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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 37

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-6


This psalm instructs the believing remnant about the ways of God in the time when Israel is being purified (Malachi 3:3). It is a wisdom psalm, comparable to the book of Proverbs. Its form is the acrostic, because each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is not quite perfect in form, as an indication that the perfect is yet to come.

The instruction is given by comparing the ways and characteristics of the wicked with those of the righteous. It is the recurring theme of Psalm 1. In terms of content, this psalm can be compared to and is thus a continuation of Psalm 36.

The psalm is an encouragement to the remnant in the end times, and also to the believers now, to wait for God. Then they will not let themselves be confused by paying attention to the temporary prosperity of the wicked who surround them. The psalm shows that eventually the wicked will be exterminated and the righteous will possess the earth as an inheritance given to them by God. It will go well for the righteous and bad for the wicked. The emphasis is on the faithful remnant of Israel who will ultimately inherit the realm of peace (Psalms 37:3; Psalms 37:9Psalms 37:11; Psalms 37:22Psalms 37:34).

Trust in God

For “[a Psalm] of David” (Psalms 37:1) see at Psalm 3:1.

David begins the psalm without introduction or polite phrases. If there is danger, like fire for example, you immediately start shouting ‘fire, fire!’ Here the faithful are exposed to a great danger: to envy the unbelievers (cf. Proverbs 23:17; Proverbs 24:1Proverbs 24:19).

The psalmist begins directly with the core of his theme by exhorting the righteous not to not fret because of evildoers and not to envy those who do wrong (Psalms 37:1; Proverbs 24:19). When we fret, it shows that we do not trust God. When we become jealous of someone, envy someone for something, it is even worse, because then we are thinking only of ourselves. Deep down, it means that we have no understanding of the ways of God. This is elaborated in Psalm 73 (Psalms 73:1-Esther :).

It is necessary to live with the peace of God in our hearts in the midst of evil. We are living in the midst of people who seem to be able to go their way undisturbed at the expense of others, without being stopped. The righteous can get upset about this. But, says David, he should not do that.

It is unnecessary and pointless, because evildoers are only allowed a short stay on earth and then it is over and done for them (Psalms 37:2). They will wither quickly like the grass, and they will fade like the green herb (Psalms 103:15-Nehemiah :; 1 Peter 1:24; James 1:9-1 Kings :). The grass is a picture of the unbelieving part of the people, looking green and prosperous (Isaiah 40:6-Ruth :). David here highlights life from the perspective of eternity and from the perspective of the indirect government of God in view of the prophecies.

David has not only a negative warning in Psalms 37:1-Exodus :, but also a positive encouragement to trust in the LORD and walk with Him (Isaiah 26:4). He directs the eye of the righteous above the earthly scene to God in Psalms 37:3. Let him trust Him and do good. This is the proper response to the prevailing evil. First, it is important to trust God and then to do good. Doing good in the midst of evil gives glory to God. It is what Christ did in His life on earth. To us it is said: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary“ (Galatians 6:9).

Instead of harboring self-pity or bitterness, wisdom points us to growing confidence in the LORD. The Old Testament believer – as well as the faithful remnant in the future – is exhorted “dwell in the land and feed faithfulness”. “Feed faithfulness” – which is a better translation than “cultivate faithfulness” – means to give food to faithfulness that it can grow. Faithfulness is not food with which a person can feed himself. Faithfulness is a fundamental attitude in which a person has to grow, which becomes visible in his comings and goings.

He who feeds faithfulness, who grows in faithfulness, will not worry about the wicked around him or envy them. His task is to see the land given to him by God as his home. He cannot yet fully enjoy it, but he lives there. For us, we live in the heavenlies and there we can enjoy all the blessings that have been given to us. This will keep us from focusing on the prosperity of this world.

He who focusses on faithfulness will have rest and peace in his hearts in the midst of evil. This is true for all believers in all times. Faithfulness is the most important thing in the life of the believer and is rewarded by the Lord with giving him entrance into His joy (Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:23).

