PSALM 37, part 1
A Strange Temptation & Its Remedy
This is the longest Psalm we've studied yet on our Wednesday night tour of
the Psalms. So it will take a few weeks to cover, but there are so many
wonderful themes in this Psalm, each week we'll have a distinct focus,
unveiling to us some fresh thought on our walk with God. How thankful I am
that God not only inspired holy men to write history in the gospels,
letters to churches, & mysterious prophecies, but even inspired poetic
songs which intimately reflect the exact experiences & responses to those
experiences we all go through.
Truly, as 1 Cor 10 tells us, "there is no temptation but ones which are
common to men", and in the Psalms, we find honest, godly men bringing their
various temptations & struggles forth, on a level we can really relate to.
One temptation very common among men is envy. It is addressed in Titus 3:3
as often a part of our previous lifestyle which should be no more; in 1 Pet
2:1 as something we are urged to not be; in Rom 1:29 as characteristic of
the lost; in Mk 7:22 as a fleshly desire which comes from within; in Prov
23:17 as a warning to believers to not think that way of a wicked man; in
Prov 3:31, to the young, as not to admire men of violence, for young men
often admire them as the picture of toughness. Think of the macho movie
stars & their violent exploits. You are forbidden here from admiring them
or desiring to be like them.
But, can you imagine a king envying a pig in the mud of his pigpen? Can
you imagine nobility fretting at the liberty & freedom an inner-city dog
has, roaming trash-strewn back alleys? Why would he envy that? Yet there
is something every bit that strange going on! We, who have been made kings
& priests to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, sometimes envy men who are
enjoying the fruits of their evildoing. At such times, we are something
like a king, enjoying considerable privileges, who is envious of a pig's
right to wallow in the mud & a street mongrel's right to live in filth. What are we thinking?
Well, I know what we're thinking & David knows, he's been through it, &
that's why he writes this Psalms, which addresses those who are seeking to
walk with integrity & says: "Do not fret because of evildoers; be not
envious toward wrongdoers." I want to talk first about:
1) A Remarkably Strange Temptation – vv 1-2
The opening verse we just read contains 2 sets of parallel phrases:
The first is, do not fret & be envious. Those are one thing, not 2; they
speak of the same feeling. The Hebrew word for "fret" is a word about "heat", being inflamed, an inner
burning described, the emotions in an uproar. That says it well. It was
their favorite word for what Paul calls "being anxious" , what we call
worrying. The word "envious" is exactly equivalent to our word for that,
meaning the desire to have what they have. Coveting, focused on a
particular person, wishing I had what he had, could be what he is, as free
as he is, unrestrained as he is, successful as he is.
The second set of parallels is, the evildoers & the wrongdoers. They are
the same persons, their sinfulness merely described in two words which
bring out the rebelliousness of it against commandment & the indecency of
it against what is so obviously right. There are plenty of such persons we
can meet & given how many of them there are, that in a world in which life
is given as God's kind bestowal now to be followed by a reckoning & a
judgment later, we should consider it an odd idea that many of them would
live under judgment. No, it is quite normal that they should be expected
to live comfortably & well now. This is an era during which "the goodness
of God is intended to lead men to repentance."
The feeling David refers to is that which often enters the mind of a person
striving to live uprightly when he repeatedly sees persons of corrupt,
wicked character, who make no particular effort to please God, having
success in life, while he appears to himself to be comparatively less
successful & to not be enjoying life as much. And rather than see their
permit to sin & prosper despite it as God's patience, we can fall prey to
the temptation to think it is just patently unfair. It is possible that
there are persons here who are feeling this in a very powerful degree.
A sister faithfully comes to worship & learn week by week, but unknown to
us is boiling inside, with a sense of how unjust her difficulties & burdens
are & with nobody to help, while women she knows make so much money they
can shop & get whatever they want. Or a lost lady who is living for this
world, with a husband who adores her & treats her well, while a righteous
woman is forsaken for no good cause.
A man who wants so bad to get ahead a bit in his making an honest living
but who only seems to fall more & more behind on the bills, & it irritates
him with life, all the more as he sees unprincipled, unscrupulous men get
ahead no matter how irresponsibly or abusively they live.
There are times when parents have no idea of the extent to which this envy
of the wicked has gripped the heart of a child, who so longs to be out from
under the restraints of the home because he wants to be free to do what
some other kids do!
My point is, this is often a temptation struggled with quite in private. David – Ps 73:3, 15. Like many others, we sense how unjustified it is, how silly it is, so we don't talk about it, but that doesn't make it go away. It can retain its hold on the heart even while we consider how ridiculous,how absurd, how silly, how strange it is that we should feel this way.
And if you think you don't struggle with it, you may underestimate the manyforms in which it comes. Fretting over the lot of others can take manyforms. Some of us will be disturbed:
- *At the fact that God permits wicked men to even live
- *At their numbers compared to so few persons living for the Lord, & why God would have a world like that.
