With 8:31 left in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons led the New England Patriots 28-3 after a Tevin Coleman touchdown reception. If you are not familiar with football, know that this is a seemingly insurmountable lead.
To catch up with the Falcons, the Patriots would have to score at least three touchdowns, a two-point conversion, and a field goal to keep the Falcons from scoring.
If you turned off the television at the end of the third quarter, you likely would have told your friends the next morning that the Falcons had won Super Bowl LI. But that wasn’t the case. The final score of the game was New England 34 to Atlanta 28.
It’s not how you start the game; it is how you finish it. For almost the entire game, things were going the way of the Atlanta Falcons. It wouldn’t be shocking to hear that some in Atlanta had already begun to celebrate.
Life for a believer can be a little like that Super Bowl. It can seem as if the losses are stacking up and the wicked are prospering (though, as one who despises the Patriots, I might argue that on this occasion, the wicked did prosper).
This was the situation for the psalmist in Psalm 37. When it seems like the wicked are prospering and the saints are being forsaken, it is important that we consider a psalm such as this one.
What Is the Context of This Verse?
Psalm 37 is considered a wisdom psalm. It addresses the issue of the wicked prospering. In Psalm 37:4, we are encouraged to “delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” When you “commit your way to the LORD,” we can trust that He will “bring forth your righteousness.”
But then the psalmist encourages his readers to “fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way” (v. 7). It seems as if the wicked are prospering and the reader must be reminded that “the wicked will perish” (v. 20).
Think back to Super Bowl LI. If during the third quarter, someone had offered to bet $1,000 on the outcome of the game, and if you were a person who wagered bets, you would likely have taken that gamble.
The Falcons seemed like a sure thing at the end of the third quarter. They were prospering. When all the evidence is pointing to a Falcons victory, it would be difficult to sell you on placing a bet for the Patriots.
That is what is happening here in Psalm 37. The Psalmist has to remind his audience of the end of the story because right now, it’s the third quarter, and the Falcons are leading by 25.
What Does it Mean to ‘Consider the Blameless’?
The word translated “consider” is the Hebrew word shamar (שָׁמַר). It means to keep, watch, or persevere. Its primary usage is in the context of guarding or watching over something that is valuable. When the first couple was told to “keep” the Garden in Genesis 2:15, it was this word that was used.
Here the meaning is not predominately that of protecting but more of observing. The psalmist is calling upon the people to intently watch and consider the way of the righteous as opposed to the way of the wicked.
To be blameless does not necessarily mean to be perfectly sinless. It means more to be godly, to be wholesome. It is used more for a person’s relational standing with God. When you read “blameless” in the Old Testament, think less of “being without any sin” and more along the line of “trusting the LORD.”
So, what the psalmist is saying here, then, is to intently observe the destiny of those who are trusting in YHWH as opposed to those who are “the wicked” who are rejecting the path of YHWH.
What Does it Mean to ‘Observe the Upright’?
We are also told in this verse to “observe the upright.” The word used for “observe” is the Hebrew word raah (רָאָה), and it means “to see.” In Genesis 1:4, God saw that the light was good. “Saw” in that verse is the word raah.
In Psalm 37:37, the meaning is probably something like “pay attention.” Once again, the reader is called upon to fix their eyes upon the destiny of those who are trusting in the LORD as opposed to the wicked.
Here the “upright” are contrasted with those who are “crooked.” To be upright is to “follow the straight and narrow.”
In both “consider the blameless” and “observe the upright,” the meaning is similar. We are to pay attention and look carefully at the destination of those who are trusting in the Lord and living according to His standards. Do things ultimately end well for them? Or do they end up forsaken? Do they end up victorious?
How Do We Apply This Today?
At first glance, Psalm 37 might seem to be an entirely pragmatic approach to life. It can seem as if the psalmist is saying something like, “if you trust in God, things will turn out well for you.”
And in one sense, that is precisely what God’s Word is saying in this psalm. But not quite in the way that we tend to think of “turn out well.”
Psalm 37 isn’t telling us that if you trust in God, then everything in this life will turn out wonderfully, and you will inevitably prosper. Yes, it is true that following the path of the Lord likely leads to things working better.
God created the world, and so he knows how best it works. Following the wisdom of Proverbs will likely lead to a better life. But this is not the primary point of the psalmist.
Instead, the psalmist has his sites aimed on eternity. Allan Harman says it well:
“The object of this attention is the righteous man, called here ‘the blameless’ (see on Psalm 15:2 and 18:23) and ‘the upright.’ His final end (niv ‘future’) is one of well-being and prosperity. His character and his destiny stand in marked contrast to the man of violence (v. 35). All transgressors will be destroyed, for at the end they will be cut off by the Lord” (Psalms: A Mentor Commentary).
Things like this might not be readily apparent. Both believers and unbelievers die. Yet, it truly is a different experience.
This is entirely anecdotal, but as a pastor, I have been with both believers and unbelievers as they have died. I have grieved with the families of believers and the families of those who were not trusting in Christ.
And let me tell you, it is a markedly different situation. I have been with unbelievers as they rejected Christ to the bitter end, and they met death with terror. And I have been with believers who have sweetly passed into eternity.
I am not attempting to argue that this is always the case, but as a general rule, this has been my experience. There is despair that comes upon those who do not know Christ.
As they come to the end and everything is washed away, and they seem to be in their own hands as they await death — they often hang on for dear life.
Yet, with believers, there is often a sweet resignation as they commit themselves to the hands of the Lord.
In my experience, Psalm 37:37 is indeed true. It is better for those who are trusting in the Lord. We do well to consider the way of the blameless. We do well to consider the end of the story and live accordingly.
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