Why You Walk (Genesis 17)

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” —Genesis 17:1–2

When the covenant was cut with Abram in Genesis 15, God walked it alone. Concerning the covenant promises, Abram had asked God, “How shall I know…?” (Genesis 15:8). God instructed Abram to bring him several animals. Abram cut them in half and laid the pieces opposite one another. Manifest as something like a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, God passes between the pieces. Normally, when a covenant was made, both parties would walk through the pieces, pledging covenant loyalty and invoking a curse on themselves should they fail to keep covenant. But God walked it alone.

In Genesis 12, Abram walks, leaving Haran to journey to the land God would show him. In Genesis 17, Abraham walks before God, keeping covenant, circumcising all the males in his household. Between Abraham’s two walkings, God walks it alone. and it is there, in Genesis 15, where Abram does nothing but believe God’s word, that we are told, “he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

Paul makes a big deal of this order in Romans 4 telling us that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:11–12; emphasis mine). The order is critical. It is an order one must keep in mind when they read “walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1–2; emphasis mine).

Before the sign, the signified. God circumcises before Abraham does. There is a circumcision without which circumcision means nothing. Because God walked it alone, Abraham walks. His covenant faithfulness ensures ours.

Saints, Jesus walked it alone. He walked before God all His days to be your righteousness. He walked to the cross to bear the wrath of the Almighty for your sin. He walked out of the tomb conquering death and Satan. Because He walked it alone, you walk in Him. Because He died and rose, you have died and risen and may be baptized. Because He circumcised your heart, you may love. Because of His covenant faithfulness you may keep covenant.

What Will You Give? How Am I to Know? (Genesis 15:1–21)

“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’

And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’

Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” —Genesis 15:4-6

When all you have is God’s covenant word, you already have all you need. Twice Yahweh comes to Abram repeating His covenant promises (15:1, 7). Twice Abram replies with a lament of faith mingled with doubt.

“O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?…

O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”  (Genesis 15:2, 8; emphasis mine).

“What will you give?” While Yahweh does lead Abram to look at the stars, these simply serve as an illustration of the Word. When Abram doubts the Word, Yahweh gives him the Word. Abram has nothing more in his hand, but the Word is once again laid on his heart.

“How am I to know?” While Yahweh does formally establish a covenant with Abram at this juncture, nothing of the promise is realized. This covenant act is simply one reinforcing the covenant promises already made. God has spoken. Now He speaks louder as it were, still, this covenant act is essentially the promise spoken again. God had spoken. It will certainly be. He speaks again in this act to emphasize to Abram the certainty of His promise. When Abram doubts the Word, God still essentially gives him the Word.

All the days of our pilgrimage, the fullness of the promise will ultimately lie ahead of us. All the days of our pilgrimage, we will have nothing but the Word, sacraments, and our Lord’s covenant presence with us as His people. This is all we need. As we sojourn, as far as the promise of full and final deliverance from sin and of a land not marred by its curse, we have nothing but the Word. And in this, we have all that we need, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. When you doubt the Word, cry out to your covenant Lord, that by His Spirit, He would minister the word of Christ to you afresh.

What has he given? He has given us Christ. He has given us His Word testifying of Christ.

How are we to know? He has given us Christ. He has given us His Word testifying of Christ.

Uncommonly Common (Genesis 8:20–9:17)

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. —Genesis 9:12–15

Everyday of humanity’s existence is full of complaint at the curse come for man’s violating the covenant of creation while little gratitude is shown for God’s faithfulness to the Noahic covenant that preserves creation despite our unceasing sinfulness. We complain of the curse we have merited and offer no thanks for the faithfulness of God in relation to the rainbow that hangs in the sky.

The Noahic covenant might be the most unappreciated of covenants by those bound by it. At least mankind acknowledges the covenant of creation in a sense by his grumbling at its enduring curse. But the common grace that rains down on all man in the Noahic covenant is unacknowledged. It is assumed. It is too common to treat God’s common grace as a common thing. It is not.

All that is, is now, because God remains faithful to this covenant. Even among the saints this covenant is neglected. We study the others. That’s where the controversy and interest is. But among orthodox theologians, everyone agrees for the most part on the substance of the Noahic covenant. Ho hum. So common.

We are the poorer for our lack of attention to this covenant of common grace, this covenant of preservation. Brown and Keele write, 

“At the end of God’s multi-colored bow rests a theological pot of gold. The Lord’s promise not to destroy the world is a covenant, with an integral place in Reformed theology. The Noahic covenant is the covenant of common grace, the realm of our everyday lives under the sun. Its theological significance extends in several directions. It broadcasts how God governs this world and its goodness. It discloses some of man’s obligations and roles in the world, and it even points us to Christ. The Noahic covenant is crucial to a biblical understanding of the world and is a necessary part of covenant theology.”

