Not to Worry: Part 1, Day 1

By James Boice

Theme: A Psalm of Mature Wisdom

In this week’s lessons we look at a psalm that contains some of the best-loved verses in the Old Testament, and learn what mature Christian living looks like.

Scripture: Psalm 37:1-20

An important principle of Bible interpretation is progressive revelation. Progressive revelation means that a doctrine which is introduced in an early portion of the Bible is unfolded more fully in later sections. A good example is the Bible’s doctrine of what lies beyond death. Ideas of the afterlife are rudimentary and even scarce in the Old Testament, but they are developed at length in the New Testament after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The same is true of the doctrine of the atonement. Salvation by substitution is taught in the Old Testament, but it is only explained fully after Jesus accomplished it by dying for his people.

Yet it sometimes works the other way. An Old Testament passage sometimes expounds a New Testament verse more fully. Psalm 37 is a case in point. The eleventh verse of this psalm has to do with meekness and is quoted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). He used it as one of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). That teaching is not explained by Jesus, certainly not in the Sermon on the Mount. But it is what Psalm 37 is about. So it is right to say that Psalm 37 is an exposition of the third beatitude, even though it was written a thousand years before Jesus began his public ministry.1 It unfolds the character of the meek or trusting person in face of the apparent prosperity of the wicked.

Some of the best-loved verses in the Old Testament come from this psalm:

“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this.”
“Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked.”
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

That last verse establishes the psalm as a psalm of mature wisdom. If it was written by David, as the title says it was, it was apparently composed by him in his old age after a lifetime of reflection on the ways of the righteous and the wicked and of God’s dealings with each.

Psalm 37 is an acrostic psalm. That is, each of its stanzas of double verses begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Like most acrostic psalms this one is fairly hard to outline. Mostly it seems to be a string of aphoristic sayings, like portions of Proverbs. Yet certain themes dominate various sections of the psalm as one moves through it, and these give a framework for study. I suggest the following five sections: 1) the quiet spirit (vv. 1-11); 2) the way of the wicked (vv. 12-20); 3) the ways of the righteous and the wicked contrasted (vv. 21-26); 4) an old man’s counsel to the young (vv. 27-33); and 5) taking the long view (vv. 34-40).

We will look at the first two of these sections in this study and the last three sections next week.

Study Questions:

  1. How is Psalm 37 an example of progressive revelation?
  2. What is an acrostic psalm?
  3. Review the outline suggested for this study. Why does Dr. Boice say that this psalm is a psalm of mature wisdom?

1See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 148.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

An Oracle, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: God’s Attributes

In this week’s lessons we are given a stark description of the wicked, while the contrasting attributes of God reveal what God will do for those who belong to him.

Scripture: Psalm 36:1-12

The first of God’s attributes that David mentions is lovingkindness, which we considered yesterday.

2. Faithfulness. The second attribute is faithfulness. Maclaren rightly argues that this has to do with God’s verbal revelation, for only a God who has spoken promises to mankind can be thought of as faithful. This God has done. He has given numerous revelations and promises, and he has adhered unwaveringly to each one. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, “He never fails, nor forgets, not falters, nor forfeits his word…. To every word of threat or promise, prophecy or covenant, the Lord has exactly adhered, for he is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.”7

Saying that God’s faithfulness is “to the skies” does not mean that it is to be found in heaven rather than on earth but that it is without any limits. It means that God is utterly and entirely faithful.

3. Righteousness. The third attribute is righteousness and by it David teaches that God is upright in all his ways. As Abraham before him well knew, “The Judge of all the earth does do right” (Gen. 18:25).

4. Justice. Justice concludes David’s four item list of attributes. He is not thinking here of the final judgment, when the wicked will be punished for their sins and the righteous will be vindicated on the basis of God’s righteousness, which we now know is provided for us in Jesus Christ. He is thinking of God’s justice in human affairs.