- *At their success & prosperity
- *At our comparative difficulties
But David immediately brings forth one fact which goes a long way to
helping us deal with it, & it is our knowledge that this is so which makes
this such a peculiar temptation: v 2 – that "they will wither quickly like
the grass & fade like the green herb." This is why you are commanded not
to envy them. Do you get it? Hebrew people often used plants to make the
point about temporariness, because I suppose there is no living thing so
frail, & so easily brought to an end of its life, than a plant.
The idea is that this prosperity, success, enjoyment, will all be over
very, very soon. The idea of the word "quickly" in fact is a form of the
word for not being hasty. The idea is that the speed at which the end
comes is remarkably swift. The success of a sinner is going to be soon &
suddenly blasted – & you know that when that happens, how is the former
success & pleasure looked upon? Like a misleading delusion. Like a trap. And that's just what it was.
Do you realize, the extent to which any person enjoys indulging in sin &
"gets away with it", it is only an aspect of God's wise judgment itself? It is remarkably crafty judgment to let someone believe he is free he is in fact making his own chains. Do you understand this? Rom 1 reveals this –
that the worst aspect of the judgment of God is being allowed to go on in
sin without intervention & prevention. Practice makes permanent! It
cements the performer into a habit he shall not escape.
So perhaps you see already that key part of seeing things as we ought to in
this world, is grasping that men's success & enjoyment of sin is not the
pleasure they make it out to be; it is its own judgment. I don't know of
anything more valuable for a young person to learn than that those who
promise fun, fun, fun, in sin, are actually, as Peter puts it, "promising
them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a
man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.", 2 Pet 2:19.
We often aren't seeing things as they are, are we? He is a slave of sin
while he lives, & it all comes to a terrible, surprising, quick end one
day. Not nearly as sweet a life as he makes it sound.
Yet, silly as it is, & as obvious an answer as this is, we do still envy
the wicked. We know they don't last; we know it's short, but it feels (to
us) so long! After all, it's the only life you're acquainted with so far. So let me help you gain a focus on the temporariness & brevity of this life
and the eternity of God, so that you can live with perspective & not like
an ostrich with your head in the sand.
First, you need to see this as the serious temptation which it is, so you
will engage yourself against it as you would other things. It can lead to
apostasy: Ps 73:2, Mk 4:19. And not just of the wicked – it's possible to
envy the righteous, too, or Paul would not warn us to not envy one another,
Gal 5:26. It matters not who you envy so much as the fact is, the sin of
envy in our hearts is deadly. It is a form of coveting – & at heart, how
many commandments can coveting break? All of them! So envy can violate
every commandment! At root, it is discontentment & unthankfulness wrapped
together. So, what is:
2) The Antidote to Falling to This Temptation – vv 3-6
David issues a series of God-centered commands as the antidote or
remedy to this kind of thinking. And the saint who practices these things
shows that he fears the Lord, and does not fear the inequities of this
world (Prov 23:17) for that is the contrast made there.
TRUST – v 3
Instead of allowing the mind to be disturbed & sad because there are wicked
people who prosper & are happy, we should leave this thought aside not to bother us. When you
feel this temptation burning in your heart, tell yourself "Give it a rest!
God knows." You know He knows. You know He has a plan & reason why He
works this way. Settle yourself on the doctrine that He rules & that what
He permits is wisely permitted & that whatever bad is permitted to occur,
it is intended to be overruled in time for His greater glory for it having
been so. Notice, by the way in v 3, the unity of faith & good works. They always go
together in Scripture. We are to both "trust in the Lord" AND to "do
good". As John MacArthur's book "Faith Works" states, the only faith the
Bible knows of is a repenting faith & the only repentance the Bible knows
of is a believing repentance. That is a true disciple.
DO GOOD – v 3b In other words, do bad people succeed? Well, you mind your own business. You engage yourself in your duty. If there are many wicked men in the
world & it grieves you, you can show that it grieves you by doing
otherwise. There is all the more reason for you to endeavor to be good. The best way, anyway, to prevent a mind from chafing, worrying, fretting, is to be always engaged in doing good. Occupied with a better matter.
The same point is intended in the "dwell in the land & cultivate
faithfulness", v 3b. It is a charge to duty-focused contentment. They
grow wealth? Then you grow ("cultivate") faithfulness! They have a bumper
crop of earthly stuff? So, you get a harvest of righteousness. The King
James Version says, "so shalt thou dwell in the land", but it is a command:
"Dwell in the land". Be calm & secure in the work you have & in the portion
you have, thankful for what God has allotted to you, the inheritance of
your family, partaking gratefully of the gifts given you. And we can do
that even without a "land" covenant as Israel had. We all have just as
much as God has ordained we have. Enjoy it, give thanks for it, work with
it & to improve it, & pass on a heritage of commitment to righteousness to
your children, however much of whatever else you can or can't pass on.
