PSALM 37, part 2
A Strange Temptation & Its Remedy
The Psalms, as you may well know, were in many instances songs of praise to
God or prayers offered up to God. But with Scripture as our guide as to
what we ought to sing when we meet, we learn this from the Apostle Paul
about our singing: Col 3:16 – that we're also to sing songs which "speak to
one another". So the practice of exhorting each other & encouraging each
other to continue strong in the Lord is something we can do even in our
songs. And this 37th song is all about that. The entirety of the song
speaks to the Lord, but to us.
It's the longest Psalm we've studied yet on Wednesday nights – perhaps
that's because we need more talking to than God does! It's a Psalm that
exhorts us by speaking to us about a temptation common to God's people –
the temptation to fret over the prosperity & success of wicked men. Most
of us have felt that at times. Now & then, when we might have thought we
were merely commenting about how good some wicked person has it (boy, how
filthy rich he is!) or we had convinced ourselves that we were merely
perplexed by it (I wonder why God doesn't stop him?) the fact is, it was
eating at us; it had gotten under our skin a little bit already. We were
irritated about it, even if we didn't say so out loud to anyone.
It's not uncommon. Other persons we meet in the Scriptures reveal to us
that they had felt this at times. It bugged them, partly because it seemed
to suggest that God tolerated & permitted an unjust state of things, to let
the wicked be so prosperous. Here we are, straining against the world &
the flesh, to live uprightly, & all around us are these persons of corrupt,
wicked character, making no effort to please God, enjoying all kinds of
success in life! And rather than see God's patience in permitting men to
sin for a time & prosper despite it, we can fall prey to the temptation to
think it is just patently unfair & to become perturbed.
It's odd, in a way, that we should be tempted by this to fret, because only
a little meditation shows us that we have better privileges by far; for
what are their material advantages in comparison to what we have in Christ?
For us to envy them is like a king envying a pig in the mud of his pigpen;
or like the President wishing he had the liberty & freedom an inner-city
dog has, roaming trash-strewn back alleys. What's to envy? Yet 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?
But something just that strange goes on in our hearts. It may be that we
just don't see good reason for the wicked to be blessed in anything. But
they are, & there is good reason. One good reason is, the wicked can never
die saying that God was unkind to them & so they can even testify in the
end that His goodness should have brought them to repentance.
But we don't think of that. We don't remember God's great patience with us
when we were wicked & we sure don't regret that He was, do we?
So first, David addresses us by simply telling us not to, v 1 – don't fret
over them, don't be envious of them. Sound thinking will keep in mind that
they ought to be envious of you, not you of them. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 3
that all things are yours in Christ, meaning that nothing is withheld which
is useful or good or necessary. Remember that. So what's to envy?
But if your response is, then why should those who live in rebellion
against God be given so many good things, well, temporary doesn't count for
much, & in v 2 David shows us what a good reason this is for not fretting
over the wicked's prosperity, because it's going to wither & fade so
quickly. In fact, they come to a sudden, swift end, v 2. And you know
that when someone has had it good & then all that is suddenly blasted, all
that former success seems like a terrible delusion & all that former
success doesn't taste so good. In fact, we saw that it is a judgment in
itself to be sinning & getting away with it.
Well, then we began to see in v 3 that David is concerned to do us more
good than just telling us to not fret & be envious of them, but offers us
some specific antidotes to this, ways to get our thoughts on better matters
– & we began last week to look at David's suggested antidotes. The first
of them was:
V 3 – "trust in the Lord" Calm yourself there, settled on the fact that God has His plans &
reasons why He works this way; what He permits is wisely permitted &
whatever evil He allows to occur, it is intended to be overruled in time
for His greater glory for it having been so. So be at peace about it,
V 3 – "and do good" You focus on doing the good you can. If evildoers getting by with
it distress you, then you show that it does in truth by doing your duty
before God. You can't prevent them from evildoing but you can commit to
otherwise in your life, so do that.
V 4 – "delight yourself in the Lord"
Make your happiness in God & the prosperity of anyone, in earthly
matters compared to you, will become a lot less significant in your sight. And those who are abundantly satisfied with God, He promises to reward them
with much fullness of what they hunger & thirst for.
