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.
Find the whole series in Psalm 37 here.
12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
This section of the Psalm teaches that the best attempts of the wicked to attack the righteous will have eternal consequences.
Objects of Attacks
The righteous, poor, needy, and those who walk uprightly (a second reference to the righteous) are all targets of the wicked. It may be that their very lifestyle, in the case of those who are righteous and upright, is a goad to the godless man. He wants to see him fall and fail.
As for the poor and needy, perhaps they make easy targets, as they have fewer (if any) resources they can use to fight back. It is understandable how the wicked can work diligently to keep those without material wealth in a subjugated position.
The wicked tries by the power of the mind to bring down the righteous with plots. This could be as simple as telling lies in the workplace that get someone fired. Or by pretending to be a friend and then betraying the person so they are humiliated.
The other picture here — the gnashing of teeth — is one of rage toward the person who walks after God’s ways. This could mean attacking them for their beliefs, being angry at how their life speaks of God. Often our very lifestyle, set apart from the world, is enough to perplex and even frustrate those who live with the god of self on the throne.
Have you ever felt dislike and hostility from someone “for no good reason”? Your walk with Christ may be convicting to them.
David speaks here of physical attacks, giving us the sense of war and violence in his references to a sword and bow. Note that the sword is drawn and the bow is bent; in both cases, the weapons are ready to be used at the first opportunity. And these are not necessarily just figurative references; for David was pursued by men with these types of weapons. He talks also in Psalm 11:2 of this very thing: for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
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The Lord’s Vision
Verse 13 tells us two things about God’s response to the actions of godless men: He sees and He laughs (see Psalm 2:4 for another reference to God’s attitude to those who fight Him). Nothing escapes the sight of the Lord. His sovereignty will not be undermined.
His literal laughter (sachaq in Hebrew) conveys contempt, derision; it is mocking, scornful. The idea that anyone could ever triumph ultimately over God and His people is utterly ridiculous. True, they may “win the day,” but they will not win the battle. Justice will be done, even if there is a delay (hence the reference to the future day of judgement). This delay troubles us as believers. We want immediate solutions; we say, “Why doesn’t God…?” Rather, we need to look forward in faith and hope, not necessarily expecting a resolution here in this life.
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Whereas the first reference to the “wicked” in this section of the Psalm is singular (referring to one), the reference in verse 14 is plural. So what that means is there are universal consequences for the universal “group” of godless people. They will, quite simply, reap what they practice sowing. The plans they make to damage the righteous will turn back on them. The weapons they draw against the upright will fatally injure them.
It turns out the Lord has His own sword and bow! Listen to David again in Psalm 7:12-16 (boldface mine):
12 If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
13 he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.
14 Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
15 He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
16 His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends.
Why Do We Care What Happens to the Wicked?
Rather than fighting for our “rights” or taking up every battle we see around us in this fallen world, we’re to have a heavenly perspective. That doesn’t mean to act like we don’t care. Of course we care, we’re human and it’s grievous as God’s children to see the world’s condition and people’s behavior. But understanding that we live in a fallen world where we may be attacked simply for who we are as believers gives us a different attitude. Ideally it brings us to prayer, a deep dependence upon God, and spiritual readiness for each day.