I’ve said before that in the Garden of Eden the Lord revealed that there are two kinds of people: there are those who are the seed or the offspring of the woman; and there are those who are the seed or the offspring of the serpent. The seed of the woman are all those who belong to Christ the Saviour. They are all those who are righteous by faith. They are the church of Jesus Christ. The seed of the serpent are all those who belong to the Devil. They are the wicked who do not believe. They are the unbelieving world. And when the Lord revealed to Adam and Eve that there are these two kinds of people, he also revealed that he has put enmity between them so that they are always in conflict with one another. The wicked hate the Lord and his people and persecute them. And the righteous have to stand firm and resist all the pressure the unbelieving world puts on them to give up the faith and to become like the unbelieving world. So, think of Cain and Abel and how godly Abel was killed by ungodly Cain. Or think of Moses and the Israelites who were persecuted and oppressed by the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Or think of Goliath and the Philistines who wanted to kill David and the Israelites. Or, think of King Herod who wanted to kill the infant Jesus. Throughout the Bible and throughout history, we see these two seeds, these two lines, these two families, opposed to one another and in conflict with one another: all those who belong to the Lord; and all those who have sided with the Devil. It’s the church and the fallen world.
And today’s psalm — Psalm 37 — is about the righteous and the wicked, the church and the world, the line of believers who love the Lord and who want to serve him; and the line of unbelievers who continually oppose the Lord and his people. The psalmist directs the words of the psalm to the righteous. He’s talking to those who belong to the Lord and who trust in him. And in psalm he refers to evil men who do wrong and he writes about what they’re like and the things they do.
And in the course of the psalm, the psalmist raises one of the most puzzling features of life in this life, which is the fact that the wicked very often prosper and do well. The wicked prosper and do well, whereas the righteous very often suffer and experience all kinds of sorrow and troubles and hardships in this life. Why it that the case? Surely it should be the other way round? Surely it should be the righteous who prosper and do well? And surely it should be with wicked who suffer? We might assume that’s the way it should be, because we might expect the Lord to bless his people and to oppose and to punish the wicked in this life? Surely that’s the way it should be? But, as the psalmist considers life in this world, he has noticed that very often it’s the other way round and the wicked prosper and do well, whereas the righteous suffer. But — and the psalmist makes this point several times — the psalmist knows that this is how it will be in this life only. The wicked may prosper for now, but it’s for the time being only. It’s for this life only. And the Lord has better things in store for his people. And since that’s the case, his people ought to keep trusting in the Lord. They ought to persevere and stand firm in the faith, because the sorrow and trials of this life are nothing compared to the glory which will be revealed in us in the life to come.
This is a long psalm. So, rather than go through it verse by verse, which would take a long time, let’s consider what the psalmist says about the wicked; and then let’s consider what he says about the righteous.
So, the wicked first of all. The psalmist refers to them straightaway in verse 1 where he describes them as evil men who do wrong. So, instead of doing what’s right in the sight of the Lord, these men and women do what’s wrong. Of course, an unbelieving world may well approve of what they do; and an unbelieving world may even look up to them for what they do. But in the sight of the Lord, they do what’s wrong.
However, the psalmist straightaway reveals to us their fate. He says they are like grass that will soon wither; and they are like green plants which will soon die away. Now, we should remember that the psalmist is thinking about grass in the land of Israel. So, he’s thinking about a hot climate, where the sun is strong and powerful and where it scorches the ground and makes lush green grass dry and brown. So, the grass and green plants grow up quickly; but just as quickly, they are scorched by the hot sun and they die. They do not last. And the psalmist is making clear to us that the wicked will not last. For now they may do well and prosper. But they will not last and the day is coming when they will perish.
But jump down to verse 7 now, because in verse 7 the psalmist refers to men succeeding in their ways when they carry out their wicked schemes. So, he’s referring in this verse to the wicked who are plotting and planning to do wicked things. Do you remember last week’s psalm where the psalmist referred to the way the wicked plot evil on their beds? So, all through the day they do what’s evil. And then, at night, when they’re on their bed, they’re planning more wicked things to do the next day. The wicked plot evil. And the psalmist says they are successful. Their plans succeed. Very often, when we plan to do things, our plans are frustrated. Think of all the things we were planning to do recently and the plans we made for the summer. But they’ve all been put on hold because of the coronavirus crisis. However, the psalmist knows that very often the wicked person’s wicked schemes are successful.
