This psalm is ascribed to David. The psalmist referred to himself as being old (verse 25), suggesting that this psalm may have been among his last compositions. In arrangement, the psalm is acrostic. Twenty-one lines start with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequential order. The letter ayin (‘), however, is not included, unless one disregards the preposition meaning “to” in the second half of verse 28 and counts twenty-two letters.
“Do not let yourself be vexed [provoked to jealousy, LXX] because of evildoers. Do not be envious of those practicing injustice.” The seeming prosperity and positions of power that corrupt persons may come to enjoy can be a source of disturbance, especially when one’s own lot seems to be far inferior to theirs. According to the psalmist’s admonition, one should not allow oneself to become angered about evildoers and their apparent prosperity, comparing one’s circumstances with theirs. A person should avoid becoming envious of what corrupt persons may have attained by resorting to dishonest practices, violence, or oppression.
Whatever possessions or positions of power or influence corrupt persons may come to have are temporary. They cannot keep themselves alive forever and secure their hold on what they have obtained. In this respect, they are like mere vegetation. Like grass, when cut down or in time of drought, they will quickly wither or amount to nothing in the end. This thought is repeated in the parallel expression (“and like the green vegetation they will wilt”).
The wise course is for a person to trust in YHWH, confident that he will render justice and sustain all who seek to do his will. Instead of being envious of corrupt persons and possibly being tempted to imitate their ways, the godly person would heed the admonition to “do good” or what is right. For the Israelites, this was the basis for continuing to reside in the land and on their own hereditary portion.
The concluding part of verse 3 has been variously translated—“enjoy security” (NRSV), “live secure” (NAB), “enjoy safe pasture” (NIV), “cherish faithfulness” (Margolis), “remain loyal” (Tanakh), “cultivate faithfulness” (NASB), “enjoy faithfulness” (Young), and “feed on faithfulness.” (J. P. Green) The Septuagint reads, “and you will be pastured on its [the land’s] abundance.” (See the Notes section.)
To “take delight in YHWH” would involve finding pleasure or refreshment in maintaining an approved relationship with him. All who do so have the assurance that he would provide everything needful, granting their hearts’ desires (“requests,” LXX). For godly persons, these desires of their inmost selves would include his aid, guidance, and safeguarding.
To “roll” one’s way on YHWH or to “reveal” (LXX) it to him would mean to commit one’s whole course of life to him and all cares and concerns, looking for his guidance and help. In the case of those who “trust” him fully, he will “act.” This would include his providing strength to those weighed down with burdens seemingly impossible to bear and which had been committed to him.
For those trusting in him, YHWH will cause their “righteousness” or their being in the right to be “like the light” or clear as day. Although one may have been misrepresented and have one’s righteousness hidden or obscured, this would cease to be. The thought is repeated in the parallel expression, “and your justice like midday.” This is an assurance that the godly person’s “justice” or uprightness would come to be as bright as the light at noon or clearly evident.
For the upright person, the time for vindication is sure to come. Meanwhile the admonition is: “Be silent before [submit to, LXX] YHWH,” not giving vent to complaining and irritation, and wait for him (“entreat him,” LXX) to act. The one prospering in his way is evidently a person enjoying seeming success by resorting to dishonest or unjust practices. Because a day of reckoning will come, one should avoid becoming provoked or flaring up angrily (“provoked to jealousy,” LXX) over the man who succeeds in carrying out his base schemes (“lawless acts,” LXX).
The success of corrupt persons in attaining their objectives through dishonest and oppressive means and prospering can be very disturbing. This is the apparent reason for the advice to desist from anger and to forsake wrath, not allowing negative emotions to take control and then engaging in rash actions. “Do not let yourself be vexed [provoked to jealousy, LXX] only to do evil.” A failure to control anger can lead to violent deeds and deep regret afterward.
The wise course is to trust in YHWH, “for,” as the psalmist expressed it, “the wicked will be cut off [utterly destroyed, LXX].” Those who wait patiently on YHWH, looking to him to right matters, “will possess the earth” or land. Accordingly, God-fearing Israelites would continue to enjoy their hereditary portion.
In only a “little while” the “wicked one” (the “sinner,” the one living a life of sin, LXX) would be no more. Regardless of how powerful or prosperous ungodly persons may be, they cannot keep themselves alive indefinitely. Either justice or death does catch up with them. Then, one may look at the “place” the wicked one once occupied, and it will have been vacated. “He will not be.” According to the Septuagint, “You will seek for his place and not find [it].”
The “meek,” lowly, humble, or godly ones would possess the land and find delight in the “abundance of peace.” Theirs would be a satisfying or delightful state of “peace” or well-being and contentment. It would be a tranquil way of life, with a reverential regard for the Most High as its prime focus. Completely absent would be the peace-destroying scheming, jealousies, hatreds, and fears characteristic of the life of corrupt persons.
This does not mean that the life of the upright person is without problems. The “wicked one” (“sinner,” LXX) does plot against the “righteous one,” watching for an opportunity to take advantage of him for some base objective. In venting his rage or anger, the wicked one may gnash or grind his teeth against the upright one.
