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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 37

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch


The Seeming Prosperity of the Wicked, and the Real Prosperity of the Godly

The bond of connection between Psalms 36:1-12 and 37 is their similarity of contents, which here and there extends even to accords of expression. The fundamental thought running through the whole Psalm is at once expressed in the opening verses: Do not let the prosperity of the ungodly be a source of vexation to thee, but wait on the Lord; for the prosperity of the ungodly will suddenly come to an end, and the issue determines between the righteous and the unrighteous. Hence Tertullian calls this Psalm providentiae speculum ; Isodore, potio contra murmur ; and Luther, vestis piorum, cui adscriptum: Hic Sanctorum patientia est (Revelation 14:12). This fundamental thought the poet does not expand in strophes of ordinary compass, but in shorter utterances of the proverbial form following the order of the letters of the alphabet, and not without some repetitions and recurrences to a previous thought, in order to impress it still more convincingly and deeply upon the mind. The Psalm belongs therefore to the series Ps 9 and Psalms 10:1, Psalms 25:1, Psalms 34:1, - all alphabetical Psalms of David, of whose language, cheering, high-flown, thoughtful, and at the same time so easy and unartificial, and withal elegant, this Psalm is fully worthy. The structure of the proverbial utterances is almost entirely tetrastichic; though ד , כ , and ק are tristichs, and ח (which is twice represented, though perhaps unintentionally), נ , and ת are pentastichs. The ע is apparently wanting; but, on closer inspection, the originally separated strophes ס and ע are only run into one another by the division of the verses. The ע strophe begins with לעולם , Psalms 37:28, and forms a tetrastich, just like the ס . The fact that the preposition ל stands before the letter next in order need not confuse one. The ת , Psalms 37:39, also begins with ותשׁועת . The homogeneous beginnings, זמם רשׁע , לוה רשׁע , צופה רשׁע , Psalms 37:12, Psalms 37:21, Psalms 37:32, seem, as Hitzig remarks, to be designed to give prominence to the pauses in the succession of the proverbial utterances.

Verses 1-2

Olshausen observes, “The poet keeps entirely to the standpoint of the old Hebrew doctrine of recompense, which the Book of Job so powerfully refutes.” But, viewed in the light of the final issue, all God's government is really in a word righteous recompense; and the Old Testament theodicy is only inadequate in so far as the future, which adjusts all present inconsistencies, is still veiled. Meanwhile the punitive justice of God does make itself manifest, as a rule, in the case of the ungodly even in the present world; even their dying is usually a fearful end to their life's prosperity. This it is which the poet means here, and which is also expressed by Job himself in the Book of Job, Job 27:1. With התחרה , to grow hot or angry (distinct from תּחרה , to emulate, Jeremiah 12:5; Jeremiah 22:15), alternates קנּא , to get into a glow, excandescentia , whether it be the restrained heat of sullen envy, or the incontrollable heat of impetuous zeal which would gladly call down fire from heaven. This first distich has been transferred to the Book of Proverbs, Proverbs 24:19, cf. Proverbs 23:17; Proverbs 24:1; Proverbs 3:31; and in general we may remark that this Psalm is one of the Davidic patterns for the Salomonic gnome system. The form ימּלוּ is, according to Gesenius, Olshausen, and Hitzig, fut. Kal of מלל , cognate אמל , they wither away, pausal form for ימּלוּ like יתּממוּ , Psalms 102:28; but the signification to cut off also is secured to the verb מלל by the Niph. נמל , Genesis 17:11, whence fut. ימּלוּ = ימּלּוּ ; vid., on Job 14:2; Job 18:16. ירק דּשׁא is a genitival combination: the green ( viror) of young vigorous vegetation.

