Psalm 37
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The Seeming Prosperity of the Wicked, and the Real Prosperity of the Godly

The bond of connection between Psalm 36:1-12 and 37 is their similarity of contents, which here and there extends even to accords of expression. The fundamental thought running through the whole Psalm is at once expressed in the opening verses: Do not let the prosperity of the ungodly be a source of vexation to thee, but wait on the Lord; for the prosperity of the ungodly will suddenly come to an end, and the issue determines between the righteous and the unrighteous. Hence Tertullian calls this Psalm providentiae speculum; Isodore, potio contra murmur; and Luther, vestis piorum, cui adscriptum: Hic Sanctorum patientia est (Revelation 14:12). This fundamental thought the poet does not expand in strophes of ordinary compass, but in shorter utterances of the proverbial form following the order of the letters of the alphabet, and not without some repetitions and recurrences to a previous thought, in order to impress it still more convincingly and deeply upon the mind. The Psalm belongs therefore to the series Psalm 9 and Psalm 10:1, Psalm 25:1, Psalm 34:1, - all alphabetical Psalms of David, of whose language, cheering, high-flown, thoughtful, and at the same time so easy and unartificial, and withal elegant, this Psalm is fully worthy. The structure of the proverbial utterances is almost entirely tetrastichic; though ד, כ, and ק are tristichs, and ח (which is twice represented, though perhaps unintentionally), נ, and ת are pentastichs. The ע is apparently wanting; but, on closer inspection, the originally separated strophes ס and ע are only run into one another by the division of the verses. The ע strophe begins with לעולם, Psalm 37:28, and forms a tetrastich, just like the ס. The fact that the preposition ל stands before the letter next in order need not confuse one. The ת, Psalm 37:39, also begins with ותשׁועת. The homogeneous beginnings, זמם רשׁע, לוה רשׁע, צופה רשׁע, Psalm 37:12, Psalm 37:21, Psalm 37:32, seem, as Hitzig remarks, to be designed to give prominence to the pauses in the succession of the proverbial utterances.

A Psalm of David. Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
Olshausen observes, "The poet keeps entirely to the standpoint of the old Hebrew doctrine of recompense, which the Book of Job so powerfully refutes." But, viewed in the light of the final issue, all God's government is really in a word righteous recompense; and the Old Testament theodicy is only inadequate in so far as the future, which adjusts all present inconsistencies, is still veiled. Meanwhile the punitive justice of God does make itself manifest, as a rule, in the case of the ungodly even in the present world; even their dying is usually a fearful end to their life's prosperity. This it is which the poet means here, and which is also expressed by Job himself in the Book of Job, Job 27:1. With התחרה, to grow hot or angry (distinct from תּחרה, to emulate, Jeremiah 12:5; Jeremiah 22:15), alternates קנּא, to get into a glow, excandescentia, whether it be the restrained heat of sullen envy, or the incontrollable heat of impetuous zeal which would gladly call down fire from heaven. This first distich has been transferred to the Book of Proverbs, Proverbs 24:19, cf. Proverbs 23:17; Proverbs 24:1; Proverbs 3:31; and in general we may remark that this Psalm is one of the Davidic patterns for the Salomonic gnome system. The form ימּלוּ is, according to Gesenius, Olshausen, and Hitzig, fut. Kal of מלל, cognate אמל, they wither away, pausal form for ימּלוּ like יתּממוּ, Psalm 102:28; but the signification to cut off also is secured to the verb מלל by the Niph. נמל, Genesis 17:11, whence fut. ימּלוּ equals ימּלּוּ; vid., on Job 14:2; Job 18:16. ירק דּשׁא is a genitival combination: the green (viror) of young vigorous vegetation.

