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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 37

Psalms 37

THE subject of the Psalm is comprised in the two first verses: “Be not angry against the miscreants, envy not the evil-doers, for as grass they shall quickly be cut down, and as the green herb they wither.” He meets the temptation to help himself, to oppose power to power, to contend against wickedness with wickedness, which often presents itself to the righteous when he sees the ungodly prospering, while he himself is in a state of depression; and, indeed, in such a way, as to shew, under the most different turns and images, how the issue separates between the righteous and the wicked, how God in his own time assuredly recompenses to every one according to his works, to the wicked destruction, to the righteous salvation: so that the only, and at the same time, the sure means for the righteous to attain to salvation is, that he trust in the Lord and cease not to do good.

That we must not labour to find out a connected plan for the Psalm, that the judgment of Amyrald is substantially correct: “There is scarcely an order observed in it by David, no connection of parts, excepting that one and the same subject is handled in it under the most diversified applications and manifold variations, which all lead to nearly one point, although every one of them possesses its own proper force, so that they are not otherwise connected together than as so many precious stones or pearls are strung together upon one thread to form a necklace,”—this may be concluded even from the alphabetical arrangement—comp. the remarks in the introduction to Psalms 25. The unconstrained treatment of the subject leads also to the same result, justifying throughout the remark of the Berleb. Bible, “that things are therein once and again repeated and frequently inculcated, so that the great subject might not be forgotten, and the pious might retain it always in their mouth and heart.” Finally, this view is also confirmed by the fact, that the Proverbs hardly present to any Psalm so many verbal references and resemblances in sound, as to this, which is to be explained only from an internal relationship with the sententious poetry of Solomon, the Davidic root and origin of which here stands before our eyes.

The delineation is very clear, simple, and smooth, and in accordance with the alphabetic arrangement, leads us to the conclusion, that David speaks here to the “sons”—comp. on Psalms 34—to whom milk and not strong meat must be provided. We see here also, how David did not please himself in his poesy, but adapted his voice to the necessities of the church, which he served with his poetical gift.

An introduction and a conclusion, which are each made up of the number seven, are distinguished from the great mass, Psalms 37:8-33, by their prevailing hortatory character, while the rest bears the character of a calm contemplation and simple delineation of the state of things, interrupted only by a solitary exhortation in Psalms 37:27. The admonition of the introductory part, is grounded in the body of the Psalm, and that at the close grows out of this.

In regard to the alphabetical arrangement, there are two verses assigned by the rule to each letter. But various irregularities occur here also, which the analogy of all the alphabetical Psalms forbids us to obliterate—comp. on Psalms 25, and still more the circumstance, that a close examination of them always forces on us the conviction of plan and design. Three letters have only one verse appropriated to them, Psalms 37:7, Psalms 37:20, Psalms 37:34, while one letter has three verses, Psalms 37:27, and a letter, ע , is altogether awanting The strophe, which should have begun with ת , has a ו placed before it. This state of matters is to be explained in the following manner. It is not accidental, that we so often see the number ten play an important part in the alphabetical Psalms. It is, like the alphabet, the signature of the complete, what is comprized in itself. Now, for the number ten, the Psalmist would fain secure a place here. The whole, therefore, must be made to complete itself in four decades. For this purpose the forty-four verses, of which it had consisted, if two verses were distributed to each letter, must some how be shortened. But the Psalmist would not proceed arbitrarily in doing this, he would only abbreviate, where an internal ground existed for the abbreviation. At three points an opportunity of doing this offers itself. For obtaining the number seven in the introduction and the close, a letter-strophe must each time be deprived of a verse; the lot for this was intentionally cast on the last verse of the introduction, and the first of the conclusion, so that the two imperfect strophes might join to each other, the second seven stand in due order to the first, whose subject it again resumes. A third occasion arose in Psalms 37:20. The middle of the whole, the half of the forty, must not remain unmarked, and must not fall into the middle of a strophe. Now there was just needed, in order to obtain the number forty, the abbreviation of one strophe.

But no other opening presented itself for doing this, in so far as the matter was concerned. Besides, for the letter ע no suitable commencement was found by the author, so that he sought to gain his object by dropping this letter, while he gave to the one immediately preceding, ס , three verses, in evident and intentional contrast at the same time to the three letters with one verse, and in skilful arrangement, making two verses of usual, enclose a third of unusual length. Finally, that the ו before the strophe with ת , is not accidentally affixed to it, is improbable on this account alone, that this strophe is the very last; and the conjunction placed there, at once brings the strophe into connection with what precedes, and marks its subject as the result of the latter, the sum and quintessence of the whole discourse.

