PSALM 37, Part 3
A Strange Temptation and Its Remedy
There comes a point during the teaching of Psalms that one may feel as if
we are merely saying the very same things, over & over, because of the
circular nature of the Psalms. It's of the nature of how songs are written
that they repeat themselves, & the Psalms are songs, so they do that. But
our God knew this when He inspired men to write Psalms. So these inspired
songs of worship & inspired prayers may be the ultimate picture of what is
meant by Peter's exhortation to not consider it a burden to be reminded
again of things we already know, that we have already been told. Some
Psalms tell us things we know or just heard a few verses back. This is
because we miss so much by nature!
So don't be surprised as we see this Psalm re-cycling the same points it
has already made. It's a Psalm about a temptation common to man, which not
only means we all face it, but if we all do, then it's likely that you will
face it again & again. The temptation to envy the success and prosperity
enjoyed by the wicked. To at least fret over it, wondering why God grants
it to them, & thus permitting questions about faith to arise which need
And so, in our first two messages looking at Ps 37, we've covered the fact
that this temptation to fret or envy the success of evildoers is a
temptation the righteous can be victorious over by seeing the shallowness
of our thoughts when we so think:
- *By realizing how short a time the wicked have these blessings that we envy
- *By realizing how deceptive it is for the wicked to be blest materially when God is even using the blessings to harden them & make them more fit for judgment
- *By believing that your own eternal rewards are far, far better
- *By focusing on your own duty & delighting in the Lord – and then:
- *By realizing that, giving in to it discontent over the unrighteous & what they have will lead you to do unrighteousness.
So irony of ironies, your aggravation that the wicked succeed while the
righteous suffer, if you let it get under your skin, will make you one of
them. For sin always begins with disenchantment with God's ways. So much
sin has arisen out of a dislike for God's ways with others & wondering why
things aren't more equal; more fair. When we question that, we open the
door to turn from what God requires of us. Think instead as this Psalm
proposes – their blessings are short, they're nearly meaningless, & they
are only temporal things which have no comparison to the glories that await
those who suffer with Christ.
But just about the time we get a grip on this temptation, comes along some
"aggravating circumstance"; some factor which just makes it too much. Haven't you heard someone say "I was doing OK, but then I found out this & that was just the last straw & I lost it!" One factor like that, which can
make the problem of the success of the righteous harder to deal with, is if
& when their success is achieved on the backs of the righteous.
It's one thing for an evil man to be fat & happy & have all he wants. But
let an evil man progress while accusing the righteous of evildoing, while
calling the godly the evildoers, it makes it infuriating beyond belief. And this is what David was observing, that not only did the wicked succeed, but as v 12 says, he was seeing "the wicked plots against the righteous &
gnashes at him with his teeth." And does God permit this while letting the
wicked man be blest? Yes.
But our God is just and simply will not permit an ongoing, indefinite
condition of injustice. This Psalm is all about that & some of the
severity of His response to this. First, let's talk about v 12:
1) The Plotting of the Wicked – v 12
V 12 – "The wicked plots against the righteous & gnashes at him with
his teeth." Have you noticed the blunt distinctions God's Word makes between people? –
the righteous/the wicked. Such strong definition of people is a sort of
speaking which is foreign to our culture, but we ought to think in these
terms. It's not overstating matters to speak like that. It's Scriptural
Now, the idea of the wicked "plotting" against our lives may be hard for us
to relate to; perhaps nothing like that is happening in your life; if I
asked you for testimonies tonight about the wicked plotting against you or
gnashing at you with their teeth, I don't gather we'd have many, & I'm glad
it's not so.
But you know, there would be some. Would you be surprised to learn that,
during the past 20 years of ministry, I've just about always had at least
one person in my life who was out to get me, to do me some genuine personal
harm? I can think of people who have that much malice towards Doug, too. It's more common for leaders to be the brunt of such rage. And King David wrote this from the vantage point of a leader. This is one reason you need
to pray for your leaders; this kind of thing can & does wear us down. But
it's not just for leaders. Others of you have experienced it, too.
The "plotting" of the wicked against the righteous doesn't just mean
someone out to kill you or burn your house to the ground. It can consist
of efforts to do you harm in a variety of ways. It can be an aim to ruin a
reputation; it can be done by driving a man from the ministry or his job,
by undermining confidence in him; it can be by frivolous lawsuits.
