Psalm 37:34-40 – The Wise will Wait upon the Lord

In most Wisdom literature, the one who has hope in the Lord will succeed even if the wicked seem to prosper now. Psalm 37 describes the wise as “waiting for the Lord.” This refers to placing hope in the Lord to keep his promises of loving care for his people as well as rendering righteous judgment. The verb (קוה) refers to hope directed at a target, and “expectation of fulfillment” (HALOT). Perhaps “have confidence” is a better translation since this is an expression of certainty.

The wicked, on the other had, will fade from memory, while the righteous will endure forever. The foolish have “spread themselves out like a tree,” appearing prosperous. The noun translated as “green laurel tree” combines “native” (אֶזְרָח ) and “leafy” (רַעֲנָן). They were like a tree which is native to an area so that it flourishes and has thick leaves. Tanner suggests the wicked are doing well and “showing off” (NICOT, 352 n. 28).

October Snow_2011-10_snowImagine if you planted a banana tree in your backyard in Michigan in August. It would be warm and humid enough for the tree to flourish for a while. You could even make your yard look like the banana plant belonged there, maybe landscape the yard to look like Hawaii. But what happens when fall comes and the temperature drops? Or when the snow starts? The banana plant will naturally curl up and die since it simply does not belong there!

In most of the wisdom literature, the fool appears to prosper for a time and eventually their foolishness catches up with them and they naturally are forgotten. Memory of their existence will simply fade away. It will be like they never were!

The righteous, on the other hand, will continue to dwell in the good land the Lord has given them. The Lord will continue to be their fortress of protection (v. 39) and he will continue to deliver them (v. 40). The Lord is like a mountain fortress (מָעוֹז) which is for the enemy impossible to capture.

Perhaps the hardest part of living out a life of wisdom as described by this Psalm is to not worry about the current state of the world. It is very easy to look at the way things are going in the world, this country, this state, the local politics of the our city or town, and think the whole world has gone wrong. This is not true, the world was always wrong! It is simply no worse now than it was when a sage wrote this wisdom psalm.

The Lord guarantees a future for the righteous, then ones who have committed to live in this good and safe pasture. The foolish have willingly wandered from that good place and do not enjoy the promises of the Lord. Ultimately, these foolish wicked will receive exactly what they have asked for and deserve.

So, do not fret! The wise person understands there is nothing in this word which has escaped the Lord’s attention and he will set things right. Our responsibility as the people of God in the present age is trust in the Lord’s sovereign lordship of this world and to rest in our certain knowledge he will judge fairly.

 

Psalm 37:1-6 – Why Worry About the Wicked?

Do not worry about the wicked (v. 1-2). Fret and envy seem like two different ideas in English, although they are used parallel here in Psalm 37. To “fret” in Hebrew (hitpael of חרה) as the sense of burning with anger, a “passionate intensity, a consuming indignation” (Ross, 805, n. 28). Maybe a contemporary English equivalent would be “don’t get steamed about what the wicked are doing.” Beth Tanner (NICOT, 348) suggests, “Do not let your anger burn concerning the evil ones.”

Dry GrassThe main reason the wise person does not need to worry about the wicked is their fate will soon overtake them. The whole Psalm will repeat the coming judgment of the wicked, here they are described as like the green grass. Considering a Middle Eastern background for the Psalm, the wicked are like the beautiful green grass that quickly grows after the spring rains, but as soon as the rains stop and the heart of summer comes, they fade away. Recall again Psalm 1, the wicked are like bushes in the desert, far from springs of living water. It is a simple natural fact people who appear to prosper in their wickedness will fade away in the heat of the coming judgment.

Rather than fret, the wise will trust in the Lord (v. 3-6). To “trust in the Lord” in this context means to trust God to sort out the difficulties of life. He will judge these wicked people who appear to be prosperous at the proper time.” Beyond trusting the Lord to sort out the unfairness of life, the righteous will delight themselves in the Lord. The verb translated “delight” (ענג, hitpael imperative) can have the sense of “pamper” or “refresh,” probably “take pleasure” in this context.

There are some things we tend to relish, whether a nice cup of coffee with a piece of fresh apple pie (you fill in your own personal favorite, this one is mine). These are not things we get all the time, so when he get them we take a great deal of pleasure in eating them slowly, savoring every bite. Perhaps there is a sense of jealous pleasure here as well, since if we really like the dessert we do not want to share even a bite with anyone else.

I think this is not the way most people think of their opportunity for communion with the Lord. Most Christians are not jealous of their time at church, or protective of their time in the Bible. There are few people I know who jealously guard their time at church, most try to find ways to avoid worship in the interest of “family time.”

Yet Psalm 37 says the righteous delight in the Lord because they are ultimately committed to him.

