Trusting in God
1 Thessalonians 1:8
1 Thessalonians Lesson #019
March 10, 2015
“Father, we are so grateful that we can come before Your throne of grace. That we can ask Your guidance and direction as we study the Word today. As we walk by the Spirit and we’re filled by the Spirit with Your Word, we pray that we might come to understand Scripture more clearly, more accurately, that we may hide it in our hearts; that we might walk consistently with You. Father. We pray that You’d guide and protect our thinking now in this Bible class, in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Today we are going to look at another promise that is a much memorized, frequently utilized promise from the Old Testament (OT). We’re going to go to Psalm 37. This is part of our Thessalonians study. In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul praised the Thessalonians because of their faith. Their active trust in God had garnered them such a reputation that it spread throughout Macedonia and Achaia. Paul said something very similar to the Romans when he introduced his epistle to the Romans, saying that their faith had gone throughout the entire world. They had developed a reputation because of their walk with God; and this reputation was going around the world. It was being twittered, and it was on a Facebook page in the ancient world, whatever their versions of that were.
From that I started this sub-series on the faith-rest drill and how we are to grow by means of faith. That is trusting in the Lord. We trust in something. It is not just faith in faith. That is the world’s system. That is pagan thought. You just believe. You just have confidence that somehow the universe is going to pull everything together for you. That is faith in something that is impersonal. Sometimes it is expressed as just faith in faith. You just need to have a positive mental attitude.
There are even a number of churches in this country that, if you really listen to what the pastors say, they’re not really teaching the Bible. They’re really just giving a positive message. They’re just giving a motivational talk. They’re not really giving anybody the Bible. When you look at even how they might reference the Bible, it’s just a cosmetic. It’s just something that is superficial. It’s just a veneer to deceive the masses that they are somehow learning something Christian. But they’re not any different from many salesmanship meetings, many motivational speeches by atheists, by people who are advocates of the New Age movement; and as Christians we have a different concept of faith. Faith is related to knowledge. It’s related to content. It’s related to what we believe specifically about the Triune God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and what He has revealed to us. When we talk about the faith-rest drill, there are three steps:
Step One: Claim a promise. That promise might be the whole verse; for example the one we are going to look at today in Psalm 37:4–5 is a great couple of verses to memorize: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of Your heart.” A lot of people just memorize that, take it out of context, and say “well God’s going to give me whatever I want. It will make me happy, so therefore, God will be happy”. The wife of a well-known pastor in Houston was quoted. Her and her little statement from the pulpit at that church went viral a couple of months ago: that God wants every Christian to be happy, and so if you’re happy, then God’s happy. So God just wants you to be happy. Once again, this is just the mindless dribble that encourages the masses because they don’t know anything about the Bible. They don’t understand the context of this particular verse.
This isn’t saying that God’s going to give you whatever you want. This isn’t saying that God is a Santa Claus up in the sky, and if you just say it the right way and make a positive confession, then God’s going to give you whatever you want. It’s much more than that; and that is not part of the meaning of this particular passage. It goes on to say in Psalm 37:4–5, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” These are a great couple of verses to look at. We can look at that; we can claim a passage; we could just focus on part of it; maybe “Trust in Him, and He will bring it to past.” Or you might even look at another phrase that’s included at least three times in this psalm; and that is the phrase that’s translated in Psalm 37:1 “Do not fret because of evildoers.”
Something happens, and you get set off and you’re upset, angry about something; you might just remember, “Don’t fret because of evildoers.” There are evildoers all around us, not just the evildoers over in ISIS, or the evildoers in Hamas, or the evildoers in Washington D.C. who are a part of one political party or another, but it is people around us. We are constantly surrounded by people we’re not even aware of many times who seek to take advantage of us and do us harm. We can just grab hold of part of a promise, claim that, and it focuses our attention upon biblical truth.