But look down to verses 9 and 10, where the psalmist once again describes their destiny. Evil men will be cut off, he says in verse 9. He means that the guilty person who does not repent will be killed. Though they think nothing will stop them, the Lord will not let the wicked keep going, but eventually he will cut off their life so that they will die. And so, according to verse 10, in a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. Since David wrote this psalm, he may have been thinking about his own enemies. And David had lots of enemies, didn’t he? There were all the Philistines who used to attack the Israelites in those days. But then King Saul turned against David and hunted him down to kill him. And after David became king, his own son turned against him so that he had to flee from Jerusalem for safety. But think of the early days of David’s life when, as a young man, he heard Goliath the giant threaten the Israelite soldiers. And they were all terrified: all that is, apart from David, who trusted the Lord to help him. And sure enough, Goliath was cut off and the rest of the Philistines fled the battle field. But, in every generation, the world is full of wicked and evil men and women who continually plot evil; and very often their evil plans are successful. But the day will come when the wicked will be no more, because the Lord Jesus Christ will come again in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead and to punish the wicked forever. For a little while, they may succeed. And ‘for a little while’ may mean only a few weeks or months; or it may mean a few years; or it might even mean for the rest of time. And certainly, until the Lord comes again, the wicked in every generation will continue to do evil. But in the end, the Lord will come and deal with them once and for all.
But look now at verses 12 to 15 where the psalmist describes the wicked in more detail. And in these verses the psalmist mentions the fact that the wicked plot against the righteous. So, here’s the enmity which we first read about in Genesis 3. And the wicked are depicted as fierce animals, snarling and gnashing their teeth at the righteous. According to verse 14, the wicked draw their sword and bend their bow against the poor and the needy. The poor and the needy in this verse refer to the Lord’s people. We know that because the psalmist goes on to refer to the poor and needy as those whose ways are upright. So, the wicked hate the Lord’s people and want to destroy them with their sword and bow. Again, in the days of King David, his enemies literally wanted to kill him, because didn’t Goliath threaten to give David’s flesh to the bird of the air and to the beasts of the field? And didn’t King Saul hurl his spear at David? But the words of the psalm speak to all of us of the hatred of the wicked towards the Lord’s people and to the ways the wicked oppose and persecute the church of Jesus Christ. But look at what else David says. According to verse 13, the Lord laughs at the wicked. He’s not worried by them or threatened by them. He regards their opposition as laughable. And it’s laughable because the Lord knows their day is coming. David is referring to the day when the Lord will rise up to stop them in their tracks. For a little while, the Lord is patient with them. The Lord is also gracious and kind, isn’t he? Instead of destroying the wicked immediately, he is patient with them, giving them the opportunity to repent. And whoever repents — turning from their evil ways, and turning to the Lord for mercy — will be pardoned. But if they refuse to repent, if they only harden their hearts and continue along the broad road, he will eventually punish them. And so, the day of their death is coming, when he will turn the sword and the bow on them. I wonder if David had in mind what he did to Goliath, because do you remember that after David knocked Goliath down, he took Goliath’s own sword and cut off his head. Well, the day of their death is coming; and the day of judgment is coming too, when the wicked will have to answer to the Lord for what they have done.
So, the wicked plot against the righteous, but in the end, they will be destroyed. In the meantime, though, in this life, they may very well prosper and do well. And so, look at verse 16 where David refers to their wealth and to their power. But again, even after mentioning their wealth and power, David goes on to say their power will be broken. And according to verse 20, the wicked will perish. They are like the beauty of the fields: flourishing for a while, but soon their will fade away and they will vanish like smoke.
According to verse 21, the wicked borrow, without paying back. But according to verse 28, their offspring will be cut off, presumably because their children will be wicked like them.
In verse 32, the psalmist again tells us that the wicked plot against the righteous. This time he says they lie in wait for them, readying to pounce on the righteous in order to kill them. But again, according to verse 34, the wicked will be cut off. The wicked are like a green tree which flourishes for a time. But they will soon pass away and will be no more. And so, according to verse 28, all sinners will be destroyed; their future will be cut off. They have no future, because the fate that awaits them — if they will not repent and if they continue in their wicked ways — is death and destruction, because the Lord has appointed a day when he will judge the world in righteousness by his Son, Jesus Christ. The day of disaster is coming for them. Though they may prosper and do well in this life, succeeding in their wicked plans and triumphing over God’s people, in the end, in the end, they will face the wrath of God and of the Lamb. In the book of Revelation, John sees into the future to the day when Christ will return to earth. And the wicked are so afraid that they would rather have the mountains fall on them than face the wrath of the Lamb, who is Jesus Christ the Lord.
So, that’s what the wicked are like and that’s what they will face. What does the psalmist say to the righteous?
He says to the righteous in verse 1 that they mustn’t fret because of the evil ones. In other words, they mustn’t worry and upset themselves because of the wicked. And don’t envy them. Sure, for now, the wicked are prospering. But they will not last.
And in verse 3 the psalmist encourages the righteous to trust in the Lord. Trust in him to take care of you; and trust in him to do what’s right. Trust in him and do good. Instead of doing evil like the wicked do, do good. Instead of becoming anxious and afraid because of the wicked, delight yourself in the Lord. Think about him and his goodness and his glory; and he will give you the desires of your heart. This is similar to what the Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of being anxious and worried about all the things we need, seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness by obeying Christ your King and doing what is right and good. And he will take care of you.
