PSALM 37 OVERVIEW
Title. Of David. There is but this word to denote the authorship; whether it was a song or a meditation we are not told. It was written by David in his old age Psalms 37:25 , and is the more valuable as the record of so varied an experience.
Subject. The great riddle of the prosperity of the wicked and the affliction of the righteous, which has perplexed so many, is here dealt with in the light of the future; and fretfulness and repining are most impressively forbidden. It is a Psalm in which the Lord hushes most sweetly the too common repinings of his people, and calms their minds as to his present dealings with his own chosen flock, and the wolves by whom they are surrounded. It contains eight great precepts, is twice illustrated by autobiographical statements, and abounds in remarkable contrasts.
Division. The Psalm can scarcely be divided into considerable sections. It resembles a chapter of the book of Proverbs, most of the verses being complete in themselves. It is an alphabetical Psalm: in somewhat broken order, the first letters of the verses follow the Hebrew alphabet. This may have been not only a poetical invention, but a help to memory. The reader is requested to read the Psalm through without comment before he turns to our exposition.
Verse 1. The Psalm opens with the first precept. It is alas! too common for believers in their hours of adversity to think themselves harshly dealt with when they see persons utterly destitute of religion and honesty, rejoicing in abundant prosperity. Much needed is the command, Fret not thyself because of evildoers. To fret is to worry, to have the heartburn, to fume, to become vexed. Nature is very apt to kindle a fire of jealousy when it sees lawbreakers riding on horses, and obedient subjects walking in the mire: it is a lesson learned only in the school of grace, when one comes to view the most paradoxical providences with the devout complacency of one who is sure that the Lord is righteous in all his acts. It seems hard to carnal judgments that the best meat should go to the dogs, while loving children pine for want of it. Neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. The same advice under another shape. When one is poor, despised, and in deep trial, our old Adam naturally becomes envious of the rich and great; and when we are conscious that we have been more righteous than they, the devil is sure to be at hand with blasphemous reasonings. Stormy weather may curdle even the cream of humanity. Evil men instead of being envied, are to be viewed with horror and aversion; yet their loaded tables, and gilded trappings, are too apt to fascinate our poor half opened eyes. Who envies the fat bullock the ribbons and garlands which decorate him as he is led to the shambles? Yet the case is a parallel one; for ungodly rich men are but as beasts fattened for the slaughter.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. The righteous are preserved in Christ with a special preservation, and in a peculiar safety. In the thirty-seventh Psalm this point is excellently and largely handled, both by direct proof, and by answer to all the usual objections against their safety. That they shall be preserved is affirmed, Psalms 37:3 Psalms 37:17 Psalms 37:23 Psalms 37:25 Psalms 37:32 . The objections answered are many.
- Wicked men flourish. Solution. A righteous man should never grieve at that, for "they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb." Psalms 37:2 .
Objection 2. Righteous men are in distress. Solution -- Psalms 37:6 . The night of their adversity will be turned into the light of prosperity; and as surely as they can believe when it is night that it shall be day, so surely may they be persuaded when crosses are upon them, that comfort and deliverance shall come.
Objection 3. But there are great plots laid against the righteous, and they are pursued with great malice, and their intended ruin is come almost to the very issue. Solution -- Ps 37:12-15. The Lord sees all the plots of wicked men, and laughs at their spiteful and foolish malice; while they are busy to destroy the righteous, and hope to have a day against them, "The Lord seeth that their own day is coming upon them, even a day of destruction, a day of great judgment and eternal misery;" their bow shall be broken, and the sword that they have drawn shall enter into their own heart.
Objection 4. But the just have but small means. Solution -- Psalms 37:16-17 . "A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous."
Objection 5. Heavy times are like to befall them. Solution -- Psalms 37:19 . "They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall have enough."
Objection 6. But the wicked wax fatter and fatter, and they prevail in vexing the righteous. Solution -- Psalms 37:20 . Indeed the wicked are fat, but it is but "the fat of lambs," their prosperity shall soon melt; and as they be like smoke in vexing the godly, so shall they be like smoke in vanishing away.
