Psalm 37 is a protest against pessimism. It is the Psalm of the optimist. It addresses the riddle of the prosperity of the wicked and the affliction of the righteous. This Psalm could be titled “Don’t Fret!” or “The Security of the Believer.” It bespeaks the doom of the wicked (verses 9-15) and the prosperity of the righteous (verses 16-40). We are His sheep and He is our Shepherd, even though we may be surrounded by wolves. It reflects our frustration when we see the wicked seem to thrive while the born-again Christians suffer persecution. Psalm 37 expresses the state of mind we must have when we see evil people enjoying prosperity. For example, what is a person to do when a situation cries out for God’s intervention…and heaven is silent? We should remember that the happiness of evil people is temporary. In a broader sense, this Psalm vindicates God (as if He needed it), concerning how He runs the world.
Verses 1-2: Counsel against irritation over evildoers
Verses 3-7: The need to trust God
Verses 8-11: Reasons to avoid irritation
Verses 12-15: Futility of evil activity
Verses 16-22: The righteous and the unrighteous contrasted
Verses 23-28: Blessings and attributes of the righteous
Verses 35-40: The righteous and the unrighteous again contrasted
Note that this Psalm targets our attitude toward the lost and as such, should serve as an antidote for impatience. There is a real temptation in every generation to distrust God when we don’t see the wicked being punished. The godly will be blessed in God’s timing as surely as the wicked will be punished, but we don’t have to see them being punished, nor should we rejoice in it. The point of the Psalm is not my perplexity, but God’s retributive justice. This is evident by the recurring theme of “trusting in the Lord” as found in verses 3-5, 7, 34 and 39. This Psalm is curative medicine for our frustrations.
These Bible characters help illustrate the spirit of Psalm 37:
1. Noah built his ark despite the media’s criticism.
2. David killed Goliath, despite the mocking of his brothers.
3. Jonathan befriended David, despite his father Saul’s determination to kill him.
4. The three Hebrew children survived the fiery furnace, despite their refusal to become idolaters.
5. Caleb and Joshua testified concerning God’s power, despite being outnumbered by the pessimists six-to-one.
6. Elijah offered his sacrifice, despite being outnumbered by the heathen priests 450 to 1.
Psalm 37 gives us the assurance that you and God are a majority—that no weapon formed against you can prosper.
Verse 1: “Fret not”
We can take this as a standing order. It is all too common for believers to feel wronged or slighted by God when sinners prosper. The Hebrew word, “fret” means “to burn; to be indignant or envious; to worry, to vex, to fume or be inflamed.” All these things can result in anguish, stress, frustration and even pain. God wants to protect us from these things. We tend to compare ourselves to others, but envy is cross-eyed and ego-centric.
They ride a new Harley and all I have it this old scooter!
They have a Lexus and I have a Ford!
That sinner eats at that fancy restaurant while I eat at MacDonald’s!
“Neither be envious at the wicked”
This is the same thought as “fret not” but put in different terminology. Don’t worry about God’s retributive justice, for what He permits, He wisely permits. We are not to envy the wicked but we are to pray for them.
Verse 2: “for they’ll soon be cut down like grass”
Their prosperity is temporary. Their grass may seem lush and rich but it won’t last. Why fret about a bug which is born and dies the same day? The concept here of “soon cut down” is that of suddenness. Although the wicked will not be judged as soon as you want, it will happen one day – in God’s timing.
Verse 3: “Trust in the Lord”
Faith is 20-20 vision. Faith has crystal-clear optics. Faith cures fretting. We are not to waste energy fretting, but to trust the Lord and leave everything in His hands. Jesus said, just by thinking about it, you can’t change your hair color. You can’t make one hair black or white.
“So shall you dwell in the land” is a reference to the Promised Land, the land which promises rest and contentment.
“And verily thou shalt be fed”
In short, this means that we are to feed on truth. If you do this, you won’t lack spiritually or physically. If I give in to fretting (verse 1), you are not trusting in the Lord (verse 3). This Psalm actually commands us not to worry.
Verse 4: “Delight thyself in the Lord”
This Hebrew word “actually” means to be “delicate in God; to have gentle delight in God; to seek happiness in God.” Note that we are first bidden not to worry, then to trust; now to delight in God, to make Jehovah your joy.
“And He will give you the desires of thine heart”
Desire only that which pleases God. God will then give you a blank check. What you really desire in God will be granted. So regulate your desires so you will only ask for what He’s likely to grant. He knows what’s best for you. Trust in that.
Verse 5: “Commit thy way unto the Lord”
Literally, this means “to roll your burden onto the Lord.” It’s a picture of rolling a heavy burden off ourselves and onto God Himself. All care, stress and anxiety are to be given over to Him.
“And He will bring it to pass”
Can the farmer get rain by worry? As the farmer cannot bring rain by fretting, the Christian cannot receive what he or she desires by being overly-anxious. To fret is to distrust God. If I really trust God, I won’t worry about His timetable. His watch and mine are not synchronized.
Verse 6: “And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light”
In the same way God provides the light from the sun, so He will protect your character when you are slandered. Although we feel helpless to vindicate ourselves, God will protect the reputation of an honest Christian. If you constantly seek to defend yourself, the job will be endless. Be quiet and sit still in God!
“And thy judgment”
This refers to the just and fair sentence God gives to you, meaning that God will vindicate your character.
“As the noon day”
The Hebrew phrase means “the double-light,” for the light is brightest at noon. He will make your character clear and bright, with no shadow or cloud upon it.
Verse 7: “Rest in the Lord”
The Hebrew term means “to be dumb or silent.” Thus, this phrase means “to be silent to the Lord,” or to listen to God in silence and respect. We are to shut ourselves in with God, to wait in His holy presence. So by disciplining your spirit, you will see the end result of your patience and trust God, for He is never late. We must believe that just because God may not answer us immediately when we call, it does not mean He’s not listening.
“Don’t fret about the man who does wickedness”
This is a reference to those who sin against God and also against us personally.
Verse 8: “Fret not thyself to do evil”
Allow nothing to lead you into sin. Give up your anger! Don’t get mad! Fretting will only escalate things and stress can kill you. Most of the things you worry about will never happen!
Verse 9: “Evil doers will be cut off”
And often this happens sooner than you might expect. This verse does not point to a gentle removal, but a sudden one.
“But they who wait on God will inherit the earth”
Yes, even in this life here on earth, we will be radically blessed. Passion tells us that we must have it immediately, but patience gives us the will that allows us to receive the better things later. There are parallel passages to this one. Psalm 55:23 tells us that “bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.” Proverbs 10:27 gives us a similar thought—that the years of the wicked shall be shortened. That is to say, they won’t live a long and prosperous life.
Medical science has verified that a calm spirit won’t give you stress and ulcers. It has also been proven that hate crimes cause men to live shorter lives and they usually come to a violent end.
“But those who wait upon the Lord”
This phrase reminds us of Isaiah 40, where we are promised that “they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.”
“Will inherit the earth”
In the end, we will receive the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and earth.
Verse 10: “A little while and the wicked will not exist”
The Psalmist is assuring us that, although you may seek to discover the former power and position of the sinner, you cannot. Although he has tried your patience and strutted like a peacock, his office is empty. He has cleared his desk. He has gotten his pink slip with no severance pay. He has no chair at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Verse 11: “But the meek shall inherit earth”
It is interesting that Jesus quotes this very verse in Matthew 5:5.
Whereas twenty-first century America tends to demand retributive justice,
both the Old and New Testaments command us to wait on God.