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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 37

 

 

Introduction

Heading.

A Psalm of David.

This Psalm is another one that is based on the Hebrew alphabet, with each stanza beginning with a different letter commencing at aleph, and follows a 6 6 5 5 pattern (22 letters). Exceptions are Psalms 37:28 b and 39 where in the MT a Lamed precedes the Ayin and a Waw precedes the Tau.

In the Psalm the Psalmist speaks almost as a wisdom teacher as he encourages God’s people to have full trust in YHWH in the confidence that all will then finally turn out for good. If they find themselves in the midst of puzzlement and despair because the unrighteous appear to triumph let that not turn them aside from themselves trusting in YHWH and doing good. For if they do trust Him and continue to do good then they will enjoy His blessing indeed.

The Psalm split up into a number of sections:

1) The Wise Man Does Not Fret When The Unrighteous Appear To Prosper, But Rather Trusts in YHWH, Rolls His Way On Him And Rests in Him (Aleph to Waw - Psalms 37:1-11).

2) The Triumphs Of The Unrighteous Are Temporary, And For Them Retribution Will Come, While In Contrast The Righteous Have An Eternal Inheritance To Be Enjoyed Both Now And In The Future (Zayin to Lamed - Psalms 37:12-22).

3) The Reward Of The Righteous Is Sure And Abiding (Mem to Pe - Psalms 37:23-31).

4) The Contrast Between The Behaviour And Destinies Of The Righteous and The Unrighteous (Tsade to Tau - Psalms 37:32-40).


Verses 1-9

1). The Wise Thing To Do Is Not To Fret When The Wicked Appear To Prosper, But Rather To Trust And Rest In YHWH (Aleph to Waw - Psalms 37:1-9).

Those who are wise will not allow fretting or anger to possess them in the face of the behaviour of the unrighteous, but will instead trust in YHWH, commit their way to Him, and then confidently rest in Him, for they can know that what they have is permanent, while what the unrighteous have is temporary and will pass away (compare Matthew 6:19-20).

Psalms 37:1-2

A ‘Do not fret yourself because of evildoers,

Nor be you envious against those who work unrighteousness.

For they will soon be cut down like the grass,

And wither as the green herb.’

It is often so easy to look around at the prosperity of evildoers and find it a great burden on the heart. It all seems so strange. Why do the wicked prosper, and the good suffer? Why does evil appear to triumph? However, the Psalmist tells us not to fret at such things, nor to be envious of those who work unrighteousness. Rather than fretting we are to turn to trusting prayer, rather than being envious we are to consider all the blessings that are ours in God.

For he reminds us that the unrighteous are not really to be envied. We should remember that their time is but short in the light of eternity. They may appear to be prospering, but the truth is that they will soon be cut down like mown grass, and will wither like the green herb subjected to the burning sun. For them there is no future, and their ‘blessings’ are but temporary. After that before them lies only darkness and emptiness.

Psalms 37:3-6

B ‘Trust in YHWH, and do good,

Dwell in the land, and feed on his faithfulness.

Delight yourself also in YHWH,

And he will give you the desires of your heart.

G Commit your way to YHWH,

Trust also in him, and he will bring it about.

And he will make your righteousness to go forth as the light,

And your justice as the noonday.’

Notice the threefold command in Psalms 37:3-7, ‘trust in YHWH’, ‘commit your way to YHWH’, ‘rest in YHWH’. Here is the secret of the spiritual life. First trust and response to God, then commitment of our ways to God resulting in confidence in Him and obedience, and finally rest and contentment as we do trust in Him.

“Peace perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?

The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.”

Peace perfect peace, the future all unknown?

Jesus we know and He is on the throne.

The first thing that we note is that the one who trusts in YHWH and delights in Him, and thus ‘does good’, the One Who dwells in the Lord’s land and walks in His presence and feeds on His faithfulness, and delights himself in YHWH, will receive the desires of his heart. And what are the desires of his heart? They are that he might know YHWH better and rejoice in the light of His countenance and presence, and that he himself might be enabled to shine as a light in a dark world, that men might see his good works and glorify his Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5:16). And these blessings he knows that he will receive in all their fullness.