When it says they "gnash at him with their teeth", it's not a literal thing
of course, but it's figurative for the viciousness of people's attack. Because a lot of personal attacks are every bit as bad as being bit by wild animals, in fact, I'm sure sometimes you would have preferred that, looking
back, it would be over faster, right? But on to v 13:
2) The Response of the God of the Righteous – v 13
God laughs! Now, we're not surprised to read that God laughs
sometimes, unless you're one of those who believes God has no passions; I
am not. See, some say that to be holy requires an absence of emotions or
passions. I do not see that holiness requires no passions, just perfect
control over passions, self-control over the emotional part. Emotion is
not necessarily weakness.
But when this speaks of God's laughter, it may surprise us what sort of
laughter is meant – judging from other Scriptures, it's a laugh of mockery,
like Prov 1:26. Or like Ps 2:4, a "scoff" of God, as He marvels at the
shallowness of their presumed resistance & success. It's a laugh of
justice which can enjoy, ahead of time, the certainty that justice will
prevail. It's not an ugly thing we should have a problem with. It's part
of our own joy & strength – Ps 59:8-10 – see that? Since He can laugh at
their resistance, we find that our strength. We gain confidence from His
casual dismissal of them, from His sure triumph & His ability to take them
lightly, in light of the coming day, is our basis for taking them lightly. It's the way Peter prayed during a threat, Acts 4:22, 25, 29.
So Jesus said Luke 6:21-24. All of that matches the phrase of Ps 37:13b,
"&for He sees his day is coming." You can look forward to that day. A day
of justice. I saw a movie the other night & a professed liberal individual
told a man who was committed to justice that once you see someone die in an
electric chair, you can't believe in capital punishment anymore. That may
sound like compassion but it's misplaced compassion which ends up
undermining the rule of justice; it's a lack of courage making pretense of
being compassionate. There are persons whose lives are only suitable to
end as monuments of the justice of God, & anything less would be a tragedy.
To face that this is going to happen is part of the antidote for our envy
of them. Do you envy anyone for whom that is the end? Some of you are
tempted to compassion for them. Remember that when you envy their
prosperity. It's pretty brief & pretty meaningless, isn't it?
But then, another strand of thought comes through: even while they seek to
harm the righteous, matters often do not turn out as they planned, because
3) The Overruling Control of Providence – vv 14-15
Part of what makes the plotting of the wicked most laughable is, how
God causes the most aggressive tactics of the foes of God's people to
backfire on them. Just as awesome a work as creation is, the work of God
ruling in heaven & earth with such thorough control of all, that even the
acts of His enemies serve His purposes & accomplishes what He wills. Our
God not only made all things but also upholds all things by His power; Col
The chief blessing in all this is to consider that He rules it for the
blessing of His Own – have you ever noted Eph 1:21-22? We see this again &
again in Scripture. We see people doing things not expected of them –
Darius permitting the Jews to go back to Israel to build, which he had no
motivation to do; saving Saul of Tarsus in the midst of his persecutions &
making an apostle of him; using Pilate & the rage of the Jews to bring His
Son to the precise death intended to save His elect from their sins.
John Bower brought out this point of God's overruling providence in his
recent Sunday School lesson about the Columbine High School shooting. The
Christian alone has clear, decisive answers as to how a righteous God rules
in the earth & oversees such events. Surely, it is not outside the methods
of a righteous God to slay the righteous by the hand of the wicked & thus
take His people to glory; nor is it untypical of God to slay the wicked by
the hand of others more wicked than they. I only have to know what I know
about a typical American public school to know that there was not
"innocence" at that school, in the sight of God. I have only to see the
pictures of the attire of many kids in that high school to see that God's
laws were being blatantly ignored. Like most such schools, it was a place
full of sin by many parties! Laden down with iniquity! When you really
believe that all who do not know Christ are deserving of eternal judgment
in hell, it takes the shock out of a sudden bullet to the head. It puts it
in perspective that God permits that.
But for this Psalm, picture a man about to shoot his bow and fire on some
godly person, or drawing out his sword to cut down the same one, & somehow
the sword ending up in his own heart – that's what you have in vv 14-15. You look on that scene afterwards & ask, "Now, how could that happen?" It
is brought to pass because there is One with greater power over the sword
or bow & arrow than even the man holding it. That man is living in a
created order which is under the order of God, & his arrows end up where
God wants them.
