Psalm 37 - Part 3
Jesus warned His followers what to expect prior to return His glorious return. Writing through and amanuensis named John Mark, Peter, recounts Christ’s teaching in chapter 13:
9 But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 13 "and you will be hated by all for My name's sake. (Mark 13).
As the world changes light for darkness, truth for error, a love of illogic for logic, a disdain for facts coupled with a fancy for lies, the result will be an outright hatred for God and God’s people. This is not to say God cannot and will not be merciful to us and bring a massive revival if our people humble themselves before Him (2 Chron. 7:14); however, in order for God’s kingdom plan to be fulfilled, persecution will arise before the revelation of the Messiah.
What Jesus prophesied is already happening.
- Refuse to bake a cake for a wedding between two people of the same sex and you will find yourself in court for discrimination.
- Believe in the Bible as the Word of God and you will face people like Keith Burton, the Director of the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations at Oakwood University, who argues that the Bible is an “obstacle to American freedom.”
- Place a quote mentioning God on a park bench to honor veterans, and you can expect to encounter the wrath of atheists who argue it is offensive. This happened in 2017 in Oil City, PA. The threat of a costly lawsuit forced the city fathers to remove this offensive statement: “Men who aren’t governed by God, will be governed by tyrants.” I guess the truth of the statement was just too much for some to process.
- Wear a cross on a necklace at a secular university and expect to be told that it is disrespectful to do so.
Pray with your football team members, who wants you to pray for them before and after a game, and you will be fired for your offensive action. Yet allow Muslim students have a prayer room at a local public high school, and this is seen as a loving, tolerant move. This is happening at Liberty High School in Frisco, TX.
I will stop there because I’m sure you get the point. Persecution is not something happening “over there,” like it used to. No, now it is ramping up here and we all see it, sense it, and many of us experience it.
Of course, all of this anti-Christian behavior causes believers to respond in a variety of ways. Some are afraid to speak up and out for their faith for fear of what it might cost them. Others fearlessly and lovingly engage the encroaching evil, seeking to hold it in check. I do not know where your head and heart are regarding what is occurring in our land, but I do know that God’s inspired, inerrant Word gives us the much needed insight regarding how to respond to the godless in dark days. David, who experienced his share of hateful, godless opposition, shares his insights on how to live when faith in under fire in Psalm 37. Ostensibly, behind the psalm stands a question David answers in a profound, helpful fashion. Perhaps this ancient question is your current question:
How Are Saints Supposed To Live In Tumultuous, Testy Times? (Psalm 37)
By way of review, David reminds us to keep our eyes focused in two directions. First, we, who know where we are ultimately headed, spiritually speaking, must focus constantly on God’s long- term kingdom plans. Second, we must take that knowledge and allow it to guide our thinking and behavior on the present while, as Paul argues, Satan and his followers dominate the world scene (Eph. 2:1-3). How we are to go about implementing this divinely ordained wisdom is presented in detail in three supportive points:
- The Long & Short View: Don’t Get Uptight About That Which Is Temporary (Psalm 37:1-2).
- The Long & Short View: Do Live Sold Out To God (Psalm 37:3-7a).
- The Long & Short View: Don’t Be Undone By The Wins Of The Wicked Because The Reversal Is Coming (Psalm 37:7b-20).
Hopefully, your introduction to and application of these wise commands is not only calming your spirit but is giving you inner peace and zeal for the gospel of Christ, which is the definitive answer to man’s ill-founded desire to be the master of his life.
To these three concepts, David adds one more in verses 21-40.
The Long & Short View: Do Realize You Have Divine Promise, Provision, and Protection (Psalm 37:21-40)
For those who are worried about the outcome of the next Presidential election, who are all keyed up over the possibility of societal meltdown and the potential unraveling of Constitutional rights, among many other viable concerns, you just might need to read this final instructive word one more time. This time let it sink deep into our mind. Let it flood and captivate your thinking.
Throughout this lengthy section, David moves back and forth between these three points as he addresses the constant tension existing between the godly and the godless. Come with me as we sink our interpretive spades into this rich, righteous soil. And, please, realize we will not be able to cover each line here with deep, intricate exegetical analysis. My goal is to merely touch upon the salient spiritual concepts and to leave the rest for you to study and analyze as the Spirit of God leads and guides you. Perhaps your Life Group could even do a little more digging. Just an idea.
