Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This psalm is mainly composed of quotations and adaptations from older writings, especially the Book of Proverbs (see notes passim), which are strung together with no other art than that suggested by the alphabetical arrangement, all having one end, to comfort the pious Israelite under the spectacle of successful wickedness, confirming him in his trust in Jehovah, and warning him neither to envy the prospects of the impious, nor to despair of his own state. It is by no means a speculative poem. It does not treat the perplexing problems of life philosophically. The poet has one answer, and only one, for the questions handled so pathetically and profoundly in the Book of Job. The happiness of the wicked cannot endure, and the justice of Jehovah will assuredly re-establish the right, punishing the godless and recompensing the patience and fidelity of the godly. This one conviction—sincere expression of the religious faith of Israel at any period before the captivity—is repeated many times, but never departs from the form of simple assertion. No argument is used, for none is felt to be required. Such conviction as the poet’s only needs affirmation. The time of the exile when the hope of regaining the Promised Land was the consolation of the pious, probably produced the psalm.
A Psalm of David. Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.(1) Fret . . .—This verb, repeated in Psalm 37:7-8, is found besides only in Proverbs 24:19. Its meaning is to heat or inflame oneself.
Neither be thou envious . . .—This has a similar root-meaning (comp. our “burn with jealousy”), and so is in close parallelism with “fret.” This verse occurs almost word for word in Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 23:16; Proverbs 24:1. and Psalm 73:3.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.(2) For they . . .—This inevitable metaphor for the brevity of human life, made still more forcible in an Eastern clime where vegetation is so rapid both in growth and decay, and generally in the Bible applied, without distinction of good or bad, with a mournful sigh over human weakness, becomes here a source of comfort to the godly man.
Green herb.—Literally, greenness of herbage.
Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.(3) The alphabetic structure helps the poet to make an emphatic threefold exhortation to piety. Trust in Jehovah; commit thy way to Jehovah; rest in Jehovah.
So shalt thou dwell . . .—The Authorised Version is quite right in taking the verbs in this clause as futures. (Comp. Psalm 37:11; Psalm 37:18; Psalm 37:22.) Emigration, when referred to by the prophets (Jeremiah 25:5; Jeremiah 35:15), is always represented as compulsory, and it was a promise of preservation from it, not a warning against it, that the pious Israelite needed.
And verily thou shalt be fed.—Taken literally this promise may be addressed to the Levites, and may contain allusion to their precarious condition, dependent as they were on offerings and tithes, but the Hebrew may also have the meanings: (1) Thou shalt feed on (or enjoy) stability (or security). (Comp. Isaiah 33:6 : “and wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.”) (2) Thou shalt pasture on faithfulness, i.e., be supported by God’s truth and righteousness as by a rich pasture. (Comp. Psalm 23:1, and, for the expression, Proverbs 15:14, “feedeth on foolishness.”) Possibly both were combined in the psalmist’s thought, for the faithfulness of God is the security of man.
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.(5) Commit . . .—See margin, and Psalm 22:8. (Comp. Proverbs 16:3.) In Psalm 55:22 the word is different.
And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.(6) The light.—The image is from an Eastern dawn and the progress of the sun to its meridian glory. (Comp. Job 11:17; Isaiah 58:10.)
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.(7) Rest . . .—Better, Hush! Be still! See margin. The good man, seeing merit unrewarded and wickedness, on the other hand, constantly successful, is tempted to repine. For a later echo of the poet’s thought, irradiated by Christian hope, we may recur to Coleridge’s well-known “Complaint” and its “reproof.”
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.(8) In any wise to do evil . . .—Better, only to do evil, i.e., only evil can come of it. Comp. Proverbs 14:23, “tendeth only to penury.”
For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.(10) For yet a little . . .—Better,
For yet a little while, and the wicked is not;
Thou lookest at his place, and he is not;
i.e., he has dropped out of his place in society, his tribe knows him no more.
But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.(11) Shall inherit.—A repetition of Psalm 37:3.—Better, are heirs of the land, i.e., Canaan. Christ’s Beatitude (see Matthew 5:3, N. Test. Commentary) widens the promise and lifts it to a higher level. The quiet, unpretending, contented servant of God gets more true blessedness out of the earth, and so more truly possesses it, than the ungodly, though they be lords of broad acres.
The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.(13) Shall laugh.—Comp. Psalm 2:4, Note; his day, i.e., the day of trouble or retribution for the wicked, as we see from Psalm 137:7; Job 18:20, etc.
Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.(15) Their sword.—The lex talionis. (Comp. Psalm 7:15-16.)
A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.(16) A little.—A natural reflection, when it is remembered that great riches bring corresponding cares (Proverbs 15:16), and often lead to ruinous indulgence and luxury (Proverbs 13:25; Job 20:12.) Besides, the contentment which is often enjoyed in virtuous poverty seldom dwells with the mammon of unrighteousness.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the LORD upholdeth the righteous.(17) The arms—i.e., of the body, not the sword and bow mentioned above. In contrast, the arms of Jehovah are under the righteous, and uphold him.
The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever.(18) Knoweth.—See Psalm 1:6, Note.
But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.(20) As the fat of lambs.—It is now generally allowed that this should be rendered as the glory of the meadows, recurring to the image of Psalm 37:2. The next clause may then be either, they are consumed, with smoke they are consumed; or, they pass away, like smoke they pass away.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.(23) The steps.—Comp. Proverbs 20:24; Proverbs 16:9, passages which are in favour of a general interpretation here, not confined to the good man. Render, man’s steps are established by Jehovah, i.e., all the stability in human conduct comes from His guidance.
For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.(28) For the Lord.—In the Hebrew the stanza that should begin with the letter ayin is wanting, but may be restored by a very slight change, to agree with the Codex Alex., of the LXX., the Vulg. and Symmachus. “The unjust shall be punished.”
Probably the transcriber was misled by the tsaddê of the next verse, since that letter and ayin were often interchanged. (See Note, Psalm 34:14.)
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.(35) In great power.—Terrible, like a tyrant.
Green bay tree.—The Hebrew word elsewhere implies a “native” as opposed to “a foreigner.” So here an indigenous tree. “It may be questioned whether any particular tree is intended by the psalmist; but if so, it must have been an evergreen, and may possibly be the Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), which is a native of Palestine. We met with it near Hebron; on Mount Carmel in great plenty; on Tabor, and in various glades of Galilee and Gilead” (Tristram, Natural History of Bible, 338).
The LXX. and Vulg., by slightly altering the text, have, “as cedars of Lebanon.”
Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.(36) Yet he passed away.—This should be, And there went one by, &c. LXX. and Vulg. have, “And I passed by.” (Comp. Prayer Book version.)
Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.(37) For the end of that man is peace.—This is quite wrongly translated, since acharîth must here mean, as in Psalm 109:13; Amos 4:2; Amos 9:1, “posterity.” The parallelism decides in favour of this.
Mark the honest man, and behold the upright;
For a posterity (shall be) to the man of peace:
But transgressors are altogether destroyed,
The posterity of the wicked is destroyed.
So the LXX. and Vulg.