Delight in the Lord
1 Thessalonians 1:8, Psalms 37:4–5
1 Thessalonians Lesson #020
May 28, 2015
Before we get started we need to make sure we are spiritually prepared to study the Word, spiritually prepared to worship through the study of God’s Word. That means we need to be in right relationship with God the Holy Spirit. Scripture uses various terms to define this. It talks about walking by the Spirit, abiding in Christ, walking according to the truth or being filled by the Spirit. Whenever we sin this relationship with God the Holy Spirit, this on-going intimacy or fellowship with God is broken and when we confess our sin Scripture says that God forgives us our sin and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. So we are restored to that relationship so that we can continue to move forward in the Christian life. Before we begin we’ll have a few moments of silent prayer to give you the opportunity to make sure that you are ready and spiritually prepared to go forward in our study today. Let’s bow our heads together in prayer and go to the Lord in prayer.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity that we can come together to study Your Word and reflect upon these important truths. That we can learn how to claim these promises and learn how to focus our thinking on You and what You’ve provided for us and that we can learn how to trust You consistently and to walk with You and continue to grow and mature. As we look around us and we see so many different threatening things on the horizon in our culture. We see opposition to Biblical truth, opposition to Biblical values. We see disease. We see the threat of Ebola, the threat of plague, threats of war, yet we know we can relax. We know we are not to take counsel of our fears. As we’re learning in this passage, we are not to fret, to get all caught up with the negatives and the opposition around us or with the unrighteousness that seems to be so successful around us. Instead, we’re to put our focus upon You. Now Father we pray that You will guide and direct our thinking today in this lesson. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
We’re in Psalm 37. We’re looking at a very well-known promise reviewing the principle that the way to exercise the faith-rest drill is to claim a promise. (Slide 3) That’s the first step which simply means we put our mental fingers around this promise and grab hold of it. It may be a full promise, one verse, two verses, or part of a verse, and we say, “Lord, this is what You have said to do.” We can extrapolate this a little bit. It’s not just simply claiming a promise. Sometimes it’s focusing on a command in Scripture and we looked at this in the context of Psalm 37 where it begins, “Do not fret because of evildoers.” I pointed out that this command not to fret is repeated several times in the introduction. It is mentioned in verses 7 and 8, as well. “Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way.” At the end, “Do not fret. It only causes harm.”
So this is a command. Sometimes all we’re doing is recognizing that we’re doing exactly what the Scripture says not to do and we focus on that one command in order to orient our thinking and to orient the direction of our life at that point. That’s part of the faith-rest drill. So we claim a promise and then we think it through asking why is that true? That’s important. It’s not just a matter of grabbing the promise but we need to engage our thinking in relation to what we’re told to do and why we’re told to do it.
Many times in promises, God says to do something, and as a result or alongside of that, He will do something else. That’s the promissory part. For example, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins …” That is a statement. If we do that then you have the promise, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is clearly a promise that if we do what God says to do then He will do what He has promised to do and to forgive us and to cleanse us. Every time we confess sin, we are in essence following through on that promise and claiming that promise.
So we think through the rationales. This involves the Biblical process of meditation which is thinking about what God has said and why He has said it. This will bring to bear some of the things we taught and some of the things we learned in, for example, the Bible Study Methods class. It’s not just for pastors or Bible teachers or Sunday School teachers. It’s for anyone who wants to learn how to dig beneath the surface of the Word a little bit just in terms of your own personal study and your own personal meditation. That’s the second step: Thinking through the rationales embedded in the promise.
This leads us to firm conviction about the promise and putting that into practice in our daily life. (Slide 4) The promise we’re looking at is in Psalm 37:4–5. It’s a wonderful passage. It’s a promise many people use. We began looking at this last time. The promise reads, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” There we have a command. It goes on, “And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” That’s the result for those who have implemented the command. So we have a command and then a promise.
Then in Psalm 37:5, another command, “Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him.” It’s a parallel statement, synonymous parallelism in the second line and then we have the promise, “And He will bring it to pass.” This is a two-fold verse. We’re just thinking it through in terms of that second step, the meditation on this verse, thinking through the embedded rationales.