That joy can be enjoyed right now. We hear that in the exhortation to “delight yourself in the LORD” (Psalms 37:4). That is our strength (Nehemiah 8:11) and also gives rich reward. For God then gives what our heart desires. If the heart delights in God, the desires of the heart will not be selfish, but will be aimed at honoring and glorifying God.

The third exhortation is to commit our way to the LORD and trust in Him (Psalms 37:5; 1 Peter 5:7). The Hebrew word implies the rolling of something that is large and heavy. This makes it clear that it is not easy and light to trust in the Lord in the midst of our problems.

If we roll our life’s journey with all its burdens and difficulties, with everything that weighs on us, on Him, He will bear it all. It is also important to commit it to Him with the confidence that it is in good hands. We can then let go, even if it seems that something is not going well. The way He determines is good. In the process we may trust that He will do it, that is, that He will do what He has promised, even if sometimes it seems that things are going completely the wrong way.

What He has promised is to bring forth our righteousness as the light (Psalms 37:6). That happens when the LORD starts acting in accordance with His intentions and promises. That is as certain and as shining as the coming of the morning light. He will make our judgment shine as the noonday. Now it is still our portion to be treated unjustly and to endure injustice. Until He openly justifies us, we may, following the Lord Jesus, surrender everything and ourselves to Him Who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23).

Verses 7-11

The Earth Is for the Humble

Because the situation promised in Psalms 37:6 is delayed, there is a great danger that the believer will pay attention to the prosperity of the wicked (Psalms 73:3). He should not do that. It is important to be silent in confidence in God’s presence and to wait for Him, that is, to wait for His time (Psalms 37:7). It is a silence of quiet confidence in the presence of God in the expectation of His intervention (cf. Psalms 62:5-Joshua :). Complaining turns into unbelief, doubt and bitterness when the eye is no longer on God, but on the wicked and their prosperity. Those people have made cunning plans and they also carry them out successfully (Psalms 73:4-1 Samuel :).

Don’t let what you see around you make you mad, says David (Psalms 37:8). Stop being angry with God, regain your composure, calm down. Let go of your grimness, don’t give it any more attention. Come to yourself. Igniting in anger accomplishes nothing. On the contrary, it leads “only to evildoing”. In your anger you say things or do things that harm others and yourself and bring dishonor to God. You only make things worse by doing so and become equal to the evildoers.

Now follows a promise with two sides: judgment on evildoers, they will be cut off, and blessing on those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land, that is, enter the realm of peace (Psalms 37:9). What we need to do is trust God in His Word. He has said that the wicked will be cut off. It doesn’t look like it yet at first glance, but He will do it. In contrast to this is what the humble will possess. That is, according to His promise, to “inherit the land”. Do we trust Him? If so, that will determine our attitude toward evil.

To underscore and elaborate and deepen what he said in Psalms 37:9, David repeats in other words in the next two verses how it will end with the wicked man on the one hand and the humble on the other. As for the wicked man, it is “yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more” (Psalms 37:10). Literally, ‘just a moment, and the wicked man is gone’. Take another good look at his place and consider that it will soon be empty. Nothing will remain of him and all his power, possession and prestige. There will be nothing left of him. Not only will the wicked man himself disappear, but so will everything that reminds one of him. So, just bear with the wicked man for a little while longer that they are doing well. The end of their prosperity is in sight.

As for the humble – Hebrew anawim, those who are oppressed and nevertheless put their trust in the LORD – it is just a little while before they “will inherit the land” (Psalms 37:11). For them, that will mean that they “will delight themselves in abundant prosperity”. Therefore, just a little while persevere, just a little while longer endure suffering, and then the time of joy and peace will begin that will last a thousand years and continue for eternity. It is a great peace, an atmosphere of only peace, and in that atmosphere they delight, it is all joy.