Objection 7. But the righteous do fall. Solution -- Psalms 37:24 . Though he do fall, yet he falls not finally, nor totally, for he "is not utterly cast down;" and besides, there is an upholding providence of God in all the falls of the righteous.
Objection 8. We see some wicked men that do not so fall into adversity, but rather are in prosperity to their dying days. Solution -- Psalms 37:28 . Though they do, yet, "their seed shall be cut off."
Objection 9. But some wicked men are strong yet, and in their seed spread also. Solution -- Psalms 37:35-36 . Note also that these "spreading bay trees" many times "soon pass away;" and they and their houses are sometimes "utterly cut off."
Objection 10. But upright men are under many and long crosses. Solution -- Psalms 37:37 . Yet "his end is peace."
Objection 11. But nobody stands for the godly when they come into question. Solution -- Psalms 37:39-40 . "Their salvation is of the Lord;" he is their strength, he will help them and deliver them, etc.
But if we would be thus delivered, observe:
- That we must not unthankfully fret at God's providence Psalms 37:1 .
- We must "trust in the Lord and do good" Psalms 37:3 .
- We must "delight ourselves in the Lord," and not place our contentment on earthly things Ps 37:4.
- We must "commit our ways to God" Psalms 37:5 .
- We must get patience and humble affections Psalms 37:7-11 .
- We must be of upright conversation Psalms 37:14 .
- We must be merciful Psalms 37:25-26 .
- We must "speak righteous things," and get "the law into our hearts" Psalms 37:30-31 .
- We must "keep our way," and "wait on God" and not use ill means. Nicolas Byfield.
Whole Psalm. This Psalm may well be styled, The good man's cordial in bad times; a sovereign plaister for the plague of discontent; or, a choice antidote against the poison of impatience. Nathaniel Hardy, in a Funeral Sermon, 1649.
Whole Psalm. This Psalm very much reminds one in its construction of the sententious and pithy conciseness of the Book of Proverbs. It does not contain any prayer, nor any direct allusion to David's own circumstances of persecution or distress. It is rather the utterance of sound practical wisdom and godliness from the lips of experience and age, such as we might suppose an elder of the church, or a father of a family, to let fall as he sat with his household gathered around him, and listening to his earnest and affectionate admonitions. Barton Bouchier.
Whole Psalm. The present Psalm is one of the alphabetical Psalms, it is called "Providentiae speculum," by Tertullian; "Potio contra murmur," by Isidore; "Vestis piorum," by Luther. Christopher Wordsworth.
Verse 1. Fret, or, inflame not, burn not thyself with anger or grief. John Diodati.
Verse 1. Neither be thou envious, etc. Queen Elizabeth envied the milkmaid when she was in prison; but if she had known what a glorious reign she should have had afterwards for forty-four years, she would not have envied her. And as little needeth a godly man, though in misery, to envy a wicked man in the ruff of all his prosperity and jollity, considering what he hath in hand, much more what he hath in hope. John Trapp.
Verse 1. Would it not be accounted folly in a man that is heir to many thousands per annum that he should envy a stage player, clothed in the habit of a king, and yet not heir to one foot of land? who, though he have the form, respect, and apparel of a king or nobleman, yet he is, at the same time, a very beggar, and worth nothing? Thus, wicked men, though they are arrayed gorgeously, and fare deliciously, wanting nothing, and having more that heart can wish, yet they are but only possessors: the godly Christian is the heir. What good doth all their prosperity do them? It does but hasten their ruin, not their reward. The ox that is the labouring ox is the longer lived than the ox that is in the pasture; the very putting of him there doth but hasten his slaughter; and when God puts the wicked men into fat pastures, into places of honour and power, it is but to hasten their ruin. Let no man, therefore, fret himself because of evil doers, nor be envious at the prosperity of the wicked; for the candle of the wicked shall be put into everlasting darkness; they shall soon be cut off, and wither as a green herb. Ludovic de Carbone, quoted by John Spencer.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. The art of tranquillity. W. Jones.
Verse 1-2. A frequent temptation, and a double corrective -- a sight of sinners in death and hell.