It is comforting, in this case, to realize that even when the wicked do
take the lives of the righteous, even in a hideous way, that the sword has
still only gone where God wanted it. He has taken His Own home to glory in
such ways, & in so doing shown their preference for Him rather than life,
thus glorifying Him & ennobling them. The option is far more depressing
and discouraging if you want to believe that they end up where Satan wants
them & God could not stop it. What did I read the other day&that God is
doing His best to deal with the weather, trying all He can to prevent it
from harming people. How is that a comfort?
Well, even if God lets wicked persons have success with you, consider last
4) The Preferable Portion of the Righteous – vv 16-20
V 16 makes a bold assertion, contained in the word "better". The
author who has told us not to fret over the prosperity of the wicked now
has moved full circle to telling us that our lot is preferable! Better! So what's to envy? We have it better than they! Even if what we have of
this world is only a little – as Prov 15:16 says: "Better is little with
the fear of the Lord". Or, Prov 16:8; 16:19; 19:1; 19:22, 28:6. And the
same theme permeates many Psalms – Ps 119:72; Ps 118:8-9; 84:10.
Now, all that is easy to say & agree to. But how do we come to think in
this way & really believe it, get our emotions like that? We can't get
there just by knowing something. We have to meditate on it. Take time to
fix it in our minds.
- *By meditating on the superiority of spiritual privileges to material ones – let it sink in!
- *By remembering the ultimate loss of any material privilege – let that sink in!
- *By frequently contemplating the eternality of every gift the Lord gives
- *By remembering the severity of punishment for those who enjoy God's gifts more than God
What is there to envy in a person of whom the Lord says, v 17, "for the
arms of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord sustains the righteous." Who do you think will envy whom when that comes to pass? To speak of his "arm" broken is again, not literal, but to say that any power he imagines
he has (that was the meaning of the "arm") will be demolished. But the
Lord sustains (present tense – sustains!) – the righteous. Even now we are
sustained, that says. Not later! Honored later, yes! Glorified later,
certainly. Blessed unspeakably later, in ways that will show what Rev 1
means by calling us kings & priests to God, so that 1 Jn 3 says it does not
yet appear what we shall be when it is revealed to the universe that we are
the sons of God.
So there is much that comes later. But sustained now. That means we have
enough, taken care of, not inadequate at all. So what's to fret about? V
18 – the Lord knows our days! He knows your days because He decides your
days. We live as long as He decrees we live! So to sustain us for all
those days is no obstacle, He already has them planned & the means planned.
And then once those days are done, v 18b, we only go to an inheritance
which is forever! I know we are not adequately affected by the reality
that our inheritance is forever. Eternal. We don't even know how to
relate to such a vast concept.
But v 19 leaps back to speaking of our current sustenance, promising that
"we will not be ashamed in time of evil", that is, a time when harmful
things are happening, is the meaning of this use of "evil". At times the
Bible uses "evil" to speak of sin & at times uses it to speak of harm,
awful events. At times when those happen, God shows His power often to
carry those of His choice through. It's a good Y2K thought. I don't like
hearing people talk about this or that about Y2K making them "afraid". There is no cause for any of us to be afraid & prophets who try to get us to be afraid are not the ones we should be listening to. Prepared, if you
like; but not afraid. Because even in days of famine here is the promise
that we shall have plenty, an abundance. That means lots!
But what a contrast the next verse makes – v 20 – while we are provided
for, God's enemies perish. And do you realize what this may say? It's not
a positive thing but it comes through in the different translations. What
it literally says the enemies of the Lord will be like is, "the glory of
the pastures", & so the NASV, master of the literal, translates it that
Some speculate that meant God's enemies will be like the beautiful flowers
of the pastures, glorious in their beauty, but temporary, fading, very
The King James Version words "the glory of the pastures" as "as the fat of
lambs". Why would they do that? Because that was what some of the Hebrew people called the sacrificial
lambs offered up to God – "the glory of the pastures." So they are taking
it as a synonym for "the fat of lambs".
Do you get what that is saying? Everyone will ultimately be offered up as
a sacrifice to God. Some lives will be a sacrifice to His justice in the
end. You can choose that, or you can be a tribute to His mercy & grace. Paul said Ph 2:17, 2 Tim 4:6. We can be that, even in dying for His cause!
How much moreso in living. And v 20 is as far as we'll get, because I want to resume at v 21 next week
where there's an interesting contrast between the righteous & the wicked –
that the righteous, even with his little, is a lender & the wicked, even
with his much is a thief.
More on that next week.