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Psalm 37

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Security of Those Who Trust in the Lord, and Insecurity of the Wicked The Heritage of the Righteous and the Calamity of the Wicked The Certainty of Retribution For the Wicked
(A Wisdom Psalm)
The Destiny of the Wicked and of the Good The Fate of the Upright and the Wicked

(An Acrostic)

MT Intro
A Psalm of David
       
37:1-6  37:1-2 37:1-2 3:1-2 37:1-2 (Aleph)
  37:3-4 37:3-4 37:3-4 37:3-4 (Bet)
  37:5-6 37:5-6 37:5-6 37:5-6 (Gimel)
37:7-11 37:7-11 37:7 37:7 37:7 (Dalet)
    37:8-9 37:8-9 37:8-9 (He)
    37:10-11 37:10-11 37:10-11 (Waw)
37:12-15 37:12-15 37:12-13 37:12-13 37:12-13 (Zain)
    37:14-15 37:14-15 37:14-15 (Het)
37:16-22 37:16-17 37:16-17 37:16-17 37:16-17 (Tet)
  37:18-20 37:18-19 37:18-20 37:18-19 (Yod)
    37:20   37:20 (Kaph)
  37:21-22 37:21-22 37:21-22 37:21-22 (Lamed)
37:23-26 37:23-24 37:23-24 37:23-24 37:23-24 (Mem)
  37:25-26 37:25-26 37:25-26 37:25-26 (Nun)
37:27-34 37:27-29 37:27-29 37:27-29 37:27-28b (Samek)
        37:28c-29 (Ain)
  37:30-31 37:30-31 37:30-31 37:30-31 (Pe)
  37:32-33 37:32-33 37:32-33 37:32-33 (Zade)
  37:34-36 37:34 37:34 37:34 (Qoph)
    37:35-36 37:35-36 37:35-36 (Resh)
37:35-40        
  37:37-38 37:37-38 37:37-38 37:37-38 (Shim)
  37:39-40 37:39-40 37:39-40 37:39-40 (Taw)

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm swings back and forth between admonishing and describing the faithful followers and describing the faithless. The theological issue is the prosperity of the wicked (cf. Psalm 73; Habakkuk).

 

B. YHWH is characterized in several different ways. He sustains the faithful and destroys the faithless.

 

C. This is an acrostic psalm. Each suggestive letter has two verses (i.e., 4 lines) except Qoph, 37:34, which has 3 lines.

 

D. This Psalm's theology about inheriting the land (i.e., Canaan) and prosperity is based on Gen. 12:1-3 (YHWH's initial call and promises to Abraham), which develops under Moses into the Mosaic covenant. It had blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30 for a good summary).

YHWH wanted to reveal Himself to the world through His special covenant people, Israel. Israel was to reveal His grace, mercy, and love through its prosperity and godly culture. As is obvious from the historical books (i.e., Joshua — 2 Kings), the disobedience of Israel thwarted this purpose. Israel was judged and the covenant broken (i.e., exile). Therefore, YHWH was forced to start a "new covenant" (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) based on His grace and actions, not fallen human obedience (i.e., the gospel of Jesus Christ recorded in the NT). With this new covenant the promises to national Israel were annulled! Below I have place a Special Topic that tries to document this change.

SPECIAL TOPIC: WHY ARE THE END-TIME EVENTS SO CONTROVERSIAL?

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 37:1-6
 1Do not fret because of evildoers,
 Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
 2For they will wither quickly like the grass
 And fade like the green herb.
 3Trust in the Lord and do good;
 Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
 4Delight yourself in the Lord;
 And He will give you the desires of your heart.
 5Commit your way to the Lord,
 Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
 6He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
 And your judgment as the noonday.

37:1-6 This strophe has seven imperatives and three jussives. These are not prayers but admonitions to the faithful (i.e., what to do and what not to do).

1. fret not yourself — BDB 354, KB 351, Hithpael jussive, same form in Ps. 37:7,8; note Pro. 24:19; the word means "burn," or "be kindled" and is used figuratively of anger; here it is paired with "envy" (BDB 888)

2. do not be envious — BDB 888, KB 1109, Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. Ps. 73:3; Pro. 3:31; 23:17; 24:1,19

The lives of the wicked look successful and happy but they are short lived; they will not ultimately inherit the promised land.