Step Two: Think through the doctrinal rationales. That’s a great thing to do as you are claiming promises. You ought to have these promises memorized so that they’re embedded in your soul. David said, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart.” So we’ve taken God’s Word and memorized it; and as you memorize it you think it through and learn to analyze the thought. Take out a pen and paper, write it out, and write out the structure. If you’re adept at using grammatical diagramming, diagram it. If you just want to create some sort of a phrase structure to help you understand the relationship between the clauses and the phrases within the verse, that helps too.
There are many different ways that you can do that that helps you remember it. One way that is helpful in memorizing Scripture is to not only say it over and over and over again, but to write it over and over and over again. You can develop little games. If a family is memorizing verses, they can develop games around the dinner table, and you can offer rewards like: those who memorize verses get desserts; if you don’t, too bad. Always look for motivation, rewards; it’s a biblical concept.
We think through those doctrinal rationales by writing out those verses. You can think about what is being said here and why is it being said. That may lead you to take it to another step, which is to look at the words that are used. Even if you don’t know Greek or Hebrew you can use a concordance, an English concordance, to look up those words and get at least a rudimentary or elementary understanding of what the Hebrew or Greek words are. You can look up parallel passages that way, and you can begin to develop a fuller understanding of what the promise says. That’s thinking through the rationales.
Step 3: And then we come to a conclusion. And in that conclusion, our mind is set that this is something we need to do, so that we might even restructure the verse in a way that might be stated this way: “I need to delight in the Lord so He will give me the desires of my heart. I need to commit my way to the Lord and to trust in Him so that He will bring it to pass.” We structure it that way. It makes it more personal, and it brings us a certain level of conviction within the text.
Those are the three stages:
- Claim a promise.
- Think through the embedded rationales within the promise.
- And then arrive at a conclusion.
So as we look at our promise (the one that we often quote, people often hear Psalm 37:4–5, “Delight yourself 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”) we need to ask some questions. As you think through a verse, to help you understand how to think through a passage, you need to ask some questions. What does it mean to delight in the Lord? Does that have a special significance or a special meaning? What does the English word “delight” mean? Look that up in a good dictionary. If you have a concordance, like a Strong’s Concordance or Young’s Concordance, you can look up the Hebrew word and figure out what that means.
What does it mean to delight ourselves in the Lord? Even in the English you can tell that that’s a command that’s addressed to us, that we are to do this. This command means that this is part of our responsibility as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second question we should ask is what does it mean that God will give us the desires of our heart? Does that mean that God is going to give us whatever we want? Or does it mean that God is going to replace our self-centered desires, our self-absorbed desires, our wrong desires based on the lust patterns of our sin nature, with a new set of desires, a set of desires that are focused upon His will, His plan, His Word? And then as we want what He wants, then He will supply those desires to us. I think it is more the latter than the former.
Another question we should ask: is this some kind of bargain with God that if we just delight in Him that He will just give us whatever we want? Is that a condition that if we delight in Him, that’s the condition for the result? We could also ask the question: does this mean that if we just somehow learn how to commit something to Him, He will bring to pass whatever we desire?
This is how a lot of people will read the Scripture because they don’t come with a lot of background in terms of understanding the Word and the context of the Word; and it’s always important when we think through a rationale to look at context. Any passage of Scripture has a context. It has the immediate context of the paragraphs surrounding it. It has the broader context of the chapter, the section of the book that it is in. It’s got the context of the book. It’s got the context of whether it is the Old Testament (OT) or New Testament (NT); and then it has the context of the whole Bible. You have a series of concentric circles. Ultimately, whenever we are understanding a verse, part of the process of understanding what it means is to compare Scripture with Scripture. Otherwise we can just yank the Scripture out of context, and then it’s easy to make it mean something that it doesn’t mean. It may even be just the opposite of what it’s trying to communicate.
We need to think about this in the understanding of this particular Psalm. Let’s get a little background on this Psalm. As we look at the text I’m going to switch over here to Logos [Bible Study Software] so we have the whole Psalm up here on the board. You see that there is a title. There is a superscript there at the very beginning that is included in your English text, but actually in the Hebrew text that is part of the first verse. That is part of the inspired Word of God. It is not something that is inserted by the translators of the King James Bible, or New American Standard, or English Standard Version, or anything like that. That is part of the text. Sometimes it gives us a little more information about the circumstances or the situation around which the Psalm was written but in this case it doesn’t do that. It just says that this is a Psalm of David. We know that David is the author of this Psalm, but we don’t know anything specific about the context of this Psalm.