When the evil successes and advancements of the godless seem unstoppable, when they, at times, seem impervious to truth and facts, when the highway to oblivion is full of high-fiving folks with the proverbial immoral pedal to the metal with little to no repercussions (Matt. 7:13), we, as Christ followers are tempted to either feel defeated or to consider throwing in the towel and call it a day. Ah, not so fast says David, a godly man who lived in godless times where the godless sought to silence him. The wise, spiritually battle-hardened saint, reminds us of the contrasts between the godly and the godless, and it is a contrast God sees and will act upon.
Before David focuses on the prophetic future, as he has done throughout this passage, he pauses to look at the present. In the here and now, he wants believers to consider that character counts greatly to God. How interesting. Character is the very thing in short supply in our day. A young many can strike a police officer in the head with a bat (during a “peaceful” protest), then go online to post (and boast) just how exhilarating the whole experience was to his angry spirit, and his mother (of all people), a political figure, can say he is a good boy and a straight A student and should therefore be spared harsh judgment. Huh? Where is his character? Where is hers? Once character is gone, chaos reigns supremely. David knew this and this is why he makes this statement in verse 21:
21 The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives.
See the king’s emphasis here on character? According to David, a wicked person is known for getting and not giving. He will borrow with no intention of paying. He will charge up his charge cards, knowing he can’t afford the stuff, make the minimum payment, and eventually default. A whopping 22% of people don’t repay their student loans. Some 4.9% of people are currently in default with banks regarding vehicles they could not afford in the first place. So many folks have their cars repossessed television producers even made a show out of it in 2007. You’ll remember it. It was called Operation Repo. Simply put, David reveals here how the heart of the godless is really all about being greedy and selfish. Funny and ironic. These types of people are all about the temporal things of this life which will not last nor give them inner peace and purpose.
The contrast to the godless is the godly. This is denoted by the waw disjunctive, which is denoted by the Hebrew waw . . . pronounced vav, as in German . . . , which means and/but, wedded to a non-verb, saddiq, or righteous. We stand in bold relief to worldlings. We are not to be known for getting but giving. We do it because we understand the value of mercy as it relates to the God of all mercy, and this prompts us to live lives of giving. This perpetual activity is certainly denoted by the Qal participle “to give” (ְונוֹ ֵֽתן ). How instructive and enlightening.
In a day consumed not only with greedy people getting all they can for themselves, and now with the masses consumed with socialism’s penchant for taking from one to give to another (which is just a legalized form of stealing), believers are to be known as those who go out of their way to sacrificially meet needs. Did not our Lord give each day to those in need? Indeed. To read the gospels is to see giving personified in His life from sun up to sun down. I must say, this is one character trait we do well as a church. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, I know our new kitchen will be full of folks who will prepare hundreds of hots meals for the poor in our community. It is just how we roll. I saw many in action as you gave time and attention to one our young mothers who was dying. The Hospice worker told me she had never seen such devotion to a person as she witnessed from our ladies who stayed with this godly mother until she passed into God’s presence. Go and be givers and watch the world stand in amazement.
Know, also, that it will be the givers, not the getters, who will inherit the kingdom of the Messiah when it arrives. As David remarks in passing:
22 For those blessed by Him shall inherit the earth, but those cursed by Him shall be cut off.
Who are the blessed? They are the givers, the saints who show mercy to the less fortunate. What will they inherit? According to God’s promise, they will inherit the long awaited and magnificent kingdom of Messiah (Isa. 2; 9; Zech. 12-14). Who are the cursed? The takers. They will be cut off from the kingdom and will, as we learn from the New Testament teaching of Jesus, inherit everlasting judgment (Matt. 25:46). Ironic. The very thing the godless desire, which is a kingdom on earth of their own making . . . a decadent, devious dystopia dressed up like a utopia . . . , will be lost forever when time, as we know it, terminates with Christ’s appearance (Rev. 19).
From divine promise (which will be fulfilled regardless of what wicked man does), David moves to divine protection as the godly move through this godless world:
23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way.
“Steps” here denotes the way a Christian walks in life. David brings this out in Psalm 44, “Our hearthasnotturnedback,norhaveourstepsdepartedfromYourway...”(Ps.44:18). Healsotalksabout this in Psalm 17:
4 Concerning the works of men, by the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer. 5 Uphold my steps in Your paths, That my footsteps may not slip (Ps. 17).