The Lord Jesus quotes the first line of Psalms 37:11 in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:5). Gentleness is the feature of the remnant in the end times (Zephaniah 2:3). It is also what should characterize us. We can learn this from the Lord Jesus (Matthew 11:29). It means that in the midst of tribulation we do not rebel, but put our trust in Him, in quiet expectation of His redemption, having the conviction that the promised inheritance will be given to us (1 Peter 1:3-Deuteronomy :).

Verses 12-22

The Wicked Opposite to the Righteous

So far everything is abstract, the contrast between the ungodly and the righteous is discussed in terms of doctrine. Psalms 37:12-Ezekiel : are practical, the contrast is now made tangible in everyday life.

This section takes a closer look at the contrast described in Psalms 37:10-1 Kings :. This deals with the actions of the wicked and God’s response to them. The first contrast is in Psalms 37:12-1 Chronicles :. The wicked is continually devising vicious plans “against the righteous” (Psalms 37:12), which is the same as the humble one of Psalms 37:11 and Psalms 37:14. As he plots to kill the righteous (Psalms 37:14), he gnashes with his teeth at him (cf. Psalms 35:16). This indicates that inwardly he is very angry with him, he is full of hatred towards him.

The Lord, Adonai, the sovereign Ruler, is totally unimpressed with what the wicked plots and does against the righteous one (Psalms 37:13). While the wicked gnashes with his teeth, He laughs at him, so ridiculous is what the wicked is doing (cf. Psalms 2:1-Numbers :). After all, it is supreme folly to turn against Him and utter shortsightedness because the day of judgment is coming on his foolish schemes. The Lord sees “his day”, his end (cf. Psalms 73:17), which is the day when the wicked will be judged, ahead and the righteous must continue to see it.

The second contrast is in Psalms 37:14-Ezra :. The wicked begin the execution of their plans. They “have drawn the sword and bent their bow” (Psalms 37:14). This speaks of the power of the wicked: the sword to kill nearby and bow and arrow to kill at a distance. However, the power (arm) of the wicked will be broken (Psalms 37:15; Psalms 37:17).

Their intention is to “to cast down the afflicted and the needy” and “to slay those who are upright in conduct”. ‘Slay’ is a word often used for the slaughter of cattle. This is how the wicked see the righteous (cf. Psalms 44:22). But God ensures that “their sword will enter their own heart” and that “their bows will be broken” (Psalms 37:15). Their own hearts will be affected because that is where all their wickedness comes from.

The third contrast is in Psalms 37:16-Esther :. In Psalms 37:16, “the little of the righteous” is compared to “the abundance of many wicked”. The outcome is also given directly: What the righteous has is “better” than what the wicked have. The reason is given in Psalms 37:17: “the arms of the wicked will be broken”, so that he has no power to use sword and bow against the righteous, nor to bring any more of his abundance to his mouth with his hand. On the other hand, the righteous enjoys the support of God in the little that he has. He does not need to have a powerful arm, for his God helps him. Surely it cannot be a question of who is better off, can it?

The fourth contrast is in Psalms 37:18-Proverbs :. “The LORD knows the days of the blameless” because they live with Him (Psalms 37:18). They are sincere, they desire to do His will. God watches their lives day by day with His loving care. He is interested in everything that happens in their lives on a daily basis and helps them.

Their days have no end. The LORD sees the day of the wicked (singular) (Psalms 37:13), but of the righteous, the pious, the upright, He knows their days (plural). What they have been promised by the LORD in terms of inheritance “will be forever”. They will enjoy their inheritance fully and all days in the realm of peace.

This also means that “they will not be ashamed in the time of evil” (Psalms 37:19). After all, the LORD knows them. Also “in the days of famine they will have abundance”. This does not mean that they will always have enough bread, but that they will experience His fellowship in their need. They are not dependent on external circumstances; even disasters cannot prevent the LORD from continuing to provide for them (cf. Psalms 1:3). It is not primarily about material satisfaction, but spiritual satisfaction.