The reasons which have been brought against the Davidic origin of this Psalm, are of no weight, and are disposed of by the remarks already made on Psalms 25. When an inclination is shown to regard Jeremiah as the originator of the alphabetical arrangement, it is not considered, that both in form and substance this prophet hangs upon an earlier period. The very circumstance, that Jeremiah, in his Lamentations, has employed the alphabetical order, shows that he had in this respect important prototypes in the past, and is quite fatal to the opinion of the late origin of the alphabetical arrangement.

For David’s being its author, there is, besides the superscription, the unquestionable fact, that the Psalm forms the basis of a series of declarations in the Proverbs of Solomon. Then, few in Israel could, from actual experience, speak upon the theme of this Psalm, as David could do—few were so called by the leadings of providence, to oppose a barrier to the temptation, which arose from the prosperity of the wicked. David had found many occasions for giving way to this temptation; he had seen the ungodly Saul, the foolish Nabal, the corrupt faction of Absalom, sitting in the lap of fortune, while he languished in distress. David knew the temptation itself from his own experience, although God kept him, that he did not willfully yield to it, but still recovered himself at the proper time. When he cut off the skirt of Saul, he for a moment forgot the words: be not angry at the wicked; if his conscience had not smitten him, he would have proceeded from the skirt to the heart. Still more deeply did he underlie the temptation, when he swore he would cut off Nabal with his whole house. Had not God sent Abigail to meet him, and by her voice awoke his slumbering better self, he would have experienced in himself the truth of his declaration in Psalms 37:8, that anger toward the wicked leads to a participation in their wicked deeds. With deep emotion of heart he says to her in 1 Samuel 25:33, “And blessed be thy understanding, and blessed be thou, that thou hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.” David, finally, had from manifold experience learned the truth of the sentiment, upon which he here grounds the dissuasion from revenge, that quietness is the sure path to victory, that he, who simply commits his cause to God, shall certainly obtain a happy issue to it, and see the punishment of the wicked. Saul, with his whole retinue, fell under the judgment of God, and David succeeded to his place. In regard to Nabal, whose history is peculiarly illustrative of this Psalm, he could speak in 1 Samuel 25:39, “Blessed be the Lord, that bath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil; for the Lord hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head.” Already, Luther remarks: “Such examples had David seen in Saul, Absalom, Ahitophel, and the like, who were mighty in their godless nature, and yet, ere one could look around him, were gone, so that one might ask and say, what has become of them?”

The divine recompense, to which David directs the tempted, is here, in unison with the two other Psalms, which treat ex professo of the same theme, Psalms 49 and Psalms 73, only a temporal one; and in vain have Stier and others laboured to find references in it to a recompense after death. No ground exists for such endeavours; we have besides the Old Testament the New, and even on this account one-sidedness in the Old Testament is no defect; it is rather an excellence, if only the side actually brought out is a side of truth, since even through the exclusive predominance of this one side, the truth may be more deeply impressed upon the conscience. That there is here a side of truth, has often been boldly denied in recent times; the doctrine of retribution in temporal things has been affirmed to be a Jewish error: But we do not need to attempt the refutation of this view here, as it has already been done in our Beitr. P. p. 577, ss., where it is especially shown, that the New Testament teaches the temporal recompense as well as the Old, (the oft-repeated principle in this Psalm, that the meek shall inherit the land, is taken up and confirmed by our Lord in his sermon on the mount), that this doctrine has obtained, in a remarkable manner, the consensus gentium, that the opposite view, however well it may look, is nothing else than practical atheism, and that it leads to the most disastrous consequences, while the doctrine of the temporal recompense is not only based in sound views of God, but is also supported by the important testimony of experience.

The New Testament, while it so resumes the ground of consolation, so much handled in the Old, in regard to the temptation growing out of the prosperity of the wicked and the sufferings of the righteous,—comp., besides the statements and passages referred to above, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9,—in these respects rises above the former point of view. 1. It enlarges the field of recompense, making it run into the life to come. 2. It ascribes to the temporal tribulation and the temporal salvation a subordinate place, while it points to the coming glory as that, with which the sufferings and joys of this life are not worthy to be named. 3. It brings with it even during this life a great richness of internal goods, the possession of which renders the want of the external less painful. The feeling of the New Testament expresses itself thus, “I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content

I can do all things through Christ strengthening me.” Php_4:11 , Php_4:13 , and “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things,” 2 Corinthians 6:10.