According to verse 7 the righteous are to wait patiently for the Lord, because, of course, the Lord will act when the time is right. And so, instead of becoming impatient, we must wait for him, because his timing is perfect. And according to verse 9, the righteous must refrain from anger. As Paul said to the Romans, we must never take revenge, but must leave it to the Lord to deal with those who hurt us.
According to verse 16, the wicked may be wealthy in this life and the righteous may only have a little. But it’s better to be right with God and have only a little. Again, this reminds us of the wisdom of the Lord Jesus who warned about gaining the whole world, but losing our soul. And look at the end of verse 17: though the righteous may only have a little, the Lord upholds them. In other words, he helps them to cope day after day.
Our days are known to him, David says in verse 18. So, he’s familiar with the circumstances of our life and the things we must endure. And in days of disaster, he will keep his people from withering; and in days of famine, he will provide for them. Think of how he provided for the Israelites for the forty years when they were in the wilderness. And every day he gave them food to eat and water to drink. He’s able to provide us with our daily food. And so, according to verse 21, the Lord’s people are able to give generously. Instead of having to hold on to what we have, because we’re afraid and we think we need to cling on to our possessions, we can be generous, because we know the Lord will take care of us. He makes our steps firm, says David in verse 23. And he uphold us to keep us from falling. This conveys for us the Lord’s constant care. As a parent will hold her toddler’s hand to keep the child from falling and hurting herself, so the Lord holds us to keep us from harm. And, once again, he says that the righteous can be generous and lend freely. They can be generous like that, because the Lord provides for them and he never ever forsakes his faithful ones. According to verse 33, he will not leave his people in the power of the wicked and he will not let them be condemned. In other words, he will vindicate them. Perhaps not immediately, because often they have to wait. But the Lord will vindicate his people. So — verse 32 — wait for the Lord. Wait for him to act and to deliver us. For a time, the wicked will succeed. They will triumph over the righteous and the righteous will suffer because of them. But in the end, the Lord will deliver his people. And so, they should wait for him to act and to deliver them. Wait for him in faith. And in the meantime, while they wait for him, they must keep his way, which means they must do his will and obey his commands.
There is a future for the man of peace, David says in verse 37. Whereas there is no future for the wicked, there is a future for the Lord’s people, because the Lord will come and save his people. That’s how David ends the psalm in verses 39 and 40. He will save them. He will be their stronghold in time of trouble. He will help them and deliver them, because they have taken refuge in him. In other words, because they trust in the Lord and look to him for help, he will help them.
And so, the wicked many prosper and flourish for a time, but in the end — unless they repent and turn to the Lord for mercy — they will be destroyed when the Lord comes in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead and to separate the wicked from the righteous. And the wicked will be sent out of his presence to be punished forever.
But what about the righteous? According to this psalm, they may have very little in this life. And they may have to suffer at the hands of the wicked. But they can trust in the Lord to help them and to provide for them. And so, they should not fret or worry or upset themselves, but they should trust in the Lord, standing firm in the faith; and they must seek to do his will.
And there’s one more thing. Several times in the psalm, David makes the point that the righteous will inherit the land. It’s there in verse 9. And in verse 11. And in verse 22. And in verse 29. And in verse 34. For the Old Testament saints, that meant dwelling in the Promised Land of Canaan. But as we’ve seen before, God’s promise to his people in Old Testament times that they will inherit the land and dwell in it will be fulfilled in a far greater way in the new heavens and earth. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes again to judge the world and to separate the righteous and the wicked, the wicked will be sent away to be punished, but the righteous will inherit eternal life in the new heavens and earth, where all of God’s people will live in peace and safety forever. Nothing wicked will be allowed there; and so, there will be no-one to harm us. And together will be dwell in the presence of the Lord forever in perfect peace, enjoying that fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore which God has promised his people.
And the way to become righteous, the way to become one of God’s people, is by trusting in Jesus Christ the Saviour who is the only truly righteous one, who never did anything wrong and who always did what was right. And in obedience to his Father in heaven, he suffered at the hands of wicked men who hated him and who despised him without cause, and they nailed him to the cross. But God the Father raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place. And from his throne in heaven, he calls on men and women and boys and girls, he call on you, to turn from your life of sin and to trust in him, the only Saviour of the world. And to everyone who believes he gives forgiveness and he gives the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in the new heavens and earth. To everyone who believes he gives an inheritance in the Promised Land of Eternal Life in that new and better world to come where they will be nothing to worry us or to upset us or to hurt us. No more sorrow. No more suffering. No more tears. No more death. But only perfect peace and rest. And that promise is for everyone, for even the wicked person who has done wicked things all his life. But the moment you turn from your sin and turn to Christ the Saviour, he will declare you righteous in God’s sight; and he will give you the hope of everlasting life in the presence of the Lord; and you can count on him to help you and to keep you until Christ the Saviour comes again.