Verses 3-4

The “land” is throughout this Psalm the promised possession ( Heilsgut), viz., the land of Jahve's presence, which has not merely a glorious past, but also a future rich in promises; and will finally, ore perfectly than under Joshua, become the inheritance of the true Israel. It is therefore to be explained: enjoy the quiet sure habitation which God gives thee, and diligently cultivate the virtue of faithfulness. The two imperatives in Psalms 37:3, since there are two of them (cf. Psalms 37:27) and the first is without any conjunctive Waw, have the appearance of being continued admonitions, not promises; and consequently אמוּנה is not an adverbial accusative as in Psalms 119:75 (Ewald), but the object to רעה , to pasture, to pursue, to practise (Syriac רדף , Hosea 12:2); cf. רעה , רע , one who interests himself in any one, or anything; Beduin râ‛â = ṣâḥb , of every kind of closer relationship ( Deutsch. Morgenländ. Zeitschr. v. 9). In Psalms 37:4, ויתן is an apodosis: delight in Jahve (cf. Job 22:26; Psalms 27:10; Isaiah 58:14), so will He grant thee the desire ( משׁאלת , as in Psalms 20:5) of thy heart; for he who, entirely severed from the creature, finds his highest delight in God, cannot desire anything that is at enmity with God, but he also can desire nothing that God, with whose will his own is thoroughly blended in love, would refuse him.

Verses 5-6

The lxx erroneously renders גּול (= גּל , Psalms 22:9) by ἀποκάλυψον instead of ἐπίῤῥιψον , 1 Peter 5:7: roll the burden of cares of thy life's way upon Jahve, leave the guidance of thy life entirely to Him, and to Him alone, without doing anything in it thyself: He will gloriously accomplish (all that concerns thee): עשׂה , as in Ps 22:32; 52:11; cf. Proverbs 16:3, and Paul Gerhardt's Befiehl du deine Wege, “Commit thou all thy ways,” etc. The perfect in Psalms 37:6 is a continuation of the promissory יעשׂה . הוציא , as in Jeremiah 51:10, signifies to set forth: He will bring to light thy misjudged righteousness like the light (the sun, Job 31:26; Job 37:21, and more especially the morning sun, Proverbs 4:18), which breaks through the darkness; and thy down-trodden right ( משׁפּטך is the pausal form of the singular beside Mugrash) like the bright light of the noon-day: cf. Isaiah 58:10, as on Psalms 37:4, Isaiah 58:14.

Verse 7

The verb דּמם , with its derivatives (Psalms 62:2, Psalms 62:6; Lamentations 3:28), denotes resignation, i.e., a quiet of mind which rests on God, renounces all self-help, and submits to the will of God. התחולל (from הוּל , to be in a state of tension, to wait) of the inward gathering of one's self together in hope intently directed towards God, as in B. Berachoth 30b is a synonym of התחונן , and as it were reflexive of חלּה of the collecting one's self to importunate prayer. With Psalms 37:7 the primary tone of the whole Psalm is struck anew. On Psalms 37:7 compare the definition of the mischief-maker in Proverbs 24:8.

Verses 8-9

On הרף (let alone), imper. apoc. Hiph., instead of הרפּה , vid., Ges. §75, rem. 15. אך להרע is a clause to itself (cf. Proverbs 11:24; Psalms 21:5; Psalms 22:16): it tends only to evil-doing, it ends only in thy involving thyself in sin. The final issue, without any need that thou shouldst turn sullen, is that the מרעים , like to whom thou dost make thyself by such passionate murmuring and displeasure, will be cut off, and they who, turning from the troublous present, make Jahve the ground and aim of their hope, shall inherit the land (vid., Psalms 25:13). It is the end, the final and consequently eternal end, that decides the matter.

Verses 10-11

The protasis in Psalms 37:10 is literally: adhuc parum ( temporis superest) , עוד מעט ו , as e.g., Exodus 23:30, and as in a similar connection מעט ו , Job 24:24. והתבּוננתּ also is a protasis with a hypothetical perfect, Ges. §155, 4, a. This promise also runs in the mouth of the Preacher on the Mount (Matthew 5:5) just as the lxx renders Psalms 37:11: οἱ δὲ πρᾳεῖς κληρονομήσουσι γῆν . Meekness, which is content with God, and renounces all earthly stays, will at length become the inheritor of the land, yea of the earth. Whatever God-opposed self-love may amass to itself and may seek to acquire, falls into the hands of the meek as their blessed possession.