For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
The "land" is throughout this Psalm the promised possession (Heilsgut), viz., the land of Jahve's presence, which has not merely a glorious past, but also a future rich in promises; and will finally, ore perfectly than under Joshua, become the inheritance of the true Israel. It is therefore to be explained: enjoy the quiet sure habitation which God gives thee, and diligently cultivate the virtue of faithfulness. The two imperatives in Psalm 37:3, since there are two of them (cf. Psalm 37:27) and the first is without any conjunctive Waw, have the appearance of being continued admonitions, not promises; and consequently אמוּנה is not an adverbial accusative as in Psalm 119:75 (Ewald), but the object to רעה, to pasture, to pursue, to practise (Syriac רדף, Hosea 12:2); cf. רעה, רע, one who interests himself in any one, or anything; Beduin râ‛â equals ṣâḥb, of every kind of closer relationship (Deutsch. Morgenlnd. Zeitschr. v. 9). In Psalm 37:4, ויתן is an apodosis: delight in Jahve (cf. Job 22:26; Psalm 27:10; Isaiah 58:14), so will He grant thee the desire (משׁאלת, as in Psalm 20:5) of thy heart; for he who, entirely severed from the creature, finds his highest delight in God, cannot desire anything that is at enmity with God, but he also can desire nothing that God, with whose will his own is thoroughly blended in love, would refuse him.

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
The lxx erroneously renders גּול ( equals גּל, Psalm 22:9) by ἀποκάλυψον instead of ἐπίῤῥιψον, 1 Peter 5:7 : roll the burden of cares of thy life's way upon Jahve, leave the guidance of thy life entirely to Him, and to Him alone, without doing anything in it thyself: He will gloriously accomplish (all that concerns thee): עשׂה, as in Psalm 22:32; Psalm 52:11; cf. Proverbs 16:3, and Paul Gerhardt's Befiehl du deine Wege, "Commit thou all thy ways," etc. The perfect in Psalm 37:6 is a continuation of the promissory יעשׂה. הוציא, as in Jeremiah 51:10, signifies to set forth: He will bring to light thy misjudged righteousness like the light (the sun, Job 31:26; Job 37:21, and more especially the morning sun, Proverbs 4:18), which breaks through the darkness; and thy down-trodden right (משׁפּטך is the pausal form of the singular beside Mugrash) like the bright light of the noon-day: cf. Isaiah 58:10, as on Psalm 37:4, Isaiah 58:14.

And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
The verb דּמם, with its derivatives (Psalm 62:2, Psalm 62:6; Lamentations 3:28), denotes resignation, i.e., a quiet of mind which rests on God, renounces all self-help, and submits to the will of God. התחולל (from הוּל, to be in a state of tension, to wait) of the inward gathering of one's self together in hope intently directed towards God, as in B. Berachoth 30b is a synonym of התחונן, and as it were reflexive of חלּה of the collecting one's self to importunate prayer. With Psalm 37:7 the primary tone of the whole Psalm is struck anew. On Psalm 37:7 compare the definition of the mischief-maker in Proverbs 24:8.

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
On הרף (let alone), imper. apoc. Hiph., instead of הרפּה, vid., Ges. ֗75, rem. 15. אך להרע is a clause to itself (cf. Proverbs 11:24; Psalm 21:5; Psalm 22:16): it tends only to evil-doing, it ends only in thy involving thyself in sin. The final issue, without any need that thou shouldst turn sullen, is that the מרעים, like to whom thou dost make thyself by such passionate murmuring and displeasure, will be cut off, and they who, turning from the troublous present, make Jahve the ground and aim of their hope, shall inherit the land (vid., Psalm 25:13). It is the end, the final and consequently eternal end, that decides the matter.

For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.
For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
The protasis in Psalm 37:10 is literally: adhuc parum (temporis superest), עוד מעט ו, as e.g., Exodus 23:30, and as in a similar connection מעט ו, Job 24:24. והתבּוננתּ also is a protasis with a hypothetical perfect, Ges. ֗155, 4, a. This promise also runs in the mouth of the Preacher on the Mount (Matthew 5:5) just as the lxx renders Psalm 37:11: οἱ δὲ πρᾳεῖς κληρονομήσουσι γῆν. Meekness, which is content with God, and renounces all earthly stays, will at length become the inheritor of the land, yea of the earth. Whatever God-opposed self-love may amass to itself and may seek to acquire, falls into the hands of the meek as their blessed possession.

