Psalm 37
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This is a very remarkable psalm. Its theme is one throughout its entire length. Yet it is not so much drawn out consecutively as repeated proverbially. This may be partly accounted for by its alphabetical structure. There is no advance between the verses at the commencement and those at its close, but rather a remarkable variety of beautiful turns of expression to a thought that is the same throughout. The whole psalm may be summed up thus: "Just now, you see the wicked prospering and the ungodly depressed. Do not fret over this. Trust, do right, rest in the Lord, wait and see. And by-and-by you will find that the righteous are brought out to the light, while the wicked are relegated to forgetfulness and shame. Even now to have God in the heart with a crust in the hand, is better than to have the riches of many wicked. God will, in his own time and way, appear for his faithful ones, and prove the truth of his ancient word, 'Them that honour me, I will honour.'" So far as the text of the psalm is concerned, there is little to call for laboured criticism, though the Hebrew student would do well to examine minutely the second halves of the third and thirty-seventh verses. For the most part the psalm is delightfully plain and clear; and nowhere could any better rule or directory for life be found than is herein contained. In our homiletic treatment of it we will notice -

I. THE SEVERAL DUTIES HERE ENJOINED ON THE GOOD MAN. These duties are put into a form suggested by the circumstances which surrounded the writer. When David wrote this psalm he was an old man. Looking back on the scenes of past observation and experience, he had witnessed many strange inequalities on the surface of society. Looking in one direction, he had often beheld an ungodly man enjoying all that heart could wish, so far as this world was concerned; and in another direction he had as often seen a good man, one who walked closely with God, in the midst of trial, affliction, and distress. This state of things had perplexed him, and he knew that it still perplexed the righteous. To meet their perplexities and to assuage them, this psalm was penned; and it is this purpose which forms the background of thought throughout the entire length of the psalm.

1. The first injunction is "fret not (ver. 1). Do not worry or perplex yourself about these mysteries of God's providence. Even if the lot of the wicked seems more easy, more pleasant, more prosperous than yours, yet they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb; ' besides, "a little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked." God's people are infinitely better off, with him as their heavenly Friend, than any of the ungodly are, with all their noise and parade.

2. Hence a second duty is presented to us: "Trust and Rest in the Lord. Two expressions for substantially the same attitude of spirit. But this restful trusting is put in contrast from fretting. Your work is not to worry, but to trust your God. Now, in what sense is this intended? Let us picture the good man under the difficulty to which we have referred. He sees the ungodly in high places, while he is obscure, depressed, afflicted; and he wonders what it means, now, in what sense is such a one to trust in the Lord? He is to trust in God, believing that such a state of things is known and permitted by him in infinite wisdom; that this state of chaos is perfectly consistent with God's love for his people; that God has some wise and holy end in permitting it - to prove him and to improve him; and that he will see that end, either in this world or in the next.

3. Then there follows a third duty: Wait patiently. If we are content to wait and let God's methods in providence open up before us, we shall see the ungodly cut down (vers. 2, 9, 10, 15, 17, 20, 25, 36, 38); that God will give us the desires of our heart, and graciously clear our way (vers. 4, 5); that though we may have been misunderstood and misrepresented for a time, yet God will clear us and our reputation in the long run (ver. 6); that God will grant the true possession and peaceful enjoyment of life to the meek and loyal (ver. 11); that the little of the righteous brings far more joy than the much of the wicked (ver. 16); that he will be upheld where others fall (ver. 17); that supplies shall be sent to the saint even in days of famine (ver. 19); that step by step will be taken under the ordering of a Divine Guide (ver. 23); that even in falling he shall not perish, for to him shall be shown a Divine upholding grace (ver. 24); that the righteous man will leave a blessed inheritance to his children, - peace was his in life, and peace shall follow his children when he is gone to his rest (ver. 37); that his life is but an outworking of God's great salvation (vers. 39, 40). It is not in youth that all this can be seen, but if we believe God when we are young, we shall have proved him ere we are old. Only let us wait patiently." There is a vast unfolding plan, which, if we are wise to observe, will be ever revealing to us "the loving-kindness of the Lord."