Verses 1-2

Ver. 1. Inflame not thyself against the miscreants, envy not the evil-doers. Ver. 2. For they shall soon be cut down as grass, and as the green herb they wither. The passage first contains an admonition, then lays the ground of this. Luther: “How immediately does the prophet seize and hit upon the thoughts of the heart in this temptation, and take away all causes thereof, saying, at the first: O man, thou art angry, and hast cause for it, as thou thinkest, for there are wicked men, who do unjustly, and commit much evil, while still they continue to prosper, so that nature thinks it has just cause to be angry. But not so, dear child: permit grace, and not nature here to rule; break thine anger, and be at rest for a little; let them go on doing evil and prospering; believe me, it shall do thee no harm. Then if men ask: When shall things cease to be thus? Who can endure so long? He answers: For as the grass, &c. This is a beautiful similitude, terrible to hypocrites, and consoling to the afflicted. How entirely does it raise us out of our own sight, and place us in the sight of God! In our sight, the multitude of hypocrites flourishes and grows, and covers the world so completely, that they alone seem almost to exist; as the green grass covers and adorns the earth. But in God’s sight what are they? Hay, that must presently be made: and the higher the grass grows, the nearer is it to the scythe and the hay-cock; even so the higher and farther the wicked spread and rise aloft, the nearer are they to destruction. Wherefore, then, shouldst thou be angry, when their wickedness and prosperity are of so short-lived a nature?”—חרה to burn, in Hithp. which it is only here and in Proverbs 24:19, to set one’s self on fire, to go into a passion. The ב after this verb, always marks the person toward whom the anger is directed. Hence we are not to translate here with most expositors: be not angry with thyself upon, but only against the miscreants, as such a rendering is also the only one in accordance with the parallel, as in the second member too, the objects towards whom the affection is directed, are indicated by a &#ב קנא with a ב always to envy any one. Men would not have erred from the right exposition, if they had only used the story of Nabal in 1 Samuel 25 as a commentary. That story shows us very distinctly on what account it is, that such a pointed admonition is given against rage and envy toward the wicked. As it springs from an objectionable ground, from doubt in divine providence,—for so long as there is a firm faith in this, one will not greatly grudge to the ungodly his transitory success, will not be indignant at it, but rather wait, looking to the future, and bearing the sufferings which the Lord has sent as a trial,—so does it lead to the most unhappy consequences. From anger flows revenge, from envy the endeavour to attain by one’s own arm the like prosperity. So will there come from indignation and envy toward miscreants, another miscreant, one who will bring force against force, and malice against malice. That it is in this respect the warning is here given against anger and envy, appears in the clearest manner from the express declaration of the Psalmist’s mind in Psalms 37:8, and also what is said of the opposite: do good, in Psalms 37:3, and “of the meek,” in Psalms 37:11.

References to Psalms 37:1 occur in Proverbs 24:1; Proverbs 24:19,—literally as here, only that instead of evil-doers we have the wicked, Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 23:17. That the Proverbs should present so many coincidences with the commencement of the Psalm, fitted, as it is, to make so deep an impression upon the mind of the reader, shows that in the other allusions of the Proverbs to our Psalm the latter must be the original, and refutes the view of those who would reverse the relation. In Psalms 37:2, יִ מּ ָ לוּ? , on account of the pause, instead of יִ מּ ְ לוּ? , is fut. in Kal. from מלל , to be cut down, not from the uncertain root נמל . John Arnd: “When grass has stood its time, it will be cut down. So, when the ungodly have accomplished their end by their prosperity, God sends one against them, who cuts them off; as may be seen in Saul and Ahab, who, as soon as they were ripe, were swept away, by an enemy sent on purpose by God. And when flowers and green herbs have stood and bloomed their time, they fall of themselves and wither away. So is it with all the ungodly amid their great temporal prosperity. And then they are such flowers, as when once fallen, revive no more, but for ever corrupt and waste, and blossom not again. Ah! why should we then be filled with anger at them, and begrudge them their short-lived good? We should rather pity their blindness.”

