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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 37

 

 

Verse 1
PSALM 37

RIGHTEOUS REWARDED; WICKED PUNISHED

This interesting acrostic psalm has long been a popular reservoir for the selection of memory verses. Hymns have been written on some of the statements here, notably, the one, "John Wesley translated from the German, `Commit Thou All Thy Griefs,' or (in some hymnals) `Put Thou Thy Trust in God.'"[1] Also Felix Mendelssohn's "O Rest in the Lord" (in the Oratorio `Elijah') is based upon this chapter.

There is no sufficient grounds for setting aside the assignment of the psalm to David in the superscription; and, if indeed, he wrote it, it seems likely that it is one of the psalms from his old age, based upon Psalms 37:25.

"The theme of the Psalm is stated in the very first line, `Fret not thyself because of the wicked.' This is repeated in Psalms 37:7b and Psalms 37:8."[2]

The design or the purpose of the psalm was described by Rawlinson:

"The object of this poem is to reassure men whose minds are disturbed by the fact of the frequent prosperity of the wicked, and to convince them that in every case retribution will overtake the ungodly man at the last, and to impress upon men that the condition of the righteous, even when they suffer, is far preferable to that of the wicked, what ever prosperity they may enjoy."[3]

For purposes of this study, we shall break the forty verses of this chapter down into these paragraphs, as suggested by Leupold.[4]

(1) Counsel against irritation over evil-doers (Psalms 37:1-2). (2) The need of trust in the Lord (Psalms 37:3-7). (3) Further reasons for avoiding irritation (Psalms 37:8-11). (4) The futility of the wrongdoers' activity (Psalms 37:12-15). (5) The righteous and the wicked contrasted (Psalms 37:16-22). (6). The blessings enjoyed by the righteous (Psalms 37:23-28). (7) Further marks of the righteous (Psalms 37:29-34). (8). Final contrast between the righteous and the wicked (Psalms 37:35-40).

FRET NOT THYSELF OVER EVIL-DOERS

Psalms 37:1-2

"Fret not thyself because of evil-doers.

Neither be thou envious against them that work unrighteousness.

For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,

And wither as the green herb."

"Fret not thyself, etc." (Psalms 37:1). This entire verse is quoted almost verbatim in Proverbs 24:19; and there's also an obvious reference to it in Proverbs 23:17.

Some have deplored the fact that David in his dealings with the problem of the prosperity of the wicked did not have the advantage of the New Testament teaching regarding the ultimate rewards of the righteous in heaven and the eternal punishment of the wicked following the Final Judgment.

Of course, it must be admitted that Old Testament writers indeed had much less information than Christians about such things; but the psalmist's words as they appear in this chapter are fully adequate. "His faith that infinite love rules the universe, that righteousness is always gain, and that wickedness is always loss is grandly and eternally true."[5]

Also, it should be pointed out that faith in the resurrection of the dead belonged to "all the Old Testament saints." The writer of Hebrews noted all of the things that so many of those saints suffered, and `Why did they do it'? The answer is, "That they might obtain a better resurrection"! (Hebrews 11:35).

DeHoff's commentary on this is that, "This psalm teaches that the prosperity of the wicked is superficial and temporary, and that those who trust in God may be certain that, finally, they will be the ones who are blessed,"[6]

Verse 3
NEED OF TRUST IN THE LORD

"Trust in Jehovah, and do good;

Dwell in the land and feed on his faithfulness.

Delight thyself also in Jehovah;

And he will give thee the desires of thy heart.

Commit thy way unto Jehovah;

Trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass.

And he will make thy righteousness go forth as the light,

And the justice as the noonday.

Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for him:

Fret not thyself because of him that prospereth in his way,

Because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass."

That marvelous aria from Mendelssohn's Elijah, gives Psalms 37:7 here, along with Psalms 37:1, as the scriptural basis of the words of the aria, which are as follows:

"O rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him.

And He shall give thee thy heart's desires.

Commit thy ways unto Him, and trust in Him,

And fret not thyself because of evil-doers."SIZE>

Every Christian, at one time or another, has marvelled at the success and prosperity of men who are openly profane and wicked; and it is that problem with which the psalmist is dealing.

God's people are repeatedly warned not to "fret." That means not to become irritated, angry, disturbed, or upset by what must appear to many as an injustice. The caution is that we should, `wait,' `trust in the Lord,' `commit our way unto God,' and `rest' in Him. And what will God do? He will continue his `faithfulness' toward us; he will give us the desires of our hearts (according to the margin, this means the things we have prayed for); he will `bring it to pass'; and he will `make the righteous go forth as the light' and the justice of his saints to shine as the noon sun."

These are among the most magnificent promises in the Bible, and God's people can afford to trust them.

Verse 8
REASONS FOR NOT FRETTING OVER EVIL-DOERS

"Cease from anger, and forsake wrath:

Fret not thyself, it tendeth only to evil-doing.

