The Wicked, The Righteous And The Lord

God has given us Psalm 37 to answer the question of what the righteous are to think and feel and do when confronted with evildoers and wicked deeds.

Psalm 37 exists to help us answer this question: What are the righteous to think and feel and do when they are confronted with evildoers and wickedness? That is the question this whole sermon aims to answer. What are we to make of unpunished, unchecked acts of evil and those that do them? What are we to think about this? What are we to feel about this? What are we to do about this? What does this teach us about God (who he is, what he does, and what he is concerned about)? What does this teach us about people?

The point of this psalm, and the other 149 psalms in this book is to help you have proper, God-exalting feelings that have their roots in powerful, God-revealed truths, for walking in the path of God-glorifying obedience. This psalm commands us to not only do certain things when we are confronted with evil. We are commanded to feel certain ways and not feel other ways! We are commanded to have emotions. Right feelings aren’t optional if you are serious about wanting to obey God. If you haven’t thought much about that, it ought to leave you scratching your head. How do I make myself feel a certain way?

That reality may leave you as discouraged as my daughter was when she was a toddler. She was in a bad mood, and told by Johanna to go find her happy heart. She replied, “I can’t find it. It’s lost forever.” How do we make our hearts have certain emotions? Psalm 37 commands us to not feel fret, anger or envy. Rather, we are commanded to feel delight in God. This song helps us answer that question.

Think about what evil is going on in the world around you today. In Sudan, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces is warring against the Sudanese army in a battle seeking power and control. Hundreds of civilians have died and 3,700 of them have been wounded, over a power a struggle. I hear ongoing stories from a Haitian friend of mine of what the roving gangs in Haiti have done to send a hurting country further into violence, hunger and despair. My friend has had to flee his home with his mother and sister. They have no money. He’s lost his job and can’t find work. There are days they have no food to eat. In two months, they won’t have any money for rent and worry about if they will even have a home to live in. In our nation a couple weeks ago, the state of Oregon kept Christian families from doing foster care over evil, gender ideology issues. We can see here in Minnesota even, laws being passed that endorse evil.

In my job, I have arrested people who have done evil things, and they seem to have little or no consequences for their actions. I was hit by a drunk driver, spent a month in a dark room with a concussion, and still deal with the physical impacts of it three years later. The driver received 12 days in jail. That didn’t seem very just to me. Maybe you’ve been cheated on a business deal and lost money as a result of it. I am sure many of you have personal stories of how someone has done evil to you, and they did not have any consequences from it. What are we to think and feel and do in light of this?

Within Psalm 37, the word “wicked” appears in fourteen verses. “Righteous” or “righteousness” appears in ten verses. The promise of “inheriting the land” shows up in verses 9, 11, 22, 29 and 34. These are the big themes of this song. This psalm is an acrostic song. Every two verses begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. In keeping with this flow, the song does not have a clear line of thought. It weaves in and out of these topics.

There are three main points that I have seen in this song. To see these, I think it will be more helpful to move around to different verses within it, rather than work our way through it verse by verse.


Let’s ask three questions of this psalm as a way to understand what the circumstances are that David is dealing with. Who are the wicked and what are they doing? Who are the righteous and what are they doing? Who is the Lord and what is he doing?

Who the wicked are and what they are doing.

First, Verse 12 says that the wicked are marked as plotting against the righteous. They gnash their teeth at them. The wicked are making plans to sin against the righteous. They gnash their teeth; which gives us a picture of a wild animal getting ready for a vicious attack. The wicked do not want godly people to succeed in what they are doing.

Second, the plans of the wicked are so heinous that they seek to put the righteous to death (v. 32). They hate the life of the godly so much, they want to stop them with violence. They want to draw their sword and bend their bows against the righteous. The wicked are on the attack against the godly, against those who are poor and oppressed and whose way is upright (v. 14).

On February 12, 2015, ISIS released photos of 21 Egyptian Christian construction workers that they had kidnapped. Shortly after that, a video was released, showing all of them wearing orange jumpsuits, kneeling along a waterfront in Libya. Moments before their beheading, some of the Christians can be heard saying “O Lord Jesus!”, suggesting that they may have had a chance to convert to Islam and be spared their lives, yet they chose martyrdom. That day, 21 righteous Egyptian Christians had their lives crushed by the wicked who wielded their swords on them.