A godly person considers God’s unchanging, unalterable Word and Law and lives by walking with
it, not against it. This type of walking is “ordered by the LORD,” which comes from a Hebrew word, cun (כּוּן), denoting that which is firmly established . . . as in a the pillars of a house (Jud. 16:26, 29). Ostensibly, this means that God’s moral law is stable and firm. It does not change with the whims of wicked men, but is like the strong foundation of a mighty home. The godly know this, study it, and then live in light of it. Why do they do this? Because they “delight in his way,” which is translated, “they love to fulfill God’s moral law.” Why? Because they know it is the right thing to do in order to please Him and to live a fulfilled and peaceful life.
For those who embrace God’s law instead of pushing back against it because it is puritanical or cramps their progressive (digressive) lifestyles, God gives a promise of protection:
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand.
Since David has just spoken about living in light of God’s law, I think the “falling” here denotes moral failure on the part of the saint. Is God not realistic and merciful? No doubt. He knows our frame, and He’s a pragmatist who knows we will have moments where we go off the proverbial rails or when we leave the righteous reservation. When, not if, that occurs, should we think it is all over? Should we convince ourselves that God is through with us because we’ve compromised with the wicked world around us? Should we think we are irredeemable? No. Why? Because God, like the Good Shepherd (John 10), promises to be there to pick you up. When you morally trip and fall, the world might gloat and mock you, but the Lord will reach down with His loving hand and pick you up again so you can get on with life and living for Him. Is this not what He did with Peter after Peter’s three denials? Yes. Post-resurrection Jesus forgave Peter and told him to “feed my sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; you know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. (John 21).
Some of you are sitting here right now have tripped and fallen hard in your Christian walk. Maybe it has compromised your witness to some. Maybe it has caused you to feel deep, foreboding shame. Whatever the case, realize right now that in these testy times, when temptation can overtake you, that God is right here to pick you up as His son or daughter and get you back on the righteous road. Reach out from where you are and you’ll sense His hand reaching down to grab yours. Your spiritual life is not over. No. God has more for you to do for Him, so don’t listen to the raspy voice of our Adversary, Satan. He discourages while the Spirit encourages.
This provision and protection of God moves David to stop and reflect on how God always takes care of His own as they make this difficult earthly pilgrimage:
25 I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.
David learned from experience about the character of God, didn’t he? Did God forsake him after he murdered the husband of Bathsheba so he could take her as his adulteress wife? No. God disciplined him, for sure, but He did not walk away from His saint. Did God leave him and his elite hungry soldiers when they fled from Saul? No. Ahimelech, the priest, gave them the twelve loaves dedicated to God in the tabernacle (1 Sam. 21:1-6). From experience, David knew that God is always there for His people when they face tough times. True, there are times in life when the righteous look forsaken, as when a Christian young woman, Kayla Mueller, was captured by Isis; however, she was not forsaken because God was with her. In a letter penned to her family before her death she wrote, “I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator.” Moving words from a young woman who knew the Lord had not deserted her even in captivity.
True, there are times in life when the righteous do not have enough to eat. Just go and consider saints being persecuted by Boko Haram in Nigeria. David is a realist and he knows from life that, yes, sometimes it does appear that things do not go well for saints. His point, however, is a truism, a statement that focuses on that which is true most of the time: God is and will be there for you. Paul and Silas learned this truth when they were placed in a Philippian jail in Acts 16. God sent an angel to deliver them, but this did not keep Paul from experiencing great trails and lack in his life either.
23 Are they ministers of Christ?-- I speak as a fool-- I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness-- (2 Cor. 11).
God did not spare Paul tough times, yet God was always with Paul to guide, lead, protect, and provide for him so he could live out His will for his life. The same God is with you, too, in these tough, trying times in which we live.
In light of the fact that God promises to be with us when the seas get rough, how should we respond? The ensuing verses give us wisdom and insight:
26 He is ever merciful, and lends; and his descendants are blessed.
In unmerciful times, when the godless can’t wait to take advantage of the godly, be merciful to those around you. Give to them as you are led. Give of your time. Give of your money. Give of your talents. Live this way and God promises to bless your descendants . . . that is your children, your grand-children, your great-grand-children and beyond. Bless them how? With good lives. With peace in their homes. With sound, stable friendships. With who know what? It’s up to Go to bless and since He is all good I think His blessing will be off the charts. This is what is missing in our turbulent times. Mercy through giving should overtake those who are unmerciful and desirous of doing everyone else in so they can get ahead. Talk about a witness for God when you live His way.