4. And thus we are led on to a fourth duty - that of obedience. (Ver. 3.) "Trust in the Lord, and do good," i.e. "do right. In ver. 34 the same duty is expressed in another phrase, Wait on the Lord, and keep his way. Trusting and trying, resting and working, are to go together. We are to find out what God would have us do in the sphere in which he has placed us; then to trust in the Lord, be strong, and do it. And we may do right" (ver. 3), or, in other words, we may "keep his way" (ver. 34) in one or other of two methods. By actively doing the Divine will; and this is probably what most of us are called on to do - to pursue with energy the duties in active life that are set before us. Now, we may fulfil these:

(1) In attending at each moment to the duty of the moment; simply doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and with the distinct aim and purpose of pleasing God. May be our calling is not that which we should prefer, and yet we see no way open to any other. When God does open a way in another direction, by all means let us follow it. But, meanwhile, be it ours simply to do the work which lies before us, with a readiness and cheerfulness that befit those whose sole aim is to please God.

(2) In the cultivation of holiness we may "do right," ever setting the Lord before us, and aiming to follow him who "left us an example, that we should follow his steps."

(3) In personal efforts to help, to relieve, to comfort, or to serve another, we may do right. In this respect, as well as others, "it is accepted, according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." But we may "do right" also by patiently bearing the Divine will; and sometimes this is all the believer can do - simply to bear what God has laid upon him. Nor is there a nobler sight on earth than to see one who, racked with pain or wrapped in obscurity, can say, "My lot is appointed me by my Father's will; all that will is love, and therefore I can cheerfully bear it. If my Father were to give the rod unto my own hands, I would give it back to him, saying, 'Father, thou knowest best; do with me as seemeth good in thy sight.'" Why, such a one, though he never goes outside the doors of his own house from one year's end to another, is a missionary to the Church and to the world! Preach fervently as we may by words, we cannot preach like these suffering saints! But we must notice -

II. THE CONNECTION THERE IS BETWEEN THESE SEVERAL DUTIES. We have specified them under four heads.

1. Fret not.

2. Trust.

3. Wait patiently.

4. Do right.

These four may be reduced to two: trusting and trying; or, in other words, to resting and working. Both are included in the verse already quoted. "Trust in the Lord, and do right." While these duties in combination make up "the whole duty of man," they are so connected together that neither can be discharged without the other. If we do not trust in God, we cannot do the right, and if we do not desire to do right, we have no right to trust in God. What, then, is the relation between them? At least a fourfold one.

1. Trust in God ensures the peace of mind which fits a man for work. E.g. take a tradesman in business, whose affairs are going down, and who will soon find himself on the wrong side of the balance-sheet. It is impossible for him to go about his business with the energy it requires, especially in these times. But put the man's affairs straight; tell him that everything is set right, and that by-and-by he will find himself in a better position than at present, - and you put new life into the man. When he knows that all is right, he can set about his work with all the zest that is needed. So it is here. There once were two burdens pressing on the heart. The one, of his spiritual interests, the other, of his temporal care. What has become of these? The first, the burden of guilt, he has laid at the foot of the cross. The second, the load of earthly care, he brings day by day, and casts it upon his God. Thus he has nothing left to care for, nothing left to be anxious about. Hence, the peace of God passing all understanding keeps his heart and mind in Christ Jesus; and, consequently, with unburdened heart, he can go about the work his Father has given him to do.

2. Trusting in God ensures the reception of strength for the discharge of work. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;" "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." So runs the promise, and so runs experience too. Strength according to the days; strength sure as the days; strength to the end of the days. Such will be the uniform result of" waiting on God all the day."

