We can break down the teaching of Psalm 37 into seven major areas:
1. David cautions us not to worry about the prosperity of the wicked. He writes:
Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. . . . Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way. . . . Do not fret—it only causes harm. (verses 1, 7-8)
Jesus includes this point in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us not to worry about our life, our food and clothing, and the troubles of tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34). Calm down! Do not become worked up over it!
2. David describes the character of the wicked:
The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes at him with his teeth. . . . The wicked have drawn the sword and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, to slay those who are of upright conduct. . . . The wicked borrows and does not repay. . . . The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him. (verses 12, 14, 21, 32)
Their evil is obvious to all, especially God. We can be certain that the wicked have not fooled Him.
3. David contrasts the character of the wicked to the righteous:
But the righteous shows mercy and gives. . . . He is ever merciful, and lends; and his descendants are blessed. . . . The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of justice. The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide. (verses 21, 26, 30-31)
The difference in their characters is sharply defined, and we can rest assured that character is what dictates the outcome of our lives.
4. David shows the end of the wicked:
[Evildoers] shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. . . . For evildoers shall be cut off. . . . For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; indeed, you will look diligently for his place, but it shall be no more. . . . The Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day is coming. . . . But the wicked shall perish; and the enemies of the Lord, like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away. . . . [T]he descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. . . . I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a native green tree, yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; indeed I sought him, but he could not be found. . . . But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked shall be cut off. (verses 2, 9-10, 13, 20, 28, 35-36, 38)
We can know for a certainty that the unrighteous will get what is coming to them. God always gives the correct punishment at exactly the right time. It is out of our hands, so we need not concern ourselves over it.
5. David proclaims the reward of the upright:
He shall give you the desires of your heart. . . He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. . . . But those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. . . . But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. . . . [T]heir inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. . . . For those who are blessed by Him shall inherit the earth. . . . [T]hey are preserved forever. . . . The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell in it forever. . . . He shall exalt you to inherit the land. . . . But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord. (verses 4, 6, 9, 11, 18-19, 22, 28-29, 34, 39)
If God is on our side, we have nothing to fear from the wicked, and we can look forward to blessings beyond anything we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20)!
6. David explains that we can expect these blessings and rewards, not because we are innately wonderful and good, but because God is faithful:
[T]he Lord upholds the righteous. The Lord knows the days of the upright. . . . The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholds him with His hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread. . . . For the Lord loves justice, and does not forsake His saints. . . . The Lord will not leave [the righteous] in [the wicked's] hand, nor condemn him when he is judged. . . . He is their strength in the 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. (verses 17-18, 23-25, 28, 33, 39-40)
The picture in verse 24 is very comforting. David describes God as a Father, holding His child by the hand. The child has just learned to walk and is not very steady. When he stumbles—and he will—he does not fall completely because the Father pulls him back upright. God perfectly fulfills all the obligations He placed on Himself to do on our behalf. This is another reason we have no need to fear or worry.
7. Lastly, David provides us with solutions to this dilemma:
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord. . . . Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. . . . Cease from anger, and forsake wrath. . . . Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore. . . . Wait on the Lord, and keep His way. . . . Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace. (verses 3-8, 27, 34, 37)
These are David's instructions on how we should handle our envy of the wicked man's prosperity: Do good, trust God, and do not worry! If we patiently continue doing the things that God has commanded us to do—focusing on our own character, rather than complaining about another's—the scales of justice will come into their proper balance in God's time.
Mike Ford (1955-2021)
Why Do the Wicked Prosper?