1. they will wither quickly like the grass — BDB 576, KB 593, Qal imperfect, cf. Job 14:2; Ps. 90:5-6; 103:15-16; Isa. 40:6-8

2. they will fade like the green herb — BDB 615, KB 663, Qal imperfect

In light of the transitoriness of the faithless ones, faithful followers should (37:3-5 has 7 imperatives)

1. trust in YHWH — BDB 105, KB 120, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 37:3,5; Ps. 52:8; 62:8; Pro. 3:5-6

2. do good — BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperative

3. dwell in the land — BDB 1014, KB 1496, Qal imperative

4. cultivate faithfulness — BDB 944, KB 1258, Qal imperative

5. delight yourself in YHWH — BDB 772, KB 851, Hithpael imperative (i.e., not in physical prosperity)

6. commit your way (see Special Topic at Ps. 1:2) to YHWH — BDB 164, KB 193, Qal imperative

7. trust in Him — BDB same as #1

YHWH will

1. give (BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperfect) the faithful follower "the desires of your heart," Ps. 37:4

2. "He will do it" (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperfect), Ps. 37:5

3. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light

4. He will bring forth your justice as the noonday (#3 and #4 are parallel and seem to refer to a court case or is figurative of end-time judgment)

 

37:4b This line of poetry has always meant a lot to me personally, but I am not sure I have interpreted it correctly. I usually use this to assert that if we are faithful followers we will desire the right things because YHWH has informed our hearts (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26-27). But it surely could refer to the answered prayers of the faithful follower (cf. Ps. 20:4-5; 21:2; 145:19; Matt. 7:7-8). The theological issue is the interplay between God's sovereignty and human freewill (see Special Topic at Ps. 25:12; NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 444). Sometimes careful exegesis ruins a good sermon!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 37:7-11
 7Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
 Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
 Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
 8Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
 Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
 9For evildoers will be cut off,
 But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
 10Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
 And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
 11But the humble will inherit the land
 And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

37:7-11 This is a continuation of the previous strophe.

1. admonitions to the faithful

a. rest in YHWH — BDB 198, KB 226, Qal imperative

b. wait patiently for Him — BDB 296, KB 297, Hithpolel imperative (i.e., for YHWH to act temporally and eschatologically)

c. fret not — same as 37:1

d. cease from anger — BDB 951, KB 1276, Hiphil imperative (i.e., do not try to avenge yourself)

e. forsake wrath — BDB 736, KB 806, Qal imperative

f. fret not — same as 37:1,7

2. because the fate of the faithless is sure

a. his prosperity will be cut off (i.e., death)

b. the wicked will have no place (like wild flowers out of season)

3. therefore, the faithful (i.e., those who wait for YHWH, Ps. 37:9b)

a. will inherit the land, cf. Ps. 37:9,11,22,29,34, see note D. in Contextual Insights; and Special Topic at Ps. 1:2)

b. will delight themselves in abundant prosperity

 

37:7 "wait patiently" The MT has the verb (BDB 296 I, KB 297), literally "whirl," "dance," "writhe" (i.e., in pain). It is used in the sense of "waiting" in Job 35:14 (Polel). Only here in Ps. 37:7 (Hithpolel) does it mean "wait patiently." Because of this the NET Bible (cf. p. 895, #9) has suggested an emendation to a different Hebrew root (i.e., from חיל to יחל, BDB 403, Hiphil).

37:8 Here again is the recurrent OT emphasis of God's sovereignty and foreknowledge (cf. Ps. 37:23). All history is present before Him. Faithful followers can trust that

1. the past is forgiven

2. the present is empowered

3. the future is secure

 

37:10 "Yet a little while" This is Hebrew imagery for predestined occurrences. YHWH is in control of time. There is a plan, purpose, and just outcome. Righteousness will be victorious in the end and wickedness will be exposed, judged, and eliminated (cf. Ps. 37:13)!

