1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
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5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
16 Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.
18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance.
20 But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
but the righteous is generous and gives;
22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.
27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.
32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.
34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
How do you respond when the way of the wicked prospers, the schemes of the wicked succeed, and the power of the wicked rises? This is an ancient question. How should we understand and respond, especially in a time when great people are despised and unworthy men are in high positions?
David, 3,000 years ago, did not see the mother of eight children in chains, nor the terrible power of Leviathan to monopolize violence and create lies today. Today’s evil is often not just the evil of individual behavior or cognitive activity, but systematic and institutional. Yet David was not without deep understanding of what wicked deeds evildoers are capable of. In Psalm 37, he describes an ancient warfare: the battle between good and evil.
“The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.” (v. 12)
“The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows, to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright.”(v. 14)
“The wicked watches for the righteous, and seeks to put him to death.”(v. 32)
Who are evildoers? Those who do not keep God’s law, who desire to oppose, plot against, strike down, and kill the righteous.
We naturally put ourselves among the righteous and classify those who do not believe in God, those who persecute us, and those who sin externally as wicked. We take comfort when David says the wicked will be cut off, but the righteous will be protected. However, in light of the New Testament, we know this simple allegorical interpretation does not work, because “none is righteous; no, not one.” We must refer ourselves as the wicked, and see we cannot stand before God. We “shall be cut off”; we will be “no more”; “our bows shall be broken”; and we will be “altogether destroyed.”
The righteous in this psalm refers to those who act contrary to the wicked, who trust in God and keep his law, who are God’s chosen people living in his promises, and who belong to his covenant people. From the world’s point of view, from this life, these who “act righteously” are “poor and needy.” However, from God’s eternal perspective, they are “the humble,” “the upright,” and “their inheritance shall endure forever.”
We must know we are not righteous, but wicked, before we can be justified by faith in Christ and move from the camp of the wicked to that of the righteous. Only when we read this Psalm again, in the position of those who are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, will God’s exhortation to us through David be truly meaningful.
What are we to make of the wicked man’s waywardness, his heart’s desire, and his great power? Psalm 37 has four exhortations.
1. Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of the success and prosperity of wrongdoers!
We can do this God is righteous and faithful, and he must repay the wicked according to what they have done. The wicked will be cut off, “their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.” The wicked are not to be envied, no matter how glorious, threatening, or powerful they may be today; they will surely fall and be defeated.
This retribution of the wicked is written in the history of mankind. The Chinese say, “Many acts of iniquity will bring about one’s own death.” It often comes quickly in this life. David said, “you will look on when the wicked are cut off.” (v. 34b) More importantly, there is death for all, and after death comes judgment. “But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.” (v. 20) The destruction of the wicked is eternal. In the new heavens and new earth, in the true home of the righteous, there will forever be not one wicked person.
2. Trust in the Lord and wait patiently for him.
God has a timetable of his own. “In just a little while, the wicked will be no more.” How long is time? The Lord sees a thousand years as a day, and a moment for God can be half a lifetime for us. We are to “trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” (v. 3) God is faithful and his righteousness is never late; it will be fulfilled, but not according to our timetable.
People are forgetful, and what is today an Internet frenzy of breaking news and a matter of great concern to all will quickly be forgotten. However, God does not forget: all the wicked are dead, all evil regimes have fallen, all who are hostile to God have been defeated, and all who do not believe in the gospel have gone to hell.
3. Delight in the Lord and commit yourself to the Lord.
“Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked.” (v. 16) God’s people on earth may not have a rich life, a good marriage, or even a healthy body. They may often experience sorrow, suffering, pain, and struggle. However, what allows us to rejoice and have hope is that God gives himself to us. Christ is with us. He gives us the privilege of prayer, and if we ask him in faith, according to his will, “he will give you the desires of your heart” (v. 4b) “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (v. 11)
4. Turn away from evil and do good, and keep the word of the Lord.
God has given us new life in Christ, a new life capable of doing good and of keeping the word of the Lord. Although we are often weak and still experience internal battles, the Lord has given us power we did not have when we were wicked sinners. “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.” (v. 30-31) This is God’s turning over of our lives. We are no longer totally powerless to do good, but can, by his grace, do what is pleasing to the Lord.
“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.”(v. 23-24) By God’s grace we can keep his law and live a life pleasing to him. Even if we fall, the Lord will have mercy on us and lift us up.
Elder Li Yingqiang is an elder of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He and his wife have two children.
I thank and praise you, O Lord! We were chosen and saved by you from a hypocritical and corrupt people. We were originally wicked people who should have perished, but you cleansed us from our sins by the blood of Christ, equipped us with your Word, and by your Holy Spirit led us to turn away from sin and to do good and righteousness. We ask you to help us not to fret for the wicked, but to wait and watch for your works, and to wait patiently for the full realization of your righteousness until the day of Christ’s return!