Psalm 37: A Wise Walk in a Wicked World (Pt. 6)

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.

27 Turn away from evil and do good;
    so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
    but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
    and dwell upon it forever.

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
    and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
    his steps do not slip.

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
    and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
    or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

This section of the Psalm teaches that God holds eternity and true justice in His hands.

Pursue Godly Ways

Verses 27 through 29 hold together as one lengthy discourse on the results of following (or in the case of the wicked not following) God’s ways.

We begin with an immediate exhortation that speaks into our daily walk with God. Turn from the wrong path, from your sins, from (ethical) evil, and do good (the Hebrew is towb, that is, moral good). It’s not just turning away from wrong behavior, but also replacing it with good behavior, turning toward what God sees as good.

Our good should be to the glory of God. It is all too easy to fall into that error of thinking we are doing something for God and in reality we are doing it for ourselves — to look good in front of others, to seem more holy, to earn merit with God. Examine yourself, it is a good exhortation.

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Photo credit: time.com

Why would David have to exhort the righteous to turn from evil? Looking back at verses 1 and 7, we can connect this exhortation to the idea of having to live in a world where people constantly seem to get away with evil. There’s an ongoing sense of having to walk uprightly in the face of the evil around us. That goes for the personal injustice or persecution we may experience, too.

At the same time, there is indeed an exhortation to the righteous not to fall into sin. We are not immune to temptation and need to be in prayer and on guard against it daily.

What is Justice?

For the Lord loves justice

David attributes a love of justice to the Lord in verse 28. An important question at this point: what is justice? From a human standpoint, we have many concepts: good triumphing over evil; prevailing when you have done the right thing; reaping what you sow, that is, a “you get what you deserve” mentality. We certainly don’t get what we “deserve” as His elect.

From a divine standpoint, justice (at least in one sense) means debts must be paid. Some (minor) debts are called in on earth. For example, if a man commits a crime, he is found guilty and sentenced. Other debts are set to be dealt with in eternity. The primary debt, the one everyone owes — sin — is and must be addressed during this life or will be dealt with in eternity.

white-horseHere’s an example that also helps us see justice from a divine standpoint. God often sent Israel into a land and commanded them to destroy the people currently living there. Why? Because He enjoys killing people? No. Because He’s random and senseless? No. Because in His wisdom, He knew that the wicked behavior of the people in that land would spread to Israel if it was not pulled out by the roots. And because there were consequences for the behavior of the wicked.

In God’s eyes, the root of the evil must be destroyed or it will spread and cause chaos. It may be difficult for us to accept, but God was in fact acting according to His true nature of perfect justice, perfect love, and perfect wisdom.

Held by God

 …he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever…

The righteous shall inherit the land
    and dwell upon it forever.

There is an immediate historical sense here: that Israel longed to dwell forever in the land promised to them by God, that they were to be a nation preserved forever. Israel has a long history of wandering and returning. Some of us have that in our history, too! In the face of Israel’s wandering (and ours), we find these statements of hope:

  • You will not be forsaken: God does not abandon, leave, or loosen His grasp of those who are His.
  • You will be preserved forever: He keeps and guards His own now and always.
  • You shall inherit the land: The blessings He has in store (heavenly inheritance) are certain.
  • You shall dwell upon the land forever: As a son or daughter of God, you will join Him and be in His presence for eternity.
path2

Photo credit: conceptodefinicion.de

A Generational Effect

In the midst of all these promises, there’s one that isn’t meant for the righteous.

but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

The actions of the wicked have consequences for more than just themselves. They go on to affect their descendants (related: Ps. 21:8-10). Why? The children have not necessarily committed any wicked acts (though they are born with a sin nature, of course). But are they really culpable in a direct sense for specific acts of wickedness committed by their parents?

God means to fully eradicate those who walk in utter wickedness with their backs to Him. That includes their offspring. Should we wonder at this? We see the character of God is holiness, purity, love (in the sense that He will do what He purposes to be good, not our sugary sentiment of love). We may think, “but they’re only children. They’re ‘innocent.'” David would not agree (Ps. 51:5; Ps. 58:3).