The Lord “will laugh” at the wicked one, looking upon his scheming against the upright one as futile. This is because the Most High “sees” the corrupt one’s day coming. The impious one will not escape his day of reckoning when justice will be executed.
Wicked persons (“sinners,” LXX) may appear to have might on their side. Their sword is drawn and their bows bent to bring down the poor and needy and to slay those whose walk or conduct is upright (the “upright in heart” or upright in their inmost selves, LXX).
Corrupt oppressors, however, will face retribution, and their own arsenal will prove to be their undoing. The “sword” that had been viciously used to harm the upright will enter the “heart” of the wicked, slaying them and putting an end to their violent ways. “Their bows will be broken,” rendered useless for doing any further harm.
The righteous one may have just “a little. This “little” is much better than the combined abundance of many wicked ones (“sinners,” LXX). For the righteous person, there is a future and a relationship with his God that assures unfailing guidance, aid, and blessing. The righteous person’s little means are also much better from the standpoint of the noble use he makes of them, as when generously assisting others. The combined riches of many wicked men serve no beneficial purpose and so are really valueless.
The “arms” or power of the wicked, particularly in relation to their oppressive and violent ways, “will be broken.” Deprived of their power, they would be unable to continue harming others. Unlike his rendering the wicked powerless, YHWH will support the godly, infusing them with strength and sustaining them.
YHWH’s knowing the “days of the blameless” may mean that he knows what befalls them from day to day and so is concerned about their daily needs. According to the Septuagint, “he knows the ways of the blameless” or is fully aware of their actions and looks upon them favorably. “Their inheritance will be forever,” possibly meaning that the inheritance of the blameless would continue in their possession from one generation to the next (“into the age,” LXX) or for time without any set limits.
In an “evil time” or a time of adversity or distress, blameless ones are not put to shame or do not come to disappointment. Their trust in YHWH will not be shown up as having been misplaced. In the “days of famine, they will be satisfied,” experiencing God’s loving care in being recipients of what they need to sustain them.
The wicked (the “sinners,” LXX) will perish. YHWH’s enemies, those who set themselves in opposition to him and his upright ways, will come to an end “like the splendor of pastures” and like smoke. Like lush vegetation in a pasture that withers in time of drought, they will come to their finish. They will disappear like smoke that quickly dissipates. The Septuagint does not use the expression “splendor [or ‘glory’] of pastures” but refers to the enemies as being “glorified and exalted” and then vanishing like smoke.
While the wicked one may borrow with the intent of never paying back, the righteous person is compassionate and gives generously to aid needy ones. The ungodly one’s lack of concern for others is the very opposite of the kindly care of the upright one.
The one doing the blessing and execrating is not specifically identified. In view of the fact that the blessing and the curse take effect would indicate that the Almighty’s blessing assures continued possession of the “earth” or land. Those being cursed by him “will be cut off” or “utterly destroyed” (LXX). In the Septuagint, the reference is to people doing the blessing and the cursing, either their doing so with reference to God or to the righteous person.
YHWH establishes or makes the steps of a man firm. Apparently the “man” would be one whom he approves, as indicated by the fact that the Most High delights in this man’s ways, being pleased with his way of life. Accordingly, the establishing of the man’s steps could mean that his course would turn out well because of being divinely guided and blessed.
The upright person may totter but not be cast or dashed down, unable to get up. This is because YHWH is supporting his hand, sustaining him and keeping him from experiencing ruin.
Throughout his life, starting when he was young to his now being old, the psalmist had not seen a righteous person totally abandoned and his offspring seeking bread or being reduced to a state of hopeless poverty. Evidently David was aware of God’s providential care in the case of upright persons having little means.
“All the day” or at every opportunity throughout the day, the upright person would be gracious or “show mercy” (LXX) and would lend to the needy (without interest as the law required). Because of his compassion for the poor and afflicted and his kindly response to their needs, his own offspring would “become a blessing.” This could indicate that his children would turn out well, proving to be a blessing to him, or that his offspring would be blessed or considered blessed, benefiting from God’s guidance and aid.
The right course is to “turn aside from evil and to do good,” firmly rejecting lawlessness, living uprightly, and responding compassionately to the needs of others. This would assure continuing to abide or to live, evidently on the divinely given land as one whom YHWH approved and loved.
The basis for this assurance is that YHWH loves justice, always upholding and doing what is right, and so will never abandon his upright ones or those loyally devoted to him. He will come to their aid, never leaving them in a helpless and hopeless state. The upright will be preserved or guarded (secure in YHWH’s hands), “but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off [utterly destroyed, LXX]”, losing their life and so ceasing to live in the God-given land.
Before mentioning the outcome for the offspring of the wicked, the Septuagint adds words not found in the Masoretic Text. There are two entirely different readings for the added words (“the blameless will be avenged” or “the lawless will be banished”).
The upright, on the other hand, will continue to possess the earth or land. Because the offspring of the righteous will not be cut off, they will continue to enjoy their inheritance, residing on their land to time without limit or for ages to come (“into age of age,” LXX). By living upright lives, they would individually avoid conduct leading to a premature death and, collectively, would continue to live on the land from one generation to the next.