3. Trusting in God supplies a man with motives to perform his work. If I am permitted to trust in God, then honour requires that I shall do right; for I trust in God for strength to perform his will; hence when I ask for strength there is a tacit pledge that the strength received from God shall be spent in obedience to God. And not only so, but gratitude also requires that I should do right. If I receive of God's strength, how ann I but gratefully spend it for him? And the honor of religion requires that I should do right. For if I tell the world I am trusting in God, and yet fail to do right, what will the worldling say? What can he say, but this? - "Either your God is not the God you say he is, or else you have not the trust in him which you profess to have." If we want the world to believe in God, if we want them to give us credit for sincerity, we must show that, while we trust in God, we also do right.

4. Trusting in God gives a man a guarantee of the successful issue of his work. Is it mine to trust in God? Can I, under all circumstances, repose in him? Then I know that, to the very last, all shall be well. He hath said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Trusting in him, we will dare to work, to suffer, or to die.

5. Trusting in God will ensure a blessing to those on whom our work may afterwards full. (Ver. 37, Hebrew and Revised Version margin, compared with ver. 38, Hebrew.) The good man layeth an inheritance to his children's children. "The generation of the upright shall be blessed." The Old Testament does not project our thought into our own future life after death as the New Testament does, but it lays very much stress on the effect of a man's life on the generations which will follow him on earth: this is in accordance with Deuteronomy 7:9. And there can be no manner of doubt that the posterity of a man of trained righteousness, integrity, and piety, even though he be a poor man, will have the best of all legacies - pious poverty, God's blessing, and a father's prayers. We do not say that young people are now taught too much to look to their future life, but we do venture to affirm that far too little stress is laid upon, and mention is far too seldom made of, the thought of the effect of parental character upon posterity. The law of heredity is stronger than that of environment; or, to put the same truth in somewhat antique form, "Grace does not run in the blood, but it purifies it."

6. Trusting in God ensures a man of a home in God when the earthly work is over. Even when flesh and heart fail, God is the Strength of our heart, and our Portion for ever! - C.

The psalmist says, at ver. 25, "I have been young, and now am old." We may regard him therefore as speaking in this psalm with the fulness of knowledge and the confidence of ripened wisdom. His old experience has attained to prophetic strain. Let us consider two pictures.

I. THE EVILS OF ENVY. It is common. It takes its rise and works upon the lower part of our nature, blinding our minds, perverting our hearts, and stirring up all our evil passions. It "frets" us with a sense of our inferiority; it "frets" us with a feeling of the injustice with which we are treated; it "frets" us with a proud consciousness of what we would have done, if only things had been otherwise, and we had fair opportunities. In these and other ways it breaks our peace and embitters our lives. And yet how useless is envy as a resource amidst the ills of life! Instead of remedying, it only aggravates our troubles. Nothing but evil can come of evil. Envy leads not only to waste, but to worry, and not only to worry, but to wearing away of our powers, as by the slow and insidious progress of disease. Besides, envy is manifestly unreasonable in view of the realities of character. The prosperity of the wicked is vain and delusive. Look to the tendencies of things, look to the effect upon character, look to the end, and then see how, even in the deepest sense, it is infinitely better to have little with a clear conscience, than a full purse of unrighteous gains; to take the lowest place among men, with the love of God, than lands and heritages and the highest honours of the world, by the sacrifice of truth and righteousness. Moreover, envy is in reality a grievous offence against God. We are slow to admit this. We regard "fretfulness" as more an unhappy temper than a sin. But in this we err. "Envy" implies dissatisfaction with God's government, distrust of his justice, and doubt of his truth. When we give way to "envy," we place ourselves first, and as good as say, "If God were just, if he really loved us and eared for us, he would settle things otherwise, and not suffer our enemies to triumph over us." Thus in our selfishness we blind ourselves to the truth, and act not only unworthily towards God, but inconsistently with our own best faith and hopes. "The tree is known by its fruits." To judge rightly of envy, let us mark its effects. See how it wrought in Cain. See how from that time onward, wherever it has had sway, it has wrought terrible evils - as in Saul, and Ahab, and Haman, and the wicked Jews, and even in the Christian Church. If these things are so, how great a sin do we who profess to be the followers of the meek and lowly Jesus commit by yielding to this mean and degrading vice that has wrought such havoc in the world and in the Church!