 

Psalm 36:5-9 – The Lord’s Great Love

Allen Ross points out the psalmist does not compare his righteous heart to the wicked person. Most people would expect the writer to say “but not so me!” after this picture of the person who lives in total ignorance of impending doom. (Something like Godwin’s Law—as long as there are Nazis, I will always be righteous.)

Rather than compare his righteousness with the wicked, the Psalmist describes the Lord as the Ultimate Righteous One. To reject the deep, steadfast love of the Lord, is foolish indeed!

Mountain of GodThe Love of the Lord is Steadfast (v. 5). Steadfast love (חֶסֶד) of the Lord refers to his covenant faithfulness and loyalty his faithfulness (אֱמוּנָה) is honesty or trustworthiness. There is a great deal of rich theology in the Hebrew Bible based on the idea of God as loyal, his hesed toward his people is foundational for understanding much of the story of the people of Israel. God will be faithful to his promises despite human sin and rebellion. Sometimes the Hebrew Bible uses a marriage metaphor for this loyalty (Ruth, Hosea).

God’s righteousness (צְדָקָה) and judgments (מִשְׁפָּט) complement each other as well. God is wholly righteous in his character so that all his decisions are perfectly just. If he has decided to reward or punish, we can be assured his decisions are correct.

The psalmist compares God’s love and justice to the heights and depths of creation. These lines imply God’s character is built into the very fabric of creation—there is no place anyone can escape God’s love and justice! (McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” NIB 4:823). His love and faithfulness reaches to the skies and clouds, as high as the eye can see.

God’s righteous judgments reach to the “mountains of God.” This metaphor indicates God’s righteousness is like mountains which will not erode and pass away, they are permanent fixtures in the heavens.

The “great deep” (תְּהוֹם) refers to the bottom of the seas, the “primeval oceans” or the opposite of heavenly mountains. If the highest place in all creation is the “mountains of God,” then the ultimate lowest place is the deepest sea. Like other texts which contrast the highest heaven and the lowest place in sheol. The point here is that all of reality is infused with God’s righteousness and justice.

For many scholars, both God and “depths” evoke Canaanite mythology (Jacobson, 342, for example). El is the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, and the Hebrew word for depths is similar to Tiamat, the god of chaos. The Lord’s love and justice are so great they permeate creation, but they are also far greater than any of the gods worshiped by the nations.

 

Psalm 36:1-4 – The Dread of the Lord

This is not the usual word used for “fear of the Lord.” This word (פַּחַד) has the connotation of terror or dread, the kind of fear that makes you tremble. It is used in passages where God’s wrath is poured out on an enemy (“the dread of the Lord fell upon them,” 1 Sam 11:7, 2 Chron 14:13).

The_ScreamThis is the certain knowledge you are about to be swept away in judgment and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Think about the feeling you have when you drive through an obvious speed trap going well over the speed limit. You know you are about to face a righteous judgment and no argument you can make will prevent getting a ticket.

These unbelievers lack the sense to know they are about to fall under God’s wrath and face a righteous judgment. They lack the sense to make provisions against the coming judgment, whether that is to hide, bargain, or repent.

The wicked are “unbelievers.” The noun is the same as Psalm 1:4 (רָשָׁע). These are people who simply do not recognize the God of Israel as having any authority over them. As a result, they live life outside of Wisdom.

  • They flatter themselves in their own eyes. The verb “flatter” (חלק) has the sense of “make smooth,” either by pounding something out with a hammer (Isa 41:7) or by using oil. In Wisdom literature, the metaphor is smooth, slippery words, usually to flatter someone. For example, Prov 2:16 and 7:5 refer to the smooth words of the adulteress. Psalm 55:21 describes the words of a false companion and betrayer as “smooth like butter, softer than
  • They think their iniquity cannot be found out and hated. Beyond self-deceptive flattery, the wicked think what they are doing is in secret and cannot be discovered. What makes this flattery self-destructive is the wicked platter themselves. They have adapted their thinking so they can imagine themselves as something other than people destined for destruction.
  • They speak “trouble and deceit,” or perhaps “disaster and disillusionment.” The second word (מִרְמָה) has the sense of fraud or trickery, such as fraudulent balances or weights (Hos 12:8, Amos 8:5). But these are not dishonest weights in the market, but rather the words coming from the person’s mouth. If one is going to flatter oneself, then the words they speak are more than likely going to be lies and deceptions.
  • They have ceased “to act wisely and do good.” To “act wisely” is a hifel infinitive construct of שׂכל, a word normally associated with success or have insight (cf. Gen 3:6). Some translations use “prudent” for this word. To act wisely or prudently is to make a good decision based on careful reflection which results in success. “Doing good” in the Hebrew Bible covers a wide range of moral and ethical choices, very often these are good deeds toward other people.
  • They plot trouble or disaster. The noun (אָוֶן) can have the sense of a looming disaster, but since the wicked person is plotting out the disaster, they intend to cause trouble for someone—they are “up to no good.”
  • They stand on the “not good” path and do not reject evil. This verse recalls Psalm 1 and much of the wisdom tradition. There are two “paths” one can follow, two ways to go through life. These wicked do not just flirt with disaster, they are actively seek it out!