Very different things will happen to the wicked (Psalms 37:20). They will perish. For them there is no realm of peace, but eternal judgment. They are called “the enemies of the LORD”, for that is what they are in their mind and attitude. What remains of them is smoke that vanishes. Just as “the glory of the pastures”. In Hebrew, it says the most precious of the karim. This word can be translated “rams” or “fields. The latter is probably best, i.e., the flowers of the field. The wicked are compared to grass and the flowers of the field (Psalms 37:2; Isaiah 40:6). This speaks of perishability.

The fifth contrast is in Psalms 37:21-Song of Solomon :. The wicked never have enough. They borrow and keep borrowing, without paying back a cent (Psalms 37:21). Very different is the case with the righteous. He gives, and not only that, he gives with his heart, for he gives out of compassion to those in need. Here it is not important whether he is materially rich or poor. He gives because he is a righteous person. He desires to give because he has God’s nature, and God is a Giver (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 9:15).

They can be generous because they have been “blessed by Him” and will “inherit the land” (Psalms 37:22). This verse means that God will ultimately fulfill His promise of the land in accordance with His covenant. What will we worry about accumulating a lot of property now and keeping it for ourselves when we know that we will soon receive an entire inheritance? The wicked live only for themselves and pretend to own the earth. They do not realize that they are “cursed by Him” and “will be cut off”. This too is in accordance with the covenant: that the curse comes upon those who break the covenant.

Verses 23-28

Not Forsaken

It is a great blessing to be able to know that “the steps of a man”, that is of the righteous man, are “are established by the LORD” (Psalms 37:23). God sees to it that the righteous is led by Him in circumstances in which the way is no longer visible. In the way of that righteous, He finds His joy. God has found this joy perfectly in the way the Lord Jesus went on earth. He has let Himself be guided by His God in everything. Therefore we can be called upon to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21).

If we realize to some extent that the world is full of traps and pitfalls, the knowledge that God is establishing our steps will fill us with great thankfulness. We are then in His way. We go that way when we let ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Then, like Moses, we will ask God: “Let me know Your ways” (Exodus 33:13). Moses does not ask for a way, but Your ways, God’s ways.

Even though the righteous may fall (Psalms 37:24), he will not be hurled headlong, for the LORD is the One Who holds his hand (cf. Proverbs 20:24; Proverbs 24:16; Deuteronomy 33:27). When a person goes God’s way, he may stumble in it, or commit a sin. But he will not remain laying down, for the LORD will restore him. He will not be cast away, for he may count on the support of God.

David is speaking from experience (Psalms 37:25). He is “old” now, but has not forgotten that he has also “been young”. Throughout his life, he has “not seen the righteous forsaken”. It does not mean that a believer has no problems. God has not promised us an easy journey, but He has promised us a safe arrival. This is a great encouragement for a believer to persevere. All the while David is being pursued by Saul, God has always provided him and his men with what they need. The same is true for their children.

To experience God’s provision is to experience His mercies. Those who realize this will themselves begin to act that way toward others (Psalms 37:26). Whoever is blessed and gives God the credit for that, will distribute his blessing to others. He doesn’t do that now and then, but “all day long”. He “is gracious and lends” and continues to do so all the time. This will be continued by “his descendants”. The blessing that the righteous receives goes from generation to generation. His children have seen how he has lived in fellowship with God. They follow him in this and in turn are also “a blessing”. They are blessed and a blessing to others.

There is also another side to this: there must be a departing from evil (Psalms 37:27). Evil in this context consists of not keeping the covenant of God, thereby forfeiting the promised blessing. To depart from evil must be followed by doing “good”. This includes keeping God’s covenant with Abraham. Doing good means doing what God expects. For the faithful remnant, the consequence is that they will abide forever, which means they will inhabit the earth forever, which is the fulfillment of the land promise God made to Abraham. For us it means that we will receive the inheritance that has been reserved for us in heaven.

