Righteous man

The Righteous Among the Rogues – A Reflection on Psalm 37



This is a word of encouragement coming down to us through the millennia from the pen of an ageing King David. He had lived through good years and bad and experienced trials, victories, the consequences of his moral lapses, and even the rebellion and opposition of his son Absalom.

Psalm 37 is a long composition that David produced in an acrostic format with each verse starting with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Unlike so many of his psalms, he directed this one not to God, but to the reader, as a teaching on the Lord’s faithfulness in difficult times.

I am not going to produce a commentary here, but rather reflect with you on just some of the things that David said to the people of his day. We too are living in difficult times and his words are laden with meaning, comfort, and encouragement for us as well.

The Illusion of Unrighteous Gain

The Psalm starts with Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong.

To understand why David thinks that we might be envious of evil men we need to read verses 7, 16, 35-36 do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes … Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked …  I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil. Wicked people often appear to succeed in what they do and grow very wealthy in the process, but that is temporary and illusionary. David adds Like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants, they will soon die away … The power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous … he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. Yes, wicked people may succeed and get filthy rich, but they soon enough wither, lose their power and eventually die like all do.

David goes even further when he says: For evil men will be cut off (verse 9); A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found (Verse 10). But their words will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken (Verse 15). The power of the wicked will be broken (Verse 17).

So, do not fret because of evil people because God will deal with them and the instruments of their demise will be their own words and deeds.

Our Response to the Success of the Wicked

David immediately gives several godly responses that we should embrace.

Verse 3: Trust in the Lord and do good – dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Trust God to take care of the wicked and rather get on with the better business of doing good. The NLT translates the second half of this verse as a result of our doing good; Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.

Verse 4: Delight yourself in the Lord – and He will give you the desires of your heart.

The word ‘delight’ here is misleading for the modern person because the original Hebrew `anag’ means ‘to be soft or pliable’. So, this is really a continuation of the thought in the previous verse – Trust God and be yielding and pliable in his hands, and he will prosper you and fulfil your life’s desires.

Verses 5 and 6: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: – He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Once again, this verse builds on the stated thought – Trust, be pliable, and commit what you do to God, and he will shine brightly through your life into the dark world around you and all will know that your way of life is right and godly.

Verse 7: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

This is pretty self-explanatory – Don’t be in a hurry in this process but rather wait patiently for God to fulfil his word. However, verse 34 also uses the word ‘wait’ as a translation of a different Hebrew word that has the descriptor ‘with expectation’. So, an enhanced understanding of verse 7 would be ‘…wait patiently and expectantly for him’. Expect God to respond to your requests and wait patiently for him to do so without rushing forward to take matters into your own hands.

Verses 8 and 9: Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil. – For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

Don’t get angry when things do not go well for you or wicked people are seeming to succeed because this will lead to wrongdoing on your behalf. Don’t worry, evil people will meet their end, but if you place your hope in God you will be the true inheritor of what is stable, productive and of worth.

God’s Promises to the Righteous

David then sets out a series of divine promises that apply to all ages: (I have been selective to avoid the repetition of ideas)

Please note that this article is not a commentary and these verses are largely self-explanatory, so I want rather to encourage you to read them devotionally and not just intellectually. Let them move from your mind to your spirit so that the Lord can speak something into your heart and particular life circumstances.

Vs 17:The Lord upholds the righteous”.

Vs 18-10:The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty”.

Vs 23-24: “The Lord delights in the way of the man whose steps he has made firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand”. The NLT translates this in a way that pictures holding our hand when we stumble to prevent us from falling and to steady us as we walk on with him: ‘The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand’.

Vs 25-26:I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed”. God is faithful and able to provide for us in times of need, even to the extent of caring for our children even though they may have left home.

Vs 27-28:Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.  For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever”.

Vs 32-33:The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives; but the Lord will not leave them in their power or let them be condemned when brought to trial”.

Vs 39-40:The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him”.

In Conclusion

My concluding thoughts as an encouragement to you are in two wonderful verses (34 & 39):  Wait for the Lord and keep his way … The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.”


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