After we finish our Dispensations class, I’m going to start a series on 1 & 2 Samuel. 1 & 2 Samuel is like 1 & 2 Kings. In the original Hebrew it is one book. It’s just divided because it was too large to put on one scroll. In the Hebrew text it was divided into two parts, but actually it should be studied as one whole book just as we studied 1 & 2 Kings as one whole book. In the context of studying through Samuel, and this won’t happen until we get to the latter half of the book, we’re going to start studying the psalms that David wrote within the context. As we study the historical context in Samuel, when we hit a place where David wrote a psalm in relation to those events, we are going to look at the psalm. So that is going to be part of that study.
I am even toying with the idea that perhaps once we get into the life of David in the latter half of 1 Samuel, which won’t be for another year or two probably, doing a companion study on the Psalms of David on the other midweek class so that we’re dealing with both of those at the same time. I think that would be helpful for people because the psalms are all written within a context, and there’s a lot to study there. I’ve taught through different Psalms and different promises before, and I’ve taught through Samuel before in the same way, where I taught through the Psalms, but that’s been a long time ago. That will be a good way to do that. I think people will get a lot out of this.
Psalm 37, is written by David. One of the things that we don’t see in the English text, which is true in the Hebrew text, is that it is what is called an acrostic. An acrostic is a particular arrangement where it’s written where each verse begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It follows the Hebrew alphabet so that the first word of the first verse starts with aleph. The second begins with a word that begins with bet; the second word in the Hebrew alphabet. The third verse begins with the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet, ‘g’ (gimel) and so on; it is an acrostic. The purpose of an acrostic was that it had a pedagogical structure. It was designed to help people memorize the Scripture in the ancient world because people often didn’t have their own Bibles. They didn’t have their own copy of the Bible. A lot of emphasis was placed on memorizing the Word of God.
It shames us, as much as I try to emphasize Bible memory, I don’t know how much of an impact that actually has and if people actually memorize Scripture. I always remember a story that Arnold Fruchtenbaum told that he received. He comes from a long line of people who were in the scribal tradition in Poland and back in the 1600–1700s. If you were going to copy the Scriptures, then the way that they were copied was the Jews had a very rigorous procedure in order to try to prevent copyists’ errors. In the training to be a copyist, you would be trained from the time you were an infant in memorizing the Scripture. By the time you were 5–6 years old, you would have the entire Torah memorized.
You think you have trouble memorizing 100 verses. Well they would have the entire Torah memorized by the time they were six or seven years of age. Then by the time they were “bar mitzvahed” at thirteen, they would have the entire OT memorized in Hebrew. Then in order to handle the scribal functions, they would have to pass an exam. Arnold tells this story that they would take a Bible, and they would drive a nail through it, and they would turn to page 231 and say “okay, what word does that nail intersect on page 231?” And you would have to be able to identify that because they memorized in terms of the pages. They counted every letter that was on every page. They knew the first letter that should appear on the page; and the last letter that should appear on the page; and the middle letter that should appear on the page. They had it memorized in terms of what it looked like per page. That would help them guarantee that their transcriptions would be free from error.
This idea of writing a psalm in a way that it would be easy to memorize meant that some of them were written a certain way, and some of them were written as acrostics. The most well-known acrostic is Psalm 119. If you look at this particular Psalm (Psalm 37), and you just make some initial observations:
- It is a long Psalm.
- It has 40 verses in the English text.
- It has a theme related to God’s righteousness. The theme emphasizes the righteousness of God in reference to the fact that the believer is living in a world surrounded by enemies and often one where he faces injustice; where those who are antagonistic to him, those who are antagonistic to the Word of God, are prospering; but those who are faithful are impoverished. They don’t seem to be advancing in the world around them, and so they are faced continually with circumstances and situations of injustice.