II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF TRUST IN GOD. Trust is the true antidote to envy. We see this in the dispositions it produces - towards God, piety (vers. 3-6); towards man, benevolence (ver. 8). Next in the benedictions it secures. It brings settledness. Instead of distressing cares and passions, we have tranquillity. Instead of pain, we have peace. We are at home with God. There is also sustenance. We are "fed" with heavenly food. We gain strength for all work. "Daily bread" fits us for daily duty. There is also satisfaction. Our higher nature is set above our lower nature. Reason rules instead of passion. Love binds us to our brethren instead of our being separated by envy. Trust in God brings to us all that is really good for us, and we bask as in the sunshine of God's favour instead of being alienated from him by wicked works. Mark the Divine order with regard to these blessings. There must be a right spirit before there can be right conduct. Mark also how, as we live a true and unselfish life, doing good and hoping for nothing again but what God the Lord sees fit to give, we secure not only our own self-respect, but grow in favour with God and man. The surest way to get rid of discontent with the present, and fear of the future, is to do right and leave auto God.

"Careless seems the Great Avenger; history's pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness, 'twixt old systems and the Word,
Truth for ever on the scaffold - wrong for ever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own."

(Lowell.) W.F.

The difficulty which perplexes the mind of the psalmist here is - How does God judge the wicked, if he allows them to prosper; and how reward the righteous, if they suffer adversity? The answers given are not a consecutive argument. The whole psalm is more like a string of pearls held together only by the string. The thoughts have no joints or links to unite them. The leading thought, repeated in various ways, is not to envy the present prosperity of the wicked, but rather to wait in patient resignation for the just judgments of God.

I. BURNING ENVY IS WRONG IN ITSELF, AND LEADS TO EVIL CONSEQUENCES. (Ver. 1.) To grudge the wicked their prosperity is very much as if we coveted it. And envy is nigh to cursing - an unrighteous spirit.

II. WE MUST ALLOW TIME TO SOLVE THIS AS WELL AS MANY OTHER DIFFICULTIES. (Ver. 2.) Fate of Saul, Absalom, and Ahithophel. "What thou knowest not now," etc.

III. LET NOT YOUR DIFFICULTIES SUPPLANT THE ONLY TRULY SATISFYING EXERCISES OF THE HEART AND LIFE. (Vers. 3, 4.) Trust in the unseen Lord; delight yourself in him; find the joy of his service; and your best desires shall be satisfied. Do not let your jealousy of the wicked cause you to cease from doing good, and unsettle your ways of life; inhabit the land, and live a truthful and faithful life.

IV. LET THE RIGHTEOUS MAN BE ASSURED OF THE SYMPATHY AND CO-OPERATION OF THE RIGHTEOUS GOD. (VEER. 5, 6.) God brought David out of all dangers with which Saul threatened him, and made his name to shine over the whole kingdom. Present adversity is often the way w future glory. Think of the darkness that fell upon Christ in his sufferings and death; and yet he was the Sun of Righteousness. - S.

Psalm 37:4-6
Psalm 37:4-6. Here we have a

Sweet picture of a noble life.

I. QUIET HEART. The eye, the ear, the imagination, continually bring before us objects that appeal to our desires. We are in danger of being distracted and harassed, and of even yielding to envy and discontent. The cure is from God. When we come to know him as he is, to believe in him as he has revealed himself in Christ Jesus, we are able to rest in him with confidence, leaving everything to his righteous and loving rule.