Verses 3-4

Ver. 3. Trust in the Lord and do good, inhabit the land, and feed on faithfulness. Ver. 4. And delight thyself in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thy heart. In opposition to the improper feeling and mode of acting respecting the prosperity of the wicked, the Psalmist first places here the correct one, and then points out this as the sure means to the desired end. On the first words Luther remarks: “Here he takes away all impatient thoughts and composes the heart to rest. As if he would say: dear child, cease from thine impatience, and curse them not, neither wish them any evil; such thoughts are human and sinful. Put thy hope in God; see what he will make of it; look thou to thyself; on no account cease to do good, as thou hast begun, where and to whom thou canst, and render not evil for evil, but good for evil.” The following imperatives: inhabit, etc. are to be taken in the sense of promises, q. d. then wilt thou inhabit, feed, delight thyself. רעה with the accus. often to bepasture, in a sort of spiritual sense, to feed on somewhat, Isaiah 44:20; Hosea 12:2; Proverbs 13:20. The faithfulness is the faithfulness of God, which unfolds itself in his dealings toward the righteous, so that he can rejoice therein. Most, proverbially: feed securely. To delight one’s self in the Lord, is as much as to enjoy his grace and blessing, compare Isaiah 58:14; Job 22:26, Job 27:10. The fut.: and he will give thee, etc., serves to explain the preceding imperative. Many expositors take all the imperatives in the admonitory sense, and limit the promise to the words: “And he will give thee (so will he give thee) the desires of thy heart;” others would give the imperatives, at least in Psalms 37:3, the force of admonitions. But very important considerations present themselves against this view. The words: inhabit the land, have something strange in them when viewed thus. The direction has too little of an active character. We should rather have expected in that case: remain in the land, or abide therein. רעה אמונה must not be translated with Luther: support thyself uprightly, for אמונה is not used as an adverb, and to feed cannot stand for to support. Neither can we render with others: feed thyself in uprightness, or even in faith; for אמווה signifies fidelity, faithfulness, and nothing else. Feed thyself in faithfulness, for love, exercise it, were bearable perhaps. Still faithfulness seems here somewhat strange. The delighting of one’s self in the Lord, is always used only as a felicity and a gift, never as an obligation and a purpose; an admonition to delight one’s self in the Lord, were without all analogy. The propriety of viewing it in the light of a promise, is confirmed by Psalms 37:11. But decidedly against the opposite view is Psalms 37:27 where the expression: dwell for evermore, after a preceding imperative of admonition unquestionably bears the import of a promise, as also the parallel passage, Psalms 37:9-11, Psalms 37:22, Psalms 37:29, Psalms 37:34, in which the possession of the land, and the dwelling in it is marked as a reward of righteousness. With a promissory meaning stands also the expression in Proverbs 2:21, “the upright shall inherit the land,” and Proverbs 10:30. On the last words: he will give thee, etc. comp. Psalms 20:5; Psalms 21:2.

Verses 5-6

Ver. 5. Roll thy way upon the Lord, and trust in him, he will do it. Ver. 6. And will bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon-day. Roll thy way, like one, who lays upon the shoulder of one stronger than himself a burden which he is not able to bear, comp. on Psalms 22:8; 1 Peter 5:7. That way here does not denote the experience, as well as the doing, is clear from the parallel passage, Proverbs 16:3, “Roll upon the Lord thy works;” and also from the expression he will do, namely, what is to be done, and what thou canst not do; עשח never stands absolutely; where it appears to do so, the object is always to be borrowed from the preceding. The light is day-light, noon-day, the time when it shines most brightly. By the righteousness many understand subjective righteousness; the darkness of misfortune has brought righteousness under the cloud, but God will thereby place it in the clearest light, as he again favours the innocent sufferer. But, since the light commonly, and often in the very same connection, an image, not of revelation, but of salvation, (comp. Job 11:17, “And clearer than the noon-day shall be thy life; now thou art dark, then thou shalt be like the morning,” Isaiah 58:8: Micah 7:9), the righteousness is better taken as the gift of God, as matter-of-fact justification, such as is obtained by the communication of salvation. In accordance with this, we are also we are also to understand by right or judgment, that which is given by God. The righteous, this is the sense, shall in his own time by splendidly and gloriously justified by God. The promise here delivered will find its complete fulfilment in the day, when the saints of God shall shine as the sun, and as the stars of heaven for ever and ever. But vain would be the hope of this, if it were not realized also in the present state; what has no place on this side, can have none on that. There nothing will begin, every thing is only perfected. The denial of the temporal recompense is a partial denial of God, and one that by a kind of consequence leads to a complete denial. Jo. Arnd: “See holy David, Saul with all his kingly might could not destroy him: God brought David forth at last as a shining light, as the sun at noon-day; and what a bright light was David over the whole land! How thick a darkness fell upon our Lord Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, in his holy sufferings and death; but, in his glorious resurrection and ascension to heaven, and proclamation of the blessed gospel, the true light burst forth, and illuminated the whole earth, so that even the heathen walk in this light, and in the brightness which has proceeded from him.”

Verse 7

Ver. 7. Be still to the Lord and wait on him, inflame not thyself against him, who is prosperous in his way, against the man that practises devices. In this: inflame thyself not, the conclusion of the introduction reverts to the beginning, and thus rounds itself off. The amplification then begins again in Psalms 37:8, with the same thoughts, which, in our introduction, were marked as the proper ground-note of the whole. דמם always means to be silent. Silence is primarily of the speech, as opposed to passionate self-defence, comp. Psalms 38:13-14. But if one must help himself by speeches, so also and much more by deeds. The ל marks him, to whom this silence belongs, with respect to whom silence is kept, q. d. be silent with an eye to the Lord, who will speak better and with more effect, than thou canst do, comp. Psalms 38:15, “Thou wilt answer, O Lord my God,” and the parallel here: wait upon him, which is to be considered as an exposition of the לו . Arnd: “We have heard above, that our dear Lord would bring forth the righteousness of the pious as the light, and as the sun in clear noon-day. Now, because this dear God has such a great work in contemplation for all fearers of God, let them be still to the Lord, and not hinder him in his work, but wait on him in patience.” The two members: against him who is prosperous in his way, against the man, who practises devices, define one another, and Luther has properly brought them together, “inflame thyself not upon him, who goes on prosperously in his perverseness.” Those, who do not recognize this, would take עשה in the sense of executing, bringing to pass, in which case an indication of wickedness should not have been awanting in the first member. Arnd: “David saw his enemy, Saul, enjoy prosperity, and that his perverseness carried him on successfully, but was still, committed it to God, and would not destroy him, though he often came into his hands.”

