October 29, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 37 (NIV)
1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
34 Hope in the Lord
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.
35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
36 but he soon passed away and was no more;
though I looked for him, he could not be found.
37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
a future awaits those who seek peace.
38 But all sinners will be destroyed;
there will be no future for the wicked.
39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
Psalm 37 is an acrostic psalm, and thus constructed so that children could easily memorize it. The psalm contains no prayers or petitions to God in the way we often think about psalms as prayers. Instead, the psalm seeks to lay out a pattern or blueprint for life. It actually functions as a wisdom psalm. The psalm highlights the great chasm that exists between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. The psalm spares no words in describing the wicked as those who oppress the poor (vs. 14), amass wealth for themselves (vs. 16), fail to repay their loans (vs. 21), and lie in wait to crush the righteous (vs. 32). In contrast, the righteous trust in the Lord (vs. 3), give generously to those in need (vs. 21) and promote peace (vs. 37). The Lord promises to vindicate his children.
In fact, this psalm contains some of the most beautiful promises in the Bible. It is here that we are told to “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (vs. 4) and “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (vs. 25). Such is the great inheritance that is ours if we follow his path and live a life of daily trust in the Lord!
Nevertheless, these promises should not be plucked out of the psalms in isolation from the very troubling context of the psalm as a whole. These promises are interwoven with the daily, stark reminder that the “wicked plots against the righteous” and “gnash their teeth at them” (vs. 12). The wicked “draw the sword…to bring down the poor and needy” (vs. 14). The “wicked borrow and do not repay” (vs. 21) and “lie in wait for the righteous (vs. 32).
All of the promises of God, which we noted above, are interwoven in the midst of this real world analysis of the day to day experiences of what it is like to walk righteously in the midst of a wicked world. If the promises were given without these realities, they might come across as “other worldly” or “disconnected from reality.” However, in the context of the psalm these promises shine forth with great vibrancy and power! These are promises for the world we actually live in. Five times this psalm promises them that they will inherit the land (vv. 9, 11, 27, 29, 34), revealing the “earthiness” of God’s promises. Jesus renews this for us in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5, compare with Psalm 37:11). If we orient ourselves towards God’s purposes, he will bless us. But, we must be patient and learn to daily “take refuge in him” (vs. 40).