But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.
The verb זמם is construed with ל of that which is the object at which the evil devices aim. To gnash the teeth (elsewhere also: with the teeth) is, as in Psalm 35:16, cf. Job 16:9, a gesture of anger, not of mockery, although anger and mockery are usually found together. But the Lord, who regards an assault upon the righteous as an assault upon Himself, laughs (Psalm 2:4) at the enraged schemer; for He, who orders the destinies of men, sees beforehand, with His omniscient insight into the future, his day, i.e., the day of his death (1 Samuel 26:10), of his visitation (Psalm 137:7, Obadiah 1:12, Jeremiah 50:27, Jeremiah 50:31).

The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation.
That which corresponds to the "treading" or stringing of the bow is the drawing from the sheath or unsheathing of the sword: פּתח, Ezekiel 21:28, cf. Psalm 55:22. The combination ישׁרי־דּרך is just like תמימי־דוך, Psalm 119:1. The emphasis in Psalm 37:14 is upon the suffix of בלבּם: they shall perish by their own weapon. קשּׁתותם has (in Baer) a Shebג dirimens, as also in Isaiah 5:28 in correct texts.

Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.
With Psalm 37:16 accord Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 16:8, cf. Tobit 12:8. The ל of לצּדּיק is a periphrastic indication of the genitive (Ges. 115). המון is a noisy multitude, here used of earthly possessions. רבּים is not per attract. (cf. Psalm 38:11, הם for הוּא) equivalent to רב, but the one righteous man is contrasted with many unrighteous. The arms are here named instead of the bow in Psalm 37:15. He whose arms are broken can neither injure others nor help himself. Whereas Jahve does for the righteous what earthly wealth and human power cannot do: He Himself upholds them.

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the LORD upholdeth the righteous.
The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever.
The life of those who love Jahve with the whole heart is, with all its vicissitudes, an object of His loving regard and of His observant providential care, Psalm 1:6; Psalm 31:8, cf. Psalm 16:1-11. He neither suffers His own to lose their heritage nor to be themselves lost to it. The αἰώνιος κληρονομία is not as yet thought of as extending into the future world, as in the New Testament. In Psalm 37:19 the surviving refers only to this present life.

They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
With כּי the preceding assertion is confirmed by its opposite (cf. Psalm 130:4). כּיקר בּרים forms a fine play in sound; יקר is a substantivized adjective like גּדל ekil evitcejda, Exodus 15:16. Instead of בעשׁן, it is not to be read כּעשׁן, Hosea 13:3; the ב is secured by Psalm 102:4; Psalm 78:33. The idea is, that they vanish into smoke, i.e., are resolved into it, or also, that they vanish in the manner of smoke, which is first thick, but then becomes thinner and thinner till it disappears (Rosenm׬ller, Hupfeld, Hitzig); both expressions are admissible as to fact and as to the language, and the latter is commended by בּהבל, Psalm 78:33, cf. בּצלם, Psalm 39:7. בעשׁן belongs to the first, regularly accented כּלוּ; for the Munach by בעשׂן is the substitute for Mugrash, which never can be used where at least two syllables do not precede the Silluk tone (vid., Psalter ii. 503). The second כּלוּ has the accent on the penult. for a change (Ew. 194, c), i.e., variation of the rhythm (cf. למה למה, Psalm 42:10; Psalm 43:2; עורי עורי, Judges 5:12, and on Psalm 137:7), and in particular here on account of its pausal position (cf. ערוּ, Psalm 137:7).

The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
It is the promise expressed in Deuteronomy 15:6; Deuteronomy 28:12, Deuteronomy 28:44, which is rendered in Psalm 37:21 in the more universal, sententious form. לוה signifies to be bound or under obligation to any one equals to borrow and to owe (nexum esse). The confirmation of Psalm 37:22 is not inappropriate (as Hitzig considers it, who places Psalm 37:22 after Psalm 37:20): in that ever deeper downfall of the ungodly, and in that charitableness of the righteous, which becomes more and more easy to him by reason of his prosperity, the curse and blessing of God, which shall be revealed in the end of the earthly lot of both the righteous and the ungodly, are even now foretold. Whilst those who reject the blessing of God are cut off, the promise given to the patriarchs is fulfilled in the experience of those who are blessed of God, in all its fulness.