God’s common grace is comely. It is surprising and stunning. His common grace is uncommonly wondrous. It doesn’t save, but it does preserve. Without this preservation of humanity there would be no humanity to save. Let’s not fail to gaze upon God’s bow hung in the sky and wonder at the rich colors of this covenant with all its blessings of common grace upon creation fallen under the curse for man’s disobedience.

Cutting the Covenants (Genesis 3:14–21)

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, 
      and between your offspring and her offspring; 
he shall bruise your head, 
      and you shall bruise his heel.”

—Genesis 3:15

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said “The real division of the Bible is this: first, everything you get from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 3:14; then everything from Genesis 3:15 to the very end of the Bible.” Not only is this spot the critical point at which history is divided, it is also the point at which the two main branches of covenant theologians part: credobaptists and paedobaptists. So sharp is the division, that some of my paedo brothers would snicker at me thinking myself a reformed or covenant theologian at all. That’s ok. I’ll make my jokes too. Hang around.

Historically, the fundamental parting point between the two isn’t any text dealing specifically with baptism, but in how we understand what is called the “Covenant of Grace.” The Second London Baptist Confession (LCF), also known as the 1689 Baptist Confession, is a revision of the Westminster Confession (WCF). This speaks to the great affinity we have with our Presbyterian brothers. But in examining chapter 7 of each of these confessions, French Baptist theologian Pascal Denault says, “This is the most discordant passage of the confessions of faith. Knowing that the Baptists made every effort to follow the Westminster standards as much as possible when they wrote their confession of faith, the originality of their formulation of the Covenant of Grace is highly significant.” Where chapter 7 of the WCF has seven articles, the LCF has only three. And even where the LCF follows the WCF in form, the content is significantly different. For instance, WCF 7.5 reads, 

“This covenant [referred to as the “covenant of grace” in the previous article] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.”

The next section, after speaking of the fulness that comes in gospel and Christ, goes on to state, “There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.” In contrast, the LCF 7.3 reads, 

“This covenant [again previously identified as “the covenant of grace”] is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.”

Our Baptists forefathers didn’t want to speak of there being one covenant with two administrations, but rather, one covenant that is progressively revealed, and further, it is first revealed as a promise. And surprisingly and beautifully, that promise is housed in a curse under the arrangement of the covenant of creation.

I’ve made the statement that while our presbyterian brothers can get too crazy with the glue, we baptists can get too excited with the scissors. Nonetheless, I believe we Baptists are a bit more mature in our use of the scissors. If my presbyterian brothers are like third graders with the paste here and there, we baptists are like fifth graders with the scissors. But we can’t really boast, because what we are cutting away from is a masterpiece of their making. A savant of a third grader made the masterpiece, but then added some silly little bit. It’s like the Mona Lisa, but with a little Superman flying in the corner. All we fifth graders did was cut away that last little bit and make it better. You’re welcome. Semper Reformanda!

Yet, being fifth graders, we must admit there is room for improvement. May I be so bold as to presume to take the scissors to both the 2nd London and the Westminster confessions? I do so with confidence that Scripture demands it and because the best Baptist explanations, in my opinion, demand such a change. 

I don’t think we should speak of a covenant of grace as being “made” at all anywhere in the Old Testament, as both the WCF and LCF do just prior to these statements (WCF 7.3; LCF 7.2). Instead, I would propose we say that the New Covenant itself was promised in Genesis 3. It is a potent promise to be sure, but only a promise at this point. The New Covenant isn’t covertly established here or there in the Old under an alias only to throw off the disguise in the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ. The New Covenant isn’t made or established at this point, it is promised, and that promise continues to expand and be clarified through each successive covenant.

And it is here where I think our Baptist forefathers got a bit wild with the scissors. Again, WCF 7.5 speaks of the covenant of grace being administered in the time of the law by “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore signifying Christ to come.” While I would never want to speak of the Old Covenant as being an administration of the Covenant of Grace, I do believe we must say that it, along with the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, do minister the New Covenant. They minister it as a promise held out within them. The covenants of old are not themselves administrations of the new, but they do minister the new in promise. This is why Ephesians 2:12 speaks of them as “covenants of promise.” This is why the New Covenant is new! Because in it, what was promised is now established by the shed blood of Christ. We must cut the covenants realizing that covenants are cut. The cutting that establishes the New Covenant is the blood of Christ. 

“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:15–22).

Yes, But What Kind of Relationship? (Genesis 1:26–31; 2:5–17)

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” —Genesis 2:16–17

“Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship,” so many an evangelical says. Ok, but what kind of relationship is it? It is a covenantal one. The saint’s relationship to God is a covenantal relationship and because that is so, we may say it is a religious relationship, for covenants involve oaths, vows, commandments, and sacrifices.