‘Delight yourself in YHWH.’ Certainly it is good for us to meditate on Who He is and on His love, and to delight in Him as our Father and our God, but in parallel with the next foursome (compare also Isaiah 58:14) perhaps we should translate (equally permissibly) as ‘So shall you delight yourself in YHWH’, linking more directly with trusting in YHWH. Then the thought is that our trust in Him is what results in our delight in Him. Both ideas are of course equally true and valuable. We should delight in Him because we trust Him and rely on Him, and we should also delight in Him for His own sake.

‘Feed on His faithfulness.’ Just as the contented sheep enjoy the green pastures provided by Him (Psalms 23:2), so should they feed on His faithfulness, knowing that as a result they are safe from all their enemies and will receive all that they need (compare John 10:27-28).

And as he trusts in YHWH and delights in Him, he is also to commit his way to YHWH. This is literally ‘roll your way on YHWH’. The burden may be too heavy to lift, but it can be rolled onto YHWH. Then the Christian can know that in response to his trust and commitment, YHWH will take over responsibility for his burden and will bring about His will with regard to it. He will indeed bring him in the way that his hearts seeks. He will make his righteousness go forth as the light, shining forth on men so as to enlighten others and enable them to rejoice in the glory of God. And he will make the Christian’s ‘justice’, his truth and rightness, to be like the noonday, glorious and unshadowed in any way. ‘Reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, they will be changed from glory into glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 3:18) as they walk in God’s light (1 John 1:5-7).

Psalms 37:7-9

D ‘Rest in YHWH, and wait patiently for him,

Do not fret yourself because of him who prospers in his way,

Because of the man who does craft things.

H Cease from anger, and forsake wrath,

Do not fret yourself, it tends only to evildoing.

For evildoers will be cut off,

But those that wait for YHWH,

They will inherit the land.’

So rather than fretting at what they cannot understand, they are to rest in YHWH. They are to wait patiently for Him to intervene and Himself bring about His purposes and His will, confident that all is in His hands.

The literal Hebrew is ‘be silent to YHWH’, that is, be still before Him in the calmness and certainty of faith. ‘In returning and rest you will be saved, in quietness and confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30:15; compare Isaiah 7:4).

What they are not to do is fret at the prospering of the wicked, the men who bring about wicked devices, and do crafty things, even though God allows such people to have their evil way for a time. They must wait patiently for God and not allow themselves to be gripped by anger. If it arises within them they must quell it. They must ‘cease from anger, and forsake wrath’. For the only person whom they will harm by their anger is themselves. They must not fret themselves, for the only result of that will be that they also do evil. And then they will be just as bad as those about whom they are fretting.

This does not mean that we should not be concerned about injustice against others, especially the weak and the poor. It is the building up of passions within ourselves that is to be rejected. Where we can actually intervene and bring about good in love and righteousness we should certainly do so. But we must remember that ‘the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God’ (James 1:20). And meanwhile we must ‘bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who use you badly’ (Luke 6:27-28).

Indeed we must rather remember that such evildoers will be ‘cut off’, and must therefore ourselves steer clear of such a catastrophe by living for Him and in His ways. For in the end it is those who wait for YHWH, those who are patient because their trust is in Him, who will finally ‘inherit the land’, that is, will receive all the good that God has promised. The wicked may appear to hold sway for a time, but in the end it is God’s people who will triumph and who will indeed one day possess all things.

Probably in mind here is what happened when God’s redeemed people entered Canaan. Their enemy were cut off from among them. But then they dallied in the ways of the Canaanites and in the end they lost out on the land. In contrast those who waited for YHWH did finally inherit the land. God’s ways might move forward slowly, but in the end they are very sure.


Verse 10-11

W ‘For yet a little while, and the wicked will not be,

Yes, you will diligently consider his place, and he will not be.

But the meek will inherit the land,

And will delight themselves in the abundance of peace.’

For the time will certainly come when the unrighteous will wither and die, they will cease to be. Though such a man be sought for with great diligence, he will have vanished. He will have gone to face his judgment (consider the rich man in Luke 16:22-24).