For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
By Jahve (מן, ἀπό, almost equivalent to ὑπό with the passive, as in Job 24:1; Ecclesiastes 12:11, and in a few other passages) are a man's steps made firm, established; not: ordered or directed (lxx, Jerome, κατευθύνεται), which, according to the extant usage of the language, would be הוּכנוּ (passive of הכין, Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 10:23; 2 Chronicles 27:6), whereas כּוננוּ, the Pulal of כּונן, is to be understood according to Psalm 40:3. By גּבר is meant man in an emphatic sense (Job 38:3), and in fact in an ethical sense; compare, on the other hand, the expression of the more general saying, "Man proposes, and God disposes," Proverbs 16:9; Proverbs 20:24; Jeremiah 10:23. Psalm 37:23 shows that it is the upright man that is meant in Psalm 37:23: to the way, i.e., course of life, of such an one God turns with pleasure (יחפּץ pausal change of vowel for יחפּץ): supposing he should fall, whether it be a fall arising from misfortune or from error, or both together, he is not prostrated, but Jahve upholds his hand, affords it a firm point of support or fulcrum (cf. תּמך בּ, Psalm 63:9, and frequently), so that he can raise himself again, rise up again.

Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
There is an old theological rule: promissiones corporales intelligendae sunt cum exceptione crucis et castigationis. Temporary forsakenness and destitution the Psalm does not deny: it is indeed even intended to meet the conflict of doubt which springs up in the minds of the God-fearing out of certain conditions and circumstances that are seemingly contradictory to the justice of God; and this it does, by contrasting that which in the end abides with that which is transitory, and in fact without the knowledge of any final decisive adjustment in a future world; and it only solves its problem, in so far as it is placed in the light of the New Testament, which already dawns in the Book of Ecclesiastes.

He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.
Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore.
Psalm 37:27-28

The round of the exhortations and promises is here again reached as in Psalm 37:3. The imperative שׁכן, which is there hortatory, is found here with the ו of sequence in the sense of a promise: and continue, doing such things, to dwell for ever equals so shalt thou, etc. (שׁכן, pregnant as in Psalm 102:29, Isaiah 57:15). Nevertheless the imperative retains its meaning even in such instances, inasmuch as the exhortation is given to share in the reward of duty at the same time with the discharge of it. On Psalm 37:28 compare Psalm 33:5.

For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.
The division of the verse is wrong; for the ס strophe, without any doubt, closes with חסדיו, and the ע eht dna strophe begins with לעולם, so that, according to the text which we possess, the ע of this word is the acrostic letter. The lxx, however, after εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα φυλαχθήσονται has another line, which suggests another commencement for the ע strophe, and runs in Cod. Vat., incorrectly, ἄμωμοι ἐκδικήσονται, in Cod. Alex., correctly, ἄνομοι δὲ ἐκδιωχθήσονται (Symmachus, ἄνομοι ἐξαρθήσονται). By ἄνομος the lxx translates עריץ in Isaiah 29:20; by ἄνομα, עולה in Job 27:4; and by ἐκδιώκειν, הצמית, the synonym of השׁמיד, in Psalm 101:5; so that consequently this line, as even Venema and Schleusner have discerned, was עוּלים נשׁמדוּ. It will at once be seen that this is only another reading for לעולם נשׁמרו; and, since it stands side by side with the latter, that it is an ancient attempt to produce a correct beginning for the ע strophe, which has been transplanted from the lxx into the text. It is, however, questionable whether this reparation is really a restoration of the original words (Hupfeld, Hitzig); since עוּל (עויל) is not a word found in the Psalms (for which reason Bצttcher's conjecture of עשׁי עולה more readily commends itself, although it is critically less probable), and לעולם נשׁמרו forms a continuation that is more naturally brought about by the context and perfectly logical.

