inherit the land". With that in mind, let's look at the sections.
Reacting to the prosperity of the wicked v. 11-1
Considering the future of the wicked v. 12-22
Understanding how God sees things v. 23-29
Describing two ways of living v. 30-34, 35-38
Restoring confidence in God v.39-40

Reacting to the prosperity of the Wicked

A wisdom Psalm compares the path of choosing God and obeying him against the path of rejecting God and committing sinful acts. The two paths are described as the path of the righteous and the path of the wicked.
Before we discuss the paths of the wicked and evil, we should note a few things.:
The wicked and evil described in this chapter display abhorrent actions that the average person should recognize as evil. We know that there are unbelievers that are some of the nicest people we know. And there are believers that are some of the worst people we have met. So as we study this, let's keep in mind that we are not describing believers and unbelievers. Rather we are comparing and contrasting following God and acting in ways that align with obedience to God. We ought to recognize that "being a good person", is not the path for a right relationship with God.
We can never be good enough in our own thoughts and actions to please God. For this purpose, Jesus Christ came and became the sacrifice for our sins that we may be found in him to be righteous. We can only draw close to God through Christ and not through any good deeds. We could say it another way; our best obedience is not full obedience until we entrust ourselves in faith to Jesus Christ. Apart from him, we are lost.
When one looks at the apparent success of those who choose evil, it can be tempting to think that the path of the righteous is foolish. Therefore, the writer gives us at least 18 commands in this first section. It lists “do's and don'ts “for those who believe in God. A person who believes in God may struggle to make sense of why their life is filled with difficulty, and those who are wicked are successful and powerful. Shouldn't the wicked have all the problems and the righteous have all the good things? The writer seeks to enlighten the struggling righteous person.
The first commands are a shortlist of “don’ts”: don’t fret and don't be envious. What does it mean to fret? The term describes when a person becomes extremely agitated or irritated. This is a troubled state of mind and emotion prompted by the apparent success of the wicked. It is a very natural response to look at the success of the wicked and “lose our minds”. We are called to take hold of our thoughts and emotions so they don’t overcome us and lead us to foolish action. The second "do not" command targets the other natural temptation, which is to become envious. The righteous person may be tempted to think that it is better to join the "dark side" rather than remain faithful to God.
Thankfully, the writer gives a larger list of things to do instead:
Trust, do good and stay put.
Delight yourself in God.
Commit your way to God and trust Him.
Be still and wait patiently.
Refrain from anger and wrathful thinking.
While all these commands are essential, let's focus on a couple. The first is a combination of commands that describe the opposite of becoming fretful. The righteous person is to trust in God's sovereignty. The righteous one ought to be focused on doing what is right and “settle down and plant themselves” in their choice to follow God. This is more than just good advice. It is how we need to bring our thoughts and actions to the Lordship of God. When we declare that He is Lord, we put our authority, opinion, and perception in the backseat and let God take the position of the driver of our life. It is a reminder that when we cannot control circumstances, we do have something that we can control. We can control ourselves through our submission to God.
Now, let us also look at the second command. We are called to delight in God. Delighting in God implies having a high degree of pleasure and mental satisfaction. Think about it for a moment. What gives you delight? What is your favorite hobby? What is that one thing that you would like to do if you didn't have to work for a living? These answers may give us some insight into what pursuits excite and energize us. Does the idea of delighting in God seem foreign to you? If it does, you may not realize yet the joy of doing good and the great satisfaction that comes from doing the will of God. There is truly nothing like it. It is what God intends for us when we become believers in Jesus Christ. Listen to the words in Ephesians 2:10.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Consider the Future

The next section describes the current difficult reality and calls the righteous to look beyond what they presently see and consider the destination of the two paths. The wicked may appear to have the upper hand over the righteous, but this will not always be the case. The righteous may appear to be oppressed and defeated constantly, but that is how the current situation appears. What will the future hold for these two ways? God promises a day of reckoning. He will vindicate the righteous and judge the wicked. Even though our current situation may be more difficult and painful, the future is a good one. It is glorious. For God knows the future, holds the future and will bring it all to pass. It is truly better with God. This was true when this psalm was written. It is also true when Paul wrote these words in Romans 8:18-25. And it is certainly true for us today.
Romans 8:18–25 ESV
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
The upside-down situation of the wicked and righteous can cause the righteous to assume that God is unaware of the situation. We may be tempted to think that God does not care. But this is inaccurate, for God knows all and deeply cares. The psalm writer reminds us that God promises to uphold those who suffer innocently for their obedience to him. God promises to uphold them, for God delights in the one who delights in Him. The righteous may not "have it all", but they have the One who is their "All in All". The text describes that the righteous may stumble. This is not pointing out the failure to obey God. Rather it describes the struggle that the righteous person endures. They may have consecutive moments when life is all good to be followed by moments when they are under the pressure of difficulty for their faith in God. But God is faithful. He promises to be with them and supply all their needs. They are encouraged to live in obedience because God will sustain them. And God will make good on His promises.

Describing two ways of living

In the next section, the writer describes the obedient lifestyle. The righteous one lives life with wise words and actions. The wicked spend their time seeking to increase their success and oppress the righteous. But the righteous keep their focus on obedience to God. Their life becomes increasingly conformed to godly character. Their life is guided by the sacred Word of God. Because they have built their lives on the solid rock, God ensures that they will not slip. Therefore, they can endure the storms of life. It may take a little time, a little longer than one expects, but God will bring it to pass. Therefore, the believer should be patient and wait upon God.

Restoring Confidence in God

The writer closes the psalm restating what he has learned by observing life over time. He may be older and wiser because he has seen how things eventually turned out. He knows that what he currently sees as a difficulty is only temporary. He has seen it repeated, and it will turn out exactly as God says. The wicked will be cut off, and the righteous will inherit the land. We just need to wait on the Lord.

Final Thoughts

Wisdom psalms present the only two choices we have as humans. We can choose the path of belief and obedience or the path of unbelief and disobedience. At times, we may find these two categories limiting. We may want a third or middle option instead of two hard directions. So why not have a little overlap and create a middle road that contains a little obedience, a little God, a little self-directed living, and a dash of human inconsistency? Proverbs 16:25 speaks about this option.
Proverbs 16:25 ESV
25 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Consider this illustration from the world of geometry. A line continues in one straight direction. If two lines start at the same point, they may not have the same destiny. A fraction of a degree moves the lines in different directions. The smallest deviation of direction may not seem like a big deal at first, but it will ultimately cause the two lines to become increasingly distant from each other.
God has established the way of righteousness. Any deviation of this path will lead increasingly away from Him.
After studying three wisdom Psalms (Psalm 1, Psalm 37, and Psalm 73) take some time to read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. You will notice that Jesus is echoing these psalms. Jesus taught the same wisdom of following the path of righteousness. But He brought the wisdom path to its ultimate destination by pointing to himself. The path of wisdom found in the Bible will ultimately lead us not to a location but to the person of Jesus Christ. Matthew 7:28
Matthew 7:28 ESV
28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,
The crowds were not astonished because of Jesus’ stage presentation or eloquence. They were astonished because He made himself the final authority. He did this because He is God. Obedience to His words is synonymous with following the righteous path of wisdom. The path of wisdom is only available by following Jesus Christ. Some may appear successful at life without Him, but there will be a day when they will discover how far they have deviated from the truth. May we follow the path of Wisdom and call others to do the same.
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