(Slide 5) As such, we went back to Psalm 37:1. We saw that the Hebrew text actually begins with the statement that this is a psalm of David but it doesn’t give us any specifics about the original circumstances. There are many times this would be true in David’s life. It’s not necessarily tied to a specific situation. Now what would happen in terms of the psalms—because they reflect a tremendous amount of thought and a tremendous amount of skill in terms of writing the poetry involved—is, for example, David would have found himself in some situation or some circumstance and as he thought through that circumstance, certain doctrinal principles and certain doctrinal rationales became clear to him. He focused his attention away from the problem and on to the essence of God and the provision of God. He thought through these various rationales we’ve talked about in terms of the essence of God and the plan of God. Then, after the situation, he would sit down and write out a psalm in terms of Biblical poetry in a way that could be set to music and sung as a way of expressing praise to God or perhaps as a way of teaching or instructing others as to how they could trust God in the midst of difficult circumstances.
This particular psalm was written according to an acrostic pattern based on the Hebrew alphabet, which tells us that it was written as a teaching tool or an instructional tool. This was one of the ways that Jews would memorize Scripture. Each verse begins with a word that begins with the next letter of the alphabet. The first word in the Hebrew text would begin with the letter aleph. The second verse would begin with a word that begins with the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet, bet, and so on. There’s an alphabetic pattern here which would be used as a mnemonic function in order to help people memorize the Scripture.
Throughout the psalms the whole concept of meditation and just the structure of the psalms was designed to teach memory. This is something that, sadly, I find is lost in the lives of many believers today. They don’t have a regular pattern of Bible memory and learning Scripture. There are many wonderful side effects to this. I think it enhances our memory. I think that as we memorize Scripture and discipline our minds to do that, it helps us in many other areas. For young children, it’s especially important. If you have young children, from the time they are old enough to say their first word, just read verses to them over and over again. Then get them to repeat them. The more that you do this the more it gives them an opportunity when there’s not much in their brains yet to absorb those verses.
My mother always told me that the first complete sentence I ever said was 1 John 1:9. Later on it was John 3:16. I had these verses memorized long before I was a believer. I had them memorized when I was just two or three years of age. It’s important to do that. I remember that when we had Sunday School at the church where I grew up and when I went off to Camp Peniel, we would have these Bible memory challenges. We would memorize Scripture. As a pastor I can’t tell you how many times verses that I may not have thought about, or verses that as an adult I had not consciously memorized, have been brought to mind, I believe by the Holy Spirit, when I’ve been teaching, that I memorized as a kid. I remember the first few years I was a pastor I would be teaching and how often that happened. I would be in the middle of teaching something and suddenly a verse would come to mind that I had memorized as a kid. The earlier we get into this pattern, the earlier you can get your children or grandchildren to memorize Scripture, the better it will be.
What in the world would happen to us if we ever find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have access to the Bible, don’t have access to the Word of God. Then we’re just left with whatever promises we have in our souls. A few years ago, I remember reading a book by Howard Rutledge, who was a Vietnam POW. He wrote a book called In the Presence of Mine Enemies. He talked about how when they were in prison at the Hanoi Hilton, the prisoners were trying to remember Bible verses. One person would remember a snippet of this verse. Another person would remember a little phrase of the verse. They created a code, using Morse code or some other code, where they would tap things out and they would talk to each other when they could. They gradually pieced together a tremendous number of Biblical promises that were used to comfort them. It was because they had stored verses in their souls. Some of those men didn’t have much or they might just remember a little bit. It really emphasized the importance of preparation and Bible memory.
So we began in Psalm 37:1 last time looking at this phrase, “Do not fret.” (Slide 6) The idea of do not fret is a word that means don’t be angry. Don’t get all worked up. Don’t get all bent out of shape over something that you have no control over. The focus here is on evildoers. They are the unrighteous. I pointed out that this is like much of the wisdom literature. There are a lot of similarities between Psalm 37 and some wisdom psalms and especially Proverbs, contrasting the righteous and the unrighteous.
We went to Psalm 1 and we showed that contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous last time. As the Psalms are written it’s not written talking about the believer versus the unbeliever but the righteous believer versus the unrighteous believer. It’s not necessarily saying that those who are true, genuine believers act a certain way and those who are not act another way. The concept of one who does righteousness is not a positional concept because of imputed righteousness. It’s emphasizing experiential righteousness.