For evil-doers shall be cut off;

But those that wait for Jehovah, they shall inherit the land.

For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be:

Yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and he shall not be.

But the meek shall inherit the land,

And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."

"Yet a little while, and the wicked shall be cut off" (Psalms 37:9), There is very likely a double meaning here. A lifetime on this earth is indeed a very brief time; and that fact is surely in view here; but the whole period of probation of mankind, which is concurrently extensive with the Christian dispensation is also but "a little time." The Lord has told us through the apostle John, that "The devil has great wrath (against mankind), knowing that he hath but a short time" (Revelation 12:12).

"And he shall not be" (Psalms 37:10). The marginal reading is that, "It shall not be," meaning that the place of the wicked shall not be found. Without this change, the meaning is simply that, "He (the wicked) shall not be found in his place."

"They shall inherit the land" (Psalms 37:9) The meek shall inherit the earth (v. 11). It should be noted that we have substituted the word "earth" for "land" in Psalms 37:11, for two reasons: (1) The Septuagint (LXX) renders it "earth"; and when Jesus Christ quoted from this chapter, he deliberately chose the reading, "The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). It is our opinion that the preference of the Blessed Saviour should be allowed here (and everywhere, for that matter). It could not possibly have been an accident that Jesus used the word "earth." The Septuagint (LXX) has "land" in Psalms 37:9, and `earth' in Psalms 37:11; and Christ obviously, therefore, deliberately selected the correct rendition

It is not true that the "meek shall inherit the land of Canaan," the meaning usually assigned by scholars to "land" in this context, but they shall inherit "the earth." Of course, there are suggestions in this of that "new heavens and a new earth" promised through the apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:13).

Verse 12
THE FUTILITY OF THE WRONGDOER'S ACTIVITY

"The wicked plotteth against the just

And gnasheth upon him with his teeth.

The Lord will laugh at him;

For he seeth that his day is coming.

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

To cast down the poor and needy,

To slay such as are upright in the way.

Their sword shall enter into their own heart,

And their bows shall be broken."

"And gnasheth on him with their teeth" (Psalms 37:12). The technical meaning here is "grinding their teeth,"[7] which is an animalistic expression of fanatical rage and hatred. The mob that stoned Stephen did this (Acts 7:54).

"He seeth that his day is coming" (Psalms 37:13). "`His day,' here is the judgment day."[8] Although the Old Testament does not have nearly as much teaching about the Judgment Day as the New Testament, yet the conception is locked into every page of it, There were many false ideas about the Judgment Day, which Amos attempted to correct in his famous description of it (Amos 5:18-20).

The ultimate defeat and overthrow of the wicked envisioned here is not something in which God would intervene and accomplish, but an overthrow already on the way. God "sees it coming" and merely laughs at the futile devices of the wicked.

Verse 16
THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED CONTRASTED

"Better is a little that the righteous hath

Than the abundance of many wicked.

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken;

But Jehovah upholdeth the righteous.

Jehovah knoweth the days of the perfect;

And the days of their inheritance shall be forever.

They shall not be put to shame in the time of evil;

And in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.

But the wicked shall perish,

And the enemies of Jehovah shall be as the fat of lambs.

They shall consume; in smoke shall they consume away.

The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again;

But the righteous dealeth graciously, and giveth.

For such as are blessed of him shall inherit the land;

And they that are cursed of him shall be cut off."

As Ash noted, "Throughout the remainder of this psalm, either the righteous or the wicked are mentioned in practically every verse."[9]

"Better than the abundance of the wicked" (Psalms 37:16). As Spurgeon noted, "For a wicked heart, the whole world is not enough."[10] The greed, envy, and covetousness that eat like a cancer in the heart of the wicked are insatiable, while the child of God learns with the apostles that "godliness with contentment" is great gain.

"The enemies of Jehovah shall be as the fat of lambs" (Psalms 37:20). We are certain that the RSV rendition of this place is erroneous. It reads, "The enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures." (1) "The Hebrew word here commonly and properly means `lamb'; but it also may mean the meadow or pasture where lambs feed."[11] This is another instance in which translators deliberately choose the least appropriate meaning in a situation of multiple choices. The fact that the common and ordinary meaning of the word here is `lamb' strongly favors the American Standard Version rendition.

(2) But that is not all. The genius of Hebrew poetry has the advantage of repeating the meaning in the next line; and here that settles the matter. The reason why God's enemies are like the fat of lambs is that they shall eventually be burned up, just like the fat of the sacrifices was always burned (See Exodus 29:13-25). Notice how that thought is echoed in the next clause: "They shall consume; in smoke shall they consume away"!