The wonderful thing about these attributes of God, says David, is that they are shown to all God’s creation. This does not mean that there is no distinction between the measure of love shown to the godly in their salvation and to the wicked who are not saved. There is a discriminating love which we refer to by the terms election and reprobation. But what David does want to say is that even the wicked, in spite of their rejection of God and his ways, experience a measure of love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice. In fact, David goes so far as to include “both man and beast.” The scope of such grace only renders the rebellion of the wicked even more odious.

The wicked know nothing of the lovingkindness of the God they reject, but those who find refuge in God experience this goodness personally. As he has listed four of God’s attributes, so now David lists four ways in which the righteous are blessed.

1. Satisfaction. David does not use the word satisfaction, but this is what he means when he speaks of the righteous feasting on the “abundance” of God’s house. What is “God’s house”? Some writers see this as a reference to the temple, which can indeed be called the house of God. But there is nothing in the context to suggest this. Others suppose it to be a reference to heaven, in line with Jesus’ saying, “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2) or his stories about guests feasting in the king’s great hall. In my judgment, the “house” he speaks of here is the world in which we live and in which God’s blessings are poured out. The reason I say so is that this is a present feasting, not a future one. It describes a present and continuous enjoyment of God’s bounties.

Spurgeon has a wonderful little story at this point, telling of a father who moved his family from a rather small house to a large one. His youngest child was so overwhelmed with the new home that he ran from room to room, exclaiming about everything he saw, “Is this ours, father? Is this ours?” He had no trouble appropriating the father’s provision and was obviously fully satisfied by it.8

Study Questions:

  1. What does it mean for God to be faithful?
  2. Explain the idea of God’s faithfulness being “to the skies.”
  3. What is David thinking of when he speaks of feasting in God’s house?

Application: Is your life characterized by a delighting in the abundance of blessings that God gives?

7C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 159.
8C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 166.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

An Oracle, Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: Under His Wings

In this week’s lessons we are given a stark description of the wicked, while the contrasting attributes of God reveal what God will do for those who belong to him.

Scripture: Psalm 36:1-12

Yesterday we said that the first way in which the righteous are blessed is in being satisfied, or taking joy in, the abundance of God’s blessings.

2. Joy. Our word for the second blessing is joy, though the word David uses here is “delights.” The interesting thing about David’s word is that it is the plural of the word “Eden” and undoubtedly looks backward to the joys of our first parents before the Fall.9

3. Life. Verse 9 adds two more blessings of the righteous, life and light, doing so, as Perowne says, by “some of the most wonderful words in the Old Testament.”10 Their fullness begins to be hinted at by the Apostle John in the prologue to his gospel, when he writes of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). The prologue makes clear that the life spoken of is both physical, since “without him nothing was made that has been made” (v. 3), and spiritual, since “to all who received him, to those who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (vv. 12, 13). It is hard to doubt that John was thinking of Psalm 36:9 as he composed this prelude.

4. Light. “In your light we see light” (v. 9). Where is the light of God to be found so that we might walk in light and grow as children of light? A glimmer is seen in nature. It is what the heathen have but reject, according to Romans 1. A steady beam is seen in the Old Testament, pointing onward to him who is himself the Light. The full glory of God’s light is in the gospel, which is what we proclaim. Yet the fullest revelation awaits the day when we shall see God in his glory and be like Jesus, whom we will encounter face to face (2 Cor. 3:7-18).

The conclusion of the psalm is a prayer in which David prays for others who know God and are upright (v. 10) and for himself that he may be preserved from evildoers (vv. 11). So confident is he of this final deliverance that the psalm closes with a prophetic glimpse of the wicked who, in his vision, already “lie fallen—thrown down, not able to rise” (v. 12).

What is the final application of the psalm? It is what we have already seen in verse 7. What distinguishes the righteous from the wicked is not the good deeds of the godly, though they inevitably express their right relationship to God by good deeds; but rather that they, rather than the wicked, have taken refuge under the shadow of God’s wings. The words “find refuge” mean to flee for refuge, like a man guilty of manslaughter flees from the avenger of blood. They mean to flee with haste and intensity, stopping for nothing, until by the full thrust of our entire natures we find safety and deliverance beneath the wings and in the unfailing mercy of Almighty God.