The wicked are not marked by only physical violence against the righteous though. A third description of the wicked is that they borrow, and do not pay back (v. 21). They look for opportunities to take advantage of people for their own personal gain. David says in verse 35 that he has seen the wicked spreading their evil like a green laurel tree. For a time, for a season, the wicked succeed and flourish in their evil acts.

The wicked and evildoers are those who make plans to stop the righteous from following God, and use things and people for their own goals and their own comfort.

Who the righteous are and what they are doing.

Now, contrast that with the righteous. Who are the righteous? First we see that while the wicked person’s heart has its own personal ambitions, the heart of the righteous is set on the law of God (v. 31). For the righteous, God’s commands are at the center of his or her thinking and motivations. The righteous person is not making plans for selfish gain. Rather, their heart is set, it is dominated by following the path that God wants them to walk. We will see more specifically what this means later on. The righteous set their mind on the Word of God.

Second, the upright in heart are described in verse 14 as poor (meaning oppressed) and needy. The righteous are not strong in their own strength. They are not like the wicked, walking around with swords and bows, exerting their strength and will over the weak. Do you feel weak, needy, and dependent? If so, that is a good place to be for it lends itself to moving our heart towards dependence on God. God’s people are lowly and recognize their utter need for God’s help. That is why they are setting their hearts on his instructions (law). God’s help meets his people through God’s Word. What a comfort that is for me! I often feel undone and inadequate to do what God calls me to do, yet that is where I ought to be. That is where God is for his people, as they acknowledge their poverty and their neediness in humble help before him.

Third, in further contrast to the wicked, the righteous are marked by compassion and generosity (v. 21). While the wicked are using people to their own advantage, the righteous are looking for ways to meet needs, relieve suffering and give to others from their own resources. It is all too easy to develop cynicism, to become hard-hearted, or to complain about the evil and wickedness going on around us. That is a mark of what the world does. For the righteous, because God’s instructions in his Word are on their hearts (the center of their thinking and their motivation) they move towards the needs of people, not away from them. They are always looking for ways to lend generously (v. 26).

Fourth, the things that righteous say are marked by wisdom and justice (v. 30). The way they speak and how they see circumstances around them is marked by the reality that God is in control. What they speak flows from their heart being set on God’s instructions from his Word. If your heart is being dominated by God’s Word, the overflow of that will be sentences that come out of your mouth to others that are full of wisdom and justice. O how we need to have our hearts and minds dominated by God’s instructions and not dominated by news articles and headline stories. The righteous talk differently, because their hearts are shaped by his Word.

Who the Lord is and what he is doing.

In the midst of all this, the David reminds us of three things about the Lord (Jehovah, the Existing One, the personal name of God).

He knows. Take comfort in the fact that God sees all of the acts of evil taking place and nothing is hidden from his knowledge. The Lord knows the days of the blameless (v. 18) and they are not put to shame in evil times (v. 19). The Lord upholds the righteous (v. 17).

He laughs. God is as much threatened by the acts of the wicked, as you would be if I were to threaten to give you a paper cut with a cotton ball. You would laugh at that. God laughs at the acts of the wicked. The Lord laughs at the wicked because he sees that his day is coming (v. 13). This is not a funny kind of laugh. It is a disgusted type of laugh. The Lord is disgusted with evil-doers and he laughs at their measly attempts to exert their own desires, because he knows their day in court is coming. Their wicked deeds done against the righteous, in the span of eternity, are nothing but a stupid attempt to exert paper cuts with a cotton ball. That is what happened on that beach in Syria to those 21 Egyptian Christians. Yes, there was real pain in their death. However, the pain they felt in their momentary death, compared to the glory and joy they received in their eternal new life, is nothing in comparison. God laughs in disgust at the evil acts of these men, knowing that if they will never humble themselves in repentance before Almighty God, they will stand before his sovereign court room on their knees in utter trembling and terror.

