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.
- How is Psalm 37 an example of progressive revelation?
- What is an acrostic psalm?
- 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.
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