Abiding forever is, as it were, a reward from the LORD. He gives it, because He “loves justice” (Psalms 37:28). By virtue of right He gives it to them. At the same time, He abides with His godly ones. This expression makes it clear that they are objects of His favor, of His grace. They receive the blessing, not because they are better than the wicked, but because He has spared them according to the election of His grace.

Again, we find the Hebrew chasidim, or godly ones, namely those who are faithful to the covenant with the LORD. These are the ones who will receive the blessings of the LORD, from generation to generation. And since the LORD is also faithful to His covenant, the LORD can never forsake His godly ones. In accordance with the same covenant, the wicked, those who violate the covenant, will be cut off.

Being a godly one of the LORD entails even more blessing: “They are preserved forever.” He also holds His protective hand over them and preserves them so that they will be able to enjoy what He has promised them. What happens to “the descendants of the wicked” is in sharp contrast to this: they “will be cut off”. Anyone who sees this contrast well will not envy or get excited about the temporary prosperity of the wicked.

Verses 29-33

Features of the Righteous

David – in fact the Holy Spirit – exhausts himself to show the righteous what their real blessings and features are. Once again he points out to the righteous that they will inherit the land and dwell in it forever (Psalms 37:29). As so often, this is about the fulfillment of the promise of the land as promised in the covenant with Abraham.

The fulfillment takes place when the Messiah has come and reigns. All the enemy powers have been judged. There is no longer any threat that they will be chased out of their land again. There is no threat around them or in them, for in them is the law of God, as Psalms 37:31 says.

That perspective will guide the righteous in his life now, while he is still living in the midst of evil. His “mouth … utters wisdom” (Psalms 37:30). The wisdom of the righteous is that he looks to the end of the wicked (Psalms 73:17). Therefore, he does not become envious of his short-lived prosperity. This is expressed in the following verses. The wise man knows what to say. It is worthwhile to listen carefully to what he says, because it helps to choose the right path. In what he says, nothing is twisted or crooked, for “his tongue speaks justice”. He tells what is just to God and to men.

The righteous speaks this way because “the law of his God is in his heart” (Psalms 37:31). Only when the heart is full of the law – the Word of God – can a person open his mouth and utter wisdom and justice (Psalms 37:30). The heart is the center of existence, from which everything he does flows (Proverbs 4:23). God’s law governs him in all his thinking and deliberations and in all his speaking and acting.

Here we think immediately of the Lord Jesus, Who says: “Your law is within My heart” (Psalms 40:8). He is the Righteous par excellence. We see here that this is true of every righteous person. To us, New Testament believers, it is said: “Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians 3:16).

The “steps” of him in whom the law i.e. the Word of Christ or of God is in the heart, “do not slip”. He who allows himself to be led by God’s Word, walks with steady step the way God says he should go. He may still experience so many difficulties and hostility, but he will not be shaken, because he is held up by God’s Word that is in his heart.

The wicked are guided by very different principles (Psalms 37:32). He is, under the inspiration of the devil, who is “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44), out to kill the righteous. To that end, he lurks on him and brings a lawsuit against him. We see this in Judas, who is out to deliver up the Lord Jesus, and the false religious court that makes use of Judas. Thus, many have been inspired by the devil to kill believers through false charges (cf. 1 Kings 21:1-Nehemiah :). This is still happening today and will certainly also happen in all its intensity during the time of the great tribulation.

Then David says: “The LORD will not leave him in his hand or let him be condemned when he is judged” (Psalms 37:33). We need to see this from God’s perspective. He will never hand over a righteous person into the hand of wicked people who will do anything with him that they want. The fact that it may look like this has to do with the fact that the world is now Satan’s sphere of power. He controls his subjects and sets them up against the righteous. This is not done without the permission of God, but not with His consent. He allows it because it fits into His plan. To see that plan we must look at the end of the righteous.

What man does and thereby fulfills God’s plan is a problem for our thinking, but not for God. We find this problem summed up in one sentence in Peter’s speech in Jerusalem when the church was formed. In it he says the following about what happened to the Lord Jesus: “This [Man], delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put [Him] to death “ (Acts 2:23).

