Here’s my take on Psalm 37
(New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE))
Exhortation to Patience and Trust
1 Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
Another translation substitutes “provoked” for “fret.” I prefer that since I definitely can identify when I’ve let myself be provoked but “fret” is harder to name. Also, if I think of it like I’m allowing something to happen to me, I have power over it and can likewise prevent it from happening from me. Being provoked is not inevitable-I have to accept its “invitation.”
2 for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.
When we have troubles, it is hard to imagine they will be gone one day. When in the trough or valley, it is hard to remember that we will one day be back on top of the hill again, where we have a much better view-of all the future and past hills rather than the same old view of our own little valley. When problems or problem people come our way, we must remember that they will not be forever with us. We have choices. Life moves on.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
We are being instructed to do good. Even in the mist of great evil or trials or people trying to provoke us, we still have to be good people and do the right thing. I joke that moral dilemmas are easy to discern because the “right” thing is usually the thing we don’t want to do in the moment as we are tempted by a wrong thing.
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
You probably are not dealing with a land dispute or land inheritance issue right now, unless you live in a part of the world where this and your very livelihood and your family’s existence are under threat right now. You can substitute another word for “land” as it appears throughout the psalm, or think of the word as representing whatever it is that God has promised you.
4 Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
This is never a tit-for-tat deal. We are to take delight in the Lord, keeping up with our prayer life, continuing to trust him and build a relationship with him even in the mist of difficult people or circumstances.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
It can be hard to commit your way to the Lord when there are a lot of other ways that seem more appealing in the moment: the way of revenge, the way of attitude, the way of fighting, the way of telling people to go away and leave you alone. The way of the Lord may not look as appealing but it is the way that will lead you to the right place.
trust in him, and he will act.
It is hard to trust in him. His timing is not always our timing. The deacon one Sunday at our church preached to us about timing and that we have to be reminded again and again that God isn’t just doing stuff the way we want Him to, but that we just have to trust his wisdom. Trust his timing. Let go when you have to and tell him you don’t understand his timing or techniques, but you do trust them.
6 He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
This can be hard to believe, too. If you are on the side of God and you’ve been working to serve God all along then you have to believe that in the end, things will work out. A popular saying goes, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!” This promise of vindication and justice includes some lofty words and ambitious moments. Maybe in the end, everything will be this bright and obvious to you and those around you.
7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him;
Again with the waiting! So much waiting, it seems. It is so hard to be patient. It is so hard to keep on believing that God will come through. It would be easy to believe that for an afternoon and then see God make everything work out. It is much harder when we see days, months or years pass us by and we have to be steadfast in this faithfulness that God is working. It is not that he is a slow poke or it takes him longer to do things than it takes us. The timing thing is a mystery and the patience thing is something I have to work on again and again because it does not come naturally to me. Faith is really put to the test when it requires patience.
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
This is where I substitute the word fret with “be provoked” (as indicated in another translation). It only seems that they are prospering or getting their way, but it is like the person who cheats on a marathon run by taking the subway between checkpoints (it has happened) who wins the day only to be humiliated later when everybody finds out what she did.
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
So, letting myself be provoked (aka fretting) leads to evil? This seems really unfair since I am putting myself as the hero of the psalm, the one who is dealing with persecution. Now, it says I have to even put the kibosh on my own actions, thoughts and words or else I could end up making things even worse for them and me. Seems like a slippery slope when we are dealing with evil, we have to be vigilant not to add more evil to the mix.
9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
What does it mean that the wicked would be cut off? As hard as it is to believe while they are right there in the mix, stirring you into the mix with them, that they might actually be extracted from the whole thing one day, hopefully before it is put into the oven! You don’t want to stay in that mix with them. Hard to believe that they may actually be gone from your presence forever one day, but the psalm promises it.
10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
Well, it is being said more than once, so it is probably worth believing that it is true…one day those opponents will be no more. Right now, it seems they are everything to you but one day they will be nothing.
Though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
Hard to believe but one day, you will actually be looking for them. Right now, you can’t stand the sight of them so it’s hard to believe you will look for them but this is because as the psalm promises, one day, they will be gone. You won’t believe it and you’ll cautiously poke around wondering when they’re going to jump out and get you but they will actually be gone!
11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
Hopefully, that’s you. That’s why you have to keep your cool, do the right thing, stay on the right path and make the right decisions because in the end, there’s this.
12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
and gnash their teeth at them;
What a scary image. Does it feel like your opponents are actually plotting against you? So angry that they are actually gnashing their teeth against you? Have they been badmouthing you and gossiping about you? Probably so. Have they worked to ruin your reputation? Probably so. This is where Isiah 50 comes in and challenges us with the words, “I offer my back to those who beat me” because, believe it or not, in some circumstances, it isn’t your job to defend yourself. When the haters want to hate you, they will. There are times when you mustn’t waste your time listening to them or even defending yourself from them. Remember, earlier the Psalm promises that your vindication will shine like the noonday sun. That will outshine all the disparaging remarks they make against you.
