Theme: The Way of the Wicked
In this week’s lessons we look at a psalm that contains some of the best-loved verses in the Old Testament, and learn what mature Christian living looks like.
Scripture: Psalm 37:1-20
The second section of this psalm (vv. 12-20) describes the way of the wicked, much like Psalms 1, 36 and others do. In fact, from here to the end of the psalm nearly every verse mentions either the wicked or the righteous or both. Later, in section three, there are a series of contrasts between the righteous and the wicked. In this section there are also contrasts, but they concern the wicked more directly. Here are four of them.
1. The wicked plot against the righteous, but the Lord laughs at them (vv. 12, 13). We do not often think of the Lord laughing, especially at wickedness, and it is right we do not since to us laughter usually means that someone is taking a matter lightly. This laughter is like that of Psalm 2, which says that the Lord “scoffs” at those who think they are able to overthrow him and so determine their own rebellious destinies. God laughs at the wicked scornfully, because he knows their appointed ends. He knows they will be brought low and in the end be judged by him.
If God can laugh at the wicked, shouldn’t we be able at least to refrain from getting agitated by them? Shouldn’t we be able to trust God and commit our ways to him in quiet confidence?
2. The wicked draw weapons against the righteous, but they will fall by their own weapons (vv. 14, 15). The principle expressed here is that sin carries the seeds of its destruction in itself. An evil empire can endure for a time by its own brute strength, but if it is corrupt, the corruption will weaken it from within and it will eventually fall. It is the same with individuals. People can cheat, use or intimidate others for a time, but eventually their character will become known and others will either refuse to deal with them or destroy them by the same tactics.
3. The wealth and power of the wicked will be taken away, but God will sustain the righteous (vv. 16, 17). This point and the next require special faith on the part of God’s people, since the fulfillment of this promise often takes considerable time. Yet those who have trusted God over a lifetime will testify to its truth. The wicked do fall, and the righteous are preserved even in the times of their persecution by the wicked.6 In the next section of the psalm David expresses this as his own observation and testimony: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (v. 25).
4. The righteous will survive days of deprivation, but the wicked will perish (vv. 18-20). The text says that although the wicked flourish like “the beauty of the fields, they will vanish—vanish like smoke.” We speak of “the beautiful people,” meaning Hollywood entertainers, high fashion models, those with exceptional wealth or influence, and other celebrities. These people seem to flourish like pretty field flowers after spring rains. But like flowers they soon vanish. Beauty fades, popularity wanes, wealth overextends itself and is lost, and influence passes to other hands.
Those who do the will of God endure—and not just for this life. They endure for eternity. As Psalm 1 says, the righteous are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (v. 3). “The LORD watches over the way of the righteous” (v. 6).
These themes are going to be pursued again in the psalm’s second half, concluding with a section on “taking the long view.” But that is already the psalm’s answer to present wickedness. Peter C. Craigie gives this summary: “Why should morality be adopted, when it is self-evident that wicked persons seem to get along fine in this world? … In the short run, the wicked seem to prosper, whereas the righteous very often seem to suffer at their hands. But it is the longer run that counts, and in the long run the only true satisfaction is to be found in the righteousness which is the hallmark of the one who lives in relationship with the living God.”7
What does the Bible mean when it says that the Lord “laughs” at the wicked?
What is the contrast in verses 14 and 15? Can you think of any examples that demonstrate this truth?
Reflection: How have you seen the Lord sustain the righteous? How has he sustained you? Praise him for his providential care.
Key Point: Those who do the will of God endure—and not just for this life. They endure for eternity. As Psalm 1 says, the righteous are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (v. 3). “The LORD watches over the way of the righteous” (v. 6).
6This is the theme of H. Butterfield’s classic study, Christianity and History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), written shortly after the Second World War. See especially the chapter “Judgment in History.”7Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), pp. 299-300.