Do you sometimes worry that evil men will flourish? Do you ever feel like there is no reward for righteous behavior? Psalm 37 addresses this fear and reminds us that the wicked will vanish and the righteous will be rewarded.
Psalm 37 is an intricate alphabetic acrostic psalm. Every other verse in the psalm begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As is common in the psalms, the central verse, verse 20, emphasizes the central theme: the wicked will perish.
But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away. Psalm 37:20
Throughout this psalm the psalmist contrasts the righteous and the wicked. The wicked will vanish and the righteous will inherit the land. Although the central verse emphasizes the end of the wicked, the phrase "inherit the land" occurs 5 times reminding us that God will bless the righteous. This phrase seems to also be used as a structural device to indicated the ending of sections. We will continue to follow the structure laid out by Dr. C.J. Labuschagne, as we have with most of the other psalms.
Do Not Worry
On a personal note, this is one of my favorite passages of scripture. It is full of beautiful promises to those who commit themselves to God. Over and over in this section David reminds us to not worry about the evil person and instead trust in God.
Do not fret (Psalm 37:1)
Trust in the Lord (Psalm 37:3)
Commit your way to the Lord (Psalm 37:5)
Trust in Him (Psalm 37:5)
Wait patiently for Him (Psalm 37:7)
Do not fret (Psalm 37:7)
Do not fret (Psalm 37:8)
Why shouldn't we fret? because
In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. Psalm 37:10
This first section ends with the reoccurring promise, the meek will "inherit the land." I think it is important to acknowledge that this specific promise is probably referring to the covenant promise given to Israel. Still I think we can apply it to our lives today. We may not have a promise of owning a specific piece of land, but we do have the promise of God's blessing and an eternal future with God.
Throughout this passage we are reminded that God blesses and cares for the righteous and if we commit our way to the Lord, He will bless us. The most difficult part is the waiting. "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him (Psalm 37:7.)" We must constantly remind ourselves that the blessing is coming, either here or in God's presence.
The Wicked Will Perish
In this section David reminds us that the wicked will not win in the end. "The Lord laughs at the wicked (Psalm 37:13.)" The point is that God scoffs at the ridiculous thought that the wicked will get away with their schemes. In the end their own plans will backfire on them.
their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken. Psalm 37:15
The wicked will not last. They will "vanish like smoke (Psalm 37:20.)"
This section ends, once again, with the promise that the righteous will "inherit the land."
The Righteous Inherit the Land
This whole section is focused on the righteous and the many blessings God has for those who follow Him.
He makes their steps firm (Psalm 37:23)
He will not forsake them (Psalm 37:25)
Their children will be blessed (Psalm 37:26)
They will dwell in the land forever (Psalm 37:27)
They will be protected forever (Psalm 37:28)
They will inherit the land (Psalm 37:29)
Once again we end with the structurally significant promise of "inheriting the land."
Wait for the Lord
This short section, ending with the promise of inheriting the land, continues to compare the righteous and the wicked. For me the most important part of this section is the reminder to "wait for the Lord and keep His way (Psalm 37:34.)" It is easy to become discouraged and wonder when, or even if, God is going to bless you.
David reminds us that if we want to "inherit the land", then we must be faithful over time. The reward comes at the end of a time, possibly a life time, of patiently trusting and waiting. The author of Hebrews, in Hebrews 11:39, reminds us that the Old Testament faithful did not receive the promises while here on earth. But their faithful trust was counted to them as righteousness and their reward waited them in heaven.
The same is true for us. Although many of the rewards mentioned in the section before have temporal consequences, our primary reward is waiting for us when we see God.
God Is Our Refuge
In this final section David reminds us that the wicked may appear to flourish, but it is temporary. In the end, those who trust in God will be delivered from the wicked and saved. There is only one safe place to go and that is to God. He is our only sure refuge.
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble. Psalm 37:39
So who are the righteous? Isn't it true that "no one is righteous." If so, who could this psalm be talking about? Throughout the psalm David has described the righteous but I think verse 5 is the best summary: the righteous are those that trust God and commit their way to Him. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, the only way to be righteous is to place your trust in God and then commit yourself to Him.
It not a matter of perfect behavior. It is a matter of faithfulness. The righteous are those who faithfully trust God and live that trust out in their daily lives. If you live that way you will receive the greatest of blessings - the joy of being with God.