Psalm 37 is a study in contrasts between the righteous and the wicked. It encourages us to trust in God, devote our lives to Him, and know that He is sovereign. All things will ultimately be resolved by Him, if not immediately then in the final judgment. It’s a content-filled psalm and I’ll be unpacking it in several parts. Enjoy the journey.
7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
This section of the Psalm instructs us on right responses for the evil we see.
In thinking about what it really means to be still, I closed my eyes and thought how being still or resting in God is like taking a deep breath, letting it out, and giving whatever we are anxious about to Him. It’s like being in your dad’s arms; you’re safe. It’s peaceful. There’s a strong feeling of being protected. Provided for.
The sense in the Hebrew is waiting in expectation, as if, for example, you’re standing on a corner waiting for a bus. You constantly look down the street. Is it coming yet? You look at your watch. When will it be here? Not that waiting on God implies quite the drudgery of waiting on a bus….
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We’re told by David in Psalm 62 that his soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. Do we wait in patient silence for God? Honestly we probably don’t, any more than we do for the bus. Instead we complain and feel anxious.We start thinking, what can I do to make this current situation different, how can I hurry this process up? Here we’re encouraged to actually look forward to what God will do both on our behalf and in the face of injustice and evil.
Again we have in verse 7 and 8 the exhortation fret not. From the context, we can gather that our restlessness, impatience, and now even our anger and wrath can in some sense be connected to seeing people get away with their wicked devices (schemes in the NAS).
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Here we’ve got two different descriptions of a man who walks with his back to God (a picture of much of humanity!):
- this man walks in his way. He does whatever he wants. Not only that, but he prospers! It’s bad enough that he walks in rebellion to the Creator, but he’s actually succeeding, too; and
- his plans are wicked ones. They’re designed to advance him and his worldly goals and interests. At all costs. And through whatever means possible.
Why does David emphasize not fretting so often in this Psalm? I’d say he knew something about what it meant to fret. He was many times in fear of his life, running away from evil men, living in caves and hills. He had plenty of reasons to fret. But he had learned through many years of experience to trust God for his deliverance, protection, and justice.
Anger Connected to Sin
We’re told three times in the first eight verses not to fret and given the assurance that the wicked will be dealt with according to their wickedness. The latter part of verse 8 is the first time in the Psalm that we’re told there is a consequence to ourselves in fretting over the ways of the wicked.
How does it lead us to evil? We’ve got our eyes on the problem, not on the Lord. All we can feel is this overwhelming sense of indignation, of rage, dismay, fury at the state of the world, that such men would “get away with” their evil deeds. And even our response to the evil can in itself be sinful! God says, just stop (cease). Look at me. Choose not to blow up in this anger. Release (refrain from) it. I will handle it.
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Here the Hebrew for wrath gives the sense of a hot, burning anger. So we have two different words for anger and both show a strong emphasis (so much so that in the ESV, translators actually added an exclamation point!). When we blow up in anger, there are very few times it is actually righteous, god-honoring anger. It is usually borne of a self-centered desire to win or be right.
The Destiny of the Wicked
Three statements are made about the wicked that can be broken down relatively simply:
- will be cut off
- will be no more
- will not be there
In all three cases, the wicked (ungodly, godless) face destruction.
A Return to Peace
In verse 9 and 11, David refers to “inheriting the land” (and in three other places in the Psalm). There’s an immediate sense with regard to Israel of a localized land inheritance. There’s also an extended sense from God’s earlier promise to Abram of a worldwide (ends of the earth) inheritance.
To many of you, verse 11 will be familiar and it should be: it is one of Christ’s beatitudes from the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1-11). The NAS translates the word meek as humble. There’s the concept of submission in humility, submission in the face of God’s plans, God’s purposes, God’s ways.
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For us, the ideas of inheritance do not necessarily mean that meekness will produce a sudden windfall of land (or money, etc.), but there’s a direct correlation between our attitude — trust in and waiting upon God — and the peace we have. Peace comes from our faith in God to deal with the details of our lives and the workings of the world in general.