By Jane Grivjack
When evil takes place in our world, many people ask, “Why would God allow this evil to take place?” God’s answer for evil in the world is found in Jeremiah 17:9…the heart of man is desperately wicked…more wicked than we could ever understand.
Jer 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?
Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, reminds is that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work and is actually being restrained by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church today (2Thessalonians 2:7). And yet, evil is still taking place all around us because the Evil One holds so many in his grasp!
Introduction: Psalm 37 can be best described as an exhortation for believers to persevere in an evil time.
It can be broken down into three segments; instruction for conduct, truth statements contrasting the righteous and the wicked, encouragement through reminders of God’s promises.
David’s time might have been a few thousand years before our time today, but as we will see as we go over his writings here, it will become clear that, as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
David was observing that evildoers were, in fact prospering and sought to comfort his people (and I dare say, himself) in light of that fact.
Fast forward to the present….I think all of us could list some evidences of evil taking place in the world today. If we dwell upon the 24 hour news cycle, we can become discouraged, disheartened, defeated and down-right angry at times!!
The truth is, the devil has been at work trying to destroy the world since the garden…his tactics just change with the times….Paul Harvey best described Satan’s wicked schemes in a commentary he gave back in 1965!!
As we read through his words, take note of how appropriate they are for our world today:
If I were the Devil . . . I mean, if I were the Prince of Darkness, I would of course, want to engulf the whole earth in darkness. I would have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree, so I should set about however necessary to take over the United States.
I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.” “Do as you please.”
To the young, I would whisper, “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around. I would confide that what is bad is good, and what is good is “square”.
In the ears of the young marrieds, I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be extreme in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct.
And the old, I would teach to pray. I would teach them to say after me: “Our Father, which art in Washington” . . .
If I were the devil, I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull an uninteresting. I’d threaten T.V. with dirtier movies and vice versa.
And then, if I were the devil, I’d get organized. I’d infiltrate unions and urge more loafing and less work, because idle hands usually work for me.
I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. And I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects but neglect to discipline emotions . . . let those run wild. I would designate an atheist to front for me before the highest courts in the land and I would get preachers to say “she’s right.”
With flattery and promises of power, I could get the courts to rule what I construe as against God and in favor of pornography, and thus, I would evict God from the courthouse, and then from the school house, and then from the houses of Congress and then, in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and I would deify science because that way men would become smart enough to create super weapons, but not wise enough to control them.
If I were Satan, I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol
of Christmas a bottle. If I were the devil, I would take from those
who have and I would give to those who wanted, until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. And then, my police state would force everybody back to work. Then, I could separate families, putting children in uniform, women in coal mines, and objectors in slave camps.
In other words, if I were Satan,
I’d just keep on doing what he’s doing.
Paul Harvey, Good Day.
Humorous, but so true, is it not??
As we look out on the political, cultural and spiritual landscape of our land, it can lead to much hand wringing, frustration and anger. David’s instruction in Psalm 37 is like a divine wake up call, a spiritual reality check, or a slap across the face with the exhortation for every believer to, “SNAP OUT OF IT!”
That’s why I love this Psalm!! It is as though David is our spiritual trainer, getting us in shape so we can run and not faint in this evil, dark time that we are living in.
LET’S READ PSALM 37 TOGETHER!!
As I said in the introduction, David is communicating three distinct things throughout the psalm.
1) Instruction for conduct
2) Truth statements contrasting the righteous and the wicked as it relates to the future
3) The promises of God that serve as encouragement and hope in an evil time
A—What Should Our Conduct Be In An Evil Age?
In verses 1-8, David lists 7 areas of conduct in the positive:
Trust in the Lord and do good (verse 3)
Allow God to avenge evil and vindicate those who stand for good in His time. Don’t fixate on the where, when and how but focus on how you can overcome evil with good.
Dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness (verse 3)
Trust the Lord to take care of you and provide for all your needs, even in troublesome times. Don’t be envious of the prosperity of the wicked…see verse 16-17.
Delight yourself also in the Lord (verse 4)
Make it your ambition to seek to know Him above all else. Make His desires yours and He will greatly bless you.
Commit your way to the Lord (verse 5)
Completely relinquish control of your life to Him no matter the circumstances. Allow Him to vindicate you in His time.
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him (verse 7)
Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. He will uphold the righteous and judge the wicked.
David also lists four areas of conduct in the negative:
It is the things that we are to avoid doing that I would like to focus on going forward:
First, David tells us DO NOT FRET!! Why? It only causes harm! (verses 1-8)
The Hebrew definition for “fret” is as follows:
grow warm; figuratively (usually) to blaze up, of anger, zeal, jealousy:
KJV - be angry, burn, be displeased, to wax hot, be incensed.
I think fretting can best be described as a burning anger that becomes enflamed as we see the seeming prosperity of wicked men accomplishing their wicked schemes before our very eyes day after day.
It becomes very easy to become incensed and to grow envious as we see their success.
While anger in and of itself can mobilize us to do good as we seek to right the wrongs in society, the kind of anger that David is describing here is harmful (verse 8) because it leads to wrath.
David Chapman, in his book, Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way, tells us that God has a purpose for human anger. He says, “Anger is designed to motivate us to take positive action when we encounter injustice. Its fundamental purpose is to motivate us to positive, loving action that will leave things better than we found them.”
I would describe this as righteous anger or anger that does not lead to sin.
Eph 4:26-27 "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.