The Lord knows. The Lord laughs. And the Lord loves. What does he love? He loves justice (v. 28). God’s judgements and his decisions and his plans will come about, because he loves them and is committed to them. His plans were not stopped when 21 Christians lost their lives that day in 2015. He did not forsake them when their heads were removed from their bodies. His plans will not be stopped in Haiti by roving gangs that kill and rape and steal. God is committed to punishing all acts of evil because he loves his justice and he will not forsake his saints.

We’ve seen that the wicked make plans to stop the righteous, and are concerned with their selfish ambitions. The righteous will set their hearts on the instructions of Lord, in humble dependance on God and have an ambition to help others. The Lord knows all this, laughs in disgust at the wicked, and loves justice.


This psalm gives us specific commands that we are supposed to do when we see wickedness and evildoers, but it doesn’t limit the commands to only doing. We are commanded to feel certain emotions. The psalms are there to stir within you proper, God-exalting feelings that have their roots in powerful, God-revealed truths, for walking in the path of God-glorifying obedience.

Commands to feel.

The very first verse says that we are not to feel envy towards evildoers nor are we to fret. We shouldn’t resentfully long to do what the wicked do, and conversely we shouldn’t burn with personal anger inside our heart that they are getting away with it.

The word fret means to be hot, furious, or burn with vexations. We are being told to guard our hearts against feelings of hot anger when we see evildoers getting away with their wickedness. Do not fret over the one who prospers, carrying out evil devices (v. 7). Do not fret. It leads only to evil (v. 8). Refrain from anger, forsake wrath (v. 8).

Letting fury seethe and percolate within our soul will not produce delight in God. I can feel this kind of fretting bubble up in my soul in my job. We put hours and hours of work into a case, and charge a suspect with multiple crimes. Only to see him get released on low bail, or have multiple charges reduced down to one charge, resulting in little to no jail time. I can feel fretting bubble up in my soul when I hear my friend in Haiti talk about having to flee his home with his mother and sister because gangs are taking over homes, burning people alive, and pushing out missions organizations from doing good work in that country. I can feel vexation bubble up in my soul when I hear that Christians, willing to do foster care, and give kids safe homes that need families, are prevented from doing so because they hold to biblical beliefs on gender and sexuality.

This type of building, burning vexation over evil that I see going on around me, will only lead to evil taking a hold within me. It will take hold of you and me and create within us cynicism, hard-heartedness and envy. You will fall into evil yourself should you fret over evil. So much of the news reporting business in America is designed to stir up fretting within you. Turn off the TV news show and turn on your theology of Psalm 37. Turn off the cable news and turn on The World And Everything In It podcast. Do not feel envy. Do not feel fret.

We will come back to one last command to feel, because it is at the center of all these commands and I want to end there. For now, let’s move on to commands we are to do.

Commands to do.

What are we to do when we see wickedness and evildoers going about their deeds?

First, rather than fretting, we are to trust (v. 3). Trust in him and he will act (v. 5). We are to have confident expectation that God will act, that his judgements will come down on evildoers, and his plans will come to pass. We are to set our minds on this truth; that he will bring forth our righteousness as the light and our justice as the noonday. Criminals who fail to repent of their crimes, and turn to Jesus, will one day find themselves before The Eternal Judge, to give an account of their evil. Violent gang members will stand before the Lord, who is a warrior, and will find their own violence visited upon them. Politicians who enact godless and evil laws will stand before The Lawmaker to give an account for what they did with their time as an earthly authority. Light will overcome the darkness and shine as the sun. Promised light will come.

Second, we are to do good (v. 2). Trust is not passive. We are to turn away from evil and do good (v. 27). Trusting that God will act with his judgements does not infer that we are to sit around passively until the world ends, waiting for God to make everything right. Our defensive position (that we know how the story ends) sets us up well to go out on the offensive (do lots of good). Use what God has given you to do good.

Grace Church, your efforts in supporting Together For Good are one awesome example of that. So many children and mothers have been helped through your good deeds. I have seen incredible acts of financial generosity from people at Grace towards funding adoptions and funding missionaries. The gospel has been shared. Burdens have been lifted. Meals delivered. Discipleship done. These are ways we do good in a world of evil, shining light into darkness. Johanna and I started doing foster care because we were motivated to do good, after I became a cop and started seeing the kids that were coming out of broken homes and dangerous situations. What ways are you doing good in your life now, rather than fretting over evil? We have a lots of ways we can do good! God’s people are marked by their good deeds in a world of evildoers.