Just some observations (Psalm 37). I’m just focusing primarily on the first part because we can develop the whole thing, but the first six verses (Psalm 37:1–6), and we’re really looking primarily at those first six verses, although seven and eight (Psalm 37:7–8) are good promises. You can memorize the first eight verses in this Psalm and it would stand you in good stead. But if you look at how this is structured, look at Psalm 37:1, “Do not fret because of evildoers.” Now look at Psalm 37:7. It begins with the command, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret.” The idea between Psalm 37:1 and Psalm 37:7 are bracketed by this command, “Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way.” This is repeated again in Psalm 37:8, “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret.” So three times within those first eight verses we have this command; this admonition to “fret not;” and that marks something in relation to the structure; and it certainly brings out an emphasis in the text that we are not to be overly concerned with the fact that the unrighteous seem to be prospering.
A second thing we observe as we look at this particular Psalm is that the focus is on persevering in obedience as believers: that we’re not going to let external circumstances, opposition from people, the fact that people who obey the Word may not seem to be doing well, where people who are hostile to the Word seem to be doing well. We are not going to let that derail us. We are not going to be distracted by what happens around us and the fact that we’re living in the devil’s world. A focus in this whole Psalm is on persevering, enduring in the midst of opposition and hostility. It not only focuses on the idea of doing well, trust in the Lord and do well, but it emphasizes many parallel concepts to trust in the Lord, to commit to Him, trust in Him, and used again in Psalm 37:5; resting in the Lord in Psalm 37:7; waiting patiently for Him. All of these are words that reinforce our hope, our endurance, and our trust in the Lord.
The third observation is that the first six verses (Psalm 37:1–6) seem to be a unit, by looking at it in the Hebrew, that calls the believer to endure in difficult circumstances. Psalms 37:7ff, the “do not fret” that we observed earlier in Psalms 37:7–8 begins that next section. So that idea of not getting distracted by the situations around us and not letting it cause us to be upset is repeated again at the beginning of each section. That seems to be a significant point that the psalmist is making. To put it in the vernacular, don’t get your pants in a wad over the fact that the unbelievers seem to be successful and believers are not. That’s a very idiomatic translation.
Another thing that we should note as we come to the end of the Psalm, as often we find in a conclusion, is that there is a repetition of the key ideas; and again it is a call on the part of the psalmist for the believer to endure in faith, in light of future deliverance. Let me just read through those verses because we’re not going to do an in depth study. We read in Psalm 37:34 “Wait on the Lord, and keep His way,” and this is the same word that we see for “wait” in Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait upon the Lord.” It is the idea of patiently and hopefully waiting. It is not just waiting and twiddling your thumbs, but waiting with that sense of hope of confident expectation. “Wait on the Lord and keep His way,” and so we should note that phrase “His way” is a path that is set before us. That repeats the idea that’s in Psalm 37:5 “Commit your way to the Lord.”
It relates to Psalm 37:23. It even says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord:” your steps or your moment-by-moment decisions as you go down the path, as you go down the way. We wait on the Lord in confident expectation. We keep His way. “We guard His way” also would be a part of the meaning there. “And He shall exalt you to inherit the land.” That brings in a timing issue. It’s not something that’s going to happen immediately. It’s not going to be something that may happen even in this life, for the promise was made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that they would inherit the land, and they never did. The only ownership they had of any property in the land that God promised them were gravesites where they buried Sarah and Rachel and Rebekah. They did not own the land in terms of the way that God promised it. It is deferred gratification; it is deferred reward. We may not see the justice enacted by God in this present life, but we will see it in the future. That’s our confident expectation. That’s where hope comes into play.
It goes on to say, “He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.” Well when does that take place? That takes place in the end times at the final judgment, at the great white throne judgment. Then the psalmist David says, “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a native green tree.” In other words he’s prospering. He’s flourishing. He is productive. The tree is producing fruit, and here he sees how prosperous the unrighteous was during this life, but then he concludes in Psalm 37:36, “Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more.” It was ephemeral; all of his success and prosperity disappeared. There was nothing left that would endure or last into eternity.