Verses 8-9

Ver. 8. Abstain from anger, and cease from wrath, inflame thyself not, so that thou also dost evil. Ver. 9. For evil-doers shall be cut off, and they that wait upon the Lord, they shall possess the land. אךְ? is to be taken in its common signification, only. Only to evil-doing, points to this, that anger could have no other consequence than this, no good, but only this mournful one. Luther: “And what avails such rage? It makes the matter no better, nay only sinks it deeper in the ditch. Thou hast prevented God, so that thou hast lost his grace and favour, and art become like evil-doers, and wilt perish along with them, as follows.” In the doing of evil, we must not think of murmuring against God, nor generally of a falling off to the manner of thinking and acting characteristic of the ungodly; it is to be viewed as specially referring to the behaviour toward the enemies. Arnd: “To do many evil things to them from impatience and revenge, is what would be rued in eternity.” The chief purport of Psalms 37:9 is to shew, that no ground existed for anger, rather must thou carefully restrain thyself from it, for evil-doers, into the circle of whom thou wouldst enter, when thou abandonest thyself to rage, &c. The truth of this: they shall possess the land, (comp. on Psalms 25:13), David had himself experienced in a wonderful manner.

Verses 10-11

Ver. 10. It is but a little, and the wicked is no more, and if thou thinkest upon his place, it will be gone. Ver. 11. But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in great peace. Upon ענוים , the meek, not, as Luther, the miserable, comp. on Psalms 9:12. Because they have maintained peace, peace shall be given them as a reward after the extirpation of the wicked. See Psalms 37:37.

Verses 12-13

Ver. 12. The wicked plots against the righteous, and gnashes against him with his teeth. Ver. 13. The Lord laughs at him, for he sees that his day is coming. The day is by the connection determined to be that of his misfortune. The laughing of God, who has before his eyes the impending ruin of the wicked, (Berleb. Bible: “such poor worms, who make themselves so great upon the earth, and act so loftily in their impotence, seeing it must so soon be over with them,”) is put here in contrast to the human mode of considering things, which remains wedded to the visible. Let this divine mode of considering be adopted by the righteous, let them place themselves upon the high watch tower of faith which gives a distant view, and instead of weeping there shall be laughing for them, even before the divine interference has appeared.

Verses 14-15

Ver. 14. The ungodly draw the sword and bend their bow, that they may cast down; the poor and needy, and slay the upright. Ver. 15. Their sword will go into their heart, and their bows shall be broken. Comp. Psalms 7:15-16; Psalms 9:15-16; Psalms 57:6. Proverbs 26:27.

Verses 16-17

Ver. 16. The little that a righteous man has, is better than the great possessions of many wicked. Ver. 17. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, and the Lord upholds the righteous. That we must render: “better is a little, which is to the righteous,” appears from the parall. pass. Proverbs 15:16, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and trouble therewith,” Proverbs 16:8. המון never signifies exactly riches, always noise, turmoil, and that this meaning must be retained here, appears from Proverbs 15:16, where there is מהומה , and Psalms 39:6. But the noise of the wicked stands for his riches, which, in the scraping and holding together, involve him in noise, turmoil, and disquietude. רבים , not greatness, but many. The Psalmist places the small possession of one righteous person in opposition to the collected goods of a whole mass of the ungodly. The ground is laid in Psalms 37:17. It is, not because the wicked, even in the greatest external fortune, feel themselves internally unhappy, as Calvin supposes, (by the turmoil,) but because their external fortune soon goes to wreck, and only serves the purpose of making them feel more deeply their future misery. This ground addresses itself to faith, which sees what is not, as if it were. He, whose arm is broken, the instrument of working, can no more either hurt another, or help himself. Comp. Psalms 10:15, Psalms 38:14, 1 Samuel 2:31.