II. RIGHTLY ORDERED LIFE. There may be life without any rule, or there may be life wrongly directed, or there may be life regulated in a right way, in accordance with God's will and not our own. This last is the true "way." It is when we "commit our way to God "in humble prayer, and holy submission to his will, that light will arise to us, and strength be ministered to us, and real prosperity secured to us. This is not only the best way for ourselves, but also for others. It is in doing God's will that we reach the highest honour and usefulness, and accomplish our true destiny.

III. BLISSFUL FUTURE. There is a screen as of night between us and to-morrow. We know not what a day may bring forth. There may come loss of health, of property, of friends. There may come diverse trials and troubles. Or it may be otherwise. Let us be thankful that God has been pleased to conceal from us what it would have been ill for us to know. But God knows all, and we are as sure, as that God lives, that it shall be well with the righteous. - W.F.

The text of the whole psalm is in the first two verses. We are not to be discouraged in the service of God by the prosperity of the wicked; for it is more apparent than real, and is a short-lived prosperity. At the seventh verse the psalm takes a fresh start from the same key-note.

I. SILENT TRUST IN GOD, WAITING FOR HIM, IS THE ONLY TRUE SOLUTION OF THE DIFFICULTY. (Ver. 7.) Do not vainly argue the question; be silent to God, and he will speak by-and-by and explain the difficulties of his providence.

II. ENVIOUS ANGER THAT THE WICKED ARE BETTER OFF THAN YOU IS SINFUL. (Ver. 8.) It is an arraignment of God's providence, which is presumptuous, and a discontent which is ungrateful, and an undervaluing of that inward prosperity which is the greatest good of life.

III. IT IS THE RIGHTEOUS WHO REALLY INHERIT THAT WHICH IS BEST IN THIS LIFE. (Vers. 9, 10.) The prosperity of evil-doers will soon come to an end; for it is unrighteous, and cannot last in the world of a righteous God. But the righteous have an inward life that turns outward things into gold; they feast royally at the table of God, as is said in the twenty-third psalm.

IV. THE PRECEDING THOUGHT IS REPEATED WITH THE PROMISE OF AN ABUNDANCE OF PEACE. (Ver. 11.) Our Lord repeats the former part of this verse in the Sermon on the Mount. "The meek - those who do not vainly strive and fret over the impossible or the inevitable - shall inherit the earth." And shall have peace of heart and mind, which the wicked have not. - S.

The argument is continued and repeated in various forms, that the righteous is to hold fast his confidence in God, and not to be discouraged by the prosperity of the wicked. For -


1. The impotence of the plots which they in their anger devise. (Vers. 12, 13.) The Lord shall laugh. "No weapon formed against him shall prosper."

2. The punishment of the wicked is near and certain. (Vers. 13, 20.) "He seeth that his day is coming."

3. The weapons which they employ against the righteous shall recoil upon themselves. (Vers. 14, 15.) God overrules the contest between them.


1. A little with righteousness is worth more than much with wickedness. (Ver. 16.)

2. The strength of the righteous is maintained and upheld by God. (Ver. 17.) While the "arms" - equivalent to the "strength" - of the wicked soon break down.

3. They fulfil their divinely ]PGBR> appointed days, and their goods descend to their posterity. (Ver. 18.) They are secure, and all things work together for good. The Christian knows of an eternal inheritance.

4. God will provide for all their wants. (Ver. 19.) This we know more abundantly in Christ. - S.

The steps of a good man, etc.


1. By means of outward law. "His delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in his Law doth he meditate day and night." "But what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh," etc. Christ is the outward law for the Christian.

2. By means of an inward influence. His Spirit exerting, directing, and ruling the thoughts, the desires, and the will, teaching him how to choose and how to walk. He "orders" consistently with our freedom.


1. Because all his work is good. A good man's life is his production. All God's work is good, none evil.

2. Because he delights in the rectitude and welfare of his children. As an earthly father delights in the true prosperity of his children.

III. GOD GIVES EVERY HELP FOR THE RECOVERY OF THOSE WHO FALL. He upholds him, helps him to rise, by taking hold of his hand.