In summary, when there is no fear of the Lord, there is nothing but trouble! The wicked as described here live in utter ignorance of the looming disaster them face.

Psalm 19:7-11 – The Perfection of God’s Word

The second half of Psalm 19 describes The perfection of God’s word. The first six verses of the Psalm described God’s continuous silent revelation of his existence and attributes to the whole world. Despite the testimony of creation, not all people recognize the God of creation and fail to give him his proper glory. He therefore has revealed himself more specifically in his Law. This is a written revelation, and like creation, it is a constant and steady witness to God’s existence and attributes. While creation reveals the creator God is powerful, the Torah reveals he is fair and just in all his commandments and these commandments are good for those who follow them.

The Perfection of God's Word

God’s perfect revelation is described with six different terms: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, and judgments. All four give the impression that “comprehensive emphasis that all of the words of the Lord are beneficial” (Ross, EBC, 182). Testimony is covenant language and is a retelling of God’s saving acts (HALOT). This is not a written document, like the Torah, but a testimony to what God has done for his covenant people. Precepts and commandments are the individual elements of the Torah. Precepts are the “procedures” for how the Law works (פִּקּוּדִים, only in the plural in the Hebrew Bible, exclusively in the Psalms, 21x in Psalm 119).

Describing God’s Word

Each of these six descriptions of the perfection of God’s word are adjectival phrases to highlight the reliability of God’s revelation.

  • Perfect or blameless is a word (תָּמִים) which refers to the perfection of sacrificial animals: they are to be without fault (Exod 12:5, for example). It can have the sense of complete, there is nothing left out of the Law or nothing which is incomplete.
  • Sure (nifel participle of אמן) has the sense of enduring or permanent. A thing which is enduring is reliable, always there at all times in the sense of being faithful and reliable. The word is translated “steadfast” in some of the Psalms.
  • Upright or straight (יָשָׁר) is a common word used to describe something which is morally correct (a straight path, for example), or a person who is living a morally correct life. The phrase “upright in heart” is used in the Psalms frequently.
  • Pure is a rare word in the Hebrew Bible (בַּר II), although it is used in Ps 24:4, a person with a pure heart may ascend the holy hill of the Lord.
  • The fear of the Lord is “clean,” a word which refers to ceremonial cleanliness (טָהוֹר)
  • The Hebrew word for “true” (אֱמֶת) is common, but covers far more than the English word. Something which is faithful and trustworthy is true, perhaps the analogy of an arrow which hits its target, the “aim was true.” The word is frequently associated with God’s character. Psalm 31:5, for example, describes God as a “faithful God.”

Encountering God’s Word

Following this portrait of the perfection of God’s word, God’s revelation is described by six phrases. The first four are the results of an encounter with the word of the Lord; the final two are further characteristic of God’s revelation. Syntactically, these are all participles with an object.

  • Reviving the soul. The verb can be refresh, restore, etc. (the common שׁוב in the hifel). When one is aligned with the word of God properly, then ones inner person is restored to where it originally belonged.
  • Making wise the simple. The simple are in experienced people who do not know how to get through life. God’s word can give them the categories of thought that help them to understand how to live life to the fullest.
  • Making the heart rejoice. The heart is a person’s inner being, what they are at their inner core. God’s word provides and enlivening of the soul, a strange happiness despite circumstances.
  • Enlightening the eyes. The ESV follows many modern commentators who take the verb often translated as “warned” as cognate to “illuminate,” this is probably correct, since in the context the sun has been mentioned. The word of God shed light on everything, and light exposes things which are hidden. To read tiny writing, you need light at just the right angle to make out the letters. So to the word of God brings to light aspects of our lives which need to be addressed, but also shed light on how to live out a godly life.
  • Enduring forever. That God’s word endures forever is repeated often in the Bible, Jesus said not even the smallest mark or letter will pass away. But what does an eternally enduring word of God mean? Like the general revelation of creation, God’s propositional truth claims are always true. For example, God declares he exists in creation, and in the special revelation of the Bible God reveals creation is good and humans have become estranged from God because of sin. This is true and that truth will endure forever (science will not prove humans are not in rebellion against God, for example).
  • They are entirely righteous. There is nothing about God’s special revelation which is not just and fair.

Even though creation is constantly pouring forth speech, it is not enough to fully reveal God. It is only through the special revelation of God’s word one can fully encounter God.