Verses 18-19

Ver. 18. The Lord knows the days of the pious, and their inheritance shall be for ever. Ver. 19. They shall not be ashamed in the time of adversity, and in the days of famine they shall be full. With the knowing of the Lord his care is necessarily bound up, comp. on Psalms 1:6. The days are not properly the fates, Arnd: “God knows what shall befal us every day and hour, and causes all things to work together for good to them that love him,” comp. Psalms 31:15, but the days of life themselves. God fulfils in them his promise, “the number of thy days will I make full,” Exodus 23:26, and hears their prayer, “My God take me not away in the midst of my days,” Psalms 102:24. With the preservation of their life, the holding of the inheritance is placed in connection. The for evermore does not carry a respect to a future life, to which the mention of the inheritance, according to Old Testament phraseology, is unsuitable. It is to be explained in this way, that the Psalmist here primarily marks the inheritance of the righteous as a lasting one, notwithstanding the attacks of the ungodly; these shall not be able for ever to wrest it from them. Hence the pious is not to be thought of merely as an individual. Arnd: “Many and great goods are often scattered like the chaff by the wind, and there is no blessing and prosperity with them. On the other hand, small possessions, which are held with God and uprightness, remain and go with God’s blessing to posterity.” But the Christian, when he hears of the eternal inheritance, must certainly think before all of “the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading, which is reserved in heaven,” 1 Peter 1:4, the assurance of which is contained in this passage in the spirit, if not in the letter.

On Psalms 37:19 comp. Psalms 33:19.

Verse 20

Ver. 20. For the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord vanish away as the joy of lambs, as smoke they vanish. The for is here quite in its place. The prosperity of the wicked as a matter-of-fact testimony against the divine righteousness, appears to overthrow the truth of what has been said in the preceding context upon the prosperity of the righteous. The Psalmist here, while he removes that objection out of the way, lays the ground of his foregoing principle. But, in another point of view also, in so far as life and property are endangered to the righteous by the wicked, the destruction of the latter is necessarily implied in the salvation of the former, and the for in that way appears suitable. יְ קַ ר is stat. constr. of the adj. יָ קָ ר . The precious of lambs is not their fat, nor is it their wool, but their fine grass, the beautiful green of their pasture, agreeably to a great many other passages, in which the grass is employed as an image of evanescence, and in particular of the evanescent prosperity of the wicked, comp. here Psalms 37:2. Many expositors after Luther take כרים in the sense of pastures: the excellent of pastures, for, their excellent grass. But that meaning is not rendered certain by the two passages, in which confirmation is sought for it. In Isaiah 30:23, we are to render: the lambs spread themselves forth, and in Psalms 65:13: the pastures clothe themselves with flocks. The expression: in smoke—a second independent image—is as to meaning the same with, as smoke, comp. Psalms 102:3. But, grammatically, we must explain, as (spiritual) smoke, comp. Ew. Small Gr. § 521. The combination of the two images, carries, perhaps, a reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the great type of all judgments upon the ungodly. Arnd: “The land was a pleasure-garden of the Lord (comp. Genesis 13:10, according to which the district was particularly rich in excellent pasture,) but on account of its great wickedness, the Lord destroyed the whole region with fire and brimstone from heaven, so that a smoke rose up as from an oven,” comp. Genesis 19.

Verses 21-22

Ver. 21. The wicked borrows and repays not, and the righteous is compassionate and lends. Ver. 22. For his blessed ones inherit the land, and his cursed ones shall be cut off. The sense of Psalms 37:21 is: the wicked, overtaken by the divine punishment, cannot even restore what he has borrowed; the righteous, on the other hand, preserved by God and blessed, has the means of showing himself beneficent. Quite unsuitably most take the not paying of the wicked, and the lending of the righteous, in a moral point of view. This would not accord with the whole theme of the Psalm, nor even with the immediately succeeding context in Psalms 37:22. This would not, then, as the for demands, present the ground of what is said in Psalms 37:21. Also in the parall. pass. Psalms 37:26, is that exposition unsuitable. And, finally, it is disproved by the original declarations in the Pent. such as Deuteronomy 15:6, “For the Lord thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee, and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow,” Deuteronomy 28:14, Deuteronomy 28:44.

The suff. in Psalms 37:22 refer to the Lord, of whom each was naturally thinking, so that there was no need of any further designation.

Verses 23-24

Ver. 23. By the Lord is a man’s course ordered, and he has pleasure in his way. Ver. 24. If he falls, he will not be laid prostrate, for the Lord supports his hand. Many would define more closely the גבר : such a man as had hitherto been discoursed of, the pious. But if it had referred to the pious, the article could not possibly have been awanting; and for taking the assertion in a general point of view, we have the parall. pass, Proverbs 20:24, “Man’s goings are of the Lord, and man understands not his way,” and Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.” We shall find no need for taking refuge in this violent exposition, if we only give up the supposition, that the two members of the verse stand in synonymous parallelism: “It is in no man’s power to bring his work to a prosperous issue, from God comes salvation and blessing,” and God has pleasure in his, the righteous man’s way, in his undertakings and concerns, so that he cannot but succeed and prosper.

The difference between falling and being prostrated, is that of misfortune or loss, and ruin. The hand is named, because the fallen need it in order to get up again. Luther: “Thus the Spirit comforts and answers the secret thoughts, which every one might have, saying with himself: I have, however, seen it happen, that the righteous is oppressed, and his cause is trodden in the dust by the wicked. Nay, he replies, dear child, let it be so, that he falls; he still cannot remain lying thus and be cast away; he must be up again, although all the world doubts of it. For God catches him by the hand, and raises him again.”