37:11 "the humble will inherit the land" This is quoted by Jesus in the beatitude of Matt. 5:5 (LXX), where "land" has turned into "earth" (see Contextual Insights).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 37:12-15
 12The wicked plots against the righteous
 And gnashes at him with his teeth.
 13The Lord laughs at him,
 For He sees his day is coming.
 14The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
 To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
 To slay those who are upright in conduct.
 15Their sword will enter their own heart,
 And their bows will be broken.

37:12-15 The wicked's actions against the faithful and YHWH's response.

1. the wicked

a. plot against the righteous

b. gnash (their teeth) at him/them, cf. Job 16:9; Ps. 35:11; Lam. 2:16; Acts 7:54

c. have drawn the swords

d. have bent their bows

(1) to cast down the afflicted

(2) to cast down the needy

(3) to slay the upright

2. YHWH's response

a. He laughs at him/them, cf. Ps. 2:4; 59:9

b. He sees his/their day (i.e., of judgment) coming, both temporal and eschatological

c. their sword will be broken (reversal by YHWH)

d. their bow will be broken (reversal by YHWH)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 37:16-22
 16Better is the little of the righteous
 Than the abundance of many wicked.
 17For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
 But the Lord sustains the righteous.
 18The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
 And their inheritance will be forever.
 19They will not be ashamed in the time of evil,
 And in the days of famine they will have abundance.
 20But the wicked will perish;
 And the enemies of the Lord will be like the glory of the pastures,
 They vanish— like smoke they vanish away.
 21The wicked borrows and does not pay back,
 But the righteous is gracious and gives.
 22For those blessed by Him will inherit the land,
 But those cursed by Him will be cut off.

37:16-22 This strophe is a series of contrasts (antithetical parallelism).

1. Verse 16

a. better is the little of the righteous (cf. Pro. 15:16-17; 16:8; 28:6; this is the theological balance to 37:25)

b. than the abundance of many wicked (i.e., do not fret over the seeming prosperity of the wicked, 37:1-2)

2. Verse 17

a. the arms of the wicked will be broken

b. YHWH sustains the righteous

3. Verses 18-20

a. the blameless, Ps. 37:18-19

(1) YHWH knows their day

(2) their inheritance will be forever

(3) they will not be ashamed in the time of evil

(4) in the days of famine, they will have abundance

b. the wicked

(1) will perish

(2) will vanish away (MT uncertain, context suggests, like spring flowers, cf. Ps. 37:2)

4. Verse 21

a. the wicked borrows and does not pay back

b. the righteous is gracious and gives

5. Verse 22

a. those blessed by YHWH will inherit the land

b. those cursed by YHWH will be cut off

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 37:23-26
 23The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
 And He delights in his way.
 24When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
 Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.
 25I have been young and now I am old,
 Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
 Or his descendants begging bread.
 26All day long he is gracious and lends,
 And his descendants are a blessing.

37:23-26 This strophe describes the faithful follower(s).

1. his/her steps are established by YHWH

2. YHWH delights in his/her way

3. when he/she falls

a. not hurled headlong (i.e., figurative of destruction)

b. because YHWH holds his/her hand (saints do falter from time to time but YHWH does not)

4. psalmist (with the experiences of a lifetime) has never seen the righteous forsaken

5. psalmist has never seen their descendants begging bread

6. he/she is gracious and lends

7. his/her descendants are a blessing

 

37:25 This is an OT perspective based on the Mosaic covenant (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30). This is not meant to be interpreted today that all poor and needy people can not be believers. The covenants have changed, see Contextual Insights D. For a good brief discussion of this verse, see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 267-268.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 37:27-34
 27Depart from evil and do good,
 So you will abide forever.
 28For the Lord loves justice
 And does not forsake His godly ones;
 They are preserved forever,
 But the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.
 29The righteous will inherit the land
 And dwell in it forever.
 30The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
 And his tongue speaks justice.
 31The law of his God is in his heart;
 His steps do not slip.
 32The wicked spies upon the righteous
 And seeks to kill him.
 33The Lord will not leave him in his hand
 Or let him be condemned when he is judged.
 34Wait for the Lord and keep His way,
 And He will exalt you to inherit the land;
 When the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

37:27-34 This strophe, like Ps. 37:1-6, has several imperatives (6) admonishing the faithful. This is another strophe describing the actions of the faithful followers.

