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Do not fret because of evil men

14th September 2013

Psalm 37 starts with these words:

Psalm 32v1-11
Do not fret because of evil men
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.

The first line might be seen as difficult in times when the church seems to be suffering at the hands of evil men more than it has for a long time - particularly in Syria and Egypt. Our brothers in Christ die every day, just because they're Christians. But the Psalmist isn't saying "don't be distressed by the suffering" - of course we should be distressed by the suffering. He's saying, "don't be distressed that evil men prosper". The great Puritan commentator Matthew Poole interprets "Do not fret because of evil men" as "give not way to immoderate grief, or anger, or impatience because they prosper in their wicked enterprises, whilst thou art sore afflicted". Today, we might say "don't let evil people get you down. Don't let their success make you heart-broken, angry or impatient".

And the reason we don't need to fret about evil men prospering is given in verse 2, "like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away." I was reading Daniel 8 recently, which describes in apocalyptic language the rise and fall of Alexander the Great. He conquered the whole of the Middle East and continued as far as India. It's said his empire covered 1.5 million square miles. But he died when he was just 32 years old. He rose, he conquered, he killed thousands, and he died. And after he died, both his sons were murdered. What was it all for? What good did it do? What did he gain? Nothing! And we can consider many more examples: Adolf Hitler, who rose to power, killed millions, died in 1945 and ruined his own people; Joseph Stalin, who killed more people than Hitler, made the Soviet Union militarily powerful, effectively annexed much of eastern Europe, and died. And a generation later, his empire was broken up, his political ideology discredited and his reputation destroyed; Pol Pot killed 4 million, but he died and Cambodia is slowly returning to normality. All tyrants die. All empires fall. All false religions perish. But the kingdom of God continues to grow. And it always will.

And, on a lesser scale, the evil men who ruin their neighbours' lives with violence, drugs and prostitution will also die. And their punishment awaits them.

Instead of fretting, the Psalmist says, we should:

Psalm 32 10v3
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

This is also difficult. Many who Trust in the Lord and do good find it impossible to dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. They're bombed and burnt out of their homes and farms, their church buildings are destroyed, they're imprisoned, tortured and killed. The Psalmist was writing about the land of Israel. He was promising that, if God's people would trust in God and do good, then he would keep them safe in their ancestral lands. The equivalent for the church is not geographical but spiritual:

Luke 12v31-32
But seek his [God's] kingdom and these things [the necessities of life] will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom".

Romans 8v38
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else, in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Returning to Psalm 32, the next verse says:

Psalm 32v4
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I understand this in two ways:

  • Firstly, if we will delight ourselves in the Lord, then we will desire different things - the things God wants to give us.
  • Secondly, there's something wrong with us if we don't delight ourselves in the Lord. He's our creator, our redeemer, our provider, our father, our friend... If we see our problem as bigger than our God, then our sense of perspective is faulty. Nothing is more important than God. I know I speak as someone whose problems are far smaller than many others, but this is still true. When we get our attitude right, putting God first in accordance with Deuteronomy 6v5: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." then we bring ourselves back into a position to have more of our prayers answered.

God is there! God loves you and weeps over your suffering. And God will bring you through into His eternal presence, and there will be no more suffering.

Psalm 32 10v5-6
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

There seems to be precious little justice now. But God is the one who said "Justice in mine, I will repay". The day is coming. When Jesus said "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth", He was quoting this psalm. Listen:

Psalm 32v7-11
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret it leads only to evil.
For evil men will cut off,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy great peace.