One of the temptations that the righteous have to deal with is the temptation of envying the unrighteous. This is a psalm to set that temptation in its proper context, and so to help us deal with it.
Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass . . . (Ps. 37:1-40).
Psalm 37 is another acrostic poem, and it reads more like a chapter out of Proverbs, a collection of aphorisms. Consequently, it does not divide as readily as other psalms do—but there are still some identifiable themes. The first describes the character of the meek, who will inherit the earth (vv. 1-11). The second section describes what the wicked are like (vv. 12-20). The third gives us the contrast between the righteous and the wicked (vv. 21-26). We then come to an old man’s counsel to the young (vv. 27-33). And at the last, we are urged to take the long view of things, which is the answer to the problem posed in the first verse (vv. 34-40). And this sums up the point of our psalm: when comparing the lot of the wicked with that of the righteous, judge by the video, not by the snapshot.
Jesus quotes this psalm in His beatitudes, when He says that the meek will inherit the earth. In that place, He just says it. In this psalm we have a good description of what that meekness looks like. What is the meekness that will inherit the earth (v. 11)? Do not confuse meekness with weakness. Meekness (humility) before God is strength before men. Consider the example of Moses (Num. 12:3). As the saying goes, if you think meekness is weakness, try being meek for a week. First, meekness does not get exasperated with sinners, and does not envy them (v. 1). They will be cut down (v. 2). The meek trusts in the Lord and does good (v. 3). Trust is not passive. The meek delights in God and is given the desires of his heart (v. 4). This is not outlandish because if you delight in God, your desires are not all screwed up. The meek man rolls his burdens on to God, and God deals with it (v. 5; cf. 1 Pet. 5:7). God vindicates such a man publicly (v. 6). Again, the meek man does not fret over the wicked (v. 7). The meek man is not angry (with God) over this, and again does not fret (v. 8). Evildoers will be cut down, but those who wait upon the Lord will inherit the earth (v. 9). In just a little bit, you will not be able to find the wicked, however hard you look (v. 10). But the meek will inherit the earth (v. 11), and will delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
In contrast, the wicked plots against the just, and if he cannot bite him, he can at least bark (v. 12). But God looks at his plots and plans, and laughs at them—God sees the next chapter in the story (v. 13). The godly are being told to take the long view, just like God does. The wicked have all their weapons out and ready, to use on the upright (v. 14). But their own weapons will be turned on them (v. 15). A little bit blessed is far better than a great deal cursed (v. 16). God will break the arms of the evil, but will uphold the righteous (v. 17). God knows the end of the story, and He also knows the days of the upright—that his inheritance is forever (v. 18). They will not be ashamed in times of trial (v. 19). In contrast, the wicked will be consumed (v. 20).
We have an implicit contrast stated already, but it now becomes explicit. The wicked borrow, and do not repay; the righteous loans (v. 21). The blessed will inherit the earth (there it is again), and the cursed will be cut down (v. 22). A good man has his steps (and his stops) ordered by God, and he is able to delight in his way (v. 23). There are trials, but he is not forsaken (v. 24). David wrote this as an old man, and he had never seen the righteous forsaken, or a godly man’s children beggars (v. 25). The godly man overflows, and his descendants are blessed (v. 26).
We then come to an old man’s counsel. If this is the sharp contrast between the righteous and unrighteous, the obvious conclusion is to "be righteous." Depart from evil, do good, and live forever (v. 27). Why is this hard to understand? The Lord preserves one kind of person, and cuts off the other kind (v. 28). The righteous inherit the land and live there (v. 29). The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom (v. 30)—he knows what is going on around him. The law of God is internal, in his heart. Spurgeon described this as the best thing in the best place, with the best results (v. 31). Watch out for the wicked—they always want to hurt and slay (v. 32). But God will deliver (v. 33).
All this being the case, what should we do? How should we think about this? We must always take the long view. We said earlier that we have to be patient through the story. This is a story, a motion picture, a movie. It is not a mural, a snapshot, or an eternal static tension. This is a melodrama, and when the maiden gets tied to the railroad tracks, we are not supposed to panic.
Wait on the Lord. You will inherit the land. You will see the wicked cut off (v. 34). Don’t be fooled by how important certain characters are in chapter 3; there are still twenty chapters to go. David had seen the wicked flourish like a green bay tree (v. 35), and then later he couldn’t even find the stump (v. 36).
Mark the mature man. Consider him. Pay attention to him. The end of that man is peace (v. 37). What about the transgressors? Their end is the opposite of this. They will be cut off (v. 38). In the words of a recent Johnny Cash song:
Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand,
Working in the dark against your fellow man,
But as sure as God made black and white,
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light . . .
Go tell that long-tongued liar,
Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter,
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut you down.
The salvation of the righteous is from God, and not from man (v. 39). He is our strength in the time of trial (v. 39). God will deliver, help, and save those who trust in Him (v. 40). Trust in Him to do what? Trust in Him to tell the story the way He has promised to do. Because, after all, it is a story.