Psalm 37 seems to have been written especially for our present time. The wicked, who seem to be taking control over the entire land, will only seem to thrive for a (relatively) short time. Then they will be destroyed.
There are statements here that seem to not fit with reality in many cases. Like verse 25: I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not ever seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed out begging for bread. This was a kind of stock statement in Hebrew poetry, and remember, this is poetry. It is not a theological revelation of ultimate divine truth. There are concrete prophetic statements in many Psalms (like 22 and others), but they must be discerned correctly. Others are not on such a high level of authority, but are poetic sentiments that the Holy Spirit may quicken to us personally. But are we encouraged when we read such statements, then see many examples all over the world and throughout history which certainly contradict them? How is that comforting? Wouldn’t it be far better if it said “Look, I have seen the righteous seemingly cut off and crushed by the wicked, but eventually God will bring true justice.” That would seem more helpful to me than claiming what this verse claims.
We tend to read Hebrew poetry as if it was a math formula. Righteous = happy; unrighteous = destroyed. This is the exact false equation that Job was battling when his friends insisted that he must have sinned to cause bad things to come to him. Without reading Job, we would not understand how to read these Psalms. We need to read ALL OF SCRIPTURE, not take what we want out of context. God affirmed Job’s position and rebuked the friends. So evidently bad things can, and often do, hit the righteous. And they are hitting many righteous people now all over the world this very day.
So what do we draw from this Psalm then? How do we read it wisely? First we understand the long term statement. We may not see it right away, but you can totally trust this truth. The wicked will not ultimately win. No matter how it may appear, evil is not self-sustaining. Evil by its very nature will self-destruct. God’s nature will see to it. And the righteous will eventually be fully vindicated.
This same understanding applies to other passages like Psalm 91. The promises in this famous Psalm of protection are not to be treated like a magic talisman. We take refuge in the Most High and live our life under His Shadow. The promises of protection from rampant evil apply. But if we only see this as an umbrella for immediate refuge from trouble on a mere earthly temporal level without engaging with God relationally about our situation, we will be disappointed sometimes. Yes, there are real miracles related to those who have embraced these promises. There are great manifestations of immediate rescue, protection, and provision. But when there is not, do we then just forget all about God’s promise and abandon our relationship? What then was our relationship anyway? This is where Job is very helpful. Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
We can certainly appropriate these promises for specific situations in real relational living faith, but certainly not casually, as if God is expected to just ‘keep the contract’ legally. He is never interested in legal agreements with us. It is always about an ongoing relationship. Full faith and trust is for the long haul.