But the ‘meek’, those who are trusting God and refusing to be stirred to anger, will ‘inherit the land’ (compare Matthew 5:5). They will delight themselves in an abundance of peace. Good will triumph because God will triumph. And those who are trusting in Him will receive the fullness of His promises and of His blessings.

The idea of ‘inheriting the land’ had in mind God’s promises to Abraham, that one day the land to which God had called him would one day belong to his seed (Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 12:7). And in the days of David and Solomon it did happen. The land was theirs from one end to the other. But the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Abraham was not actually looking for that. He was actually looking for a better land than that. He did not seek a ‘continuing city’ in this world, he sought one above, a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). He looked for a better country, which is a heavenly. He looked for a city which God has provided for those who love Him (Hebrews 11:14). For in his heart he was looking for what this world could not offer. And there in that land there will indeed be an abundance of peace.


Verses 12-22

2). The Triumphs Of The Unrighteous Are Temporary, And For Them Retribution Will Come, While The Righteous Have An Eternal Inheritance To Be Enjoyed Both Now And In The Future (Zayin to Lamed - Psalms 37:12-22).

In a series of contrasts the Psalmist now brings out the activities of the unrighteous and what will finally result from them, and contrasts this with the activities of the righteous and the confidence that can be theirs. The emphasis is on the fact that God ensures in the end that righteousness triumphs and unrighteousness does not go unpunished.

Psalms 37:12-13

Z ‘The wicked plot against the righteous,

And gnash on him with his teeth.

The Lord will laugh at him,

For he sees that his day is coming.’

The Psalmist first makes clear that for the unrighteous to plot against the righteous and bare his teeth against him, is for him to do the same to God. God is mindful of what is done to His people. But the Lord’s response is simply to laugh at such folly, for He can see ahead and He knows that the day of retribution for the unrighteous is coming. Then they will gnash their teeth in another way. Thus His people also can have the confidence that, however badly they behave against them, the unrighteous will in the end receive their just reward. Their sin will find them out.

The point here is to emphasise the folly of those who go against God. It is not to suggest that God treats His people’s sufferings lightly. He is not laughing at those. Nor is it to suggest that God enjoys punishing the unrighteous. We read elsewhere that ‘The Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that he might turn from his wickedness and live’ (Ezekiel 33:11). The warning is rather that rebellion against God is futile, and that if men will not repent then only judgment awaits them. For the kind of laughter described here compare Psalms 2:4.

Psalms 37:14-15

CH ‘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 will enter into their own heart,

And their bows will be broken.’

In this further contrast the unrighteous are seen as priming their weapons in order to cast down the poor and needy, and slay the upright in heart (note the parallel between the poor and needy and the upright, bringing out that when the Psalmists speak of ‘the poor’ they often simply mean the righteous). How different they are to God’s Servant Whose sword and bow are intended only to do good (Isaiah 49:2).

But God’s response is to turn the swords of the unrighteous on themselves, so that they enter their own heart, while their powerful bows He simply breaks. Such weapons are futile against God. It is a reminder to us that whatever ‘weapons’ people bring to bear on God’s people, they will in the end be turned back on themselves.

Psalms 37:16-17

T ‘Better is a little that the righteous has,

Than the ostentatious abundance of many wicked.

For the arms of the wicked will be broken,

But YHWH upholds the righteous.’

We now have an explanation as to why the righteous are so much better off than the unrighteous. The unrighteous may have abundance of wealth, about which they make a great show, but they can be sure that in the end their arms will be broken. They will be rendered powerless and disabled. Meanwhile although the righteous may only have a little wealth, and walk in quiet humility, they can rejoice in the fact that they are upheld by YHWH. They are secure within His care.

Psalms 37:18-20

Y ‘YHWH knows the days of the perfect,

And their inheritance will be for ever.

They will not be put to shame in the time of evil,

And in the days of famine they will be satisfied.

K But the wicked will perish,

And the enemies of YHWH will be as the fat of lambs,

They will consume,

In smoke will they consume away.’