The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.
The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.
The verb הגה unites in itself the two meanings of meditating and of meditative utterance (vid., Psalm 2:1), just as אמר those of thinking and speaking. Psalm 37:31 in this connection affirms the stability of the moral nature. The walk of the righteous has a fixed inward rule, for the Tפra is to him not merely an external object of knowledge and a compulsory precept; it is in his heart, and, because it is the Tפra of his God whom he loves, as the motive of his actions closely united with his own will. On תּמעד, followed by the subject in the plural, compare Psalm 18:35; Psalm 73:2 Chethמb.

The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.
The Lord as ἀνακρίνων is, as in 1 Corinthians 4:3., put in contrast with the ἀνακρίνειν of men, or of human ἡμέρᾳ. If men sit in judgment upon the righteous, yet God, the supreme Judge, does not condemn him, but acquits him (cf. on the contrary Psalm 109:7). Si condemnamur a mundo, exclaimed Tertullian to his companions in persecution, absolvimur a Deo.

The LORD will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.
Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.
Let the eye of faith directed hopefully to Jahve go on its way, without suffering thyself to be turned aside by the persecution and condemnation of the world, then He will at length raise thee out of all trouble, and cause thee to possess (לרשׁת, ut possidas et possideas) the land, as the sole lords of which the evil-doers, now cut off, conducted themselves.

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
עריץ (after the form צדּיק) is coupled with רשׁע, must as these two words alternate in Job 15:20 : a terror-inspiring, tyrannical evil-doer; cf. besides also Job 5:3. The participle in Psalm 37:35 forms a clause by itself: et se diffundens, scil. erat. The lxx and Jerome translate as though it were כארז הלבנן, "like the cedars of Lebanon," instead of כאזרח רענן. But אזרח רענן is the expression for an oak, terebinth, or the like, that has brown from time immemorial in its native soil, and has in the course of centuries attained a gigantic size in the stem, and a wide-spreading overhanging head. ויּעבר does not mean: then he vanished away (Hupfeld and others); for עבר in this sense is not suitable to a tree. Luther correctly renders it: man ging vor׬ber, one (they) passed by, Ges. ֗137, 3. The lxx, Syriac, and others, by way of lightening the difficulty, render it: then I passed by.

Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.
תּם might even be taken as neuter for תּם, and ישׂר for ישׁר; but in this case the poet would have written רעה instead of ראה; שׁמר is therefore used as, e.g., in 1 Samuel 1:12. By כּי that to which attention is specially called is introduced. The man of peace has a totally different lot from the evil-doer who delights in contention and persecution. As the fruit of his love of peace he has אחרית, a future, Proverbs 23:18; Proverbs 24:14, viz., in his posterity, Proverbs 24:20; whereas the apostates are altogether blotted out; not merely they themselves, but even the posterity of the ungodly is cut off, Amos 4:2; Amos 9:1; Ezekiel 23:25. To them remains no posterity to carry forward their name, their אחרית is devoted to destruction (cf. Psalm 109:13 with Numbers 24:20).

But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.
But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble.
The salvation of the righteous cometh from Jahve; it is therefore characterized, in accordance with its origin, as sure, perfect, and enduring for ever. מעוּזּם is an apposition; the plena scriptio serves, as in 2 Samuel 22:33, to indicate to us that מעוז is meant in this passage to signify not a fortress, but a hiding-place, a place of protection, a refuge, in which sense Arab. ma'âd‛llh (the protection of God) and m‛âḏwjh‛llh (the protection of God's presence) is an Arabic expression (also used as a formula of an oath); vid., moreover on Psalm 31:3. The moods of sequence in Psalm 37:40 are aoristi gnomici. The parallelism in Psalm 37:40 is progressive after the manner of the Psalms of degrees. The short confirmatory clause kichā'subo forms an expressive closing cadence.

And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.
Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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