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Psalms 37 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

In the preceding Psalm the Psalmist found relief and hope in the presence of high-handed iniquity by the contemplation of the inexhaustible lovingkindness of God. Here he assumes the character of a teacher, and bids the godly man not be disquieted by the sight of the prosperity of the wicked, for they are doomed to speedy destruction, while enduring happiness is in store for the righteous. “Hence Tertullian calls the Psalm, providentiae speculum (A mirror of providence), Isidore, potio contra murmur (An antidote to murmuring), Luther, vestis piorum, cui adscriptum: Hic sanctorum patientia est (A garment for the godly, with the inscription, ‘Here is the patience of the saints’).” Delitzsch.

The prosperity of the wicked was one of the enigmas of life which most sorely tried the faith of the godly Israelite [13] . No light had as yet been cast upon the problem by the revelation of a future state of rewards and punishments. Sometimes, as we see in Psalms 73, he was in danger of losing all belief in the providential government of the world: at all times he was liable to be tempted to murmuring and envy.

[13] See Ochler’s Old Testament Theology, § 246.

It is with the more obvious and common danger that the Psalmist here deals. The consolation which he has to offer is of a simple and elementary kind. He affirms the popular doctrine of recompence and retribution which Job found so unsatisfactory. Trust in the Lord: wait His time: all will be well in the end: the wicked will be destroyed and the righteous rewarded. There is an element of truth in this doctrine, for God’s judgements are constantly distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked (Mar 10:30; 1Ti 4:8). The verdict of history and experience is, in the long run, in favour of righteousness. But the doctrine is inadequate, as Job felt, for retribution does not invariably and immediately overtake the wrong-doer in this world, nor is the righteous man always visibly rewarded.

In order, however, fairly to estimate the Psalmist’s teaching and its value for those whom he addressed, we must bear in mind that personal individuality was comparatively unrecognised in early ages, while the solidarity of the family was realised to an extent which we find it hard to understand. A man lived on in his posterity: his posterity represented him: and the instincts of justice were satisfied if the law of retribution and recompence could be traced in the destinies of the family if not of the individual.

The consolation here offered was no doubt real to the mass of the Psalmist’s contemporaries, in virtue of the element of truth which it contains. But it was only a partial and provisional solution of the problem. Through trials of faith and imperfect answers to their questionings God was on the one hand leading men to a truer ideal of happiness, on the other hand preparing them to receive the revelation of a future state of rewards and punishments. The author of Psalms 73 makes a distinct step forward. Though he still looks for the visible punishment of evil-doers, he is taught to find his own highest joy and comfort in fellowship with God, independently of the prospect of temporal felicity. The author of the Book of Job is carried still further, and forced to the conclusion that this world must be but one act in the drama of life.

The Psalm should be studied in connexion with Psalms 73 (cp. also Psalms 49) and the Book of Job. The unquestioning confidence of the teacher who speaks here presents a striking contrast to the touching record in Psalms 73 of faith sorely tried but finally victorious.

The close relation of the Psalm to the Book of Proverbs must also be noticed. It forms a connecting link between lyric poetry and the proverbial philosophy of the ‘Wise Men’ whose teaching was such an important influence in Israel. See especially Pro 10:27-32; Pro 24:15 ff. The promises of the Psalm should also be compared with the prophetic expectation of the Messianic age of peace and righteousness.

The Psalm is alphabetic in structure. The stanzas commence with the letters of the alphabet in regular succession, and usually consist of two distichs connected in sense. In three instances the stanza consists of a tristich instead of two distichs ( Psa 37:7 ; Psa 37:20 ; Psa 37:34); and in three instances it consists of five lines ( Psa 37:14-15 ; Psalms 25, 26; Psalms 39, 40).

The same fundamental ideas recur throughout; but four symmetrical divisions of Psa 37:11, Psa 37:9, Psa 37:11, Psa 37:9 verses respectively, in each of which a particular thought is prominent, may be observed.

i. Counsel to avoid murmuring, and trust in Jehovah (Psa 37:1-11):

ii. For the triumph of the wicked is shortlived (Psa 37:12-20):

iii. And the reward of the righteous sure and abiding (Psa 37:21-31).

iv. The final contrast of retribution and recompence (Psa 37:32-40).

Consult other comments:

Psalms 37:0 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Psalms 37:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Psalms 37:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Psalms 37:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Psalms 37:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Psalms 37:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Psalms 37:0 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 37:0 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Psalms 37:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Psalms 37:0 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges