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Psalm 37

A primer on faith

A David psalm.

Don’t be incensed by evildoers
or envy those who follow the wrong path.
2 For they’ll wither like grass
and fade just like field flowers.
3 Trust in Yahveh and do good.
Live in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
4 Make Yahveh your joy and delight
and he’ll give you the desires of your heart.
5 Depend on God in all you do—
rely on him and he’ll come through for you.
6 He’ll make your goodness as clear as day
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
7 Rest in Yahveh, wait patiently for him.
Don’t be irked when evildoers are successful
able to pull off their evil schemes.
8 Let go of all anger and rage.
Don’t nurse irritation—it only leads to evil.
9 For the self-seeking will end up with nothing
while those who wait for Yahveh
will possess the land.
10 Wait a little while, the faithless will be gone.
However hard you look for them
you won’t find them.
11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy all the benefits of peace.

12 Gnashing their teeth at the sight of them
the wicked plot against God-seekers
13 But Yahveh only laughs at evildoers
seeing how sure their doom is.
14 The self-seeking draw their swords
and bend back their bows
to take down the poor and needy
and slaughter those walking in God’s way.
15 But their bows will be broken
their swords pierce their own hearts.
16 Better the little the God-seeker has
than all the wealth of the wicked.
17 For the power of evildoers will be broken
while Yahveh supports those who seek him.
18 Yahveh sees all the struggles the innocent face
and what they’ll inherit will last forever.
19 They aren’t left stranded in hard times—
even when famine strikes,
they have more than enough.
20 But the wicked will perish
Yahveh’s enemies will vanish
like the meadow’s rich green cover—
gone in a cloud of smoke!

21 Evildoers borrow without repaying
but God-seekers are gracious and giving.
22 Those blessed by the Lord
will possess the land
but those cursed by him will be shut out.
23 When a person walks
in the way that pleases Yahveh
he makes their every step secure.
24 When they stumble
they aren’t thrown headlong
because Yahveh holds their hand.
25 My whole life long, youth to old age
I’ve never seen a God-seeker forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 Generous to a T, they lend to the needy
and their children are a blessing.
27 Turn from evil and do good
and you’ll live in the land forever.
28 For Yahveh loves justice
and never abandons his faithful servants.
They’ll be kept safe forever
but the evildoer’s descendants will be shut out.
29 God-seekers will possess the land
and live there forever. 

30 The faithful speak words of wisdom
and incessantly call for justice.
31 With God’s instruction in their hearts
they never take a false step.
32 The evildoer eyes the God-seeker
looking for a chance to kill them.
33 But Yahveh won’t leave them in their clutches
or let them be condemned when they’re tried.
34 Hope in Yahveh as you hold to his path
and he’ll raise you up to inherit the land.
When the wicked are shut out
you’ll see it happen.
35 I once saw a ruthless despot
towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
36 But the next time I looked
they were gone.
Though I searched for them
they were nowhere to be found.
37 Keep your eye on the person of integrity
and behold the one who keeps God’s covenant
for the future belongs to the peace-loving
38 while rebels will be utterly destroyed
their future cut short.
39 God-seekers are rescued by Yahveh
their refuge in times of trouble.
40 Yahveh frees and helps them.
He rescues and saves them from the wicked
because they seek refuge in him.

David isn’t explaining how everything works or even why God allows suffering, nor yet giving an easy formula for success or to determine if someone pleases God. He’s urging us not to join the self-seekers in their dirty race to the top, but to seek what really matters and believe that God, who is in control, is on our side and will help us if we ask him.

Faithful living doesn’t mean missing out. It leads to flourishing and wholeness, while self-seeking leads to a poverty of soul that’s eventually matched by one’s external situation. Counterintuitive though it is, living for oneself is self-destructive. Since evildoers ultimately lose everything, they’re fools, their success a non-event. Nothing to envy. Moving in tandem with God, which often means patiently waiting on him, we gain everything he has for us. True success!

Looking back on his life, David shares what he’s learned about walking with God. Waiting for God to give him the kingdom he’d promised him, while Saul plotted his murder, must have seemed really stupid. But throughout David’s long wait, God protected and provided for him, releasing him to live generously, peaceably, till Saul finally came crashing down and God vindicated David.[1] God ultimately gives all who delight in him their hearts’ desires.

Lord, keep me from abandoning my storm-tossed bark to join the self-seekers on the Titanic. Let me delight in you and live my life out of your rich bounty. Help me to believe you really are in control and to trust that—no matter what else happens—you’ll never let go of my hand. Amen.


[1] The verb yarash and the noun ‘erets (e.g., v. 11) introduce elements of ambiguity since the verb can mean either “possess” or “inherit” and the noun “the land”—anything from a piece of land to an entire country—or “the earth.” David likely had “land” in mind, land being what people needed to survive in an agricultural society. “The land”—namely, the kingdom—was also what David waited so long for. Perhaps we can take “the land” as a stand-in for whatever God wants us to trust him for, thus being expansive enough to encompass “the earth” in Jesus’ understanding (Mt. 5:5). Regarding the verb, I alternate between “possess” and “inherit” because we receive what God has for us both actively and passively, since we must lay hold of it by faith. Thus, the meekness mentioned in verse 11 involves waiting on God’s timing, actively looking to receive something from him, but refusing to take it in any other way than he chooses to give it. We see this clearly pictured in David’s treatment of murderous King Saul in 1 Samuel 24 and 26.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.