Many of us have had experiences where we were surrounded by people who were unrighteous. These are gossips and maligners. Some of them are Christians. We have faced this even among friends or co-workers where we have been unjustly attacked. It seems like the person who commits these sins and commits these attacks on us, succeeds. They reap rewards because of their unethical conduct. So often, this can cause us to get involved in a lot of mental attitude sins, anger, resentment, revenge, vindictiveness, and other things. That’s what this is talking about: don’t get upset.
We can extrapolate this beyond a personal environment to talk about what’s going on in the world around us. There is so much legislative injustice in our world today as we see our culture drift more and more away from the historic values of the Judeo-Christian worldview that established this country and the U.S. Constitution. We have to be honest. We live in a world now where the culture dominated by the urban centers of the West Coast and the East Coast and many of the urban areas in the middle of the country where there is much more of a liberal antinomian mentality. People just come together in large cities and they do not want to follow any historic norms and standards. They want to get away with whatever kind of immorality appeals to their particular sin nature.
Yet many of us want to have a constitutional, conservative government and the reality is that it’s going to be very difficult for a truly constitutional conservative government to rule a culture where the people desire a liberal, antinomian way of life. So we’re constantly going to be presented with this. We just can’t spend our lives getting all bent out of shape about all of the injustices and unrighteousnesses that goes on around us. We can spend hours and hours, and I know many of us do, reading various websites and reading the articles that detail what is going on in our culture. I think it’s very important to be informed, but I think we need to be careful. It puts our focus on what’s going on us around us that’s wrong, rather than putting our focus on the Lord and what God is doing in our lives in our environment.
That’s the context here. It’s saying not to get all wrapped up in what the evildoer is doing. Don’t make that the focal point of your thinking and don’t let it get you out of fellowship where you stay out of fellowship and you’re constantly in a state of agitation. (Slide 7) There’s a parallel here in terms of the second line, “Don’t fret and don’t be jealous or be envious.” This second line indicates the fact that in the first line you’re being affected because you’re seeing the unbeliever get away with something and in the second line; now you want to be like the unbeliever and get away with it as well. So we’re told by the parallelism not to let the operation of the rebellious believer or the unbeliever, the one who is unjust and unrighteous, cause problems in your spiritual life.
Why? Because there is eventually going to be judgment. We need to keep our ideas and our focus on the end game. One of the problems we face as believers as we think through this issue of being surrounded by injustice or being surrounded by an unfair situation, whether it’s real or it’s perceived, the issue is how we respond. It’s our internal focus. There are two different kinds of assaults we get from the evildoer. One is an overt assault, when you know that someone is specifically attacking you. It’s out in the open. Someone is making a case against you or spreading malicious rumors against you or someone has betrayed you; whether it’s a spouse, whether it’s a child, whether it’s a close friend, I think many of us have gone through circumstances where we have been deeply hurt by someone who under the guise of righteousness has betrayed us or treated us wrongly.
Then we have a covert assault. Covert assaults are assaults we’re not aware of. This takes place when someone does something behind our back. Maybe we find out about it later. Maybe we don’t but it’s not out in the open. We need to learn how to deal with this situation. Sometimes it’s just the general situation related to culture; sometimes it has to do with a specific, individual problem. The real problem that bothers us–and bothers believers who are walking with the Lord and are righteous–is that we have a sense of the way things ought to be. A lot of unbelievers have this but because of the fact they have calloused themselves in terms of their own unrighteousness and in their own suppression of truth in unrighteousness, they’re not as easily reminded of this as believers are. They’re not as sensitive to it.
What we find as we look around, we see people who are perhaps living out of wedlock, living together and haven’t gotten married or they’re involved in overt sins that are perverted or they’re involved in unethical conduct in their business and yet they seem to be quite successful. As churches we can look around and see that there are many churches in America and many churches just in Houston here that seem to be quite successful. They’re quite large. They attract thousands and thousands of people and yet their doctrine is perverted. Their methodology is perverted. They have pandered to the culture and they are preaching a false gospel. If they’re not preaching a false gospel, they’ve watered it down so much to where it becomes an impotent gospel and they’re not emphasizing truth at all. In many cases they have succumbed to heresy and they’re no longer teaching the Bible at all. They’re teaching some sort of false system of spirituality. It’s easy to look at them and wonder how in the world they can be so successful and apparently so blessed when they’re not even teaching the truth.