The word wrath can be translated RAGE!! That doesn’t sound like an adjective to describe righteous anger. In fact, this kind of anger is what the devil loves to use to cause is to sin.
Wrath or rage can never be channeled into anything that is productive or loving.
Prov 20:22 Do not say, "I will recompense evil"; Wait for the LORD, and He will save you.
James wrote his epistle to fellow believers that were suffering under various trials including persecution from fellow Jews. They had been imprisoned, lost their possessions and even their livelihoods. Under those circumstances, they had a lot to be incensed about. James counsel to them was to cease from wrath (the desire to retaliate).
James 1:19-20 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath ; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
I believe it is a natural reaction of the flesh to desire to retaliate when we are unjustly treated. James, Peter and Paul dealt with this issue in their letters just like David did in Psalm 37. Note what Peter exhorts us to refrain from returning evil for evil.
1 Peter 3:8-9 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
Paul goes on to give instruction as to how we should behave when we experience evil.
Romans12:14-21 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep……..17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably (not passive) with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
That is what David tells us in verse 3 of this Psalm…”Trust in the Lord, and do good.”
Gracia Burnham (Her book: In the Presence of My Enemies) is a wonderful example of the principle laid out for us in the preceding verse, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” She and her husband were missionaries in the Philippines. While celebrating their anniversary at a resort, they were kidnapped by a terrorist group that had ties to Osama bin Laden and were held for ransom for over a year. During that time they were led through the jungle and under constant threat of death every day. After the 9-11 attacks, efforts to recover them were stepped up by the Philippine government. National soldiers finally caught up the with terrorists, a gun battle (one of many they had lived through over the long period of captivity) ensued and Gracia’s husband was shot and killed.
Gracia returned to the United States, recovered from her ordeal, mourned her husband, comforted her kids but never gave into anger or wrath. Instead, after some time, she returned to the Philippines and began to minister to the men who held her in captivity, even leading some of them to the Lord. She saw beyond the evil deeds that these men perpetrated on her and her husband….she saw them with God’s eyes…these men were not a lost cause….they were not beyond redemption. She was the only one that could communicate the forgiveness that God was offering them!! This is an incredible story that reflects to principle, “Do not return evil for evil.”
Secondly , David warns us not to be envious when we see the success of evil men (verse 1). Note what he tells us in verses 16 & 17…” A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.”
As I am writing this, it has just been reported that Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, has died. In the world’s eyes, he is seen as a very successful pioneer who broke down the bonds of sexual purity and monogamy and became wealthy besides. Many people would envy such a lifestyle, but in the end, all his riches and success will not do him any good when he stands before his Maker and gives an accounting of his life.
Prov 3:33 The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. NIV
David’s reminder to us is that we would not grow envious of the material success of evil men.
He tells us in verse 3 to dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness and goes on further to say in verse 25 that he had never in all his days seen the righteous forsaken by the Lord.
B---What Is The Fate Of The Evil and The Righteous?
This truth is best expressed in verse 22: “Those blessed by Him shall inherit the earth, but those cursed by Him shall be cut off.”
The definition for “cut off” here is destroy or perish.
The fate of the wicked is not a pretty picture. And while it should give us some comfort knowing that all injustices we see in our time will be dealt with, it is not an excuse to write people off and not show compassion. Remember Jesus words as he hung on the cross at Calvary, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)
How can we express the same sentiment towards evil men? By understanding who is controlling them:
2 Cor 4:3-4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
1 John 5:19-20 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
As ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom, we are called and commanded to preach the gospel to this perishing generation no matter what it costs us!! Paul said that the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. It’s up to us to share the Good News to the lost so that they might be awakened and set free from the bonds of the enemy.
The gospel message is clear in verse 27: “Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forever more!!” It’s as if David were crying out in the streets, “Repent and believe the gospel!!”
This is our calling in this evil time….to warn sinners or the wrath to come and to implore them to take the way of escape found in Jesus Christ!
So expend your ire on the one who truly deserves it….the Devil!! We need to place the blame where it is due.
Jesus triumphed over him at the Cross and soon he will be judged and cast out. THAT is something to rejoice over!!
Notice what David says we should expect as we speak the Truth in a post-truth world:
30 The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom,
And his tongue talks of justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
None of his steps shall slide.
32 The wicked watches the righteous,
And seeks to slay him.
33 The LORD will not leave him in his hand,
Nor condemn him when he is judged.
Being a Christian these days can be difficult. We should expect much resistance. Persecution is coming…we need to be ready to face it head on or we will be overcome.
First Liberty Institute is an organization that defends religious liberty cases across the U.S. Since 2012, this organization has been documenting the number of cases of hostility toward religion in a book titled Undeniable. The survey documents over 1400 cases of hostility since 2012 and also shows a 14% increase in the past year and a 113% increase in the last five years. Much of the incidents that they and others defend are never reported in the main stream media. Hostility is growing toward Christianity.
Should we be surprised? The word clearly states that we should not!!
1 John 3:13 Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.
John 15:18-21 "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
The brighter our lights shine in this dark world, the more hostility we should expect.
1John 3:19-21 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
As the world plunges into deeper darkness, we must be willing to stand in the light of God’s truth and always be ready to give an answer to anyone as to the hope that lies within us, remembering the promise found in the final verses of Psalm 37:
Ps 37:39-40 But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
He is their strength in the time of trouble.
40 And the LORD shall help them and deliver them;
He shall deliver them from the wicked,
And save them,
Because they trust in Him.