Theme: The Righteous Blessed and the Wicked Cut Off
In this week’s lessons we see how the wicked and righteous are contrasted, and learn how the mature Christian approaches all of life to the glory of Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 37:21-40
The first contrast between the wicked and the righteous is that the wicked borrow and do not pay their debts, while the righteous give generously.
2. The righteous will inherit the land, but the wicked will be cut off (v. 22). This second contrast is meant to be taken of the land of Israel literally, since inheritance of the land is one of the great Old Testament promises. It is not the same for us, since there are no promises that New Testament believers are to possess or inherit portions of the Promised (or any other) Land. Yet, there is the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). That is a New Testament promise, spoken to Christians. What does it mean?
There are three things it can mean. First, it can be speaking of a future day in which believers will reign with Christ on earth. Not all views of eschatology allow this, but if it is a permissible interpretation, it is significant that Jesus changes the words “inherit the land,” meaning the land of Israel, to “inherit the earth,” which is broader. Second, the beatitude can be speaking of prosperity in general, which would be a fair contemporary application of the psalm’s teaching. It would mean that God will care for those who seek him and live for him. They will have their share of good things. Most Christians can testify to that, even those whom the world would regard as not being very well off. Riches are relative, and the little the righteous have is better than the abundance of the wicked, as the psalm has already said (v. 16). The third possible meaning of the beatitude is that the entire earth is given to the righteous to enjoy, and they can enjoy it as the wicked cannot, since they see it and receive it as a gift of their gracious heavenly Father.
The meek can inherit all things in this way because they do not have to possess them exclusively or selfishly. Paul was such a man. He owned little yet could describe himself as “possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). Likewise he reminded the Corinthians that “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. 3:21).
3. The wicked will be cut off, but although the righteous may stumble they will not fall since the Lord upholds them (vv. 23, 24). The last of these contrasts picks up from the end of the one preceding and does not use the word “but,” as the others do. Yet it is still a clear contrast. The wicked will be cut off, but the Lord will sustain the righteous, even though they may stumble along the way or experience hardships for a time.
Verse 23 is better known (and may even be better translated) in the King James Version of the Bible, which says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” In his commentary on this psalm Harry Ironside tells a story about George Mueller, the founder of the great faith orphanages in England in the nineteenth century. Mueller was a man of great prayer and faith. He spent a lifetime placing the needs of his orphanages before God and saw many wonderful answers to his prayers. Ironside’s story is about someone who once picked up George Mueller’s Bible and was thumbing through it when he came to Psalm 37:23 and saw that next to the words “the steps” Mueller had written into the margin “and the stops.” Apparently, Mueller had been meditating on this verse, and it had occurred to him that it is not only forward motion that is ordered by the Lord but also times of enforced inactivity. For the righteous even these times have a gracious design.3
How can verse 22 be understood? Which view do you prefer?
What are some ways the Lord sustains us when we stumble?
Application: It is easier to trace the Lord’s hand in our life when things are happening, particularly when they are things we desire. But it is harder when nothing seems to be happening and God appears to be silent. What might God be intending to teach us during those periods of apparent inactivity?
3H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952), p. 220.