Psalm 37 has brought me encouragement on many occasions, especially when I am struggling in relationship with those who, for the moment, I may consider my “enemies”. For the most part, I think David expresses a healthier attitude in this psalm toward enemies than he does elsewhere. He encourages the reader of and listener to this psalm (as well as perhaps encouraging himself): “Do not fret because of the wicked.” I think that is the key to dealing with those we consider to be our enemies. We need to stop fretting about them. If we think about them at all, perhaps it is best to pray for them. However, sometimes it is best simply not to think about them at all. We can get so wrapped up in thinking about our “enemies” that it twists our souls into grotesque shapes.
On the whole, this psalm sounds more like a chapter from Proverbs than it sounds like a psalm. David enunciates some general truisms in this psalm that we may find comforting at times, or other times not. I am thinking of parts like verse 25, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” I have sometimes found this verse encouraging when I have been, say, looking for a new job. However, anyone who thinks about this verse very deeply may wish to reply to David and say, “You have not seen much of life outside of the palace, have you?” We might think of starving children in Africa in our own time. Are they not begging for bread? Is that because they are unrighteous? I can hardly imagine the Lord agreeing with David on this point. Perhaps that is why we have a book like Job, to counteract such pious platitudes. After all, Job was a righteous man, and yet he had everything stripped from him, presumably even the ability to earn the bread he needed to eat. We can be grateful, I think, that the Bible is a collection of books with many voices. All of these voices together balance each other out.
Psalm 38 is another one of the penitential psalms, supposedly written by David. I can certainly identify more with psalms like this than I can with the self-righteous psalms. However, once again, I think we find here a false assumption. David says, “There is no health in my bones because of my sin.” (38:3) We need to beware of thinking that sickness is God’s judgment upon us because of our sin. This way of thinking was common to people in biblical times, and perhaps in other cultures and times outside of the Bible. However, this does not mean that this is a healthy way to think about life. Sometimes illness is simply illness, with little rhyme or reason to it.
In Psalm 39, David says, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.” But then he also notes, “I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse, my heart became hot within me.” In other words, David got angry.
I think this psalm teaches us a valuable lesson. We cannot force ourselves to do the right thing, or to be good people, especially when temptation lies all around us. Rather, to become righteous, God must work his righteousness in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, working from the inside out.
Psalm 40 is another beautiful psalm with much encouragement in it. David begins by saying, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”
This is one of the hardest things we have to do in life: wait patiently. I know that oftentimes I am not very good at it. But I have found David’s words to be true, that when we wait upon the Lord, eventually God restores us and sets our feet back in a firm place.
This psalm ends with an amazing thought that is good for us to meditate upon over and over again. “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.” Is that not simply stunning? That the Lord takes thought for me is one of the most phenomenal things in the universe. And I believe it is true. As C. S. Lewis says, God has all the time in the world for each of us. It is as if we are each alone with him, because God is not limited by hours, days, weeks, or years. He lives in an eternal Now.