Verses 12-13

The verb זמם is construed with ל of that which is the object at which the evil devices aim. To gnash the teeth (elsewhere also: with the teeth) is, as in Psalms 35:16, cf. Job 16:9, a gesture of anger, not of mockery, although anger and mockery are usually found together. But the Lord, who regards an assault upon the righteous as an assault upon Himself, laughs (Psalms 2:4) at the enraged schemer; for He, who orders the destinies of men, sees beforehand, with His omniscient insight into the future, his day, i.e., the day of his death (1 Samuel 26:10), of his visitation (Psalms 137:7, Obadiah 1:12, Jeremiah 50:27, Jeremiah 50:31).

Verses 14-15

That which corresponds to the “treading” or stringing of the bow is the drawing from the sheath or unsheathing of the sword: פּתח , Ezekiel 21:28, cf. Psalms 55:22. The combination ישׁרי־דּרך is just like תמימי־דוך , Psalms 119:1. The emphasis in Psalms 37:14 is upon the suffix of בלבּם : they shall perish by their own weapon. קשּׁתותם has (in Baer) a Shebâ dirimens , as also in Isaiah 5:28 in correct texts.

Verses 16-17

With Psalms 37:16 accord Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 16:8, cf. Tobit 12:8. The ל of לצּדּיק is a periphrastic indication of the genitive (Ges. §115). המון is a noisy multitude, here used of earthly possessions. רבּים is not per attract. (cf. Psalms 38:11, הם for הוּא ) equivalent to רב , but the one righteous man is contrasted with many unrighteous. The arms are here named instead of the bow in Psalms 37:15. He whose arms are broken can neither injure others nor help himself. Whereas Jahve does for the righteous what earthly wealth and human power cannot do: He Himself upholds them.

Verses 18-19

The life of those who love Jahve with the whole heart is, with all its vicissitudes, an object of His loving regard and of His observant providential care, Psalms 1:6; Psalms 31:8, cf. Psalms 16:1-11. He neither suffers His own to lose their heritage nor to be themselves lost to it. The αἰώνιος κληρονομία is not as yet thought of as extending into the future world, as in the New Testament. In Psalms 37:19 the surviving refers only to this present life.

Verse 20

With כּי the preceding assertion is confirmed by its opposite (cf. Psalms 130:4). כּיקר בּרים forms a fine play in sound; יקר is a substantivized adjective like גּדל ekil evitcejda , Exodus 15:16. Instead of בעשׁן , it is not to be read כּעשׁן , Hosea 13:3; the ב is secured by Psalms 102:4; Psalms 78:33. The idea is, that they vanish into smoke, i.e., are resolved into it, or also, that they vanish in the manner of smoke, which is first thick, but then becomes thinner and thinner till it disappears (Rosenmüller, Hupfeld, Hitzig); both expressions are admissible as to fact and as to the language, and the latter is commended by בּהבל , Psalms 78:33, cf. בּצלם , Psalms 39:7. בעשׁן belongs to the first, regularly accented כּלוּ ; for the Munach by בעשׂן is the substitute for Mugrash, which never can be used where at least two syllables do not precede the Silluk tone (vid., Psalter ii. 503). The second כּלוּ has the accent on the penult. for a change (Ew. §194, c), i.e., variation of the rhythm (cf. למה למה , Psalms 42:10; Psalms 43:2; עורי עורי , Judges 5:12, and on Psalms 137:7), and in particular here on account of its pausal position (cf. ערוּ , Psalms 137:7).

Verses 21-22

It is the promise expressed in Deuteronomy 15:6; Deuteronomy 28:12, Deuteronomy 28:44, which is rendered in Psalms 37:21 in the more universal, sententious form. לוה signifies to be bound or under obligation to any one = to borrow and to owe ( nexum esse). The confirmation of Psalms 37:22 is not inappropriate (as Hitzig considers it, who places Psalms 37:22 after Psalms 37:20): in that ever deeper downfall of the ungodly, and in that charitableness of the righteous, which becomes more and more easy to him by reason of his prosperity, the curse and blessing of God, which shall be revealed in the end of the earthly lot of both the righteous and the ungodly, are even now foretold. Whilst those who reject the blessing of God are cut off, the promise given to the patriarchs is fulfilled in the experience of those who are blessed of God, in all its fulness.

