Back to the Bible: Psalm 37

INTRODUCTION: What was going on in my mind before I picked up Psalm 37

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone who said that in Saddam’s case “good” has been achieved, and that’s what matters. He was not willing to admit to the failure in the system of justice in times of war. He said that he would rather “eradicate the threat” and then “justify himself later.” Of course most of it was light hearted banter, but the fact is that we disagreed. I return therefore to the Bible. And that returning can be seen as a desire to return to God’s perspective and understand from his point of view.

However, my mind went immediately to Psalm 37… that speaks more comfort to me, than explanations about the justification or the unjustification of war and misuse of power. And I wonder if I chose this Psalm because it affirms my own position? It confirms my biases?

Regardless, for today’s personal reading I chose Psalm 37 and have seen in it, through faith, God’s comfort for us who are saddened by the direction the world is going and feel powerless within.

METHODOLOGY: I read through the entire Psalm. And then sat down to see what it was saying as a whole. Basically the message is not difficult to understand, but I was keen not to misinterpret and so I decided to “slow” down my meaning-making process and looked at the text again after reading. What follows is the textual notes of that reflection.

TEXTUAL NOTES: Reflections on the Text

Structure of Psalm 37

Part 1. v.1-9 Do not fret, Trust in God, justice will be done.

Part2. v. 10-22 What will happen to the wicked?

Part 3. v. 23-33 What will happen to the righteous?

Part 4. v. 34-40 Final instructions: Wait for the Lord

Primary themes… The righteous man, the wicked man, instructions, God’s sovereignty judgement, God’s care for his people

Possible (summary) assertion… We should not fret when wicked succeed in their ways. Why? Because God is in control, he will judge the wicked and he will lift the righteous.

NEXT STEP, RE-READING: Reassess perspectives, re-read, and see if there is something more in the Psalm that we are quick to miss.

(Corrective) Focal Points… It’s easy for a reader (me) to focus here on the righteous and then identify with them. So basically normally we would look at what the righteous should do and apply it onto our own lives. However, if we see this Psalm as a conversation between David and some readers, and we being witnesses, we allow for some distance between the story and can possibily gain a little more insight.

Primary characters in this Psalm… 1) the speaker (David), 2) the “righteous” reader, 3) the wicked/evil me, 4) other characters, both righteous and wicked through whom we see examples of this, 5) God

David’s point of view: If indeed David reads it, we learn more about David as well, we see his “witness” that this is true. This is not a Psalm in abstract, but rather David has written it, and his testimony, we believe to be true. Knowing David’s life, we see that what he says is true.

Wicked/evil men point of view: The wicked, like the grass, have no clue of what is happening to them. They blindly live their lives, like grass, flourishing, without any idea of why they flourish or do not flourish. They have no idea of the fate they have from God’s point of view.

Righteous men point of view: In contrast, the righteous are given the privelege to see this picture. And they are called to both believe it and act upon it. They are not simply to be witnesses of the judgement of the wicked, but they have a huge responsibility not just negatively “do not fret” “do not be angry” but more powerfully/positively… “turn from evil and do good” “trust in the Lord” “delight in the Lord” “give generously” “wait for the Lord” “keep his way” be a “man of peace”. These are not easy demands, but are the character of the righteous.

Other characters/sub-plots: These are the characters/sub-plots that further emphasis the primary point of this Psalm. For instace, in vs. 25-26 David refers to God’s faithfulness to the righteous. We are led to believe that this is true; it actually happened during David’s time. Similary, vs. 35-36, David testifies that he has seen a wicked man flourish, but he has also seen him pass away. This is both testimony statement from David’s point of view but it is also an event that through faith (in David/writer’s testimony) accept as historically true.

God:Most importantly we see a picture of God. God is shown to be the reason why we should trust him, and the reason why wicked will not flourish and the righteous are taken care of. God is shown to be good (6, 17), not afraid of wicked (13), to be strong (39), to care for the weak/needy (19, 25), to be able to do the impossible (19). And thus the righteous need not fear, NOT because they are righteous but because “The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him” (40).

SUMMARY: So what can we say in conclusion? Possibly not too much more than a simple reading of Psalm 37 would suggest. Except that I find it helpful that upon deeper analysis, this Psalm proclaims in a much deeper/richer voice… that God is good and just and faithful. He will protect his people, he will rightly judge, and therefore we do not need to fear, not now or ever. However, this is also the time to act, even as the Lord is in control. We need to remember to do good, to trust God at all times, to wait patiently for him (not fret when things don’t go our way), and be men and women of peace.

APPLICATION: (If this texts affects us in any way, I think the application will also be self-evident. Hence I do not spend much time in how this applies. Of course we could ask, how indeed must we be men of peace? And sometimes the simplistic answers are to draw out scenarios in day-to-day life and then see how we must be men of peace in those circumstances. However, I feel that if indeed this phrase “men of peace” makes sense, then we also know what it means to be “men of peace” in various circumstances. We know what we need to do, and if God is especially drawing attention to that particular idea to us today (for example), then he will also give us the opportunity and the grace to apply it. Hence, I do not apply this message to any of the ‘common’ circumstances and leave that to the reader.

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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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