DELIGHT – v 4 Now here is a pleasant verse which every disciple loves: v 4a – "delight
yourself in the Lord", a call to be abundantly satisfied in God. This is
the essence of godliness! To seek our happiness in God. Enjoy Him
forever! But in the context here, it's a call to see yourself as in the
enviable position of knowing God! There will be no deliverance from
craving & fretting over what the wicked have if we do not learn to place
our renewed desires fully where they belong – on the Lord!
What does this mean in practical terms? It may sound nice, but what does
it truly call for? It means that a man may be genuinely happy without many
things but with the blessings he has in the Lord. I read today of those
imprisoned in Holland in the 17th century for their faith in Christ &
refusal to return to the Roman church under pressure; & when chained in a
dungeon for weeks, a noble woman of the king's family wanted to go down
once & see what the situation of religious prisoners was – & she said to
"Poor men, I do not understand how you can stand this any longer."
And they replied:
"Madam, our sleep in this dungeon is more restful than the sleep of
many a ruler upon his soft
bed. Now we suffer for the Name of our Lord, but one day we shall
reign with Him. The crown
of eternal life is awaiting us above. The noise of these fetters
is music in our ears; it is the
prelude of the harping of God's angels."
They were focused on what they had in the Lord, not what they lost by
standing for Him.
V 4b – the 2nd half assures that God will "give you the desires of your
heart", when this is your state
of mind. Literally, He gives you your askings, your requests. But I
thought we should not have all those
desires if I fix my delight on the Lord? Well, I think what this must mean
is firstly, a hunger & thirst for righteousness will be filled. It is true
that God gives some things to His disciples merely because they are
delighted in Himfor instance, the case of Solomon, who wanted first to be
wise so as to be pleasing to God, & got along with it much he did not ask
for. But more than that, the disciple gets what he desires because what he
desires is God Himself. And it is everywhere promised that those who
earnestly seek Him will find Him.
He who loves God is a new creation & has new desires. He is satisfied with
what God gives. The fact that we are delighted in God regulates our
desires. And the fact that you do find your happiness in God will be a
reason why He will grant many of your desires. And as for the things you
do not receive, well, I know no mark more characteristic of the person
delighted in God, than contentment.
COMMIT – v 5
V 5 – "commit your way to the Lord" does not so much add another kind of
command as another way, a picturesque way, to say it in Hebrew. For it
literally says "roll your way on the Lord". It's the picture of a big
burden (which a lifetime is!) rolling onto Him. By including "your way",
it refers to your chosen path in life, the course you take. How often
Christians look back with regretful questions about their choices in life. What if I had not gone to school here, but there? What if I had taken that
job rather than this job? Why did I ever leave New Jersey? What if I had
not married so young & had waited, did I miss God's will?
Roll the choice of path you have made in life on the Lord. You did what
you had with the light you had. You may have sinned; but even that is not
outside the circle of things which God can work together for good in your
life. Pick a path, then leave it to Him to prosper you as He pleases in
it. How comforting!
"…and He will do it" – do what? Does it refer back to giving you the
desires of your heart? Does it refer to carrying the burden you rolled on
Him? We know those are certain already & we have good cause to add that He
will be sure to not disappoint us as we content ourselves in Him. We will
not be sorry that we contented ourselves in Him. "He will do it" is just a
promise that says we are secure in Him, whatever you're worried about,
fretting about, He'll take care of it. You're secure! The future is safe
for those who roll their way onto Him. He will take care of it. What? What you fret about, He's got it under control.
V 6 then goes into one thing which is often a key worry. Do you wonder if
the wicked & their assaulst on your name, your character, will "stick"? God will "bring forth your righteousness as the light & your judgment as the noonday." If you are slandered, your name assailed & it seems you fall
under a cloud; if reproach comes on you from wicked men & you can't prevent
it – what are you to do? It does happen. We have times when a good man
cannot answer the assaults of a wicked man. It's part of why accusation is
so serious in Scripture, because once made, the stain of it often does not
fully go away – because merely the suggestion that a person did a hideous
thing, has power. The men released from prison last week, whose names were
cleared of a murder, will find that it's not gone yet. The fact is, call
it fair, call it not, there will be people all their lives who raise the
question, "Did they do that?" And face it – would you casually trust them
alone with your family? Not likely.
The righteous may find themselves so accused. This says that God will
guard your interests & not permit you to be ultimately wronged. If one of
those men released is a disciple, whatever men may speak against them from
now on does not cancel the fact that God watches for them. Sometimes we
can defend our names; other times, you can't do more than drop it. But in
either case, we ought to make our duties our focus & commit the rest to
For when it says He'll bring our righteousness forth "as the light", it
means He will make it clear, our names shine – the righteous, as Daniel
prophesied, shall shine forever. And the second part of the verse
emphasizes it, that He will bring it forth "as the noonday" – meaning, the
double-light, the strength of the day. He will see to it that you shine
bright as can be, no cloud.
But this surely will not be the outcome for those who refuse to live for
our God! Don't envy them.