Verses 23-24

By Jahve ( מן , ἀπό , almost equivalent to ὑπό with the passive, as in Job 24:1; Ecclesiastes 12:11, and in a few other passages) are a man's steps made firm, established; not: ordered or directed (lxx, Jerome, κατευθύνεται ), which, according to the extant usage of the language, would be הוּכנוּ (passive of הכין , Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 10:23; 2 Chronicles 27:6), whereas כּוננוּ , the Pulal of כּונן , is to be understood according to Psalms 40:3. By גּבר is meant man in an emphatic sense (Job 38:3), and in fact in an ethical sense; compare, on the other hand, the expression of the more general saying, “Man proposes, and God disposes,” Proverbs 16:9; Proverbs 20:24; Jeremiah 10:23. Psalms 37:23 shows that it is the upright man that is meant in Psalms 37:23: to the way, i.e., course of life, of such an one God turns with pleasure ( יחפּץ pausal change of vowel for יחפּץ ): supposing he should fall, whether it be a fall arising from misfortune or from error, or both together, he is not prostrated, but Jahve upholds his hand, affords it a firm point of support or fulcrum (cf. תּמך בּ , Psalms 63:9, and frequently), so that he can raise himself again, rise up again.

Verses 25-26

There is an old theological rule: promissiones corporales intelligendae sunt cum exceptione crucis et castigationis . Temporary forsakenness and destitution the Psalm does not deny: it is indeed even intended to meet the conflict of doubt which springs up in the minds of the God-fearing out of certain conditions and circumstances that are seemingly contradictory to the justice of God; and this it does, by contrasting that which in the end abides with that which is transitory, and in fact without the knowledge of any final decisive adjustment in a future world; and it only solves its problem, in so far as it is placed in the light of the New Testament, which already dawns in the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Verses 27-29

Psalms 37:27-28

The round of the exhortations and promises is here again reached as in Psalms 37:3. The imperative שׁכן , which is there hortatory, is found here with the ו of sequence in the sense of a promise: and continue, doing such things, to dwell for ever = so shalt thou, etc. ( שׁכן , pregnant as in Ps 102:29, Isaiah 57:15). Nevertheless the imperative retains its meaning even in such instances, inasmuch as the exhortation is given to share in the reward of duty at the same time with the discharge of it. On Psalms 37:28 compare Psalms 33:5.

Psalms 37:28-29

The division of the verse is wrong; for the ס strophe, without any doubt, closes with חסדיו , and the ע eht dna strophe begins with לעולם , so that, according to the text which we possess, the ע of this word is the acrostic letter. The lxx, however, after εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα φυλαχθήσονται has another line, which suggests another commencement for the ע strophe, and runs in Cod. Vat., incorrectly, ἄμωμοι ἐκδικήσονται , in Cod. Alex., correctly, ἄνομοι δὲ ἐκδιωχθήσονται (Symmachus, ἄνομοι ἐξαρθήσονται ). By ἄνομος the lxx translates עריץ in Isaiah 29:20; by ἄνομα , עולה in Job 27:4; and by ἐκδιώκειν , הצמית , the synonym of השׁמיד , in Psalms 101:5; so that consequently this line, as even Venema and Schleusner have discerned, was עוּלים נשׁמדוּ . It will at once be seen that this is only another reading for לעולם נשׁמרו ; and, since it stands side by side with the latter, that it is an ancient attempt to produce a correct beginning for the ע strophe, which has been transplanted from the lxx into the text. It is, however, questionable whether this reparation is really a restoration of the original words (Hupfeld, Hitzig); since עוּל ( עויל ) is not a word found in the Psalms (for which reason Böttcher's conjecture of עשׁי עולה more readily commends itself, although it is critically less probable), and לעולם נשׁמרו forms a continuation that is more naturally brought about by the context and perfectly logical.