That mercy is to be found in Jesus Christ. He said of Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Luke 13:34)! The masses of Jesus’ day missed that great blessing. Do not be one of them. Come to Jesus now.

Study Questions:

  1. What interesting point is made about the word “delights”?
  2. How do “life” and “light” fit together?

Reflection: In what ways do you need to “find refuge” under the shadow of God’s wings?

9David is probably also thinking of a river (or rivers) in the Garden of Eden, when he writes of “your river of delights.” But this is a multifaceted image in Scripture, and other passages may be in view (cf. Pss. 46:4; 65:9; Ezek. 47:1-12; John 4:13-14; and Rev. 21:6; 22:1-2, 17).
10J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 312. Original edition 1878-1879.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

An Oracle, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: Abandonment to Evil

In this week’s lessons we are given a stark description of the wicked, while the contrasting attributes of God reveal what God will do for those who belong to him.

Scripture: Psalm 36:1-12

Yesterday we looked at the first three steps in the wicked person’s decline. Today we begin by giving the last two.

4. Without any restraining influence from what is good, the wicked person becomes so abandoned to evil that he plots it by night as well as day and becomes thoroughly committed to an evil course. At this stage of his or her fall the evil person is not merely drifting into evil ways. He is plotting it, in contrast to the godly who spend the wakeful night hours meditating on God and his commandments. Psalm 1:2 says of the righteous man, “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” David wrote of himself in Psalm 63:6, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”

5. In the end the wicked person cannot reject what is wrong, even when it is apparent to everyone that it is wrong. This is the closest equivalent to the point Paul reaches at the end of Romans 1, where he shows that the person who has been abandoned to a “depraved mind” (v. 28) comes at last to approve only evil. This means that in his depraved thinking the good becomes evil and the evil good. Black is white, good is evil, truth is error, peace is turmoil, joy is misery. Our word for a person whose thinking is twisted like that is crazy. It is correct to say that such a person is out of his mind. He is spiritually insane.

Progression into increasing abandonment to evil is marked by the verbs used to describe the wicked person’s actions. First, he “flatters” himself. Second, he “ceases” to do good. Third, he “plots” evil. Fourth, he “commits” himself to a wicked course. J. J. Stewart Perowne traces this flow similarly, concluding that the wicked person’s “very conscience is hardened, so that he does evil without repugnance or misgiving.”5

Abruptly, so abruptly that liberal scholars speak of two independent compositions awkwardly put together, the psalmist turns to contemplating the attributes of God and the blessedness of those who find refuge in him (vv. 5-9). He lists four attributes of God, followed by four blessings of the godly. In between he indicates how the goodness of God embraces everyone. First we see the attributes.

1. Lovingkindness. The most important of the attributes from the perspective of this psalm is hesed, usually translated “unfailing love” or “lovingkindness.” It’s important because the word begins the list of attributes (in v. 5) and closes it (in v. 7). It also reappears in the closing prayer (in v. 10). Alexander Maclaren has a sermon on this psalm in which he unfolds the meaning of the term, calling it goodness, mercy and grace: “All his goodness is forbearance, and his love is mercy, because of the weakness, the lowliness, and the ill desert of us on whom the love falls…. The first and last, the Alpha and Omega of God, beginning and crowning and summing up all his being and his work, is his mercy, his lovingkindness.”6

Study Questions:

  1. Describe the last two steps of the wicked.
  2. What are the four verbs that describe the decline of the wicked?
  3. How does the second half of the psalm contrast with the first part?

Reflection: How has the Lord showered you with his lovingkindness? Do you regularly praise him?