How else should we live? David doesn’t mince words:
27 Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore. 28 For the LORD loves justice, and does not forsake His saints; they are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. 29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell in it forever.
If you have any evil going on in your life, leave it! Confess it (1 John 1:9)! Turn from it! The godless, more than ever before, need to see lives being transformed by the power of God. Hard to argue against a godless life which is now godly. Talk about the ultimate apologetic. To listen to the life of Amy Coney Barrett, candidate for the Supreme Court, is to hear about a woman sold out to God. Her life is all about turning from evil and doing good works, whether that work is helping a blind law student as her professor, or adopting children from a terrible environment. What is the world’s response? Not much. They stand in utter amazement at her Christlike character. All I can say is we must all go and do likewise. Those who know God and live for Him are the ones left standing on the day the Messiah appears as He promised (Matt. 24). Will you be there? David keeps emphasizing this because it is so important to realize.
Here’s is more insight on how to live in light of God’s promises, provision and protection: 30 The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
So much of what we hear today from the godless lacks biblical wisdom. A young woman who has hit a rough patch in her fairly new marriage will have non-Christians in her life telling her, “Go ahead, girl, and leave him. You have got to think about you, not him. You’ve got to be true to yourself.” Staying and working through the rough patch might, however, just be the wise thing to do before the God who created marriage and desires for it to be for life. This is, on the contrary, what a godly woman will tell the young lady. She will take what she knows from the Word of God and apply it to the newlywed’s life and challenge her to live accordingly and watch God work.
Oh, for more saints who know God’s law, His Word, as verse 31 suggests, and who know how to wisely apply it to a wide variety of life situations. Oh, for more saints who know the difference between justice and injustice. Again, we are awash in a world of injustices committed at so many levels. A saint who can’t get a promotion after years of faithful service because his boss, a combative non-Christian, constantly gives him inferior and unfounded remarks on his quarterly reviews has lived with injustice for years. What should he be about other than saying what is just and what is not? A high producing believer in sales who has never had a raise, even after many years of excellent service, has every right to speak respectfully about the injustice he has endured to his superiors. A church counsel who sent the Sheriff to their fairly new pastor’s home to evict him because they had decided they didn’t like his leadership style, has, along with his wife and children, encountered gross injustice. What does the Word of God say in these instances? A maturing, wise believer knows and is not afraid to speak up and out so justice can reign. This is the kind of person our world needs to see . . . one who knows the Word and lives out the Word.
When you live like this, when you decide to be a wise person in an unwise day where anything and everything is permissible and acceptable so long as it is not wedded to the Word, what should you expect? You can expect God’s promise and protection coupled with the world’s persecution. David, once more, is clear about this:
32 The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him.
Boy, isn’t this the truth? The wicked study the actions and words of the righteous in order to look for a way to exploit those words to make the believer look foolish. Ultimately, they want to salience the saint. Why? Let me list some of the reasons: because their words convict them; because their holiness bothers them; because their love or moral absolutes makes them feel uncomfortable, because their thinking reveals the logical holes in the godless arguments and rationalization for the sin of the day, and so on and so forth. At first, they will attempt to verbally slay you with ad hominem attacks because they can’t dismantle your arguments, and if left unchecked they will, as they typically do in totalitarian governments, seek to re-educate you, or remove you altogether. If you don’t believe me, then just move to Turkey or Iran.
When you are opposed, what should you realize? Here it is:
33 The LORD will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.
Here is another promise of protection from God. God will be there with you in the attack, be what it may, and even if you are condemned in a human court of law, you will never be condemned in
God’s court. Yes, in due time, justice will prevail. Let me rephrase this for those of you who are paying the price right now in our culture. Even though it may appear that the godless are getting the best of you in your role as a teacher, politician, military officer, professor, etc., please, realize it is only temporary. One day you will stand in God’s court and He will declare for the cosmos to hear that you were always innocent in His eyes. God will judge those who opposed you, for He will judge them justly. Jesus put it this way:
36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt. 12).
So, in our day of systemic injustice, be one who stands for justice in every area of your life. Do this and you will be a powerful tool in the hands of the Almighty.
Additionally, David reminds us that at the end of the day all the Lord is looking for is consistent obedience to His Word and way.
