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.
23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.
This section of the Psalm teaches that the Lord guides and protects those who follow in His ways.
Feet Firmly Planted
When David speaks of God establishing a man’s steps, we need to be clear that the implication is the steps of a good man–goodness in the sense that the man follows after God. Not just any man. Obviously God is utterly omnipotent and sovereign over all humanity, not just the righteous, but He is not directing their steps in the same way He directs those of believers. Proverbs 16:9 affirms this: The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. From the largest to the smallest of details, God is over and above it all: near enough to number your tears, far enough to have the whole world in view.
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When God establishes a man’s steps, He directs or arranges the way in which his feet fall on the path for His good purposes. But David’s life testifies that even a man’s missteps along that path can be redeemed for good. Had David not sinned with Bathsheba and in the murder of Uriah, we would not understand what we do about God’s forgiveness and unswerving love. He called David “a man after his own heart.” This shocks us because we immediately point to these sins. How could a person who does these things be rightly called a good or godly man?
What we need to see is that David did not pursue a lifestyle of sin. Even with his mistakes, he still faced toward God, not away from Him. He never fell entirely off the path into destruction. He acknowledged his sins (see 2 Sam. 12:13) and he repented of his sins (see Psalm 51), key elements in our fellowship with God.
Who Delights in Whose Way?
Depending on what bible translation you use, you may see verse 23 in a different way. The question between the translations for this verse is, who delights in whose way? After reading it one hundred times (metaphorically) frontwards and backwards, I have decided: it’s both. Here’s why (I explain this because it matters and it’s good to be observant when you read your bible!).
Back in verse 4 of this Psalm, we are exhorted: Delight yourself in the Lord and told in return the blessing is to have the desires of your heart. In the first study in this series, I talked about how seeking after God and following His ways changes your perspective on what truly important “heart desires” are.
Verse 23 refers to “delighting” in a “way,” a manner of walking, a lifestyle. The idea is that the more you walk according to God’s ways, the more firmly your steps will be established. So we could from this standpoint read it as:
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he [the man] delights in his [the Lord’s] way.
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Here’s the curve ball, though. Or rather, the infinity loop. The more you delight in God, the more He will establish your steps, and in effect He will delight in you and how you are walking. If so, the verse might read like this:
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he [the Lord] delights in his [the man’s] way [which is that of delighting in the Lord].
That’s the “both” factor to the best of my ability.
The Reality of Trouble
There are a few things to call out in verse 24:
- Though he fall: It’s not a question, realistically, of if we will fall into sin or trouble; it’s more a matter of when.
- Fall: This can be taken as us experiencing suffering, troubles, or falling into sin. So the falling is either of our own making or permitted by God for His good purposes (within, of course, the context of a fallen world).
- He shall not be cast headlong: In the sense of being utterly destroyed.
- For the Lord upholds his hand: The reason why a godly man will not see complete ruin past the point of return is because the Creator of this universe upholds him.
- For the Lord upholds his hand: This is the second time in this psalm that we see the reference to being upheld or sustained by God (cf. v. 17). The NAS translates this as because the LORD is the One who holds his hand and the Hebrew gives the sense of “holds him with his hand.” The form of the Hebrew “upholds” is active, so that means it’s a constant. Think of it as “For the Lord is in an ongoing, constant pattern of holding his hand” (see also Ps. 119:173; Ps. 73:23; Ps. 63:8).
Here the encouragement: no matter what we encounter, God is with us. If we are struggling in sin, He is still there. It is never too late to repent of the sin. God is still there, still holding you. He will forgive you.
This also encourages us in times of darkness when our own strength fails, when we feel we have more than we can humanly handle, to rely on God. When we look to the Lord in obedience and trust, when we fellowship with Him in prayer and know Him in His word, we can trust that whatever He brings us to–or whatever He allows–He will sustain us through.
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The Testimony of a Lifetime
There’s a popular adage, “age brings wisdom.” Another is, “older and wiser.” But these sayings are not necessarily true. In verse 25, David looks back at his youth in which he certainly knew or had experienced less and acknowledges he is now old. He speaks in years, of course. But he does not refer to wisdom that comes from merely adding years to yourself. This wisdom is a direct result of walking with God and experiencing His unchanging, steadfast faithfulness.
When David says he has not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread, does this mean he’s lived a sheltered existence where he’s never seen anything bad happen? No. Does it mean that he never saw any of those who followed after God have problems in their lives or run into material or financial trouble? No.
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It does mean that whether during joys or sorrows, severe afflictions or more sedate days of life, God was there. This is the kind of God we love and serve, the God who spoke through Moses to Joshua and said:
Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. [Deut. 31:7;8 ESV; boldface mine]
Verse 26 describes a pattern of living typical of the righteous. He is generous and compassionate to those less fortunate than himself and he passes this kind of teaching down to his children so that they, too, follow this way of life. This verse also describes the response of a grateful heart for God’s mercy and kindness. If we have the perspective that all we have comes from God, we are more likely to be openhanded about sharing and giving to others, whether that’s money or time.
No matter how far or near you are to God today–whether you’re wandering in the wilderness or whether you’ve recently returned–you can trust He has never lost His hold on you and never swerved in His intention to pour out on you the truest riches you can have in this life.