By Summer Stevens
I’ve been lingering in Psalm 37 lately. As I’ve done with other passages of Scripture, I initially found myself skipping over words or phrases if I felt they didn’t apply to me or if they addressed things I don’t struggle with. But God kept bringing me back, rereading and rereading, until (of course) I came to understand that every word is relevant to me now. So grab your Bible and follow along with me as I share my Top 5 Observations from Psalm 37.
1 There’s a contrast in this psalm between the righteous and the evildoers. The “wicked” or “worker of iniquity” or “transgressor”—all terms used in this chapter—aren’t words we often use. How often do we refer to our neighbors or unsaved co-workers as evildoers? Someone has to rise to high levels of horror before I think to describe him as evil. Nonetheless, when we look at the deeds and attitudes of those who do not love God, they are wicked—not only opposing God’s standards, but also mocking those who do. The psalm opens with “Do not fret because of evildoers,” and if I look at that broadly to include people with political or social power in our country who are using it for destructive or immoral purposes, all of a sudden, this whole chapter applies with much more clarity! Am I concerned with the sin in my country and around the world? Absolutely. But that’s why the next point is so interesting.
2 Of the twenty imperatives, “do not fret” is used the most—three times in Psalm 37. Fret is a little word that we mostly discount. It seems like the baby sister of worry, something that you do if you’re running five minutes late to a movie or when you’re wondering if you made enough coleslaw for the company that’s coming for dinner. But fret is a fascinating word: it can mean to feel worried or discontent, but it can also mean to gnaw into something, to cause corrosion, to become eaten or worn away, or to move in agitation. When we worry, it’s like that, isn’t it? We repeatedly turn it over in our minds, grasping for understanding, crafting responses in our minds but never settling the issue. All the while our peace is wearing away like the toes of St. Peter at the Vatican. The reason not to fret about the evildoers in the world is that they will not last: “For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb” (v 2).
3 So what, then, are we to do? The next verses are the most famous of the psalm, and for good reason: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord; and He shall give you the desires of your heart…Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (vv 3, 4, 7a). We are to turn our focus away from all that’s wrong in the world and rest in God’s faithfulness, feed on it, and be constantly nourished and sustained by it. It’s not always easy to close our computer or news app and choose to trust God. Do we really believe God will give us the desires of our hearts if we delight in Him? For most of us, if we’re honest, He would need to change our hearts first. And I think that’s precisely the point. It’s a beautiful cycle—the more we trust Him, the more good we will do, the more we dwell in and hang out in His faithfulness, the more delighted we will be with God. And in that delight, His presence will be the object of our desire.
4 The concept that’s repeated the most in Psalm 37 is one of inheritance. Six different times David talks about inheriting the land or the earth (vv 9, 11, 18, 22, 29, 34), sometimes with an emphasis on the eternality of the inheritance: “The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell in it forever” (v 29). Inheritance of the land is an interesting thing—Israel maintained that the land was theirs because God said it was. David fought bloody battles over land, and there is still bloodshed today over the same ground. His message seems to be: don’t give up, keep doing what is right, keep waiting, and God will reward you in this life or the next. If it seems like an impossible task in the face of evil, read on.
5 By now, you may have picked up on my last observation—there are some interesting parallels between Psalm 37 and the beatitudes. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who desire righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness. Consider these similarities from Psalm 37: But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace (v 11); The wicked…cast down the poor and needy…but the Lord upholds the righteous (vv 14, 17); A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked (v 16); the righteous shows mercy and gives (v 21); For those blessed by Him shall inherit the earth (v 22); Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; For the future of that man is peace (v 37).
I do not fully understand the beatitudes or how to apply them, but it’s interesting to consider them in light of David’s psalm about righteousness in spite of wickedness in the world.
This is a rich psalm—there is so much to discover and so much about God to learn from its verses. I’ve only just uncovered some of its mysteries. Share some of your insights with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer Stevens is married to Nathanael and they have five children. She has a Master’s in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and enjoys running (but mostly talking) with friends and reading good books to her kids.