We have these situations that occur where we see apparent success of an injustice all around us. It’s hard for us. You also can look at people who are working at a job. They work hard. They’re ethical. They get there early. They leave late. Yet there are others who use their personalities to manipulate and they gossip to get ahead and they seem to advance. So our response is to become concerned. On the one hand we can become angry about it and on the other hand we can become envious. In terms of human viewpoint these are the two broad categories of that response. We can respond with mental attitude sins or we can respond with the idea that if you can’t beat them, join them. There’s a temptation to compromise on doctrine, to compromise on your personal policies or to compromise on your philosophy of life.
Now this is really going to get difficult for a lot of people. I don’t know what the situation will be when this is aired but right now in Houston we have had this ongoing situation in city government since last spring. I’m recording this in mid-October and since last spring there’s been an attempt to change the Houston equal-rights ordinance of having the same civil rights and equal rights for those who are gay, lesbian, and transgender even to the point of mandating that buildings have restrooms and dressing areas in gyms that will be open to anyone who thinks they are the opposite sex. It’s an assault on Biblical values and it’s an assault on the Bible and any religious system that holds absolutes in the area of sexuality, including Islam and Orthodox Judaism.
People who have made decisions that they do not believe that homosexuality is right or that the sexual deviants are right are put in compromising positions in their jobs. Now they’re being forced by city government to institute policy and enforce policy in the workplace that violates their personal belief. This works now because we’ve created a culture based on secularism where about 99.9% of Christians have bifurcated their souls. They have one set of values that work in civil society and then they operate on another set of values when they’re alone or when they’re in their private life. What that really means is that at an epistemological level they’ve already committed to the fact that there are two sets of operational values, one set of values that works at the workplace and another their personal values. They’re saying, “Of course, I can’t take my personal values to the workplace because then I’ll be fired.”
I actually know of at least one person in this congregation who was fired from a job because of his stand on homosexuality. If you’re so committed to your paycheck that you won’t stand up against these unethical practices that are being handed down from the human resource departments at Exxon or at city government or whatever, then you have committed your life to secularism and a pagan worldview. You're already becoming a failure in your Christian life. The values you believe on Sunday morning that you espouse from the Bible must be the values that dictate your behavior 24/7 at the workplace. If you don’t do that, then you’ve already compromised and you’re living a life of compromise. This has been so subtle and this is one of the reasons that Christians have very little impact on the culture anymore is because epistemologically they’ve already lost the battle twenty or thirty years ago.
We have to be careful. We can’t get involved in a human viewpoint rationale that leads us to compromise. We say, “After all it’s my job. That’s what I have to do to take care of my family and to pay the bills.” We have to stand up. After thirty years of assault on employees it’s almost impossible to reverse this process. I remember back in the late 1980s when I had a man in my church who was an employee of what was then Southwestern Bell. All the employees had to go through sensitivity training and then the next year all the employees had to go through basically what is a visual-guided imagery course which was nothing more than New Age metaphysics. Everyone had to do that and if you didn’t do it then you would lose your job. Most Christians didn’t take a stand because they didn’t want to lose their jobs. This is the kind of incrementalism that has taken place in the world around us and basically rendered most Christians ineffective and out-of-fellowship most of the time.
Remember in 1 John the issue of being out of fellowship was doctrine. It wasn’t practice. It wasn’t sin. The primary issue John is talking about is that if you had a wrong view of the person and work of Christ, then you were out of fellowship. We tend to think that getting out of fellowship is only the result of committing a sin. If you have a compromised doctrine at the core of your thinking then you’re never going to go anywhere in your Christian life. Going to church and learning the Bible becomes just a waste of time until you straighten out your value system. It’s a value system that you’re implementing one hundred percent 24/7 around the clock. So we can’t compromise on moral issues or on ethical issues.
Our personal life policy needs to govern everything. This is the assault that’s taking place right now. What is happening from the liberal left is that there’s an assault on Biblical Judeo-Christian values. They’re saying that religion needs to be confined to the pulpit. It needs to be confined and restricted to Sunday morning but it can’t leak out of the church and impact anything else that’s going on. That is the devil’s world. We have to decide, are we going to live as a result of this outside pressure from the world and compromise with it or are we going to stand firm against it? This impacts everyone.