Verses 30-31

The verb הגה unites in itself the two meanings of meditating and of meditative utterance (vid., Psalms 2:1), just as אמר those of thinking and speaking. Psalms 37:31 in this connection affirms the stability of the moral nature. The walk of the righteous has a fixed inward rule, for the Tôra is to him not merely an external object of knowledge and a compulsory precept; it is in his heart, and, because it is the Tôra of his God whom he loves, as the motive of his actions closely united with his own will. On תּמעד , followed by the subject in the plural, compare Psalms 18:35; Psalms 73:2 Chethîb.

Verses 32-33

The Lord as ἀνακρίνων is, as in 1 Corinthians 4:3., put in contrast with the ἀνακρίνειν of men, or of human ἡμέρᾳ . If men sit in judgment upon the righteous, yet God, the supreme Judge, does not condemn him, but acquits him (cf. on the contrary Psalms 109:7). Si condemnamur a mundo , exclaimed Tertullian to his companions in persecution, absolvimur a Deo .

Verse 34

Let the eye of faith directed hopefully to Jahve go on its way, without suffering thyself to be turned aside by the persecution and condemnation of the world, then He will at length raise thee out of all trouble, and cause thee to possess ( לרשׁת , ut possidas et possideas ) the land, as the sole lords of which the evil-doers, now cut off, conducted themselves.

Verses 35-36

עריץ (after the form צדּיק ) is coupled with רשׁע , must as these two words alternate in Job 15:20: a terror-inspiring, tyrannical evil-doer; cf. besides also Job 5:3. The participle in Psalms 37:35 forms a clause by itself: et se diffundens , scil. erat. The lxx and Jerome translate as though it were כארז הלבנן , “like the cedars of Lebanon,” instead of כאזרח רענן . But אזרח רענן is the expression for an oak, terebinth, or the like, that has brown from time immemorial in its native soil, and has in the course of centuries attained a gigantic size in the stem, and a wide-spreading overhanging head. ויּעבר does not mean: then he vanished away (Hupfeld and others); for עבר in this sense is not suitable to a tree. Luther correctly renders it: man ging vorüber , one (they) passed by, Ges. §137, 3. The lxx, Syriac, and others, by way of lightening the difficulty, render it: then I passed by.

Verses 37-38

תּם might even be taken as neuter for תּם , and ישׂר for ישׁר ; but in this case the poet would have written רעה instead of ראה ; שׁמר is therefore used as, e.g., in 1 Samuel 1:12. By כּי that to which attention is specially called is introduced. The man of peace has a totally different lot from the evil-doer who delights in contention and persecution. As the fruit of his love of peace he has אחרית , a future, Proverbs 23:18; Proverbs 24:14, viz., in his posterity, Proverbs 24:20; whereas the apostates are altogether blotted out; not merely they themselves, but even the posterity of the ungodly is cut off, Amos 4:2; Amos 9:1; Ezekiel 23:25. To them remains no posterity to carry forward their name, their אחרית is devoted to destruction (cf. Psalms 109:13 with Numbers 24:20).

Verses 39-40

The salvation of the righteous cometh from Jahve; it is therefore characterized, in accordance with its origin, as sure, perfect, and enduring for ever. מעוּזּם is an apposition; the plena scriptio serves, as in 2 Samuel 22:33, to indicate to us that מעוז is meant in this passage to signify not a fortress, but a hiding-place, a place of protection, a refuge, in which sense Arab. ma'âd‛llh (the protection of God) and m‛âḏwjh‛llh (the protection of God's presence) is an Arabic expression (also used as a formula of an oath); vid., moreover on Psalms 31:3. The moods of sequence in Psalms 37:40 are aoristi gnomici. The parallelism in Psalms 37:40 is progressive after the manner of the Psalms of degrees. The short confirmatory clause kichā'subo forms an expressive closing cadence.

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 37". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/psalms-37.html. 1854-1889.
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