5J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 310. Original edition 1878-1879.
6Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), part 1, pp. 229, 230.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

An Oracle, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: The Word of the Lord

In this week’s lessons we are given a stark description of the wicked, while the contrasting attributes of God reveal what God will do for those who belong to him.

Scripture: Psalm 36:1-12

Psalm 36 is a lot like Psalm 1 in contrasting the ways of the righteous with those of the wicked, showing their natures, path of life and end. But there are two differences. First, the order is reversed. In Psalm 1, the righteous are described (vv. 1-3), then the wicked (v. 4), and then the ends of each compared (vv. 5, 6). In Psalm 36 the order is: first, the wicked (vv. 1-4), then the righteous (vv. 5-9), and then the contrast (vv. 10-12). The other difference is that in Psalm 36 the section on the righteous is not focused on these persons so much as on God, whose steadfast love and faithfulness they alone appreciate and trust.

The psalm is introduced as “an oracle.” Oracle is a common word in the Old Testament, being used literally hundreds of times. However, it is nearly always joined to the name Jehovah or its equivalent, meaning “an oracle (or word) of the Lord.” What is surprising about its use in Psalm 36 is that Jehovah is replaced by the word for “wickedness” or “transgression.” This led the King James translators to render the verse, “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes,” thereby suggesting that the psalm is an oracle spoken by wickedness rather than by God. This is a strange idea, however, and the older commentators obviously struggled with its meaning.1

There is another possibility, however, and that is that the word “transgression” is an objective rather than a subjective genitive. This is the meaning adopted by the New International Version, indicating that the oracle is not spoken by transgression but rather is about it. That is, it is a word from God about the nature of evil and evil persons.2 The NIV says, “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked.” The verses that follow (through v. 4) fit that description.

The insight given to David, “the servant of the LORD,” in this psalm is not a trivial one. On the contrary, it is as profound in its way as the Apostle Paul’s magnificent analysis of the same matter in Romans 1. In fact, it is likely that Paul had this psalm in mind as he composed the opening chapters of his great letter, since he quotes verse 1 (“there is no fear of God before his eyes”) in Romans 3:18. In Romans Paul analyzes the fundamental problem of human beings in their opposition to God (they “suppress” the truth about God because of their wickedness, v. 18), traces their inevitable decline (“God gave them over,” vv. 24, 26, 28), and shows their true end (“although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32).

This is exactly what we have in Psalm 37:1-4.

David’s great insight is that wickedness begins with the rejection of God: “There is no fear of God before his eyes” (v. 1). Fear usually means “reverence,” and that is probably the case here. But even if fear only means being afraid, which is what we usually mean by it, the analysis is still profound. David is saying that the wicked person is characterized above all else by the fact that he does not take God into account. Like the “fool” of Psalm 14, the wicked person lives as if God is non-existent, refusing to believe that he or she will need to give an accounting to God and be judged by him one day.

Study Questions:

  1. Explain what an oracle is.
  2. According to verse 1, what produces wickedness?

Reflection: What evidences do you see of a rejection of God, both by people around you and in the broader culture?

1J.J. Stewart Perowne says, “Transgression is personified, and is represented as uttering its counsels to the wicked man, and finding the same ready obedience in his heart as the voice of God himself in that of the good man” (Commentary on the Psalms [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989], vol. 1, p. 310). Arno C. Gaebelein says, “The wicked carries in his bosom an oracle” (The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary [Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965], p. 161). But in order to get these meanings “my heart” has to be changed to “his heart,” that is, the heart of the wicked, which is not what the text says. John Jamieson asks, “How could the ‘transgression of the wicked’ speak within the heart of him who in the inscription of the psalm declares himself to be the servant of Jehovah” (cited by C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968], p. 161)?

2H.C. Leupold wisely takes this view, saying, “The psalmist means that deep down in his heart insight was granted to him about what really is wrong with the wicked” (Exposition of the Psalms [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969], p. 294).


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

An Oracle, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: The Way of the Wicked

In this week’s lessons we are given a stark description of the wicked, while the contrasting attributes of God reveal what God will do for those who belong to him.

