Psalm 37 was written by David and provides an outstanding example for why it is important to take the whole context of a passage into consideration when studying and interpreting it. This psalm has several verses which are taken by some Christians (especially those in “prosperity” churches) as general promises for all of God’s people:
“When famine comes they [the innocent] will have enough to eat” (Psalm 37:19)
“I have never seen a godly man abandoned, or his children forced to search for food” (Psalm 37:25)
“The LORD does not…allow them [the godly] to be condemned in a court of law” (Psalm 37:33)
“The LORD…rescues them [the godly] from evil men and delivers them, for they seek his protection” (Psalm 37:40)
Verses like these sound good to Christians facing difficult situations, but are they general principles? Unfortunately, no, because the context does not allow it. When David wrote this psalm is unknown, but we can be sure that God’s promises to Israel were forefront in his mind when he wrote it. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Moses told the nation in great detail what God would do for them if they remained faithful and obeyed him. That passage describes great prosperity for national Israel in their land.
That last phrase, “in their land,” is important to Psalm 37, because at least seven verses specifically refer to David’s readers possessing their land as proof of God’s blessing (Psalm 37:3, 9, 11, 18, 22, 29, 34). This does not include the other references to their prosperity (Psalm 37:11, 19, 25). All of these things were already promised to Israel four centuries before David wrote. Whatever the situation that caused him to pen these lyrics, he was well aware of God’s promises, and he intended to remind his readers that God was bigger than their oppressive situation. However, as in Deuteronomy 28, they must remain godly.
So are there any general principles that Christians can claim from this psalm? Yes, there are. Christians are promised spiritual blessings rather than physical ones (Ephesians 1:3; 1 John 2:25), and we can find some of them here. Enjoy this sampling and celebrate God’s faithfulness:
“Commit your future to the LORD! Trust in him, and he will act on your behalf” (Psalm 37:5)
“Do not be angry and frustrated! Do not fret! That only leads to trouble!” (Psalm 37:8)
“The LORD laughs in disgust at [evil men], for he knows their day is coming” (Psalm 37:13; see also Psalm 2:4 and Psalm 59:8) 1
- These three are the only mentions of God laughing in the psalms, always at his enemies. ↩