"Those Blessed by Him Shall Inherit the Earth, But Those Cursed by Him Shall Be Cut Off" (Psalms 36-37) July 1-4
Psalm 35 concluded with reference to the prosperity of God's servant-i.e., David (verse 27). Now, the superscription of Psalm 36 refers to David as "the servant of the LORD." The psalm begins by addressing the nature of wickedness, but this is soon contrasted with God's faithfulness and righteousness and His rewarding of His servants such as David with an abundance of true prosperity.
The word "oracle" in verse 1 can simply mean "utterance." The actual order of the verse is "An oracle of transgression of the wicked within my heart." Some see "of the wicked" as actually meaning "to the wicked." However, the psalm's focus on God rewarding the righteous and the request for the righteous to be kept from wickedness goes against that being the aim of the psalm. Some translations give "within my heart" as "within his heart," thinking the wicked person is intended. However, the Hebrew lebi in the Masoretic Text does mean "my heart." Simply put, David is expressing his deep thoughts about the sinful way of the wicked.
David's consideration of the sinful course of the wicked (verses 2-4) is followed by contemplation of God's mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, justice and unfailing love (verses 5-7). "The contrast of these verses with the previous ones is extreme. Just as the revelation of the depravity in vv. 1-4 is awful, the revelation of the Lord's love is even more wonderful.... The contrasts continue with David ranging from the highest mountains to the depths of the sea to describe the perfect character of God. The height of the great mountains can be compared to how great God's righteousness is; the depths of the seas can be compared with how mysterious and inaccessible God's true judgments are" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 5-6).
Like nestlings seeking shelter and nourishment from a mother bird, so may people find protection and provision from God (verse 7). If the wicked would only cease from their headlong pursuit of fleeting self-gratification through sin and turn to God, they would find true and abundant satisfaction through the fullness of life in His family (verse 8). For the righteous "drink from the river of [God's] pleasures." What a beautiful word picture this is-of an endless, flowing supply of joyful experience forevermore! This river flows from the "fountain of life"-God's Holy Spirit bringing eternal salvation and all its rewards (see also Isaiah 12:3; 55:1-2; Jeremiah 2:13; John 7:37-39).
It is only in God's "light" that we "see light" (Psalm 36:9). In context, this may mean that we don't even really know what it means to live and be happy until we experience life in the way God intended. Rather than groping in the blindness of human plotting to find our way, the truth of God reveals the path to ultimate and lasting bliss. On the other hand, the idea here could be that it is through God shining on us (favoring and guiding us) that we will live to see a bright outcome for our lives (compare 37:3-6; see also Isaiah 60:19-20).
In closing, David prays that God's loyal love will continue for those who "know" Him and are thereby "upright in heart" (Psalm 36:10). Indeed, truly knowing God implies more than knowing about Him. It means having a relationship with Him, which is based on obedience to His laws (see 1 John 2:3-4; John 15:14). To have a relationship, we have to spend quality time with God through prayer, Bible study and contemplative meditation. Even fellowship with likeminded believers is an important way to fellowship with the Father and Christ (1 John 1:3)-as the Father and Christ dwell in faithful believers through the Holy Spirit.
David further asks for protection from the wicked who refuse to submit to God's way (Psalm 36:11)-perhaps thinking of some who were scheming to overthrow him. And he concludes with a final consideration (or prophetic glimpse) of the doom of the wicked (verse 12), which we see more about in the next psalm.
Psalm 37 ends an apparent grouping of four related psalms (34-37). Like Psalm 34, this one is an alphabetic acrostic, though in this case two verses are usually devoted to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Because the acrostic style makes it easier to memorize the songs that use it, some see these as "classroom" or "teaching" psalms. This is particularly the case with Psalm 37, as it is essentially a series of related proverbs or wise sayings. (Observe that verse 1 is nearly identical to Proverbs 24:19.)