Third, be faithful. By doing good, we are dwelling in the land and befriending faithfulness (v. 3). The word “befriend” used here means to shepherd and lead to safe pasture for feeding. We are to feed on faithfulness. Let’s be firm and steady in our acts of goodness, until the end of our days. Do not fade away in your good deeds, or be lulled into comfort and convenience as we age, pulling back or throttling down on doing good. Let’s be found to be doing good, as long as we can, in as many ways as we can, feeding our souls on faithful living for the Lord.

Fourth, commit your way to the Lord (v. 5). God’s people are not marked by their own way or their own feelings. His people are committed to the Lord’s plans. Therefore we do good and trust in him.

Fifth, be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (v. 7). Wait before the Lord and keep his ways (v. 34). Be still before him in prayer. Be still before him by setting your heart on the Word of God. Be still before him by thinking over his promises. Be still before him in prayer asking for God to kill feelings of anger and stir within you trust that he will act in his good timing. Be still. Wait patiently. Keep his ways.

Sixth, mark the blameless and behold the upright (v. 37). We can look around at our church and see examples or what others are doing for good as examples for us on how to live. I’ve been challenged by Stephen Hampshire in his zeal for evangelism. I’ve been amazed at all the work Gerri VanAcker and others have done and continue to do in making Together For Good flourish at Grace Church. I’ve been encouraged by Crystal Quigley’s quiet, steady faithfulness in her Christian walk in the face of many hard circumstances. The list could go on and on. Put examples in front of you of others that are doing good. While the world churns and spins with evil around us, God promises a future reward for those who walk uprightly, and gives them his peace in the present as they do good.

That’s a lot of doing. Where does the motivation for this come from? To do good and not fret in the face of evildoers is not a normal response. How are we do and feel all of this in the face of wickedness and evil?

That answer comes from the the core of all these commands. Verse 4 and verse 31 show where the motivation comes from. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart…The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.”

The righteous are those who have the law of God in their hearts (v. 31), and are seeking to delight themselves in the Lord. Delight of the heart in the Lord is the answer to how we do these commands and how we feel the right way. At the core of the blameless and the upright is that they seek to have a heart that is deeply rooted in God. As you seek to make yourself happy in the Lord, he will give you the requests that your heart longs for. This happens when the law of your God is in your heart.

Psalm 119 shows you what it means to have God’s Word in your heart. I did a sermon back in 2018 from Psalm 119, giving 14 benefits from memorizing and meditating on God’s word. Do you want to delight in God and take joy in obeying his commands? Do you want your heart to feel delight and kill anger? Set your heart on God’s word through desperate, prayerful, memorizing and meditating on it. Rise up before dawn and read it. Put in front of you all the day long. Run to it. Pant for it. Diligently seek it. Search for it like treasure. Cling to it like a lifeline. See it as the comfort it is. Read it for the goodness you will find. Depend on it for the life it gives. Encourage others with it for the hope it offers. Stare at it to see what you did not see before. And pour out your heart in worshipful praise to God for the delight God gives you.

Grace Church, God has brought eternal, massive truths from Heaven into the world we live in, and put them on pages for us to read, to know, and to delight in. He gives us his promises as the rocket fuel for delight of God in our hearts. So let’s finish up by filling our tank with that rocket fuel by looking at the promises that we see in Psalm 37.

O God, may these promises be set in our heart in such a way that we are dominated in our thinking and feeling and doing of them. Help us see a little more into the unsearchable riches that are found in your Word.


The wicked.

First, we are given the promise that evildoers will fade like grass and wither like a green herb (v. 2). To me, the picture of grass fading is easy for me to understand. My grass withers and fades really fast as the summer heats up. Green turns to brown quickly at my house. But the picture of a green herb fading does not have the same mental picture for me. Green herbs seem lush, ripe and flourishing. In the middle east though, vegetation will lose its beauty within a few days after hot, dry desert winds parch the land. They fade even quicker than my grass does. We have a promise that the wicked acts of evildoers will fade. They will not succeed ultimately.