Scripture: Psalm 36:1-12

Denying that one will one day give an accounting to God has a profound impact on how the wicked person lives, which is what the next verses are about. As Arno Gaebelein says, “Loving darkness more than light, he calls evil good and good evil and is self-righteous and has an excuse for everything.”3 David sees five steps in his decline.

1. Having displaced God the wicked person becomes the center of his own universe and is therefore self-deceived. Nothing is more deceiving than to think ourselves the center of the universe, but this deception leads to others.

Jonathan Edwards in his majestic and comprehensive manner writes of eight such deceptions:

1.Some flatter themselves with a secret hope that there is no such thing as another world. 2. Some flatter themselves that death is a great way off…. 3. Some flatter themselves that they lead moral and orderly lives and therefore think that they shall not be damned…. 4. Some make the advantages under which they live an occasion of self-flattery…. 5. Some flatter themselves with their own intentions…. 6. There are some who flatter themselves that they do, and have done, a great deal for their salvation…. 7. Some hope by their strivings to obtain salvation of themselves…. 8. Some sinners flatter themselves that they are already converted.4

Most of these deceptions have to do with those who will at least accept God’s existence. But what of those who banish thoughts of God entirely?

2. Having lost the necessary reference point for determining what is good or evil, the wicked person is unable to “detect or hate” sin. It is bad enough to recognize sin and be unable to reject it, but it is obviously much worse not even to be able to detect it as sin or be repulsed by it. This deplorable state comes inevitably if we dabble in sin enough. Alexander Pope, the eighteenth century English poet, captured it well when he wrote:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

That is the problem with sinning “just a bit.” We cannot sin just a bit, because the little bit becomes a little bit more until, in the end, we cannot even distinguish right from wrong or understand what we are doing.

3. Since he is unable to detect or hate sin, the wicked person is also unable to speak truth, be wise or do good. Sins of the mind inevitably express themselves in conduct, in this case speech, judgments and actions. Here is the exact opposite of the wise man of Proverbs, who does good precisely because he has the fear of God before his eyes: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).

Study Questions:

  1. What is the first step in the decline of the wicked? What examples can you think of that match the deceptions Jonathan Edwards is writing about?
  2. Describe the second and third steps in your own words.

Application: Make it a regular matter of prayer to ask the Lord for an increasing reverential fear.

3Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 161.
4Condensed from one of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons by C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), pp. 162, 163.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Monday: An Oracle, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: The Word of the Lord

In this week’s lessons we are given a stark description of the wicked, while the contrasting attributes of God reveal what God will do for those who belong to him.

Scripture: Psalm 36:1-12

Psalm 36 is a lot like Psalm 1 in contrasting the ways of the righteous with those of the wicked, showing their natures, path of life and end. But there are two differences. First, the order is reversed. In Psalm 1, the righteous are described (vv. 1-3), then the wicked (v. 4), and then the ends of each compared (vv. 5, 6). In Psalm 36 the order is: first, the wicked (vv. 1-4), then the righteous (vv. 5-9), and then the contrast (vv. 10-12). The other difference is that in Psalm 36 the section on the righteous is not focused on these persons so much as on God, whose steadfast love and faithfulness they alone appreciate and trust.

The psalm is introduced as “an oracle.” Oracle is a common word in the Old Testament, being used literally hundreds of times. However, it is nearly always joined to the name Jehovah or its equivalent, meaning “an oracle (or word) of the Lord.” What is surprising about its use in Psalm 36 is that Jehovah is replaced by the word for “wickedness” or “transgression.” This led the King James translators to render the verse, “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes,” thereby suggesting that the psalm is an oracle spoken by wickedness rather than by God. This is a strange idea, however, and the older commentators obviously struggled with its meaning.1

There is another possibility, however, and that is that the word “transgression” is an objective rather than a subjective genitive. This is the meaning adopted by the New International Version, indicating that the oracle is not spoken by transgression but rather is about it. That is, it is a word from God about the nature of evil and evil persons.2 The NIV says, “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked.” The verses that follow (through v. 4) fit that description.

