Theme: An Old Man’s Testimony and Counsel
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
At the end of these two sections, which contain seven contrasts, most between the righteous and the wicked (vv. 12-26), David appends an old man’s testimony to the truth of what he has said (vv. 25, 26). He tells us that he has never seen these truths contradicted: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (v. 25).
Would it be possible for us to say that? The first part is alright. We can be sure that God himself never abandons the righteous. Besides, Jesus said, “I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:20). But can we say that we have never seen the children of the righteous begging bread? That we have never seen the righteous without life’s necessities? That question troubled Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who solved it by distinguishing between David’s testimony and his own. He did not fault David, but he acknowledged that verse 23 was not his personal observation, at least as it stands. He had seen the children of the righteous begging. “I have relieved the children of undoubtedly good men, who have appealed to me as common mendicants,” he reported.4
I suppose my testimony is somewhere in between. I have never seen the children of believers actually begging food, though I know poor Christians and do not doubt that there are places where living is so poor that the offspring of believers beg, as do others.
But the observation is still a good one even if it needs to be taken in less than an absolute sense. God does provide for the righteous and their children. Millions will testify to that. Indeed, they will testify to all that has been said here. Derek Kidner, one of the most interesting and useful commentators on the Psalms, was so impressed with this that he joined phrases the Apostle Paul used of his experience of God’s provision (in 2 Corinthians 4:9 and 6:10) with David’s words in Psalm 37 to provide the following outline for verses 12-26: 1) “persecuted but not forsaken” (vv. 12-15); 2) “as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (vv. 16-20, 25); 3) “making many rich” (vv. 21, 22, 26); and 4) “cast down, but not destroyed” (vv. 23, 24).
In other words, David’s testimony was Paul’s testimony too. And so it has been with millions of God’s people.
I have called the fourth part of Psalm 37 “an old man’s counsel to the young” (vv. 27-33), because having spoken of himself as an old man, David then goes on to give advice to people who have not lived as long or seen as much of God’s workings as he has.
The section begins with a command, just as the next section also does. Here David says, “Turn from evil and do good” (v. 27). This is a combination similar to the words “trust in the LORD and do good” in verse 3. It is an affirmation about faith leading to good works. We studied it earlier. Here, however, the verses go on to speak of good words, since verse 30 elaborates the earlier teaching by adding: “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.” Why is this? The answer is in verse 31. It is because “the law of God is in his heart.” Spurgeon calls this “the best thing in the best place, producing the best results.”5 And Alexander Maclaren writes wisely, “That is the foundation on which all permanence is built. From that as center there issue wise and just words on the one hand and stable deeds on the other…. Therefore he who orders his footsteps by God’s known will is saved from much hesitancy, vacillation and stumbling, and plants a firm foot even on slippery places.”6
What is the principle behind verse 25?
How do we turn from evil, especially in those times when it is appealing?
Reflection: Can you say that the law of God is in your heart (v. 31)?
4C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 176.5Ibid., p. 177.6Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 1, Psalms 1-38 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), pp. 371, 372.