God’s Character Revealed

To help clarify this, let’s look at an Old Testament account that reveals God’s character in dealing with wickedness.

You may be familiar with the story of Eli and his sons. It comes right after the prayer of Hannah for a child. Scripture speaks clearly about the lives of these offspring: Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. [1 Sam. 2:12 ESV]. These boys treated the sacrificial offering of the Lord with contempt (1 Sam. 2:13-17) and slept with women who served in the tent of meeting (1 Sam. 2:22-24).

discipline

Photo credit: joseismael.com

As a purportedly godly father, what did Eli (the high priest and judge of Israel for 40 years!) do? He gave a weak rebuke, essentially saying, hey, boys, why are you doing these things? (1 Sam.2:23-25) They needed sharp discipline, but he did not give it. And they did not listen to or respect him. How did God respond to an utter lack of moral model and discipline in Eli and his sons?

31 Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house.
32 Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever.
33 The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men.
34 And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day.
35 And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. [1 Sam. 2:31-35 ESV; boldface mine]

If this is how the Lord responded to people who were part of the chosen nation of Israel, how much more will He conclusively and justly deal with those who live with their backs to Him? We can see here in the story of Eli and his sons that the lack of a clear godly model and discipline led to wicked behavior on the parts of the children. It was Eli’s responsibility to discipline them and at the same time, his sons were responsible for their behavior.

Wisdom and Its Source

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
    and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
    his steps do not slip.

These verses immediately beg the question, what is wisdom?

We’re not alone in asking. Listen to Job: From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? He affirms that God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. Finally he quotes God speaking to man: Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding. [Job 28:20, 23, 28 ESV; boldface mine]

Solomon agrees with Job when he says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. [Prov. 9:10 ESV]

fountain

Photo credit: shelterness.com

As we observe the behavior pattern of the righteous, we also find good examples of what we should expect from ourselves in Christ:

  • Utters wisdom: The righteous shares truth and godly principles. His mouth speaks it and his life reflects it.
  • Speaks justice: The righteous strives to treat others with respect and fairness through words and actions. He governs himself the way that God directs him to, not the way his human nature would like to. [related: Ps. 34:12-14]
  • Has God’s law in his heart: His heart is filled with God’s words, ways, thoughts, precepts. He reveres God. God is the source of his wisdom.
  • Surefooted: The Hebrew here for “slip” is maad, meaning to slip, slide, totter, or shake. It gives us the sense of wavering or being unsteady, lacking balance. If God’s word is what guides us, our steps are sure.

What rules the heart of the righteous is reflected in what comes out of his mouth. It guides and directs all his ways.

Eternal Justice

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
    and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
    or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Here we see again, as in part 3 of this study, that the walk of the righteous infuriates the ungodly to such an extent that they look for a chance to destroy him. They don’t watch in love or seeking to learn; rather, they want to ruin and bring him down.

David helps us understand verse 33 better in another of his psalms where he says The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. [Ps. 34:22 ESV] In other words, whether the idea of being judged (brought to trial) refers to an actual trial or simply unjust condemnation, ultimately we have justice in eternity with our perfect and just Father.

“Never look for justice in this world, but never cease to give it. If we look for justice, we will begin to grouse and to indulge in the discontent of self-pity–why should I be treated like this? …Jesus says, go steadily on with what I have told you to do and I will guard your life.” [My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers, 179]

As you pursue godly ways, God will protect and keep you, both here and as you step into an eternal inheritance.

Part 7: Psalm 37: A Wise Walk in a Wicked World

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One thought on “Psalm 37: A Wise Walk in a Wicked World (Pt. 6)

  1. I like the flow of this piece. You add a lot to it by bringing in other Scriptures and connecting them. Sometimes, David’s works in the Psalms have an Old Testament form of justice, such as the point made here about the children of the wicked being cut off, to which I would like to think there could be exceptions.
    Fortunately, David also has a way of putting our focus upon the Lord’s New Testament style mercies. In the day to day struggles we face, there is still so much comfort to be found in so many of the things he writes, Psalm 37 providing some beautiful examples.
    I appreciate what you have done with it.

    Like

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