The insight given to David, “the servant of the LORD,” in this psalm is not a trivial one. On the contrary, it is as profound in its way as the Apostle Paul’s magnificent analysis of the same matter in Romans 1. In fact, it is likely that Paul had this psalm in mind as he composed the opening chapters of his great letter, since he quotes verse 1 (“there is no fear of God before his eyes”) in Romans 3:18. In Romans Paul analyzes the fundamental problem of human beings in their opposition to God (they “suppress” the truth about God because of their wickedness, v. 18), traces their inevitable decline (“God gave them over,” vv. 24, 26, 28), and shows their true end (“although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32).

This is exactly what we have in Psalm 37:1-4.

David’s great insight is that wickedness begins with the rejection of God: “There is no fear of God before his eyes” (v. 1). Fear usually means “reverence,” and that is probably the case here. But even if fear only means being afraid, which is what we usually mean by it, the analysis is still profound. David is saying that the wicked person is characterized above all else by the fact that he does not take God into account. Like the “fool” of Psalm 14, the wicked person lives as if God is non-existent, refusing to believe that he or she will need to give an accounting to God and be judged by him one day.

Study Questions:

  1. Explain what an oracle is.
  2. According to verse 1, what produces wickedness?

Reflection: What evidences do you see of a rejection of God, both by people around you and in the broader culture?

1J.J. Stewart Perowne says, “Transgression is personified, and is represented as uttering its counsels to the wicked man, and finding the same ready obedience in his heart as the voice of God himself in that of the good man” (Commentary on the Psalms [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989], vol. 1, p. 310). Arno C. Gaebelein says, “The wicked carries in his bosom an oracle” (The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary [Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965], p. 161). But in order to get these meanings “my heart” has to be changed to “his heart,” that is, the heart of the wicked, which is not what the text says. John Jamieson asks, “How could the ‘transgression of the wicked’ speak within the heart of him who in the inscription of the psalm declares himself to be the servant of Jehovah” (cited by C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968], p. 161)?

2H.C. Leupold wisely takes this view, saying, “The psalmist means that deep down in his heart insight was granted to him about what really is wrong with the wicked” (Exposition of the Psalms [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969], p. 294).


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

No One Like You! Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: Our Great Adversary

In this week’s lessons we learn how to handle slander and mistreatment in a righteous way, both against ourselves and others.

Scripture: Psalm 35:1-28

Unlike many of our psalm studies, I have saved the application of this one to the end, because it is difficult to apply and because I wanted to get the whole of the psalm unpacked before I did. How should we apply it? Is it right to ask God to judge our enemies, as David did? Can we pray part of what he prayed, eliminating other parts? If so, how do we distinguish between the parts? Or should we reject the imprecatory psalms entirely? Let me suggest the following.

First, we need to remember what I said at the beginning about David not writing as a private citizen but as the king and chief justice of Israel. We are not in that role, of course. We are private citizens, unless perhaps we do serve as a judge or high political figure. The bearing of David’s position as king for us is that, while we must be very careful about asking God to judge those who have offended us personally, there is nothing wrong with asking for justice on behalf of others who have been wronged. In fact, we should be vigorous in the pursuit of such justice. Our problem is not that we are too vindictive at this point but rather than we do not care about justice for other people much at all.

Second, in a more subdued way there is also a sense in which we can pray along these lines for ourselves. It is because we are sometimes unjustly slandered, and it is right for truth to triumph.

But we have to be extremely cautious how we do this. For one thing, we are seldom entirely innocent of wrong ourselves, though we may not see it at the time we are slandered. We must therefore always pray with a humble and contrite heart, asking God to reveal whatever fault may lie in us and so lead us in the way of righteousness. Again, while we properly appeal to God for justice, we are not authorized to take matters into our own hands and so try to do to the other person what he or she has done to us. Judgment is a prerogative of God: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deut. 32:35). The Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Romans with this application: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21).