This cannot be explained by us. It is understandable by us only if we let these two truths stand side by side and consider each one separately. We must realize that our knowing is “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9) or ‘piecewise’. It is not possible for us to see the whole truth of God at once. It is only possible for us to get to know God’s Word by examining one piece of the truth at a time.

We then begin to see more and more connections, but there are also things that remain hidden from us. One of those things is that the counsel of God is partly fulfilled by man’s sin. It is nonsense to say that God did not foresee the Fall. It is just as nonsensical to say that He wanted the Fall. We must let God be Who He is: God. If we do that, we will realize that we are puny little creatures who cannot judge God, but must bow to Him and His counsel. That will be our wisdom and it will also lead us to worship (Romans 11:33-Zephaniah :).

Verses 34-40

The End of the Righteous

The righteous will possess the land as inheritance (Psalms 37:9; Psalms 37:11), but that time is not yet. Therefore, they are called to wait for God (cf. Psalms 37:7; Psalms 37:9) and keep His way (Psalms 37:34). They need patience. They are waiting for Someone for Whom time and haste play no role. He knows the right time to act and will do so at that time. His is the earth (Psalms 24:1) and He is therefore the One Who can give the inheritance. He will then “exalt” the righteous “to possess the land”. At that time, the righteous will also be eyewitnesses to the fact that “the wicked are cut off”.

In Psalms 37:35-Zephaniah :, David relates another experience he has had in his life concerning “a wicked, violent man” (Psalms 37:35). He has seen how this wicked has prospered. In poetic language, he describes this man’s prosperity, comparing him to “a luxuriant tree”, spreading himself “in its native soil”. It all seems great and impressive.

But the life of that man “passed away, and lo, he was no more” (Psalms 37:36). It ended abruptly and radically with him. David still sought for him, “but he could not be found”. This is how it goes with the wicked. They have prosperity, but they will soon disappear untraceable. They do not endure in the judgment (Psalms 1:5).

This is a great contrast to “the blameless man” and “the upright” (Psalms 37:37). David advises the listeners to pay attention to that blameless man. They can learn from his example, take courage from it. They should also behold “the upright”. How different is the end of that man. As with the wicked (Psalms 73:17), we must also watch the end of the righteous. His end “will have prosperity”. He will die in peace, enter the realm of peace in peace in the resurrection, and live a thousand years in peace. Thus we can look to who lead the believers, pay attention to the result of their conduct, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

In contrast to this, once again he points to the end of the transgressors and the wicked (Psalms 37:38). “The transgressors will be altogether destroyed”, nothing remains of them. As for the wicked, their “prosperity … will be cut off”. Cutting off is done by a knife, the knife of judgment. “Posterity” is literally “end”. That means here that the prosperity of the wicked are also cut off.

As a final conclusion, David says what the portion of the righteous will be (Psalms 37:39-Matthew :). Their “salvation … is from the LORD” (Psalms 37:39). Since salvation is from the LORD, there can be no doubt that it is sure and certain to come. And when the righteous, while waiting for salvation, are in time of trouble, He is “their strength” during that time. This refers to the believing remnant in the time of the great tribulation, which is called “the time of Jacob’s distress” (Jeremiah 30:7). He will assist them in that distress with His strength.

The LORD will “help” them in that time of trouble and eventually “deliver” them from it (Psalms 37:40). One more time David says that the LORD will “deliver them from the wicked and save them”. They can surely count on that, “because they take refuge in Him”. This means that they trust Him, which removes all despair and doubt.

Thus, this psalm makes clear how the LORD will purify the people during the great tribulation (Malachi 3:2-Leviticus :). Can there be an even more powerful guarantee of the ultimate blessing of the righteous? Has not all fret and envy of the prosperity of the ungodly now disappeared? Who wants to change places with the wicked when he consider all of this?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 37". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-37.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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