Psalm 37:37, David says, “Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace.” In context, that’s not just talking about the future in this life but future on into eternity. Psalm 37:38–40, “But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked shall be cut off. But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord.” See? That’s our hope: future deliverance. “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them.” This isn’t talking about future salvation here. I think this is talking about deliverance in time; that God will protect them. God “shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them because they trust in Him.” It is possible that this may have an eternity in heaven connotation, but normally the word group, palet, doesn’t have eternity as its focus. It is usually related to a temporal deliverance.
We’re seeing, in terms of looking at the conclusion, that we’re focused on present problems; but the solution is often a long-term solution. That is why we are encouraged and challenged to endure in our faith in actively trusting in God on the basis of His promises, hoping in Him in terms of confident expectation, trusting and committing in Him. There are certain parallel ideas, as I pointed out just a minute ago: the contrast between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked is a parallel to what we find in Psalm 1. Let’s turn in our Bibles to Psalm 1 and look at how the Psalms are introduced.
There’s a view out there that I am looking at; it definitely has some attractive ideas to it. I haven’t studied it in enough depth to commit to whether it is absolute or not, but I think that there is a level of truth to it. That is that not only in the writing of the Psalms was the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit active, but also in the organization of the Psalms. Often we’ve been taught, and I’ve been taught, that the Psalms are just basically atomized or focused on individually, that each Psalm is unrelated to the other. But as I’ve been reading lately among a number of more conservative writers, there is a belief that in the whole canonization process and the organization process of the OT, because some of the Psalms were not written until after the Jews came back from Babylon, so it doesn’t reach its final form until sometime around 400 BC or so, that that final form is significant and that these chapters were not just put in here randomly. There is an overall pattern to the Psalms.
Psalm 1 is significant. It sets a tone of introduction for the entire Psalter. What we see in Psalm 1 is that there is a contrast between the way of the righteous and the path of the unrighteous or the ungodly. We see a description there of the two different paths. So it begins with a focus upon the spiritually growing, the spiritually maturing believer, the one who is described as righteous; this is who he is. This is explained in Psalm 1:1–3, “Blessed” or happy. It is not a happiness that is necessarily emotional, that is based on circumstances, but has more of a stability than that. But it is definitely a positive attitude that is found within the believer who is walking with God despite whatever opposition that he might face, no matter what difficulties he might face, no matter what tragedies in life might come his way; he is described as “blessed” which has that idea of happy, stable, tranquil, content with his life because his focus is on the Lord.
This is followed by the statement: [he] “walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” What we see here is three things he doesn’t do. He’s described as “blessed” because of things that are excluded from this life. You might also note that there’s a progression in activity here. He’s not walking. He’s not standing. He’s not sitting. You walk as movement; standing is you’ve taken up a position; and then sitting implies that you are committing yourself to a particular position. He’s not following in the counsel of the ungodly. He’s rejecting human viewpoint. He’s not going to stand in the path, in the way of sinners, that is those who are opposed to God; and he is not going to take up residence of the scornful, those who are actively voicing their opposition to the Word.
In contrast to those three negatives: “his delight”. There is our word again that we find over in Psalm 37, “Delight in the Lord.” It has that idea of exuberance, something positive, something that he’s enthusiastic about; he has a passion to know the Word of God. This isn’t just something that he enjoys on occasion, but something that characterizes his life as a passionate focus on the Word. This is what should characterize every growing believer. When you are passionate about the Word of God then you talk about it. You share it with people. It’s part of your life. It’s something that gives you enthusiasm, and you look forward to learning it; and you look forward to reading it. Many of us were that way when we were first saved. We just couldn’t wait to learn it. Later on we have a more mature enthusiasm for the Word, but sometimes as people grow and mature spiritually, they lose that enthusiasm for the Word, and the next thing you know they’re just coasting along.