And that was how far we got last week, plenty to think about in that. So
tonight we reach v 5 where the list of things to focus on instead of envy &
fretting continues. After trust – do good – delight – comes:
COMMIT – v 5
V 5 – "commit your way to the Lord" does not so much add another kind of
command as it just says "trust the Lord" in another way, a picturesque
Hebrew way. For it literally says "roll your way on the Lord". It's a
word-picture of rolling a big burden onto your God. The burden? "Your
way" – the course of your life. It implies that "your way" is a big
burden, your chosen path in life, the course you take. For even if your
life isn't loaded with burdens, to remain & continue faithful in the course
of your lifetime is a load, is a greater load than you can live up to.
How often I've heard Christians look back with regretful questions about
their choices in life. What if I had gone to school there instead of here?
What if I had taken that job rather than this job? Why did I ever leave
New Jersey? (as if there could be a good reason to stay in New Jersey!) What if I had not married so young & had waited instead? Did I miss God'swill? Did I miss God's best? Maybe my not doing as well in life is due to
this or that & if only I had chosen the other course it wouldn't be so hard
(not at all considering what difficulties would be in that course, since we
aren't experiencing them).
For you see, you can't separate fretting over other people's prosperity &
envy of them, without it bringing you to some reflection about your own
life & wondering "what if" this & that. David knows this happens & says,
"Hey, 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 even have sinned in some of
the paths chosen; but even that is not outside the circle of things that
God can work together for good in your life now. Pick a path, then leave
it to Him to prosper you as He pleases in that path. It puts a lot of
matters to rest!
So along with "commit your way to the Lord", follows "trust also in Him and
He will do it" – do what? Does what He'll "do" refer back to giving the
desires of your heart? Does it refer to carrying the burden you rolled on
Him? We know those are certain already, & the nature of this phrase gives
us good cause to add this thought – that God 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 a promise that we are secure in Him,
whatever you're worried about, fretting about – whatever it is, 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 contains a wonderful promise relating to a key area about which we fret
– that if we trust, focus on doing good, delight in the Lord, turn the
burden of our path over to Him, then "He will bring forth your
righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday." What is that
saying? Well, do you ever wonder about your reputation? Your good name? You see, in David's Psalms, often part of the reason for his fretting over the wicked is because they weren't prospering as they minded their own
dishonest business, but they were after him, slandering him. So he assures
us that it helps him & will help you to know that God will "bring forth
your righteousness as the light & your judgment as the noonday." If your
name is assailed & it seems your reputation comes under a cloud, if
reproach comes on you from wicked men & you can't prevent it – what are you
to do? Because it does happen.
Brace for incoming! It comes! And sometimes the good man is unable to
answer for himself or do a thing about what's happening to defend himself. It's part of why accusation is so serious in Scripture, because once made, the stain of it often doesn't fully go away – because merely the suggestion
that a person did a hideous thing has some power to harm.
Two men were released from prison a week or two ago; their names were
cleared of a murder. Do you think that's over for them? No way. They're
going to find it's not over 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?
Well, if you ever find yourself in any such situation, this says God will
guard your interests & see to your cause. That's what it means that "He
will bring forth your righteousness as the light". For instance, if one of
those formerly charged men released is a disciple, well, we could say,
whatever suspicion or tarnish is on you from now on, it doesn't alter or
cancel the fact that God watches for you. So you can focus on making your
duty your own business before God. He will make your commitment to
holiness shine, & as Daniel prophesied, you shall shine forever.
The second part of the verse emphasizes this same point, that He will bring
it forth "as the noonday" – a phrase that means, "the double-light", the
light at the strength of the day. God will see to it that you shine,
bright as can be, unclouded.
But nothing like this will be the outcome for those who turn from God to
live for a portion in this life, even if they enjoy that portion in this
life! The end for them is rather darkness & shame. So again, I ask,
what's to envy? Don't be envying them. There will be shame, distress and
dishonor for those who have considered the portion of this life so
satisfying, they refused to delight themselves in the Lord. Our reward is
far, far better.
The next command in the series: trust – do good – delight – commit – then:
REST in the Lord – v 7
The duty to "rest in the Lord" is an exhortation with its own
special side of truth for us to take joy in. To "rest in the Lord" comes
up often in Scripture – Ps 116:7, & most memorably, Mt 11:28. "Rest" is a
word which really makes the gospel of Christ clear to men. But here it
isn't talking about salvation but of how our trust in the Lord, far from
loading burdens upon us, removes a burden. What a change when we see
matters in this way!
See, sometimes when you tell a believer to not fret that God lets the
wicked succeed, just do your own business & put it out of mind, he may
respond: "Boy, that's hard!" – no, that's got it all wrong. It's not hard,
it's your rest. Saying it's our rest is not the same as saying it's easy. It's just saying that this is the only way to find relief – let the fretting go! Look at it this way: the Lord is taking care of that man's
destiny – what is that to you? As He said to Peter, you follow Me!
