Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, I’m going to pick up the discipline. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about?
- What does this Psalm teach about God?
- How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.
For the seventh of December, here’s Psalm 37:
Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
16 Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.
18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain for ever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance.
20 But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
but the righteous is generous and gives;
22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.
27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell for ever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved for ever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it for ever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.
32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.
34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
What is this Psalm about?
This is Psalm, echoing some of the themes in Psalm 36, that examines the way the world is now, and what it means for God’s people, and those who are not God’s people in the same way. It is a Psalm of contrasts, challenges, and paradoxes – and also a Psalm that makes clear that whilst the present and past may be confusing or scary, the future is different. As we read in verse 37b, ‘there is a future for the man of peace’. Whether that is an oblique reference to Jesus, a challenge to God’s people, or just something that cuts against the grain of much of reality, that is an exciting prospect. There is a future, and it will be full of peaceful people.
What does this Psalm teach us about God?
This Psalm makes some explicit statements about God: God laughs at the wicked (v13b), knows the days of the blameless (v17a), upholds his hand (v24b, referring to the person God cares for), loves justice and will not forsake his people (v28a), and helps and delivers his people (v40a). More could be said, but it is very clear from just this smattering that God is an active God, whose future of peace is one of justice and refuge. Less explicitly, Psalm 37 teaches us about a God who is there, who intervenes, whether it be by the giving of His Word, or the ultimate salvation He promises.
How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
Verses 1-3 sometimes feel impossible – evil men ran amok, unchecked: it was like that in the Psalmist’s time, it is certainly like that now. But the same things are true. They will with and fade. And they are contrasted with the righteous, also called ‘his saints’ (v28) who have a sure and certain hope, and a future of abundance. Verse 39b is a challenge to those of us with savings accounts, or relatives we can stay with, or living in a country with a welfare state, or far from war: ‘he [the Lord] is their stronghold in the time of trouble’. Perhaps this is a prompt to lean into prayer for those for whom this is their only comfort.
A prayer drawn from Psalm 36:
Lord, it often feels like evil wins, that evil men are triumphing and the righteous are forgotten and the cause of justice a smouldering ember in a rain storm. Come, Lord, and deliver us. Come, Lord, and show us the strength of your stronghold! You, Lord, promise us things – help us to live in a way that is generous and good, a way that echoes and honours you – that we might know and one day enjoy your future of peace. Amen.