Second, the wicked’s own sword will enter their own heart and their own bows will be broken (vs. 15, 17). This is poetic justice. This is emotionally satisfying. When I’m reading a book to my kids, or we’re watching a movie with a villain, my kids instinctively cheer when the villains own evil schemes come back on him, and the good guy wins in the end. We have that promise in the ultimate battle against evil. God will thwart the plans of the evil so that their own wicked schemes will come back to bring judgement on them.

Third, we are given the promise that evildoers will be cut off from the Lord (vs. 9, 10, 28, 38). Cut off from what exactly? From God! They will be altogether destroyed forever (v. 29). This is referring to divine, ultimate, eternal judgement that God will render toward them for what they have done.

The Lord, the Almighty One, laughs at the wicked in disgust. He sees their day coming. We do not. What we see are the days in which evil seems to flourish. We see the days of the righteous being plotted against. We see the days of the flaunting of sin and success of sin expand and become accepted. The Lord sees the day. The day in which all sin will be accounted for by those who have done it and not repented of it. The day in which all wrongs will be made right. When everything sad will become untrue. The Lord knows. That’s a promise that ought to fill your tank up full with delight in God.

The righteous.

For the people who are godly, that is those vindicated by God, there are so many promises just in this one psalm to ponder. Just these promises alone could be a whole other sermon.

You are better off having little as a righteous person, than abundance as a wicked person (v. 16). The whole of this psalm should move us towards being more abundant with our giving and our compassion and our good deeds, and more small in our lifestyle and our consumption. The wicked do the opposite. They seek abundance in lifestyle and nothing in the path or righteousness. Take an inventory of your life, and ask yourself, if you were to have almost all of your possessions removed, would you still find delight in the fact that you are considered righteous before God? Would you be willing to lose your job for doing what is godly, even if it meant having little? Would you be willing to have a small lifestyle for the sake of being a missionary to an unreached people group? Here’s why this is a great promise. Righteous people who are willing to have little and be content, or already have little and are content, are much better off because they get much of God. They are dependent on him and he promises that he will uphold you. The abundance of the wicked is a slippery slope to hell, but the little of the righteous shows them much delight in God. He gives them the desires of their heart because their heart is set on his Word, and on his Word is where they meet God and know him more fully and deeply. May we be a people that want much of God more than we want much of our comforts and conveniences.

Here are more promises that God gives to the righteous that I will hit on more in rapid fire because of time. Let these wash over your soul like a refreshing shower, for they are massive promises for the righteous. Then I will finish with a final focus on one more promise.

  • He promises to bring forth their righteousness as the light and their justice as the noonday (v. 6).
  • While the wicked have their own swords and bows pierce them in divine judgement, God promises to uphold the righteous (v. 17). He will carry them them, sustain them, care for them.
  • The Lord will not abandon the righteous to the power of the wicked, or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial (v. 33). You may be tried in the court of public opinion in this life. You may lose friends or co-workers for not going along with evil, but when you stand before God at trial when eternity is in the balance, there will be no condemnation for the righteous. They are his people.
  • The Lord has given his salvation to the righteous, and he is their stronghold in the time of trouble (v. 39). There is no condemnation for the righteous before God because he has saved them from their sin. They are made righteous through salvation.
  • The Lord helps and delivers the righteous from the wicked and he saves them, because they take refuge in him (v. 40). The Lord fights for the righteous. The righteous find help and deliverance as the swords of the wicked are swinging and arrows of evil are flying.

The final promise I want you to see is the promise of an inherited land. Verse 9 says that those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land. Verse 11 says the meek will inherit the land and delight in abundant peace. Verse 29 says that the righteous will inherit the land. Verse 34 says that those who wait for the Lord and keep his way will be exalted to inherit the land. Whatever this inheritance of land is, we know that it will be received by the righteous who are marked by meekness, marked by keeping his way, and marked by patient waiting on the Lord.

My question is, what is this land? Where is it? What is it like? When will we receive it? Why is it land that God is giving the righteous? We know in one sense that God gave an inheritance of land to his people when he delivered them out of Egypt and brought them into the land he promised them. But I think God is offering to the righteous something far greater than physical land, here in this world. That would be far too small of a consolation prize if you were to think of it in that way.