Look at Heb 3 & I'll show you something – read Heb 3:7-4:5. Did you notice
how often "rest" came up? It's a chapter which helps us see what this
Psalm means by "rest." Looking at 4:3 & 4:10, you see that believing has a
lot to do with "rest". In other places, like this Psalm, in v 7, you find
that "waiting on the Lord" has to do with rest. What becomes clear is,
when you put faith & patience together, you get REST. The call to rest is
a call to patient faith. That's why v 7 shows that "rest in the Lord" is
equivalent to "wait patiently for Him" – see those phrases in v 7? So to
be told to "rest in the Lord" is a lot like Jms 5:7-8.
So, the Word of God is urging us to patience as we wait on the Lord when it
calls us to "rest in the Lord". You see, a big part of the world-view a
believer must have, has to include the idea that the kingdom of God brings
eternal rest from temptation, sin, trouble, all of that. And you can begin
to enjoy that even now, to some extent, if you will trust rather than fret.
As you began in your walk with God, discarding concerns over this life &
what you had in it, finding the pearl of great price & being willing to do
what to have it? – "sell all"! Well, that's how this walk began, that's
how it should continue. If in faith you gave up on your works, seeing that
you have none, relying on His grace; you continue to rest in that way,
trusting God for all things as you trusted Him with your eternity. You
trust Him for an eternal future? Then trust Him over details of the
All this exhortation to trust – do good – delight – commit – rest – gives
David the confidence that he can make a firm case that makes him very
direct now about this, so he becomes direct & blunt in vv 7-8 in his
commands, saying "Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and
forsake wrath; do not fret, it leads only to evildoing."
David knows how much harm this temptation can do & you should be wary of
it. It leads only to evildoing! No good comes of it. If you don't resist
this thing & you let it get under your skin, get to where it vexes you, it
makes you angry, it makes you wrathful – you start contemplating ways to do
something about your annoyance; & it leads you to evildoing. So,
strikingly, your discontent with the prosperity of the wicked because of
their wickedness, which seemed to be zeal for what's right, now leads you
to be one of the evildoers! For there simply is no way to be resentful &
discontent with the state of evil men without becoming resentful,
discontent & impatient with God.
It makes for worry where there should be faith. It even provokes some to
contemplating means other than honest ones to obtain what we want, as we
say, "Well, that guy gets ahead no matter how ungodly he lives & God
doesn't seem to care, so what difference does it make?" I've heard of
pastors letting this get to them: "Why is my family living on so little? Sacrificing? I want to go make some money!"
It all comes, as v 9 shows, from refusing to keep in mind that those who do
evil will be cut off (a very Hebrew way of saying "brought to a miserable
end, killed & forgotten), but those how wait for the Lord, they will
inherit the land. It will take some time for the possession of the land to
be realized, but it will be. What God says will come to pass often takes
more time than we desire, but it is more certain than anything we have or
When does this come to us? V 10: just "a little while", not long at all,
that wicked man who's of such concern to you right now, he will be "no
more" – he will have no possession. Nothing will be his. His loss will be
so great that this says "and you will look carefully for his place & he
will not be there." He's missing! He's history. Gone. You'd be tempted
to pity him now if you could see it ahead of time.
But, v 11: "But the humble will inherit the land & will delight themselves
in abundant prosperity." What's the deal with "the land"? When writing to
Hebrew peoples, promise is often put in terms of "the land", because that
was their portion, what God had for them. Even though it's speaking of a
future for them in heavenly things as well as for us. Is there a land for
us? The meek shall inherit the earth, is our promise. The poor in spirit,
the humble, obtain the kingdom. That's our "land".
And even Abraham knew well enough that he was really, in fact, looking for
"another country", Heb 11 tells us. It was not a certainty for any godly
man that he would be materially blest in this life; but a godly Hebrew man,
even if he never saw the promises fulfilled in his life, passed them on to
his children; & one generation often passed it on again to the next. And
so it is that godly generations continue to remind their children that
those who fear the Lord are the ones with the true & worthy inheritance. It is often not in this life. It was not meant to be.
But remember Paul's words when envy enters into you: even now, all things
are yours in Christ! You are given everything you need for life &
godliness. No good thing is withheld from him who walks uprightly. You
have an abundance of prosperity in the things which matter most, & there is
no wrong you have seen or know of which you will not see – with your own
eyes – set right.
And we'll resume at v 12 next week.