Is It Really Worth It? David’s Answer in Psalm 37

Yesterday in our monthly staff meeting we took some time to read and discuss one of my favorite psalms of David, Psalm 37. Psalm 37 is what’s called “wisdom literature,” in that it is a song or poem written to other believers rather than to God. The Proverbs are a great example in the Bible of wisdom literature. Psalm 37 reads more like Proverbs than Psalms.

Written by King David 3,000 years ago to be read and sung by God’s people in worship, it is a good example of a song of worship that addresses the congregation instead of God. Not all worship songs need to be songs addressed directly to God. Good, biblical songs of worship are also songs we sing to ourselves and to one another (as Ephesians 5:19 exhorts us to do in our corporate worship—“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”). This is what we have with Psalm 37.

Reading and meditating on Psalm 37 helps a believer to recalibrate their focus upon the promises (and warnings) of the gospel. As such, this psalm has always been a huge blessing for my throughout my Christian life. It always speaks to me. It raises our perspective beyond the immediate and enables us to see the long view—God’s view. It raises the eyes of our hearts to see all of our relationships and circumstances in reality of God and his promises to those who abide in him (i.e., living by belief in him).

All obedience—the life lived by faith in the gospel—always carries with it certain sacrifices in our lives. For example, when we believe the promise of life in Christ rather than life through something else the world believes, it may lead to envy and worry that we’re missing out in life. It may bring a certain loneliness because we’re not willing to have sex with someone who is not our spouse. Or it may lead to more limited vacations or wealth or material blessings because we are obedient and generous in our giving. Or it may lead to career setbacks because we’re not willing to be dishonest in our business dealings or deceptive with our words. It may lead to relational disconnection because we’re unwilling to participate in certain types of activities.

There is always a cost for faith. Obedience always means certain sacrifices. Sacrifices that the unfaithful are not making. And so right now they seem better off at times.

And therein lies our daily struggles of faith. Every believer, over thousands of years of believers living in a world of unbelief in God’s promises, can get tripped up by this reality. We see those unwilling to be obedient to Christ still prosper in their lives. Their families seem to be flourishing. Their careers keep escalating to newer heights of success. They have more money to spend on themselves. They take what they want without worrying about any consequences. And they sure do seem to be having a lot of fun doing it. Faith in God’s promises and its subsequent obedience can often seem not to be worth it.

So should we give in and take the fruit too?

That was David’s struggle he had to work through personally in Psalm 37. And from 3,000 years ago, David now is exhorting you and me to see our own current, daily realities and struggles from a higher, wider, longer perspective. (See Psalm 73 for a similar psalm about this struggle—easy to remember because it’s the reverse numeral order of 37.)

The first eleven verses provide a nice summary of all 40 verses of this psalm.

Psalms 37:1–11 (TNIV)
1 Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Take delight 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 do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.

That last verse should ring a bell. Jesus quotes v. 11 in his beatitudes (“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Matt 5:5, ESV).

This psalm was originally written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew word for land and earth are the same word. To “inherit the land” and to “dwell in the land” is the Old Testament’s depiction for the heavenly kingdom of God on a new (or renewed) earth forever. And Revelation 21-22 finally reveals to us that the promise of the gospel is a life of glory, peace, righteousness, love, and community in the joyful, unhindered, glorious presence of God in Christ forever on a new (renewed) earth. When we know the end of the story of the Bible, we see a better glimpse of the gospel promises to us in Christ, and it helps us better interpret the fuller meaning of these kinds of allusions to “land” in the Old Testament, including the Psalms.

Land is all that God is for us and promises us in Christ in his eternal kingdom. So we read of “land” and “forever” together as God’s promise to believers.

Psalms 37:27–29 and 34-36 (TNIV)
27 Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish.
29 The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.
34 Hope in the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.
35 I have seen the wicked and ruthless flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
36 but they soon passed away and were no more; though I looked for them, they could not be found.

And then the psalm ends with this final promise (and warning):

Psalms 37:38–40 (TNIV)
38 But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked.
39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in 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.

Yes, David says. It’s for sure worth it!

It seems likely to me that Jesus had himself been recently reading and meditating on Psalm 37 before he taught what we call the beatitudes. They are a wonderful summary of the gospel promises we find in Psalm 37.

Matthew 5:3–12 (ESV)
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Yes, Jesus says. It’s for sure worth it!

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