1. He promises abundant forgiveness to the repentant. "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc. The parable of the prodigal son.

2. He searches and tries and shows the evil way in men, and leads them to repentance. By the revealing work of his Spirit. "Like as a father pitieth his children," etc. - S.

Evil-doers are not truly objects of envy. The more closely we contemplate this, the more clearly do we see their baseness. But it is needful that we should be urged to this salutary duty. Again and again in this psalm is the exhortation addressed to us to consider and judge rightly, to cease from evil and learn to do well. And there are good and weighty reasons given why we should have no part with evil-doers.


II. THEIR PROSPERITY IS DELUSIVE. Image upon image is used to set forth the vanity and worthlessness of all prosperity not founded in righteousness. Reason, observation, and history are appealed to as teaching that sometimes quickly, at other times slowly, sometimes openly, at other times silently and secretly, but always certainly, the end cometh (ver. 38).

III. THEIR DEVICES ARE DOOMED TO DEFEAT. We see, on the part of the wicked, malice suggesting, cunning contriving, and energy working out their evil devices, and, on the other hand, God watching and thwarting and overruling for good all their plans. So it was with Joseph's brethren (Acts 7:9, 10). So it was with Daniel's cruel foes (Daniel 6:24). So it was with the Jews, whose wicked hands had crucified the Son of God (Acts 2:23, 24). The day of retribution surely cometh. Not only defeat, but "shame and everlasting contempt," await the wicked. - W.F.

We have here -

I. THAT GOODNESS IS THE TRUE AIM OF LIFE. The first thing is to have the heart made good, and then all that flow from it, in word and deed, will be good also.

"But such as are good men can give good things."


II. THAT GOODNESS IS THE REAL GLORY OF LIFE. (Vers. 30, 31.) We cannot but admire "wisdom" and "judgment;" but what gives these their sweetest savour and their highest worth is the spirit of goodness that dwells in them The glory of God is his goodness, and it is in the measure that we are like God in goodness that we are like him in glory. This glory is free to us in Christ Jesus.

III. THAT GOODNESS IS THE MOST PERMANENT POSSESSION OF LIFE. Many things stand high for a time that will be brought low; many things are counted worthy amongst men that will yet be proved worthless. There may be wicked men who hold a prominent place in the world, and are for a while the envy of many, whose greatness is after all a delusion and a lie. In the end they will be cut down like a tree, whose glory is for ever abased. But it shall be otherwise with the righteous. Goodness cannot die. It is safe amidst all changes. It stands firm in the tumult and rage of the greatest storm. It emerges purer and brighter than ever from the fires of persecution and the fury of evil men (vers. 39, 40). Goodness lives as an influence in the world alter death, triumphs as the power of Cod in death, and will dwell in the light of God beyond death for ever and ever. - W.F.

Mark the perfect, and behold the upright: for the man of peace hath a future [or, 'posterity']. In contrast to the wicked spoken of in the next verse (38). This whole psalm is a record of human experience.


1. Every maws life is in the main an embodiment either of the Law of God or of the law of self. Intellectual life, a life of knowledge or of ignorance, of wisdom or foolishness. But the moral life is the grandest, as exhibiting obedience or disobedience to the eternal laws of God.

2. The moral life shows the consequences of living the one life or the other. The shame and misery of the one, and the peace and blessedness of the other. Difference is life or death.


1. It brings him internal peace. And in the main outward peace; but if not, the peace of trust and rest in God. Peace in life and peace in death.

2. He transmits righteousness to his posterity.

(1) By the influence of his example and teaching. His words and his character are reproduced in his children; he lives again in them, perhaps a higher life than he lived, according to the law of progress. May be exceptions.

(2) By hereditary transmission. Moral as well as physical qualities descend to our children, and to children's children. How grand a motive for a pure, noble, Christian life! Goodness runs in the family blood. - S.

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