Still further, although our enemies may be vicious now, it is true that God may convert them. We should never despair of their conversion. The apostle was himself a fierce persecutor of the early Christians, but after his conversion he became the church’s greatest missionary.

Third and last, we can apply the words of this psalm to the devil, for he is described in Scripture precisely as David describes his enemies. He is our great foe, “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 4:8) and a slanderous “accuser of our brothers” (Rev. 12:10). We are like helpless sheep before this powerful enemy. But, thank God, we have a powerful champion and advocate in King Jesus. It is not wrong for us to pray for his help for the confounding of Satan’s devices and to rejoice in anticipation of the devil’s ultimate and certain fall.

Study Questions:

  1. What important things are we to remember if we are going to pray for vindication in response to an evil done against us?
  2. How are we told to withstand the attacks of Satan?

Application: As Christians, we are to care about injustice and mistreatment brought upon other people. How will you uphold the cause of justice and righteousness for someone else in need?

For Further Study: To learn more about how Christians stand secure against attacks, download and read for free the booklet by James Boice, “A Shield for You.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

No One Like You! Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: David’s Advocate

In this week’s lessons we learn how to handle slander and mistreatment in a righteous way, both against ourselves and others.

Scripture: Psalm 35:1-28

Part Two: A Lawsuit. In the second part of the psalm (vv. 11-18) the image changes to that of a lawsuit, and the problem here is that David’s enemies are slandering him, just as, in the previous section, they had been scheming against his life. Is this literal? Probably! For even if there was no actual lawsuit—we have no record of anyone being able literally to bring a suit against the king—the slander was no doubt real, and David is pleading to the Lord to be his advocate.

What chiefly bothered David is that he was being slandered by people to whom he had behaved without reproach. More than that, he had gone out of his way to be kind to them. When they were sick, David interceded for them with “sackcloth,” a sign of mourning, and with “fasting.” When his prayers on their behalf were not immediately answered, he assumed the role of a mourner (vv. 13, 14). He did good to these people (v. 12). What about them? For their part, they returned “evil for good” (v. 12). They accused him of things he knew nothing about (v. 11). And when he got into some unspecified trouble, they gathered around him gleefully to mock at his misfortune (vv. 15, 16). In verse 17 David calls on God to rescue him from “these lions,” and in verse 18 he says that he is going to thank God for doing so.

Part Three. Deliverance. In the last of these three sections (vv. 19-28) the images of a military threat and a lawsuit come together, which make us think that the two might have been parts of a single complex plot to unseat him. The plot had apparently met with some success, for the note struck in this section is his enemies gloating. They were doing that already in section two (vv. 15, 16). Now the word “gloat” appears three times (in vv. 19, 24, 26) to describe their vicious actions.

Nothing hurts quite so much as this. Defeat we can usually handle. But when people rejoice in our failures or mock us in our defeats the wounds are more than doubled. It is almost more than we can bear.

Our only defense in such times is the Lord, who sees what is happening and can be counted on to vindicate us in due time. There is an interesting way of stating this in verses 21 and 22. In verse 21 David’s enemies are speaking gleefully, saying, “Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it.” This refers to the “false accusations” of the previous verse. It means that they are claiming to have seen a wrong that never happened. But notice verse 22. Here David appeals to God’s omniscience, saying, “O LORD, you have seen this.” In other words, God has seen the facts of the case, and these include not only David’s innocence but also that he is being falsely accused and slandered. Surely the Judge of all the universe will do right. God will rise to his defense and contend for him (v. 22).

In the last three verses David wraps the psalm up, asking that those who have gloated over him might be put to confusion while those who delight in his eventual vindication should be present to join him in singing God’s praise. As for himself, he says, “My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long” (v. 28).

Study Questions:

  1. What is probably meant by David’s reference to a lawsuit?
  2. What made this treatment against David particularly difficult?