I found it interesting that as an observation that I’ve made over the years, I especially see this in a distinctive way among pastors, among people who have the gift of pastor-teacher. That doesn’t mean that if you are exuberant about the Word and you have a great love to study the word, that you have the gift of pastor-teacher. I think it works the other way. I think people who have the gift of pastor-teacher exhibit this with one exception. I’ve never sat down with a pastor or somebody who thought they had the gift of pastor-teacher who didn’t want to talk about the Word. Well what do you think about this? Well what about that passage? How do you put this together? Within five minutes you are talking about it. I do know one man who is a pastor that I’ve known for a number of years, and I’ve never heard him talk personally about the Bible. It never seemed to enter his conversation; football, this, that, current events (never seemed to do that), so I always wondered whether or not he actually had the gift of pastor-teacher.
Every believer who is growing should be enthusiastic about the Word. We talk with other people about our enthusiasms. The things that we are interested in display in our lives. That’s this idea, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” I think the second strophe there is a development from the first. Because you “delight in the law of the Lord,” you think about it all the time. That’s the idea of meditating day and night. It doesn’t mean that you don’t think about your work. It doesn’t mean you don’t plan activities for your family or your kids. It doesn’t mean you don’t think about your other hobbies, but throughout the day you take time to think about the Word. It is something that is continual. You want to know God better and so the only way that you can do that is by focusing upon the Word.
There is a result that is given in Psalm 1:3, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.” In Texas there are certain trees that if you see them, then you know that water is nearby. If you see a sycamore tree, if you see a willow tree, you know that water is nearby. These are trees that demand a tremendous amount of water, and often if you go out into central Texas in the Hill Country or out into west Texas, if you’re where there may not be a lot of trees and off in the distance you spot a sycamore tree or a willow tree, then you can be pretty sure that you are going to find a spring nearby that is providing the water that is necessary for those trees. That’s often how the pioneers would find water back during the 1800s as they were exploring Texas and exploring the west. They would look for trees like that that were near water.
The Psalmist says here that this is what you are like because you are being nourished; you are being fed by the Word. “It brings forth its fruit in its season and its leaf shall not wither. Whatever it does it shall prosper.” This isn’t the so called prosperity gospel. It is as we live our life before the Lord, our soul will prosper. That’s the idea when the Word talks about this. Our spiritual life will be healthy and robust, and we will grow and be fruitful in our spiritual life. In contrast, the path of the unbeliever, the ungodly are not so. They’re like chaff that the wind drives away. Chaff is part of what happens after you cut the wheat and you separate that which is not wheat, the chaff, the brittle stuff, whatever, away from the wheat itself.
This would be done in the ancient world. They would have threshing floors, and they would use wooden rakes to throw the wheat up in the air and then the wind would catch the lighter material that was the chaff and blow it away. You’d be left then with the fruit of the wheat that is the grain. That which was useless, that which had no value was blow away. That’s the chaff. The ungodly is someone who has no value. He’s not going to last. He’ll eventually be driven away. That’s the contrast. The righteous is someone who focuses on the Lord, and he is going to be productive; and the ungodly are going to be worthless. They’re not going to be productive.
“Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,” Psalm 1:5. There is an end time focus there, just as there is in Psalm 37 that ultimately vindication comes in the final judgment of God. “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. Final statement in Psalm 1:6, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” Don’t read NT theology back into this. This is throughout wisdom literature. We studied this in Proverbs. Throughout wisdom literature there is this depiction of the life of the believer. He has a choice to go through the lifestyle of righteousness and obedience to Torah or disobedience to Torah. The focus here isn’t upon ultimate destiny in Heaven, but upon walking with the Lord, or not walking with the Lord in this life.
So don’t read into this the idea that the Lord knows the way of the believer, but the way of the unbeliever shall perish. That’s not what it is talking about. You can be a believer and live an ungodly lifestyle, and when you appear before the judgment seat of Christ, there will be a loss of rewards. Everything you did in life is burned up. It is like the chaff that’s blown away, and there’s nothing that survives the judgment. But the way of the righteous will be rewarded. It will be made evident at the judgment seat of Christ. The point I want to make here in terms of what we’re looking at in Psalm 37 is that there is this contrast in the background between two different ways of life.