If you’re a police officer, if you’re in the military, if you are in any kind of work for the federal government then you’re being asked to implement and validate policies that are contrary to God’s Word. Eventually you have to make a decision whether your spiritual life is more important than having a job. This is a major problem for a lot of people. I understand that sometimes it takes a long time to get to this place in your personal life and it may take you a while to disengage simply because of decisions that have already been made. If you’re in the military–and I think about people I know who are in the chaplaincy–and get into a situation where more and more things are being put upon you as a chaplain that run counter to your belief about the Word of God. You may not be in a position to just immediately change your job. It may take you two or three years. You may be close to retirement. You may have to take a hit in terms of staying in your job three or four more years to finish that retirement.
You didn’t get to the place where you are overnight and you’re not going to get out of it overnight either. It’s really easy for us to tell you that you just need to quit being an employee there, but the reality you do still need to pay your bills and do other things. You have to figure out a strategy to disengage before you can make those kinds of decisions. The first step is realizing that maybe you’re in a position where you need to disengage. We need to make sure that our responses to the world around us are not motivated by our sin nature—they’re not motivated by anger; they’re not motivated by a desire to be secure in our job or our finances. That means we’re looking to our job, our career, and our finances as a source of security and not to the Word of God.
We have to not be “envious of the workers of iniquity.”
Now this last phrase is an interesting phrase. It’s translated in some translations as “those who do evil”. The term evil here actually represents those who are engaged in policies and practices that are hostile to the Word of God. The word that’s translated evil is the Hebrew word avlah from the word avel which is the word for sin or iniquity and the word can refer to someone who’s a criminal, someone who’s a sinner or to those who live their lives with no reference whatsoever to God or to righteousness or to morality. It has sort of an abstract sense of those who are oppressing believers, those who are hostile to God, or those who are atheists. It has a broad range of meanings and basically it relates to anyone who is living their life apart from God and apart from divine absolutes.
We’re not supposed to be envious of them. Why? (Slide 8) The why question is answered in Psalm 37:2, “For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” This is imagery, which is often used in Scripture. Isaiah talks about the grass withering and the flowers fading. We have these various images throughout Scripture. Grass is something that is temporary. It doesn’t last long. In Israel you have two rainy seasons. One is in the spring. One is in the late fall. In between you have a dry season. So when the early rains come, which are the spring rains, then everything flowers, the grasses come out, and there’s plenty of food and forage for all of the animals. But then as the summer heat develops and the sun is high in the sky and the temperatures go up into the mid or upper 90s, there’s no rain. For three or four months there’s no rain and the grass will wither. The plants will die. That’s what this picture is. This is something that is temporary. It appears initially at first that the plant or the person has been very successful. He’s flourishing. He’s fruitful. He’s productive.
In terms of not lasting, we have to put our perspective on eternity. We get our mindset out of the idea that life consists of just a couple of decades or a few years. Often we look at someone and we say, “Oh, they’re flourishing. They’re doing so well. Look at how evil they are.” In our world today when we’re so transient, it looks like they’re very successful. We don’t necessarily see how God will correct that or bring divine discipline into their lives. Many times we don’t see things that are happening that are outside of our vision. We see someone at work that’s being successful because of unethical practices. He may change jobs and go somewhere else. Sooner or later it may catch up with him and we have no way of seeing that. We don’t know what’s happening in his personal life or at home. We just have to put our attention on the Lord.
The promise is that eventually there will be justice in every situation. Sometimes we may see some of it in this life. I know many of us pray, “Lord, I just want to watch. I just want to see you eventually bring them to justice.” In many cases in this life that is all the blessing they will ever get. If they’re Christians in the Church Age they may end up with a complete loss of everything except their salvation at the Judgment Seat of Christ. But there is accountability eventually for everyone. That’s the principle of verse 2.
It’s a reminder to us that the reason we should not be upset about the evildoer is because eventually they’re going to get what they deserve. We should not be envious of those who treat God lightly, the workers of iniquity, because eventually they will be cut down and whatever prosperity they have will be destroyed. (Slide 9) The solution for us is the beginning of this great section of promises that we have starting in Psalm 37:3, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness.”