Application: Have you ever been mistreated and slandered without cause, perhaps even by Christians? How did the Lord help you to move past it and leave any future vindication and judgment to him?


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

No One Like You! Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: David’s Champion

In this week’s lessons we learn how to handle slander and mistreatment in a righteous way, both against ourselves and others.

Scripture: Psalm 35:1-28

This is also the outline of the psalm. Part one (vv. 1-10) develops the second of these two images, the image of the battle. Part two (vv. 11-18) develops the first, the image of a lawsuit. At the end, in part three, both come together (vv. 19-28).

1. Part One: A Battle. I have said that David develops two “images” in the psalm’s introduction and that these are then worked out in the following three sections of the psalm. That might suggest that the battle described in this section (vv. 7-10) or the lawsuit described in the next (vv. 11-18) are not real but are only suggestive of something else. That could be the case, but knowing who David was, as we do, it probably is not. David was surrounded by hostile military forces most of his life, and it is not hard to imagine other enemies spreading false accusations against him, particularly during the times he was fleeing from King Saul or from his rebellious son Absalom.

Two things stand out in David’s description of this military threat. First, his enemies have been scheming against him with the end purpose of taking his life. Using an illustration of how a person might go about capturing a wild animal, David says that they have hidden a net for him or dug a pit (v. 7). Less poetically, he says that they are plotting his ruin and seeking his life (v. 5).

Second, he insists that they have done this “without cause.” That claim appears twice in verse 7, and it reappears again in verse 19. This is not the same thing as David claiming to be innocent. All it means is that he had done nothing to merit the hostility of these enemies. To give a more modern example, we do not have to claim that the people of Poland, Austria, Holland and France were innocent of all wrong doing to say that they did not deserve the onslaught of the German armies at the beginning of World War II.

David’s basic prayer is that his enemies will be caught in their own devices, which is not an inappropriate thing to say. It would be a case of what we call poetic justice. May the violent meet a violent end, he says. May the crafty be deceived, cheaters be cheated, liars belied to.

The unusual thing is that David calls on “the angel of the LORD” to pursue these enemies or drive them away. This figure was mentioned in the previous psalm (in v. 7), but these are the only psalms in the entire psalm collection that do mention him. Who is he? He could be just any angel, of course. But he seems to be a special being, otherwise unidentified, who appears at irregular intervals in the Bible to help selected individuals.

He is first mentioned as coming to Hagar, when she was about to perish in the desert after having run away from Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Hagar called the angel who appeared to her to help her “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13), thereby identifying him as more than an angel. This same figure appeared to Abraham to stop him from sacrificing his son on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:11) and probably appeared to him earlier to announce the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, though the precise phrase “angel of the LORD” is not used (Gen. 18). There are three heavenly beings in that story, two called “angels,” but the third is repeatedly referred to as “the LORD” (Gen. 18:10, 13, 17, 20, 22, 26, 33). This figure is probably the same one who appeared to Hagar. Later he appeared to Joshua before the battle of Jericho to take charge of the Jewish armies, though there he is identified as “the commander of the army of the LORD” rather than an angel (Josh. 5:14, 15). He is the one who was also probably with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the blazing furnace, recorded in Daniel 3.

In my judgment this figure was a preincarnate manifestation of the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, which is why he is regularly called “the Lord.” It is also why he does not appear in the New Testament as “the angel.” Instead, Paul on the road to Damascus, Stephen at his death and John on Patmos saw Jesus.

What does David have in mind in this psalm? Since he is writing about a military threat he is probably thinking of “the commander of the LORD’s army” and is looking to him and the heavenly legions to overcome his enemies. He is sure they will, because the first section of the psalm ends with praise to the Lord who will do it (vv. 9, 10).

Study Questions:

  1. What two points are made about David’s military threat?
  2. Who is the “angel of the LORD”? Where else does he appear in the Bible?

Reflection: How does God’s justice differ from our own?


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.