What are the grounds, then, upon which the RSV rejected the ancient versions and came up with their recent change? It is here stated by Rawlinson:

"Both translations are tenable; but the RSV is preferable, since the consumption of the fat of lambs upon the altar is connected with the idea, not of rejection, but of acceptance."[12]

To us this excuse is absolutely untenable as any adequate explanation of the RSV error. Some of the scholars try to make the new translation fit, by pointing out that sometimes pastures had to be burned off; and that, of course, would harmonize with the `smoke' in the second clause; but lambs do not feed in a pasture that is being `burned off.' Furthermore, the new rendition speaks of "the glory of the pastures"; and where do they get that?

Verse 23
BLESSINGS ENJOYED BY THE RIGHTEOUS

"A man's goings are established of Jehovah;

And he delighteth in his way.

Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;

For Jehovah upholdeth him with his hand.

I have been young, and now I am old;

Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken,

Nor his seed begging bread.

All day long he dealeth graciously and lendeth;

And his seed is blessed.

Depart from evil, and do good;

And dwell forevermore.

For Jehovah loveth justice,

And forsaketh not his saints;

They are preserved forever:

But the seed of the wicked shall be cut off."

"Though he fall ... not utterly cast down" (Psalms 37:24). Several of the lines here are echoed in the words of the apostle Paul who wrote: "Perplexed, yet not unto despair, pursued yet nor forsaken, smitten down, yet not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:9). Also, "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:10).

"I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread" (Psalms 37:25). The appearance of this personal testimony by David right in the heart of this psalm is quite unusual. In fact, Yates referred to it as "unique."[13] Whether or not David intended this to be understood as an invariable law of God or not may be open to question; but many have accepted it as a valid promise, as did my own father. Also, Dr. DeHoff wrote; "I have traveled in many lands, and my own observation matches that of David."[14]

Verse 29
FURTHER MARKS OF THE RIGHTEOUS

"The righteous shall inherit the land,

And dwell therein forever.

The mouth of the righteous talketh of wisdom,

And his tongue speaketh justice.

The law of his God is in his heart;

None of his steps shall slide.

The wicked watcheth the righteous,

And seeketh to slay him.

Jehovah will not leave him in his hand,

Nor condemn him when he is judged.

Wait for Jehovah, and keep his way,

And he will exalt thee to inherit the land:

When the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it."

"The righteous shall inherit the land" (Psalms 37:29). Rawlinson pointed out that this same thought, or its equivalent appears in Psalms 37:3,9,11,18,22,28, and 34.[15]

"The wicked watcheth the righteous to slay him" (Psalms 37:32)

"... When the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it" (Psalms 37:34). We like Yates' comment on this: "Here are contrasts of retribution. Whereas the wicked now watch for an opportunity to trap the righteous, in the future, the righteous will have their chance to watch. The end of the upright is peace, but the end of the wicked is destruction."[16]

"Nor condemn him when he is judged" (Psalms 37:33). This is God's promise to the effect that human judgments against the righteous are of no account. God is the final arbiter of what is right and wrong; and he will execute justice upon behalf of his people.

Verse 35
FINAL CONTRAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED

"I have seen the wicked in great power,

And spreading himself like a green tree in its native soil.

But one passed by, and, lo, he was not:

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

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright;

For there is a happy end to the man of peace,

As for transgressors, they shall be destroyed together:

The end of the wicked shall be cut off.

But the salvation of the righteous is of Jehovah:

He is their stronghold in the time of trouble..

But Jehovah helpeth them and rescueth them:

He rescueth them from the wicked, and saveth them,

Because they have taken refuge in him."

The history of mankind is loaded with one "big bad wolf" after another; but where are they now? No wicked man, who by definition is on a collision course with disaster, due to his rebellion against God, can rightfully anticipate anything else, other than destruction. It is only a matter of time, and not very much time at that, until someone may say, "I sought him, but he could not be found."

Mark the perfect man (Psalms 37:37). Here again, we are aided in determining the meaning of `perfect.' It is explained in the next clause, "Behold the upright." Every saint of God is perfect in relation to the wicked among whom he lives. "In this respect, it is said of Noah that, "He was a perfect man in his generation."[17]

On Psalms 37:37-40, McCaw pointed out that, "All transgressors are to be destroyed; there is no possible future for any wicked man. But let everyone take note of what happens to the man who is upright and godly; there is indeed a future for him, and for his posterity."[18]

"The end of the wicked shall be cut off" (Psalms 37:38). This means that "The posterity of the wicked shall also be cut off."[19]

According to Maclaren, this naturally forms the end of this psalm right here, "But the poet will not leave the stern words of destruction as his last. Therefore, he adds a sweet, long, drawn-out close, like the calm extended clouds, that lie motionless in the western sky after a day of storm."[20]

"Jehovah helpeth ... rescueth ... saveth ... because they have taken refuge in him" (Psalms 37:39,40). How glorious are the promises of the Lord to them who love him!

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 37:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=037". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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