There are a couple of things that we ought to understand about this. (Slide 10) First of all, we have three imperatives here. Trust, dwell, and feed. There’s a progression there. Trust has to do with belief, with confidence in God. Dwell has to be understood in terms of the land promises of God in the Old Testament but it would have application to us as Church Age believers. Feed on His faithfulness is a very important and interesting imagery. "Feed on His faithfulness" is probably not the correct translation.
So we are to trust in the Lord. That word for trust is the Hebrew word batach. It means to trust, to rely upon something, to feel safe or secure, to put confidence in something, and to totally rely upon something, be totally dependent upon something. Somewhere along the line people got the idea this was a wrestling term and it had to do with some sort of a body slam on a mat. I’ve looked at this for probably thirty years. There’s no indication that has anything to do with this word. There’s an Arabic cognate that has the idea of throwing something to the ground but that meaning, according to all the major Hebrew lexicons or sources is not found in any Hebrew usage anywhere. Instead, this word is very important because it has the idea of placing a confidence in someone. It’s an assured reliance. It’s the idea that you feel very secure, totally secure, in someone being able to do what they claim to do. The emphasis is on the security of that trust and the idea of safety in that reliance upon the person you are trusting.
We trust in the Lord and it brings to bear ideas of being confident in Yahweh. Trust in Him. Feel secure and safe in Him and do good. That is, do that which is good. We are to trust in Yahweh, and as a result, we are to do good. The word there is tov, which often has to do with doing that which God says to do. Tov is an interesting word. It can borderline on an ethical standard like righteousness. Many people read righteousness into the word good but tov really is a word having to do with something fitting a plan. For example, in the creation week, when God is creating, at the end of each day He would see everything and say it was good. That means it was according to His plan. He had a blueprint. Day one He did the first stage and at the end, He said it was good, it was according to plan. When He finished, He said it was very good. It doesn’t mean it was righteous.
If you want to import the meaning of righteousness to the core meaning of tov you have a little problem when you get to Genesis 2. In Genesis 2, God used the same word when He said it’s not good for man to be alone. If good has the sense of ethical righteousness, then it would be unethical and unrighteous for man to be alone. That just doesn’t fit. There’s nothing immoral or unethical or unrighteous about being single. It’s not according to God’s plan, though. It’s not His ideal. His ideal is for man and woman to come together as a union in marriage but there’s nothing wrong, unethical, or immoral, or unrighteous about being single. But if tov has an ethical sense, then that’s where you end up. We have to be very careful with these kinds of words.
The idea is that we are to do good. That is, we are to live according to God’s plan. God’s plan, of course, is righteous but that’s not the sense here. He’s not saying to be righteous. He’s saying to live according to God’s plan, which, of course, would be living in accordance with God’s Word. Another thought on trusting in the Lord is that this word is found in passages like Isaiah 12:2, “Behold, God is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid for the Lord is my strength and my song. He also has become my salvation.” So that’s also another great promise. I will trust and not be afraid is juxtaposing fear with faith. Isaiah 26:4 says, “Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yahweh the Lord is everlasting strength.”
Jeremiah 17:5 says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.” So these are very important passages for understanding these important distinctions, these very important promises which we have from the Scripture. Jeremiah 17:6–7 is talking about the person who trusts in man. “His confidence is in man, for he shall be like a shrub in the desert. He will not see when good comes but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, the salt places which is not inhabited.” Notice there’s an imagery of that dwelling in the land, just as we have here in Psalm 37:3. We are to trust in the Lord. The result in Jeremiah 17:8 then is “For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river.” This is imagery very similar to what we saw of the righteous man who puts his roots like a well-watered tree in Psalm 1. The focus here is on the fact that God gives us security and stability. We trust in the Lord and we do good.
Another thing we see here in Psalm 37:3 is the command to dwell in the land. The land for an Israelite in the Old Testament is the place where God promised blessing to Abraham and his descendants, so it has to do with being in a position of obedience. This would be comparable to the Church Age believer living and walking by God the Holy Spirit. We are to live where God wants us in light of our position in Christ. That would be the application for us.
