Psalms 36–38: The Wicked & The Righteous

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 13: Wednesday

Continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the ungodly drive me away.
There the workers of wickedness have fallen;
They have been thrust down and cannot rise.
Psalm 36:10–12 LSB

Today’s Bible reading is Psalms 36–38. They have these superscriptions:1

Psalm 36: For the choir director. Of the servant of Yahweh, of David.
Psalm 37:  Of David.
Psalm 38: A Psalm of David. To bring to remembrance.

In Psalms 36 and 37 the wicked and the righteous are contrasted, and the care and judgment of God runs throughout these psalms. Psalm 38 is one of the seven penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).2

David plunges into Psalm 36 by sketching an all-encompassing portrait of the ungodly by describing his heart, his eyes, his words, his thoughts: the path of his entire life.

Transgression declares to the ungodly within his heart;
There is no dread of God before his eyes.
For it flatters him in his eyes
For one to discover his iniquity
and hate it.
The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
He has ceased to consider to do good.
He devises wickedness upon his bed;
He sets himself on a path that is not good;
He does not despise evil.
Psalm 36:1–4 LSB

David then abruptly switches his focus to God.

Your lovingkindness, O Yahweh, is in the heavens,
Your faithfulness
reaches to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are
like a great deep.
O Yahweh, You save man and beast.
Psalm 36:5–6 LSB

David continues to speak of God’s loving­kindness in vv. 7–9 as he tells us why God’s lovingkindness is so precious. The last three verses are a prayer of David’s: speaking to God of His lovingkindness and placing the ungodly of verses 1–4 into the context of his petition.

Continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the ungodly drive me away.
There the workers of wickedness have fallen;
They have been thrust down and cannot rise.
Psalm 36:10–12 LSB

Derek Kidner writes:

“The psalmist finds himself stationed on the disputed ground between human wickedness (1–4) and divine grace (5–9); so he turns to urgent prayer. Twice he has praised the steadfast love of God [lovingkindness] (3, 7); now let it reach out to the place of need (10)! There is no belittling of the enemy…But the last verse shows the victory already claimed; it speaks as though the scene were present and clearly visible. ‘There they lie, the evildoers’ (NEB)…

“So the early eloquence was genuine. The evil which David portrayed in the first stanza he was ready to fight; the grace which he praised in the second he was ready to invoke; and, once invoked, to accept as given and as settling the matter.”3

The Hebrew word translated as ungodly in Psalm 36:1, 11, is translated as wicked in Psalm 37. In this psalm David offers us some perspective on the wicked so that we won’t fret or become envious when we see him prosper in his wicked schemes.

Even as the righteous and the wicked were contrasted in Psalm 1, The wicked and the righteous are contrasted constantly throughout Psalm 37.4 Look for the word wicked in verses 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 28, 32, 34, 35, 38, 40. Look for the word righteous in verses 12, 16, 17, 21, 25, 29, 30, 32, 39. G. Herbert Livingston explains the two Hebrew words in these verses:

“In the OT the root rāshaʽ [wicked] is the most important antonym of ṣedeq “righteousness”…

“Frequently, eighty times, half of them in the book of Proverbs, rāshā‛ is placed in antithetic parallelism to ṣed̠eq (the righteous).”5

Alec Motyer writes,

“Psalm 37 is very much a psalm to be read in one sitting, so as to grasp the message of the whole. The theme is announced in verse 1: the presence of ‘evil-doers’ causes perturbation. The true way of life is the way of faith, which, ultimately, is the way of triumph (1–11). Each section from verse 12, opens with ‘the wicked’ (12, 21, 32); the developing hostility between righteous and wicked (12–20); the greater wealth of the righteous whereby they can afford to be unworried (21–31); the final difference of destiny (32–34) — the life of faith is the true life now and for ever.”6

David tells us that God will take care of the righteous and will judge the wicked, and that we are to trust in God and hope in Him; He will be our strength in time of trouble, and help us and deliver us from the wicked.

