Tonight, my heart is sad. I have been following the Gaza conflict along with the rest of the world, and it seems so redundant, so inevitable. But for some reason, with all of the pointless death in the world, these last days of war have weighed upon my mind heavily. It is so deeply saddening to see God’s Israel resolving her problems in this way. I feel a great sympathy with Paul’s anguished longing that his blood brothers, who still possess Moses and the Prophets, would seek the Lord.
As I read Psalm 37 tonight, I wondered how many faithful Jews lament the death and destruction that their political leaders are reigning down on enemies and innocents alike. As it has ever been, these battles are about the land. The Land. Israel’s tangible metphor for the blessing and wellbeing granted the faithful. Christians often turn to the Sermon on the Mount when considering how to deal with enemies–those who would take advantage or harm them. It strikes me how much of that message is a recapitulation of Psalm 37. Listen to it again.
Psa. 37:1 Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
Psa. 37:2 for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.
Psa. 37:3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Psa. 37:4 Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psa. 37:5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
Psa. 37:6 He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Psa. 37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
Psa. 37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
Psa. 37:9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
Psa. 37:10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
Psa. 37:11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
Psa. 37:12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
and gnash their teeth at them;
Psa. 37:13 but the LORD laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that their day is coming.
Psa. 37:14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to kill those who walk uprightly;
Psa. 37:15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
Psa. 37:16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.
Psa. 37:17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.
Psa. 37:18 The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever;
Psa. 37:19 they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.
Psa. 37:20 But the wicked perish,
and the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
Psa. 37:21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
Psa. 37:22 for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
Psa. 37:23 Our steps are made firm by the LORD,
when he delights in our way;
Psa. 37:24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the LORD holds us by the hand.
Psa. 37:25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
Psa. 37:26 They are ever giving liberally and lending,
and their children become a blessing.
Psa. 37:27 Depart from evil, and do good;
so you shall abide forever.
Psa. 37:28 For the LORD loves justice;
he will not forsake his faithful ones.
The righteous shall be kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
Psa. 37:29 The righteous shall inherit the land,
and live in it forever.
Psa. 37:30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.
Psa. 37:31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
their steps do not slip.
Psa. 37:32 The wicked watch for the righteous,
and seek to kill them.
Psa. 37:33 The LORD will not abandon them to their power,
or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.
Psa. 37:34 Wait for the LORD, and keep to his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on the destruction of the wicked.
Psa. 37:35 I have seen the wicked oppressing,
and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
Psa. 37:36 Again I passed by, and they were no more;
though I sought them, they could not be found.
Psa. 37:37 Mark the blameless, and behold the upright,
for there is posterity for the peaceable.
Psa. 37:38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.
Psa. 37:39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
Psa. 37:40 The LORD helps them and rescues them;
he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
Many criticize such Psalms for a couple of reasons. On one hand, they come off as vengeful. On the other, they are unrealistic about things working out justly. It’s not true that the righteous always have abundance in famine. There is undoubtedly a distant horizon in the song, however; a vision of “forever.” Be sure that the writer lived a life-long struggle with reality vs. hope. That is the very reason for writing the encouragement. Trust. Wait. Don’t resort to your own vengeance. Act as though things are different rather than participating in the cylce of brokenness: be a foretaste of grace and justice.
It is all the more moving to realize that Jesus, in taking up the vision of the meek’s inheritance, claims that the long-awaited horizon is merging with the present. That distant place–land–where God sets things to rights is becoming a reality in the places where Jesus is present. So it is all the more saddening to know that while his Kingdom is in the process of coming, it is not here yet. It is we who “keep to his way” that are the tangible sign of what will be, yet in the face of wreckless violence we ourselves need the encouragement. Trust. Wait. Do good.
We have heard of the relief workers accidentally killed. May God look favorably on their service and give comfort to their families. I am sure, though, that the ones we do not hear about are our brothers and sisters in Gaza keeping to his way and bearing witness with their own blood. I weep for them and hope in God that they will inherit the land.
A Rich Mullins song called “I Will Sing” seems appropriate.
“I will sing for the meek
For those who pray with their very lives for peace
Though they’re in chains for a higher call
Their mourning will change into laughter when the nations fall
In spirit poor
In mercy rich
They hunger for Your righteousness
Their hearts refined in purity
Lord let me shine for them
Lord let me sing
Lord let me shine for them
Lord let me sing”
I sing Psalm 37 for them.