David's message in the proverbs of Psalm 37 is rather similar to what he said in Psalm 36. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes in its introduction to Psalm 37: "This psalm's dominant theme is related to the contrast between the wicked and the righteous reflected in Ps 36. The central issue addressed is: Who will 'inherit the land' (vv. 9, 11, 22, 29), i.e., live on to enjoy the blessings of the Lord in the promised land? Will the wicked, who plot (v. 12), scheme (vv. 7, 32), [intentionally] default on debts (v. 21), use raw power to gain advantage (v. 14) and seem thereby to flourish (vv. 7, 16, 35)? Or will the righteous, who trust in the Lord (vv. 3, 5, 7, 34) and are humble (v. 11), blameless (vv. 18, 37), generous (vv. 21, 26), upright (v. 37) and peaceable (v. 37), and from whose mouth is heard the moral wisdom that reflects meditation on God's law (vv. 30-31)?"
Where the NIV has the "land" as the inheritance (verses 9, 11, 22, 29, 34), the KJV and NKJV have "earth" (except in verses 29 and 34, though the Hebrew is the same). Either is correct, especially when we realize that the Promised Land of God's Kingdom will encompass the entire earth, not just the land of Israel. Note that the inheritance will be dwelt in "forever" (verses 18, 29). Through these verses we see that the eternal inheritors will be "those who wait on the LORD" (hoping and trusting in Him), "the meek" (those who are humble and teachable), "those blessed by Him" (those who are faithful in their dealings, as implied by the previous verse) and "the righteous" (verse 29). These are of course all the same people-who with their inheritance will receive eternal life, deliverance from enemies, salvation and peace.
Jesus Christ quoted from verse 11 in His famous Sermon on the Mount. Giving what are referred to as the Beatitudes, Jesus in Matthew 5:5 said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Some may be surprised to learn that this in not an exclusively New Testament teaching. Once again we see that, far from inventing a new religion as many now think, Jesus was building on the teachings of the Old Testament.
The phrase "the LORD knows the days of the upright" (Psalm 37:18) has "several meanings: (1) God knows our circumstances and provides for us; (2) God knows how long we will live and will sustain us to the end (90:12); (3) God knows that our days on earth [in this age] are only the beginning of our days with Him in eternity" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 37:18).
Psalm 37 also sets forth what lies in store for those who do not serve God and live according to His teachings. An individual has only two choices when it comes to directing his life-the way of blessing and life or the way of cursing and death (see Deuteronomy 30:15-20). The way of righteousness, of obeying God through outflowing love to Him and others (summarized as the way of give), is the one that leads to blessings and life (Psalm 37:3-6). The other choice, the selfish way of disobedience or wickedness (summarized as the way of get), leads to misery and death (verses 10, 34-36). The wicked will be cut off-to perish and be forgotten. David uses the metaphor of grass to describe man's brief life on earth. Grass flourishes for a while, then is cut down and withers. So, too, will evil men perish as surely as mown grass withers (verse 2). In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also spoke about "the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven" (Matthew 6:30).
Another idea David expresses here is that fretting about life is harmful (Psalm 37:1, 7-8). He warns against worry, being overly anxious or succumbing to envy and anger. A righteous person looks to God instead. The literal rendering of verse 5 instructs us to roll our lives over onto God. He will direct a righteous man's steps, picking him up when he falls (verses 23-24) and taking care of his needs (verses 25-26). We see, then, that the righteous at times will fall; they aren't guaranteed trouble-free lives. Yet, "though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand" (verse 24). With wisdom and love, God shapes a person through trials. In that light, verse 25 should not be misunderstood to mean that God's people never suffer physical deficiency-but that God will always provide for them. Though they may at times have to ask others for help, as David himself did on occasion, they are not destitute beggars in a hopeless sense (and certainly not over the long haul of life). Trusting God, they "feed on His faithfulness" (verse 3). Indeed, even if they lack, the righteous are far better off than the wicked (verse 16)-and are even generous givers of whatever they do have (verse 26).
Jesus observed in the Sermon on the Mount that it is futile to worry. A man can't change his circumstances by worrying. God knows our needs and will take care of them if we remain committed to Him (Matthew 6:25-33). Indeed, Jesus said in this context that one's focus should be on God's Kingdom and righteousness (verse 33)-which is, not coincidentally, also the focus of Psalm 37.
Trusting God, as Psalm 37 instructs, requires one to wait on Him and to do good (verses 3-5, 7; compare 1 Peter 5:6-7). As we wait for resolution to problems, as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ, we have work to do: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). If we remain faithful to Him and continue to trust Him, God will remain faithful to us-to provide help for today and to save us in the end (Psalm 37:39-40).