For everything about the righteous, those who are mature in God, is known to God. He knows their days, and He guarantees their eternal inheritance. And what is more, when the hard times come they will not be put to shame, and when famine arrives God will ensure that their needs are met. For they are ever in His hands. As Jesus reminded us, ‘Your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things’ (Matthew 6:32).

In contrast the unrighteous have no future. They will simply perish and will be consumed like the fat of animal sacrifices that is burned up on the altar and is no more, rising up in smoke and evaporating into nothingness.

Psalms 37:21-22

L ‘The wicked person borrows,

And does not repay,

But the righteous person deals graciously,

And gives.

For such as are blessed of him will inherit the land,

And those who are cursed of him shall be cut off.’

The unrighteous are contrasted with the righteous by the way in which they approach their possessions, In the one case they obtain it by greed and unfairness and are cut off and in the other they dispense their possessions freely and thus ‘inherit the land’, that is, enjoy all God’s future provision.

The one who borrows and does not repay is a common phenomenon, especially in the case of private debt. he is careless about his responsibilities, and threats other people’s losses lightly, especially when he can gain by it.

How great is the contrast with the righteous man who sees his possessions as a means of blessing and helping others, especially the poor.

‘For such as are blessed of him will inherit the land, and those who are cursed of him shall be cut off.’ Psalms 37:9 demonstrates that the ‘He’ in these verses is referring to YHWH. As a result of the righteous blessing them they too will inherit the land because they will respond by righteousness and God will bless them (they will be blessed of Him and inherit the land, compare Psalms 37:9; Matthew 6:5). They respond to the righteous man’s beneficence by responding to God. However, those whom God curses are those who do not dispense their possessions, but rather obtain the possessions of others by deceit. They are the undeserving who gather for themselves ‘unrighteous mammon’. They are thereby ‘cursed’ and are thus cut off.


Verses 23-31

3). The Reward And Ways Of The Righteous Are Sure And Abiding (Mem to Pe - Psalms 37:23-31).

The Psalmist goes on to point out God’s care for those who are truly His. All their ways are in His hands, and He upholds tham and keeps them and provides for them all that they need.

Psalms 37:23-24

M ‘A man’s goings are established of YHWH,

And he delights in his way.

Though he fall, he will not be utterly cast down,

For YHWH upholds him with his hand.’

The ways of a righteous man (a true believer) are in the hands of YHWH, and God establishes all his goings. Indeed He delights in his way. He watches over him and cares for him, He strengthens him and upholds him, He has great joy of heart when His people walk in obedience to Him, and delights in their desire to do His will. And though sometimes they may stumble, and even fall, His promise is that they will never be utterly cast down. For He will uphold them with His hand. He will lift the fallen, carry His lambs in His arms, and gently lead His troubled and burdened sheep (Isaiah 40:11; compare John 10:27-28).

Alternately we may see it as ‘he (the believer) delights in His way’. The true Christian rejoices in all the ways of God. Both are of course true.

Psalms 37:25-26

N ‘I have been young,

And now am old,

Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken,

Nor his seed begging bread.’

All the day long he deals graciously, and lends,

And his seed is blessed.’

The Psalmist thinks back to his own experience, and what he has seen of life. And he declares that although he has lived long years, he has never seen the truly righteous forsaken by God, he has never seen their children begging bread. Rather the righteous have been able to deal bountifully with others, have been able to lend to them when they were in need, and his offspring, far from having to beg, have been blessed.

Of course, exceptional circumstances do arise in life when all without exception do go in hunger and experience the privations of life. War and natural disasters do not pick and choose. But His promise is that even in such times He will watch over His own and proved for them in accordance with their need, and many a Christian has experienced deliverance in such circumstances.

Psalms 37:27-28

S ‘Depart from evil, and do good,

And dwell for evermore.

For YHWH loves justice,

And does not forsake his saints,

GH They are preserved for ever,

But the seed of the wicked will be cut off.

The righteous will inherit the land,

And dwell in it for ever.’