What does it mean to “feed on His faithfulness”? I want you to notice a couple of things here. First of all, it says to feed on “His” faithfulness. The word His is the 3rd person singular pronoun and it’s not found in the Hebrew text at all. There’s just an imperative word for feed and then there’s a word that deals with righteousness in terms of God’s faithfulness, which is the word emunah in the Hebrew, and has to do with steadfastness or faithfulness or integrity. So the command there is the word ra’ah, which has the idea of shepherding, leading, or even feeding, as a shepherd would lead his flocks to pasture. So this is a command that you are to feed, and then what? The idea here is probably not feeding on God’s faithfulness because there’s no 3rd person singular pronoun there but it would be the idea of cultivating your own integrity, your own righteousness. Dwell in the land where God has placed you and grow and learn in terms of your own experiential righteousness and your own integrity. That fits the pattern. First you trust in the Lord, which is a synonymous parallel to dwelling the land. Then the result of trusting in the Lord is to do good, to follow out God’s plan. So that would fit the parallel with feeding or cultivating your own righteousness, your own integrity. This is part of the promise. We’re to focus on our own spiritual life and our own spiritual growth.
(Slide 11) Now we come to Psalm 37:4–5, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” (Slide 12) Notice in the first line you have the imperative “delight” yourself in Yahweh. He is the focus of our joy. The second line gives the result. The result of your delighting in the Lord is that He will give you the desires of your heart. Verse 5 gives another command, “Commit your way to the Lord.” And then a parallel to that, “Trust also in Him.” There’s our word batach again, gaining confidence in Him. The result is He will bring it to pass. So both verses emphasize God’s answer to prayer but prayer grows out of a life where we are delighting in the Lord and we are committing our way to Him.
Let’s look at some of the information here related to the verbiage. The word delight here is in what the Hebrew calls the hithpael stem. Hebrew verbs have different what they call stems. Each one has a different nuance. Usually the hithpael is a reflexive, causative stem. That means you’re doing something to yourself, causing something to happen to yourself. The meaning of a word, for example in the qal or the piel stem, has a completely different meaning from what’s in the hithpael stem. Usage is important here.
The word here has to do with taking delight or joy in something. Our joy is in the Lord. So often we get distracted in life. Our real pleasures come from the people around us or our pleasures come from things that we have, hobbies we enjoy, activities we enjoy and what this is saying is that our number one priority needs to be in the Lord. We need to delight in the Lord. We need to take real joy in what the Lord takes joy in. We need to focus upon Him and upon His Word. Instead of being preoccupied with our self, we need to be occupied with the Lord and the things of the Lord. If we’re too busy to listen to three or four hours of Bible teaching each and every week, we’re too busy. We have to straighten out our life and figure out a way to put our priorities right. You spend time doing what you want to do. We’re all that way. When you look and evaluate your life, you eat what you want to eat and not what you think you ought to eat or wish you ought to eat. We do what we want to do. You look at how you spend your time. That tells you what you really want to do. If you’re not spending your time in the Word and you’re not spending your time focused on the things of the Lord, then that really isn’t a priority to you, no matter what you say. You need to have a long talk with yourself and refocus. We need to focus upon the Lord.
(Slide 13) This word, delight, is used in passages such as Job 22:26, “For then you will delight in the Almighty and lift up your face to God.” The idea of lifting up your face to God has to do with prayer. So in both places we have an environment, a context, talking about the importance of prayer and communication with God. So delighting in the Lord isn’t just a matter of reading your Bible or studying or listening to the pastor teach the Word, but it moves forward into that ongoing relationship with the Lord. It is enjoying our fellowship.
Too often we’ve had people who’ve gotten the idea from the phrase “in fellowship” that all I have to do is confess my sin and I’m in fellowship. That’s a misunderstanding of what that means. To be in fellowship means to enjoy fellowship, to be involved in a relationship with God, to be moving forward in that relationship with God. It’s an active concept, not a static or passive concept. We need to recognize that we are actively walking by the Holy Spirit, abiding in Christ, and other terms that are used. They give a dynamic to fellowship that we use when we just use that phrase “in fellowship”. Too many people have really hurt their spiritual life by not understanding that.
(Slide 14) Part of delighting in the Lord, of course, is delighting in God’s Word and God’s will. The only way we can know God’s will is to know God’s Word. When we look at other promises, for example, that are very much parallel to this, we look at the fact that if we delight ourselves in the Lord that He’ll give us the desires of our heart, (slide 15) that word desire is the word mish’alah in the Hebrew. The first part of the word forms a noun with the suffix at the end has to do with making it a genitive. Sha’al is the center of it and that means to ask something. He’s going to give us the requests of our heart.