The righteous or upright one is identifiable by his words. His mouth expresses wisdom, reflecting good judgment and providing sound advice respecting godly conduct. According to the Septuagint, the “mouth of the righteous meditates wisdom,” and the Hebrew term can also have the sense of “meditate.” This could suggest that what is said is a product of careful reflection as when speaking to oneself. (See Psalm 1 concerning “meditate.”) The upright person’s tongue speaks justice, upholding and defending all that is right and honest. Accordingly, the righteous one’s speech is trustworthy and noble.
God’s law is “in his heart” or his deeper inner self. It is a part of him, guiding his thoughts, words, and actions. For this reason, “his steps do not slip.” The upright one walks securely in the divinely approved way, not tottering and falling to his injury or to a point of being unable to recover. His walk is not on treacherous terrain.
Although his conduct is praiseworthy, the upright person is not liberated from being an object of hostility. “The wicked one [the sinner, LXX] watches the upright one and seeks to slay him.” The corrupt person’s “watching” is evidently for an opportunity to inflict harm and to rid himself of the godly one who is regarded as an obstacle to the attainment of base objectives.
The psalmist is confident that YHWH will not abandon the righteous one, letting him fall into the “hand” or power of the wicked one. In the context of not being abandoned, the concluding part of verse 33 is probably to be understood as meaning that YHWH will not permit the righteous one to be condemned when falsely accused before judges. The Septuagint, however, indicates that God is the one who will not condemn him when he is judged, and the Hebrew can also be rendered accordingly. This could be understood to mean that the Most High would never condemn the upright one even though corrupt human judges may do so.
To “wait for YHWH” and to “keep his way” would signify to look to the Almighty to act and meanwhile to follow a course of conduct he approves. This would result in being exalted as one having his favor and blessing. For the godly Israelite this meant possessing the land or continuing to reside there and seeing judgment passed on the wicked. They would be “cut off” or “utterly destroyed” (LXX).
The psalmist had observed the wicked or impious one, tyrannical (“being highly exalted,” LXX) and spreading out, “luxuriant [in] native [soil]” (“being lifted up like the cedars of Lebanon,” LXX). This description relates to a flourishing state. Numerous translators have chosen to follow the Septuagint reading. “I have seen ruthless scoundrels, strong as flourishing cedars.” (NAB) “I have seen the wicked oppressing and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.” (NRSV) Others have added words in an effort to stick closer to the Masoretic Text. “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a leafy tree in its native soil.” (Margolis) “I saw a wicked man, powerful, well-rooted like a robust native tree.” (Tanakh) “I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil.” (NIV)
Reversal, however, did come. The psalmist referred to passing by and noting that the wicked man was no more. Even though he sought him, he did not find him. According to the Septuagint, he did not find the wicked one’s “place.”
The outcome for the blameless one is very different. “Watch the blameless one and observe the upright one, for there is a [desirable] end [a remnant or posterity, LXX] for the man of peace.” When watching (as did the psalmist) developments in the life of the godly man or the man who promotes peace and endeavors to live a quiet life, one will eventually see a good outcome and not a disastrous end. The blameless or upright person may experience hardships and adversities but continues to be at peace with fellow humans and with his God. He is not in a state of discontent, unrest, and agitation. During difficult times, he continues to experience the Almighty’s aid and guidance.
Transgressors or lawless ones will be utterly annihilated. For them there will be no desirable “end” or outcome. Their future will be “cut off.” According to the Septuagint, “the remnants [probably denoting any offspring] will be utterly destroyed.”
The source of salvation or deliverance for the righteous is YHWH. In time of distress, he is their refuge or the One who will aid and safeguard them.
“YHWH helps and delivers them. He delivers them from the wicked,” those who are intent on harming them, and “saves them.” This is because they have taken refuge in YHWH, looking to him to help them and to rescue them from distressing circumstances.
For comments about the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.
In verse 3, the last word of the Masoretic Text is ’emunáh, meaning “faithfulness,” “trustworthiness, “fidelity,” “firmness,” or “steadfastness.” This term is preceded by a form of the verb ra‘áh, the usual expression for “pasture,” “tend,” or “graze,” and this explains the reason for the Septuagint rendering. The expression “pasture faithfulness,” however, does not convey a comprehensible meaning, and this is the reason for the various ways in which translators have rendered the words. Possibly the preferable meaning is “to be occupied with faithfulness” or “trustworthiness” (as a shepherd would pasture or tend the flock). This would mean that, according to the Masoretic Text, the admonition is to practice trustworthiness.
The Hebrew word ’érets and the Greek term gé can designate “earth” or “land.” At the time this psalm was composed, the Israelites were living in their own land, and the words of this song are to be understood in agreement with this setting. The assurance is that the upright ones of the nation would continue to possess the portion of the land that had been allotted to them. Psalm 37 is, therefore, timeless, providing comfort to every generation of godly persons who are distressed upon seeing oppression and injustice. As evident from the context of this psalm, the words are not prophetic respecting a time many centuries removed from the time of its composition.