Verses 25-26

Ver. 25. I have been young and am become old, and still have never seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed going after bread. Ver. 26. Always does he shew himself compassionate, and lends, and his seed will be blessed. That the Psalmist had composed this Psalm in advanced life, we are not to conclude from his speaking here of his having been young, and being now old. In unison with the whole character of the Psalm, throughout which the father speaks to his children, the person of the experienced old man may have been assumed by a poetical figure; and that this was really the case, is rendered probable by the circumstance, that the Psalm nowhere else possesses an individual character. It is the same as: a man may be old and yet never see. It is to be understood of itself, that the discourse is here of continued desertion and destitution. David himself had often to complain that the Lord had forgotten him, he had in his poverty to beseech the rich Nabal for bread, and the object of the Psalm is precisely to meet the temptation, which grows up to the righteous from temporary desertion. Then it is not to be overlooked, that the experience which the Psalmist here utters, is primarily an Old Testament one. (Complete impoverishment belonged to the punishments which were threatened to the impious transgressors of the law, comp. Deuteronomy 28:38, ss.) It is not to be doubted, that God, while he withheld from the righteous of the Old Covenant, a clear insight into a future state of being, on that very account unfolded his righteousness the more distinctly in his dealings towards them during this life, so that they might not err concerning it. Still we must beware of carrying the distinction in this respect between the Old and New Covenant too far. He, who seeks first the kingdom of God, shall have all other things given to him. Godliness has promises not merely for the future, but also for the present life. But what is the main point, is: the Lord has commanded us to ask our daily bread. Every command issued by the Lord is at the same time a promise. He enjoins us to pray only for that, which he certainly and without exception will grant, (i.e. without any exception, which really deserves the name; the man, from whom he withholds the earthly bread, and feeds the more plentifully with heavenly food, so that he is not conscious of the deficiency as a want, has not prayed in vain: Give us this day our daily bread.) But, if on this side we are poorer than the members of the Old Covenant, we are so only because on the other side we are richer. What appeared to the members of the Old Covenant as a continued desertion, presents itself to us, who can see with quite other eyes, the end of this life, only as a passing one, and, besides, the Spirit of Christ can so mightily console and quicken us, that the failure in temporal things presses little upon us. But still, the more that a believer of the New Covenant places himself upon the footing of the Old, so much the more securely must he confide, that God will not for a continuance abandon him in regard also to temporal things. The Berleb. Bible: “God gives not the spiritual only, but also the bodily, and the unrighteousness is not to be borne, which one perpetrates on God, when one thinks, that he sooner abandons those, who surrender themselves to him, and place all their hope and confidence in him, than others.

God has certainly no delight in this, that even a little worm should die of hunger, or a sparrow fall to the ground. How can he then allow his children to perish? This is not to be believed of him; it is too dishonourable to him.

Let us then take good heed how we stand in this respect and live before God: whether we have so much faith, that we can trust in him only for a piece of bread, and whether we can give him credit for so much wisdom, and power, and faithfulness, that he will assist and care for us in righteous concerns, and maintain his work itself.”

Verses 27-29

Ver. 27. Depart from evil and do good, so shalt thou dwell for evermore. Ver. 28. For the Lord loves judgment, and forsakes not his saints, they are preserved for ever, but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off. Ver. 29. The righteous inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever. It is evident both from the לעולם , and also from the two following verses, that the imperative dwell stands in the promissory sense, as in Psalms 37:3 and Psalms 37:4, q. d. so shalt thou dwell, namely, in the land of the Lord, with allusion to the formula in the Pent., “that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,” and that we are not to explain with most commentators: remain always at rest.

The unsuccessful attempts to press into the Psalm an ain-strophe, we pass over, since the foundation of them has been taken away by what has been already remarked in the introduction.

On the expression; the seed of the wicked shall be cut off, the Berleb Bible remarks: “This is deeply grounded in the divine righteousness, imprinted thence upon the hearts of men, and as with terrible griphins guarded, that no wickedness can remain unpunished, and that the ungodly shall infallibly come to a miserable end. If such perdition does not always meet the bodily eye or sense, still every thing is only contributing to their deeper ruin. For the destruction of their poor souls is certainly much more dreadful before God.”

Verses 30-31

Ver. 30. The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue utters judgment. Ver. 31. The law of his God is in his heart, his steps totter not. The Psalmist had given to the righteous very rich consolation, very beautiful promises. But now, that these might not be torn from those, to whom they properly belonged, that every one might prove himself whether he had any thing more than the name of a righteous person, he here encloses the characteristic of the righteous. The expression: his steps totter not, is, q. d. he advances steadily forward in the good path. The two verses contain again the three-fold division of the decalogue. Psalms 37:30 refers to the speech, the second half of Psalms 37:31 to the actions, and in the midst of the two stands the heart, as the fountain from which both streams flow.