34 Wait on the LORD, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.
If you are waiting on the Lord, you are asking Him what He wants you to do in your life. How can I be a better husband? How can I love my wife more? How can I be a better light for you with my school staff? How can I effectively answer the tough spiritual questions the non-Christian girls pose to me in our dorm? Yes, Lord, what is your way and how can I know it and live it before those who don’t know you? Show me and I’ll walk in this way, knowing that your promise is clear that those who follow hard after you will be exalted/rewarded when you appear. Again, this is exactly what Jesus taught many years later in the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27). No doubt, you will be tempted to not keep God’s way, to cave into peer pressure, to go along to get along, to bend and twist the Word so you can enjoy sin for a season. Such is the nature of testy times. You, however, are to be made of steel, being known as a person who will not compromise the clear teaching of the Lord . . . no matter what. Live this way and God will exalt you when He sees you.
For those who wait on God, it is not always easy because as you look around it typically seems like the godless are getting away with their vacuous and vile ideologies, their degenerative ways to think of sinning, and their creative ability to sideline and silence truth. David shows he knows the drill of how the power of the godless appears to be, well, almost unstoppable when he cogently observes:
35 I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a native green tree.
First, they took to the streets, then they took over the universities, then they infiltrated the schools, then they brainwashed a generation, then they became our leaders who began to challenge law and order, then they deceived the masses. Then they . . . you can fill in the blank. David lived to see sin spread like an unchecked cancer on his culture; however, that was not the end of the matter because there is a living God who is always working behind the scenes guiding history to His unstoppable destination. Mark well how David opens this truth up:
36 Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; indeed I sought him, but he could not be found.
Point is, the power of the godless is but for a brief moment in time. In due time, God removes Him. If you don’t believe me, then just go ask King Nebuchadnezzar, or the Pharaoh of the Exodus, or Pilate, who thought he had all power over Jesus. He thought wrong, and Jesus minced no words in this regard:
8 Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, 9 and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, "Where are You from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Then Pilate said to Him, "Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?" 11 Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." (John 19).
God’s promise is sure: He will deal with the godless Himself at the right time. So sit tight and be obedient.
Better yet, make sure you pick your friends carefully and prayerfully:
37 Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace. 38 But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
What is a blameless man? He is a man you are hard pressed to bring anything against. Search his past for dirt and you’re not going to find any. Oh, for more people like this. Mark well the blameless man and make sure you live life with him for he will show you how to live an upright life which please God, not man. Have this type of person as a friend and you’ll also understand just how temporary those are who seem to be getting away with evil. Oh, for more friends like this in our lives who can a calming influence in the ensuing tsunami of wickedness.
David’s entire psalm/song builds to a beautiful harmonic crescendo with these insightful, challenging words:
39 But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in the time of trouble. 40 And the LORD shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him.
And just who is the living God who walks with you down this rough road called life? He’s the God who gives you His promise of salvation when the godless are closing in on you, He’s the God who gives you the provision of strength when the godless onslaught seems to suck strength out of your body, and He’s the God who gives you, at all times, His protection from on high.
Years ago on Monday evenings I taught a tour of the Old Testament to a large Russian church in California, viz., First Slavic Evangel Baptist Church. One student I met I shall never forget. His name? Nicolai. Why is he so unforgettable? Because his faith in a faithless nation was off the grid.
One day as he walked down the street, he watched as the KGB burned down a Christian church. He pulled out a small camera and took one picture, at a safe and concealed distance, of the atrocity. Someone ratted on him and he did seven years in prison for that one picture. The food was terrible, he had a cell all by himself, and every now and then a guard came into the cell bock, opened various doors of surrounding cells and fired his pistol. For seven years he never knew if the guards had, in fact, killed anyone, and if they were coming to his cell next.
How did his faith fare during this time? It grew deeper and stronger. Why? Because Nicolai, like David, kept his eyes fixed on the promises of God, and that resulted in him having great faith, even courageous faith in the present. To talk with him was to see a man full of the Spirit of God and great joy. Wow. What a saint. Oh, for more of us to be like Nicolai who lived a life of steady, stayed faith in the turbulence of a morally and spiritually twisted and tainted society. Oh, for more saints like Nicholai who aren’t afraid to trust God and live for God . . . no matter what.
What about you? Will you tell the Lord right now, “Lord, I will follow and trust you no matter what”?