1. admonishments (i.e., imperatives)

a. depart from evil, Ps. 37:27 — BDB 693, KB 747, Qal imperative

b. do good, Ps. 37:27 — BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 37:3

c. dwell forever, Ps. 37:27 — BDB 1014, KB 1496, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 37:18,29

d. wait for YHWH, Ps. 37:34 — BDB 875, KB 1082, Piel imperative, cf. Ps. 37:9

e. keep His way, Ps. 37:34 — BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperative

2. reasons for the admonishments

a. YHWH loves justice

b. YHWH does not forsake His godly ones

c. they are preserved forever

d. they will inherit the land

e. they will dwell in the land forever

f. they speak wisdom/justice

g. they/he have the law of God in their/his hearts

h. his foot does not slip

i. YHWH will not desert him/them

j. he/they will not be condemned in judgment

Being a covenant believer changes every aspect of one's life, motives, and hopes. There is a radical difference between the faithful follower and the faithless person. The faithless person may be

1. an idolater

2. a disobedient covenant person

3. a practical atheist

4. an apathetic follower

5. an aggressive rich person

6. a disloyal political person

In verse 32 he/she is described as one who (see strophe 35-40)

1. spies upon the righteous

2. seeks to kill him/them

 

37:28 "They are preserved forever" The LXX changes this to "the evildoers will be chased away." This is suggested to preserve the acrostic structure (i.e., ‘ayin) and fit the parallelism. The UBS Text Project gives the MT a "B" rating (some doubt).

1. MT — נשמדו

2. LXX — נשדו (NEB, NJB, REB)

 

37:31 "The law of God" This term (BDB 435) is one of several terms used to describe YHWH's revelation to Israel (see Special Topic at Ps. 1:2).

▣ "in his heart" This is the internalization of God's revelation (i.e., God's Law written on the heart) and is a marker of the "new covenant" of Jer. 31:31-34.

▣ "His steps do not slip" Godly living is figuratively described as a straight, level, unobstructed path, a clearly marked road (cf. Ps. 37:34a, "His way," see note at Ps. 1:1). The opposite would be

1. steps slipped

2. in the miry clay

3. stumbled over

In the NT this same imagery is found (i.e., "walk," cf. Eph. 4:1,17; 5:2,15).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 37:35-40
 35I have seen a wicked, violent man
 Spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil.
 36Then he passed away, and lo, he was no more;
 I sought for him, but he could not be found.
 37Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright;
 For the man of peace will have a posterity.
 38But transgressors will be altogether destroyed;
 The posterity of the wicked will be cut off.
 39But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
 He is their strength in time of trouble.
 40The Lord helps them and delivers them;
 He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
 Because they take refuge in Him.

37:35-40 This strophe summarizes the contrast between the righteous and the wicked.

1. the wicked

a. violent (lit. "terror-striking," BDB 792)

b. spreading (rapidly, BDB 947) his influencing power and control like a luxuriant tree in the land (MT uncertain)

c. his days are numbered and he will be no more

d. he/they will be destroyed along with their descendants (see note below at #2 c.)

2. the righteous

a. mark (lit. "keep watch") the blameless man (see Special Topic at Ps. 18:20-24) — BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperative

b. behold the upright — BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperative

c. the man of peace will have a posterity (either afterlife or children)

d. they are saved by YHWH

e. YHWH is their strength in time of trouble

f. YHWH helps them

g. YHWH delivers them

All of this occurs because they take refuge in Him

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How is this Psalm related to Psalms 49 and 73, and the book of Job?

2. Why are men described in terms of grass and flowers?

3. What is the etymology of the term "trust" and what is the significance for our lives?

4. What is the central theme of this Psalm?

5. Why are verses 16 and 24 such an important balance to traditional OT wisdom?

6. Does this Psalm teach temporal or eschatological judgment? Why?