Rather, I think David is writing with an eternal mindset here. A land that has a location in eternity. The reason I think that is because David is speaking in eternal ways. Verse 29 says that the righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever. Verses 18, 27, 28 and 29 are speaking in eternal ways. Especially verse 27 which says that if you do good you will dwell forever. Or verse 28 which says that God’s saints are preserved forever.

Jesus brought the promise of an inherited land from Psalm 37 into his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 when he said that blessed are the meek (the poor, humble, lowly and needy saint) for they shall inherit the earth. The reward for the meek, for the righteous, is a great reward in the new heavens and the new earth. This will be a new earth where evil does not run rampant. Where evil does not seem to go unpunished. Even more than that, in the new heavens and the new earth evil will not exist! There will be no victims of crime. There will be no roving gangs that terrorize the weak. There will be no one who takes advantage of other people. There will be no pain. No sorrow. No suffering. No tears. And above all, we will be in the presence of Jesus. The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:43). Were your physical body in this world, living under the curse of sin, to try and see what a resurrected body looks like in the new earth, your eyeballs would melt under the brightness of its beauty. We can’t begin to comprehend the sheer glory and beauty of what is waiting the righteous in the new heavens and the new earth.

And what of the wicked? Jesus promised that he will send his angels to gather all the wicked, all the evildoers, and send them into the fiery furnace of hell. A place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. That is the final and eternal chapter for those who do evil, and never humble themselves in repentance before King Jesus.


The Lord does not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever (27, 29). That is the promise to the man and the woman who put their trust in God. It is the greatest promise that God could offer mankind. The righteous are kept by God for eternity. In the economy of God, he takes what is seen as less valuable by the world (meekness, weakness, compassion, generosity), and elevates it over what temporarily looks like to be of more value (abundance of possessions and selfish deeds). The brilliant, clarifying glory of Psalm 37 is that it helps us cut through the fog of this life and helps us see what is true reality. Psalm 37 is like a piercing shaft of light coming from a lighthouse perched high upon the cleft of a rock. It cuts through the fog to show us the way and avoid the peril of the wicked.

In the face of all the wickedness that is happening in this world (whether it is evil you read about in Sudan or Haiti, or evil you see happening in our government, or evil you have had personally happen to you), are you seeking to have your heart happy in God? This is not a superficial, fake smile, everything is alright happiness Psalm 37 is talking about. This is a deeper, eternal, higher happiness that says, come what may in this life, my heart’s delight is the sovereign, powerful reign of Almighty God. Come what may! My hope is in him for my sights are fixed on a heavenly country whose designer and builder is God. That is where my hope is found. The language and descriptions and wording in Psalm 37 are visual descriptions meant to not only shape your mind in thinking and move your body for obedience. They are also meant to stir your affections for righteousness and build an anticipation of God crushing the wicked and bringing his saints into eternal glory. Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. He will give you himself.

That is what you were made for. You were made love God and enjoy him forever. You were made for delighting your heart in God more than anything else. Yet wickedness and evil is not only what is happening in Sudan or Haiti or at the Minnesota State Legislature. It is happening in your own heart. Do you hate the evil that is going on around you more than you hate the evil that is happening in your own heart? You do evil. I do evil. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all deserve the punishment of the wicked. Yet Jesus, who endured the wicked and evil acts of men who killed him, who endured the cross for the punishment of our sin; had his sights fixed on the delight that was set before him. He endured the cross, for the glory of his Father. To reconcile the righteous to himself and bring them into everlasting joy in the new heaves and the new earth.

Grace Church, may we be a people marked not by anger or resentment or bitterness towards those who do evil. May we be marked by the delight we have in God and the good we do towards others, as we are trusting in the future promises of Psalm 37. Remember Abraham. God promised him a land that he never saw in this life. Hebrews 11 said he saw it, and greeted it from afar, but never received it. So also, may we walk by faith, looking to the day when we will inherit the earth. May we be delighting our heart in God, by looking to a city whose designer and builder is God.

David wrote Psalm 37 as a song. We are a gathering, singing people who see the perplexities of unchecked evil today, and eagerly wait for a promised future of tomorrow. So sing this morning! Delight in God. Befriend faithfulness. Today we do good. Soon we will inherit the land.