Kidner comments:

“There is no finer exposition of the third Beatitude (Mt. 5:5) than this psalm, from which it is drawn (verse 11). It is a wisdom psalm: it speaks to man, not God…

“The framework is an acrostic, with a fresh letter of the Hebrew alphabet to introduce each double verse (1–2, 3–4, etc.; but our num­bering falls out of step). As in some other acrostic psalms, notably 25 and 119, this external pattern leaves the poet free to muse on a few themes, returning to them at will, without losing all sense of form and progress.”7

In Psalm 36, David described the path of the wicked. In Psalm 37, he writes of the steps and path of the righteous.

It is Yahweh who directs a man’s steps,
he holds him firm and watches over his path.
Though he may fall, he will not go headlong,
For Yahweh grasps him by the hand.
Psalm 37:23–24 NEB

From my earliest days I must have had people praying for me, because I remember as a little girl lying in bed, turning to God in hope and for comfort by holding out my open hand by my side and pretending that God was holding it. God grasps our hands. He sustains us. He upholds us. I want you to look at Alec Motyer’s translation of Psalm 37:17b, 23–24, 31.8

…Yahweh is indeed upholding the righteous.
It is from Yahweh that a person’s steps are established,
and he delights in his way,
because, when he falls, he is not hurled to the ground,
for Yahweh continues upholding him with his hand.
The teaching of God is in his heart;
his steps will not be shaky.
Psalm 37:17b, 23–24, 31 AM

The same Hebrew word is found in Psalm 37:17b, 24.9 Motyer points to 37:31, and says this about verse 24:

“Steadiness on life’s pathway is the ‘inclusion’ (the bracketing truth) of the whole section [37:12–31].”10

God is the one who sets our feet on firm ground. He steadies us. He holds our hand.

Psalm 38 is a psalm written at a time when David is in deep sorrow over his own sin. Its superscription, To bring to remem­brance, may seem strange, but Kidner has this helpful explanation.

“This agonized cry (the third of the ‘penitential psalms’…) shares with Psalm 70 the title ‘To bring to remembrance’. Since with God to remember is to act, this word speaks of laying before Him a situation that cries out for His help…

“The suffering is multiple. There is a burden of guilt, made all the more crushing by a foul disease, and this in turn has estranged the sufferer from his friends, and given his enemies the chance to plot his ruin. So confession to God mingles with a sense of man’s injustice, and the penitent is also a suppliant for justice.”11

David pleads to God for help from those who hate him and who would destroy him; they oppose him because he pursues what is good. He ends by praying:

But my enemies are vigorous and strong,
And those who wrongfully hate me abound.
And those who repay evil for good,
They accuse me, for I pursue what is good.
Do not forsake me, O Yahweh;
O my God, do not be far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
Psalm 38:21–22 LSB

These psalms are words I need to recall and remember. The wickedness and uncertainty of our present day can be overwhelming. David reminds us not to be surprised at what the wicked are like or at their actions. He tells us who God is in His loving­kindness, His faithfulness, His righteousness, and in His judgment of the wicked and His constant care and help of the righteous. He reminds us:

Do not upset yourself over the evil-doers;
do not become jealous of workers of deviancy,
because like grass, quickly, they will fade away,
and like green growth they will wither.
Trust in Yahweh,
and do good.
Live in the land,
and tend trustworthiness
and find your pleasure in Yahweh
and trust in him,
and he will give you your heart’s requests.
Psalm 37:1–4 AM

Trust in God. Yahweh continues upholding us with His hand.

For a brief overview of the structure and poetry of Psalms see my post, The Five Books of Psalms.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Healthy Feet: GFDL-1.2-or-later. (CC BY-SA 3.0).
1Superscriptions: see my post, The Five Books of Psalms.
2,3,7,11Derek Kidner, Psalm 1–72 (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1973) 60, 147–148, 148, 153.
4Righteous, Wicked,” BibleWebApp. Developed by Digital Bible Society with major contributions from John Dyer and Michael Johnson. Retrieved 29 March 2023.
5G. Herbert Livingston, “2222 רָשָׁע (rāshā‛) be wicked, act wickedly. 2222b רָשָׁע (rāshā‛) wicked, criminal.” vol. II, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds. (The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago IL: 1980) 863–864.
6,8,10Alec Motyer, Psalms By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Ross-shire, Scotland, U.K. 2016) 95, 96–97, 96–97.
9Sustains, Holds,”
BibleWebApp. Developed by Digital Bible Society with major contributions from John Dyer and Michael Johnson. Retrieved 29 March 2023.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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