This doesn’t mean that God’s going to give us just everything we want. He’s not just some kind of Santa Claus in the sky. We have to look at passages such as 1 John 5:14–15 where John says, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears use.” See, if we delight in the Lord, we’re going to learn God’s will, and we’re going to think God’s way. As a result of that, what we ask of Him is going to be in accordance with His will and His way. We’re going to be thinking in terms of divine viewpoint.
We need to think in terms of His word. John 15:7 says, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you …” So those words have to abiding in us and then Jesus said, “Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” The precondition for answered prayer is that we’re praying according to God’s will and we know God’s will. The only way we can know God’s will is to understand His Word and what He has given to us, and what He has provided for us. So what we see here is a very important principle. As part of delighting in the Lord, we need to understand exactly what His will is.
(Slide 16) Then we come to Psalm 37:5, which develops the thought even further. “Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” (Slide 17) This is a very important word at the beginning: commit. The English word for commit has a different nuance than the Hebrew word for commit. The English word for commit has the idea in its third meaning in the Oxford English Dictionary is the idea of transferring something for safekeeping to someone else. But generally the English word for commit has ideas that aren’t part of the Hebrew word.
The Hebrew word for commit is galal. It means to roll something. It has that idea of rolling something over on to somebody else, that is, entrusting something to them or handing something over to someone for safekeeping. Surrendering something to someone else so they can provide for it or take care of it is the idea. It’s parallel to the idea of “casting our cares upon Him because He cares for us”.
The word there for “your way” is the path of your life. This is the course of your life. It brings into focus what we often find in wisdom literature is what direction is your life going to take. Are you following God and God’s plan for your life and your ultimate destiny in His plan, or are you living your life according to your own way? Proverbs 16:25 says “There’s a way that seems right to man but the end thereof is death.” We are to commit our way and commit our life to the Lord. That means to entrust it to Him, which is what comes up in the second line there, which says for us to trust in Him [batach]. (Slide 18) So the words “commit” and “trust” there are parallel whereas the English words “commit” and “trust” are not the same thing.
It’s a problem for people giving the gospel. They say you need to commit your life to Christ, but in English the word commit is not a synonym for trust. That’s not a good way to explain the gospel. The Bible says we’re to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior. This “commit” is an awkward term. It should have the idea of casting your way to the Lord or rolling your life over to the Lord, something like that. Find another word besides commit to emphasize this idea of trust. (Slide 19) This is developed in passages such as Isaiah 26:3–4 which says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yahweh, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”
So an emphasis that we have here is on the faithfulness of God. A passage where we see this developed is in Psalm 37:25, “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken.” What he means by that is that even if your life is lost for whatever reason, like your health is lost, God has not deserted us. God always takes care of us. Maybe not in the way we think or hope that He would, but God never deserts us. In verse 26, “He’s ever merciful and lends and his descendants are blessed.” This is the person who is righteous, who lives the right kind of way.
Generally this is true. Wisdom literature is not promises but here it’s stating a general truth. That’s what wisdom literature is. Lamentations 3:22–23 is another favorite promise dealing with the faithfulness of God. “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.” Other passages we can go to, for example, Isaiah 30:15–19 is another great passage on the strength of God. In our own passage if we look at Psalm 37:28, “For the Lord loves justice and does not forsake His saints. They are preserved forever.” In contrast to the unrighteous who are blown away, the Lord loves justice and does not forsake His saints. They are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked will be cut off. “The righteous shall inherit the land.” The focus there is on inheritance, not upon salvation or justification. God is the One who takes care of the righteous. This is David’s conclusion in Psalm 37:39, “But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord. He is their strength in time of trouble, and the Lord shall help them and deliver them. He shall deliver them from the wicked and save them because they trust in Him.” Let’s close in prayer.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things this morning, to be reminded of these great promises and your faithfulness and trustworthiness that our confidence and security and safety should be totally put in Your hands. And that we are not to be compromised by the world’s system that we’re not to be envious of those in the world, but that we’re to take a firm stand against the trends of the age and the influence of the cosmic system, no matter what it may entail. Otherwise, it presents a tremendous danger to our spiritual life and the health of our soul. Father, we pray that You’ll give us the courage of our convictions. In Christ’s name. Amen.”