Verses 32-33

Ver. 32. The wicked lurks for the righteous and seeks to kill him. Ver. 33. The Lord leaves him not in his hand, and condemns him not when he is judged. ירשיענו , which must not be rendered: he pronounces him guilty, shows that the discourse here is not of a human judgment, (it is rather a judgment standing in contrast to this), that the matter between the pious and the ungodly is represented under the image of a law suit, in which God sits for judgment. Arnd: “The whole church of God, all Christians were, in the times of Maximin and Hadrian, put to the ban and exiled, hence Tertullian wrote an apology for the Christians to the Emperor, and comforted the Christians by saying “Si condemnamur a mundo, absolvimur a deo.”

Verse 34

Ver. 34. Wait upon the Lord, and keep his way, so will he exalt thee to possess the land, the extirpation of the wicked thou shalt see. The conclusion begins with this verse, in which the hortatory character of the introduction returns. The two imperatives sum up in one the commandments of the first and second tables: be pious and be just. The way of God, the way which God wills that men should go in, which he has prescribed to them in his law.

Verses 35-36

Ver. 35. I saw a wicked one, who was insolent, and spread himself forth like a tree green and deep-rooted. Ver. 36. And he passed away, and lo! he was no more, and I sought him and he was not found. עריץ , fearful, powerful, has commonly the related idea of violence. But this is not here the predominating one. We must translate: I saw a wicked one fearful, not a tyrannical wicked one. For the word manifestly stands in a similar relation to the: spreading himself. The indigenous is a tree, which has never been taken out of its native soil, and transplanted. Such an one is peculiarly strong. אזרח is elsewhere also used of persons, in contradistinction to a stranger, who have no firm root of being in the land. Also we are not here to supply the word tree, but rather the never transplanted tree appears under the image of one inborn. We must render: as an indigenous one, a green one.

There is no reason for translating: one passed by, for he passed by, he vanished away. The lo! suits quite well to the most natural explanation. Berleb. Bible: “which points as with the finger of astonishment to that quick disappearance.” On the expression: I sought him, it further remarks: “I could scarcely believe it, that the man, who so shortly before had made so great a figure, must already come to nothing, so that I cast about for him in every direction.” Though David in this Psalm speaks not so much from his person, as from that of the sage, yet undoubtedly in this verse he had the image of Saul swimming before his eyes.

Verses 37-38

Ver. 37. Mark the perfect and behold the upright, for a futurity has the man of peace. Ver. 38. And the impious are extirpated together, the futurity of the wicked is cut off. The Psalmist confidently demands, that people would observe the fate of the righteous; for experience will only confirm his position, that it goes well with him at last. Many, after Luther, continue pious and hold thyself right; but תם and ישר never stand as abstracts, ראה cannot signify: to be diligent in a matter, and: mark and see, manifestly point here to the: I saw, in the preceding verse.

Then several expound: for the man of peace has posterity; others: for the end of such a man is peace; but the “many-meaning” אחרית has only the one signification of the end, and, in particular, never means posterity, (see on Balaam, p. 158, ss.) and לאיש cannot possibly signify: such a man, and must hence of necessity be joined in stat. constr. with שלום (LXX. ἀ?νθρώ?πῳ? εἰ?ρηνικῶ?ͅ? , Vulg. homini pacifico.) The man of peace, the meek, Psalms 37:11, who is not inflamed against the wicked, ver. 1, has an end, a future, whilst the wicked, who are carried off in the midst of their days, (comp. on Psalms 55:23), are violently robbed of the end or future.

Verses 39-40

Ver. 39. And the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord, who is their security in the time of distress. Ver. 40. And the Lord helps them and delivers them, delivers them from the wicked, and saves them, for they trust in him. The ו placed before the ת announces this strophe as the sum of the whole, מעוזם is appos. to Jehovah. On the words: he delivers them from the wicked, Luther remarks: “And that it might annoy the ungodly he mentions them by name, and says, he will deliver them from the ungodly, whatever pain it may occasion them; and their fury can be of no avail to them, although they think, the righteous cannot escape from them, he must be extirpated.” On the words: they trust in him, John Arnd: “Ah! says he, God cannot, and will not leave them, without rewarding their fidelity and confidence, else were he not faithful, not righteous, not true to his word.”

Luther closes his exposition of the Psalm with the words “Oh shame on our faithlessness, mistrust, and vile unbelief, that we do not believe such rich, powerful, consolatory declarations of God, and take up so readily with little grounds of offence, whenever we but hear the wicked speeches of the ungodly, Help, O God, that we may once attain to right faith. Amen.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 37". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-37.html.