13 but the LORD laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that their day is coming.
This should be reassuring. God is actually laughing at your opponents! Laughing at them! Can you imagine a hockey player who is tough and brave enough to stand there and actually laugh as his opponents come bustin’ out into the rink like a bunch of bulls in a stampede? God laughs at them not for sport but because he knows their day is coming. Rest easy, friend, and keep doing the right thing.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
Because they are out to get you, they will bring out weapons. These could be reputations-ruiners, gossip, unkindness, nasty phone calls, belligerent emails sent to lots of people at once about you. Don’t be surprised by this-they really are out to get you.
to kill those who walk uprightly;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
But here, the Psalm tells us that all of these weapons they draw on you will only cause their own suffering. They try to make you look bad and besmirch your reputation? Hard to believe but maybe that will come back upon them.
16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.
It only seems they have it all. If you are doing the right thing and letting God guide your steps, you are on the right path. It may seem your opponent has a lot of people on his side and that everyone is equally against you but that may just be an illusion. Remember, you are the one who is asking God to lead you and who is his willing sheep.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.
Those same arms with which your opponents draw swords and bows against you? Yeah, those will be broken or made useless against you. God is on your side that is why you cannot stray from the path.
18 The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever;
If you are keeping at your prayer and discernment, God will lead you. Be blameless.
19 they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.
Will they try to shame you? Probably. In a very public way? If they can.
20 But the wicked perish,
and the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
The Psalm promises that like smoke they will vanish. Like withered grass they will fade away. It will be over soon. There is a beginning and a middle and an end to your suffering at their hands. It will not be a permanent state.
21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
Though they be greedy and only out for themselves that has nothing to do with you. Keep being generous. Keep giving. These are part of being the righteous one. Don’t play their game, trying to cheat, lie and steal. Play your own game.
22 for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
Read that again. And again.
23 Our steps[a] are made firm by the LORD,
when he delights in our[b] way;
24 though we stumble,[c] we[d] shall not fall headlong,
for the LORD holds us[e] by the hand.
We are imperfect creatures so we will not do this perfectly. We will stumble and fall. We may slip up and let our emotions come out or in a moment of weakness, use some unprofessional language or otherwise show our weakness. We will stumble but with God leading you on his path, you will not fall. Keep walking. Don’t obsess about your mistake.
25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are ever giving liberally and lending,
and their children become a blessing.
Your children, either real or metaphorical here, will become a blessing not just to you but to all. Stand firm. Be bold. Do the right thing.
27 Depart from evil, and do good;
so you shall abide forever.
Even when you are in the right, you will be tempted from the left, the right, the top and the bottom to do the wrong thing. Keep doing the right thing. Keep on.
28 For the LORD loves justice;
he will not forsake his faithful ones.
Hear that? Keep doing the right thing. Keep being one of his faithful ones.
The righteous shall be kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
Believe that God will keep you safe.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land,
and live in it forever.
If that’s still you, then that should be good news for you. You will inherit it. It will be yours.
30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.
That’s right. That should be you through and through. It won’t be easy, you will see your opponents getting away with misbehavior and you’ll want to do it too but you cannot. You aren’t like them; that’s why this is such a hard time for you.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
their steps do not slip.
Again with the steps. You may stumble but God will not let you fall on your face.
32 The wicked watch for the righteous,
and seek to kill them.
They are out to get you. Hard to believe but you do have opponents.
33 The LORD will not abandon them to their power,
or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.
Whatever kind of trial they put you through, you will prevail. Keep doing the right thing. God will be with you.
34 Wait for the LORD, and keep to his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on the destruction of the wicked.
It probably doesn’t seem like things will ever go your way, but you have to notice the small things along the way. Fill your heart with gratitude so you can get through the next steps. One day, they will be no more.
35 I have seen the wicked oppressing,
and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
36 Again I passed by, and they were no more;
though I sought them, they could not be found.
It once seemed that every day for the rest of your life would be marred by your opponent’s presence, anger, and menacing ways, but we are assured here that your opponent will be gone one day. He once seemed such a permanent fixture but nothing is permanent.
37 Mark the blameless, and behold the upright,
for there is posterity for the peaceable.
Keep doing the right thing so you are the peaceable one. Don’t assume that all those who surround your opponent are also out to get you. Some are just silent while he persecutes you. Some are just clueless.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.
See, they’ll be taken care of soon enough.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
Refuge like an overpass in a storm. Imagine a storm going overhead and you seek shelter under the bridge. You’ve got to find your overpass where you can squeeze in, hold tight and wait for the storms to blow over. They will blow over. Even the worst storms blow over.
40 The LORD helps them and rescues them;
he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
Its okay to skip to this last line and read it again and again. It is hard to believe when, as Isaiah 50 says, they pluck your beard, buffet your face and beat your back but this will not go on forever. Take refuge in God. He will release you from all of this and you will be at peace. One day, all of it will be a distant memory and your opponents will no longer be part of your life.
I hope you find encouragement in these words. They were not written in a vacuum.