That helps us when we start looking at the context of our promise. When we look at the context of that promise the focus is between the person whose path is committed to the Lord. The person whose path is committed to the Lord within wisdom literature–and this is considered a wisdom Psalm, like Psalm 1–is the way of the righteous, the path of the righteous. This isn’t a person who committed to his own way. It’s not the person who is walking in the path or in the counsel of the ungodly or standing in the path of sinners or sitting in the seat of the scornful. This is the person who is committed to the path of the Lord. This is the way of the righteous. So when we look at the context here, in terms of who is being addressed, the believer is being addressed; and he’s being given instruction.
Psalm 37 is a wisdom Psalm, which means it has a pedagogical, didactic or instructional significance. It is designed to teach us how we should live as believers. The focus here is not upon eternal destiny, When we look at a passage like Psalm 37:3, “Trust in the LORD, and do good,” that isn’t talking about the fact that if you want to be saved, you not only have to believe in the Lord, but also live a good life. That misses the whole focal point here in these verses. But unfortunately there are people who take it that way, and that really has an impact on destroying the purity of their gospel. They have an anathematized gospel according to Galatians 1:6-7 and are not teaching the true gospel. It has been perverted by adding works to it.
The focus here isn’t on how to have eternal justification and eternal life, but how to experience the benefits and the blessings, the happiness of God of the righteous in Psalm 1 in the midst of this life. We have to understand the language here in light of the context of the Psalms and the light of the context of wisdom literature within Scripture. That helps us to understand its significance. If we look at the immediate context, it begins with a command, a prohibition. It’s stated in the strongest form of prohibition that you can use in the Hebrew language. There are different ways in which we express things. We say “well you shouldn’t ought to do that” or “that might not be a good idea.” Then we say “you should absolutely never do that.” So this is the strongest form of admonition directed to believers.
It starts with this command, “Do not fret.” I want you to look at the verse. “Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.” What do we have that’s parallel here? We have the words “evildoers” and “workers of iniquity.” Psalms are poetry, and they don’t rhyme words like we do in English. Hebrew poetry rhymes ideas in places, and that is called parallelism. In this case it’s a synonymous parallelism where the two ideas are roughly parallel; one helps us understand what is being said by the other. The commands are also somewhat parallel. “Do not fret” and “do not be envious.” They’re not exactly the same, but they are very closely related. The second line helps to develop our understanding of the first line by stating it in a slightly different way.
The first command is not to “fret,” which is a fun word in the English. You don’t hear a lot of people talking about fretting. We need to understand its basic sense in the Hebrew. The Hebrew word is charah. It’s in the hitpael stem, which is a causative stem. And all these stems basically mean that they have different senses or meanings, and that one stem may be quite different from the meaning in the qal stem. Here the word charah just means to burn, to be angry, idiomatically I would say “getting all worked up.” The core semantic value of the term is that something is becoming heated or burned or kindled; thus it was applied to the concept of anger.
In the OT, Hebrew doesn’t have a lot of abstract concepts when it relates to emotions. So you don’t really have a literal word for “anger.” You usually have a word related to “don’t burn” because when you get upset or angry your temperature goes up, your face becomes flushed, and a typical idiom that you have in the OT is usually just literally translated as “don’t get angry.” If you read it in the Hebrew, it’s what is called anthropomorphism. It uses a human being’s form or physical feature to express an abstract concept. Literally it says in the Hebrew, “Don’t let your nose burn.” That’s anthropomorphism, but what it means idiomatically is “Don’t get angry.” You have that same idea here: don’t get angry; don’t get all worked up; don’t burn; don’t become excited or agitated; don’t become incensed. It’s not merely the idea of fretting.