In response to God’s love for them, the Psalmist calls on believers, and indeed on all men, to depart from evil and do good, and God’s promise is that if they do so they will ‘dwell for evermore’. That is, they will enjoy long life and security through Him. The departure from evil and doing of good is necessary because God loves justice and righteousness, and the dwelling for evermore results because God never forsakes His ‘holy ones’ (saints, the true people of God). Rather He preserves them for ever. It is only the seed of the wicked which will be cut off. In contrast the righteous will inherit all God’s promises (as typified in ‘the land’) and will dwell in the place of His blessing for ever. Their everlasting future is certain.

Psalms 37:30-31

P ‘The mouth of the righteous talks of wisdom,

And his tongue speaks justice.

The law of his God is in his heart,

None of his steps will slide.’

The Psalmist closes this section with a positive statement about those who truly love God and trust in His Name, describing the kind of people that they are. Their mouths speak wisdom (compare Proverbs 10:31), the true wisdom; their tongue speaks what is right and true. In their hearts they hold firm to God’s Instruction, and the result is that none of their steps will slide. These are promises and ideas that we must each one take for ourselves, and ensure that they are true of us. It is because of this that man will be judged by his ‘idle words’ (Matthew 12:36). For those who are truly Christ’s speak words which are glorifying to Him, while those who are not soon reveal their folly in what they say.


Verses 32-40

4). The Contrast Between The Behaviour And Destinies Of The Righteous and Of The Unrighteous (Tsade to Tau - Psalms 37:32-40).

The Psalmist concludes his Psalm by making contrasts between the lives and destinies of the righteous and the unrighteous.

Psalms 37:32-33

TS ‘The wicked watches the righteous,

And seeks to slay him.

YHWH will not leave him in his hand,

Nor condemn him when he is judged.’

It is one of the traits of the unrightous that they cannot bear those who are ‘too righteous’. Thus they seek to do them harm, and even get rid of them. But God’s promise is that He will not leave His righteous ones in the hands of the unrighteous. Nor will He Himself condemn those who are His, simply because they are falsely declared guilty by men. He is not bound by men’s verdicts, and knows how often they are perverted. This is especially so in countries where bribery and influence can be brought to bear on the sourcs of ‘justice’.

Psalms 37:34

Q ‘Wait for YHWH, and keep his way,

And he will exalt you to inherit the land,

When the wicked are cut off,

You will see it.’

So the righteous must wait patiently for YHWH and walk truly in His way. Then they can be sure that in His own good time God will lift them up and will cause them to ‘inherit the land (or earth)’. That is, He will give them the full desire of their heart. To ‘inherit the land’ was the dream of every Israelite. It was to gain all that they could want. As for the unrighteous, they will be cut off, and the tighteous will see it. In other words, in the end all will see God’s justice fulfilled.

Psalms 37:35

R 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,

Yes, I sought him, but he could not be found.’

An example is now given. The ageing Psalmist looks back over his life and can think of many times when the unrighteous have been in positions of great power and influence. They had spread themselves like a green tree does in its natural environment. But one day passers by notice that they have gone. They cannot be found anywhere. They have been ‘cut off’.

Psalms 37:37-38

SH ‘Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright,

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

As for transgressors, they will be destroyed together,

The end of the wicked will be cut off.’

So let men observe those who are true to their God and are upright, those who walk in His ways. To these ‘men of peace’, men who do not love violence but prefer mediation and amity, there is a happy end, and a joyous destiny. But as for the unrighteous, for transgressors against God’s ways, they will all be destroyed together, for their destiny is to be ‘cut off’.

Psalms 37:39-40

T But the salvation of the righteous is of YHWH,

He is their stronghold in the time of trouble,

And YHWH helps them, and rescues them,

He rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,

Because they have taken refuge in him.’

The Psalm closes with and assurance for the righteous, that is, for all true believers. They do not have to live lives of worry and concern for their salvation is in the hands of YHWH. Indeed their whole lives are in the hands of YHWH. When the time of trouble comes He is their stronghold. In Him they can find refuge. He is ever there to help them and to rescue them and to deliver them. Thus He rescues them from the unrighteous, and saves them as a result of the fact that they have taken refuge in Him and that their trust is in Him. They know that He will never let them down.

‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give to them eternal life, and they will never perish, and none will pluck them from My hand’ (John 10:27-28).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 37:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-37.html. 2013.

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