To me fretting is somebody who is just a little bit worried, and they are not sure what is going to happen this afternoon. They are wringing their hands. This is a much more intense idea. It’s somebody who’s worried, who goes beyond just simply brooding about something; but is deeply distressed, and there’s a passionate intensity here, and his indignation at some injustice is overwhelming so that he looks at a situation and just gets angry; and that anger just takes over. We could translate charah: “don’t get all worked up; don’t get bent out of shape; don’t get your knickers in a knot.” All of these would communicate this. Just relax and trust in God.
In fact what we’re seeing in these two parallel concepts here of fretting and being envious is when you do this, you are not trusting God. When you get all bent out of shape, or you watch something on some news item and it just absolutely drives you nuts. Whether it’s the verdict of some court case: there have been a number of court cases where it appears that a husband has beaten or killed, murdered his wife, and the guy gets off. There are people who think, “well if you live in those states where that’s happened, then you get a get out of jail free card, because they are really not concerned about prosecuting wife killers.” Some women have gotten very upset over that particular situation. There are a lot of things going on around us that are unjust, that are wrong, and if we as believers focus on them, we can get quite bent out of shape.
I read something last night that got me bent out of shape. This is something that we should be very much concerned about; it’s happened in just the last week. Apparently this court case had been going on for a couple of years. This was reported in the area of Lexington, Kentucky. The Lexington Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission has reached a decision in a case where there was a guy who had a tee shirt shop and he prints up tee shirts for all kinds of people. He hires all kinds of people. He has hired and done work for people who are homosexual, lesbian, all kinds of different groups; and it’s never been an issue. But a gay-lesbian group came to him and wanted him to print tee shirts for their Lexington Pride Festival in 2012. The message on the tee shirt was one that he did not want to endorse, and so he declined to take the order and was not going to print it.
The gay-lesbian group took him to court. He was defended by the Alliance of Defending Freedom, which is a group that takes on cases like this, that are First Amendment Rights cases, arguing that nobody should be forced by the government, which is the Human Rights Commission, or by any other citizen to endorse or promote ideas with which they don’t agree. The Commission found against him, so that now, not only is he found as a violator of the law, and he’s going to suffer whatever penalties they have assessed, but also they have mandated that he and every one of his employees go through diversity training. This is the worst form of tyranny. This is telling someone that if you are deeply committed to a religious system, then you have to leave it at home. It can’t impact you at the workplace. It can have nothing to do with you in terms of your values at work, in terms of the decisions you make, and if it does, then we are going to mandate as a government that you become re-educated.
We (the government) have to send you to a re-education training system so that you will learn to appreciate diversity. This is nothing more than tyranny, and I believe this is a case where this man needs to continue to appeal this all the way up to the Supreme Court. If this is allowed to stand then this would be one of those cases where Christian employers or owners of a business have every right to stand up in terms of civil disobedience because you’re being told by the government to do something that violates your belief in God. It is not just a First Amendment issue. This is where if the government is mandating you as an individual to go through diversity training, then they are telling you that they want to re-educate your value system, and this violates the Word of God.
So that would be a legitimate case for disobedience. By civil disobedience, I don’t necessarily mean going out and marching in the streets or things like that. It is just saying no I’m not going to do it. You can throw me in jail or whatever, but I’m going to stick with my belief. This is where we’re headed as a country. When we look at that, there are many of us whose blood pressure is going to go right off the charts! That’s what mine was, and fortunately at the time I was thinking through this very passage, “don’t fret”; don’t let these things bother you. We have to learn that again and again. That’s our context. We’re just starting on context. I’ll come back next time and we’ll drill down a little more in the context and then look at the significance of this particular promise.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study Your Word, to be reminded of its application and its implications; and that as believers we see so many things in our country and in the culture around us that distress us profoundly. And yet what Your Word is saying is don’t be distressed. Don’t let it get to you. Don’t react in that way. That is a sign of a lack of trust in You; that we need to have our focus on the long term plan that You have and on the endgame and put all of these issues of injustice in the world today in Your hands and focus upon our responsibilities to grow and mature as believers, to learn Your Word, and to work the best we can within the structures that we have in obedience to you. Father, we pray that You would challenge us and encourage us with what we’ve learned in this study and we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”