Also, insofar as we say Christianity is a relationship, that alone doesn’t make the Christian distinct from any other man. All men relate to God covenantally. The question isn’t whether or not you have a relationship with God, but what kind of relationship it is? Do you relate to God in Adam, under the covenant of creation, as one cursed, or, do you relate to God in Christ, under the new covenant, as one blessed?

As man fell in Adam, so He is redeemed in Christ. Man fell covenantally. He is redeemed covenantally. Both Adam and Christ function as covenant heads. A study of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 makes this clear and proves illuminating for Genesis 1 and 2. As Adam’s disobedience condemns, so Christ’s obedience justifies. In Adam we see the old humanity, fallen. In Christ we see a new humanity, raised up.

We call this covenant made with Adam the covenant of creation or the covenant of works and it is still in effect; not with promise, but with condemnation. It is in effect on all humanity as violated in Adam. When God makes a covenant, He makes it for keeps. His yes is yes and His no is no. He doesn’t make covenants lightly to break them once man has broken them. Left to himself, this is where man is, covenantally in Adam.

If you think you got a bad rep in Adam consider two things. First, how many times have you proven that Adam represented you well? You are no fine red citizen with an immoral blue representative. Second, if you are to have any hope of salvation, you want it so that another can rep you as your federal head. You are saved in a sense by the covenant of works. Saints, we are saved by works. They’re just not our own. Jesus bore the curse of God for our law breaking and He obeyed the Father perfectly in our place meriting our salvation that we might be clothed with His righteousness. He is the second Adam, the head of a new humanity.

And blessed be our God, things are now far better for us in Christ than they ever could have been in Adam. In Christ, we are not simply made in the image of God; we are being conformed to image of the Son. In Adam, there is the possibility of falling; in Christ, there is the assurance we never will. In Adam, the creation under man’s feet was under threat of a possible curse. In Christ, all is made new, and eternally glorious.

No Longer Strangers (Ephesians 2:11–13)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

—Ephesians 2:11–12

Why study the covenants? Saints, because they’re ours. Your Bible is divided up into an Old Testament and a New Testament. “Testament” is an unfortunate though understandable rendering. “Covenant” is the idea. Old Covenant. New Covenant. That’s your Bible.

It is true that these labels are man made, but they are goodun’s. Read Hebrews again if you doubt that. If you don’t doubt it, then you can reach this conclusion: you cannot understand your Bible if you do not understand covenant. “Covenant” is like the spine of your Bible holding all its pages together. The Bible is thoroughly covenantal. The covenants are yours the way the Bible is yours. Because the Bible itself is covenantal through and through and because the covenants are yours, the Bible is yours.

There are many who would dispute this. Dispensationalist Bibles have weak spines. When you pick up a Scofield or Ryrie study Bible, a lot of stuff falls out. Dispensationalism has been the majority report within Evangelicalism since shortly after J.N. Darby planted the invasive seeds of it in the mid 19th century. Dispensationalism basically sorts all the Bible into one of two boxes labeled “Ethnic Israel” and “Spiritual Church.” Sure, upon close examination they say there are seven boxes in total, but those others are more like jewelry boxes whereas these two are shipping containers. Progressive dispensationalists allow some things to go into both boxes, but for the classic guys like Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, those boxes didn’t leak. Regardless, in both schemes, progressive and classic, there are two distinct plans, one for ethnic Israel, one for the church. The people of God are divided, and thus, so too is the Bible.

But what God has joined together, let not man separate. Two have become one, Jew and Gentile are made a new humanity, a singular people in Christ. All that was foreshadowed in the Old Covenant, the saints enjoy in fulness. Abraham is ours. Our hearts have been circumcised. The blood of the Passover Lamb marks us. We draw near to the most holy place coming to a throne of Grace. We are part of the true Exodus. Like the patriarchs, we are exiles looking for that city whose builder and maker is God. We are heirs according to the promise—the promise made in the Old Testament.

Let us not be strangers to what we are no longer strangers to—the covenants of promise. The covenants (plural) promised (singular) the Christ. In Christ, all of God’s promises are yes to His people, and by His blood, we are part of that people.

The Mixing of Lament and Laud (Psalm 40)

11 As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain 
      your mercy from me; 
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will 
      ever preserve me! 
12 For evils have encompassed me 
      beyond number; 
my iniquities have overtaken me, 
      and I cannot see; 
they are more than the hairs of my head; 
      my heart fails me.

—Psalm 40:11–12

The 40th psalm opens in praise and morphs into petition. Or, we might say we have a petition prefaced by praise, but not in a forced, unnatural, manipulative way. The petition doesn’t betray a hypocrisy in the praise, rather, the sincere praise speaks to righteousness of the plea. Laud is a good warm up for lament. Just as it was a lament heard that let birthed laud (v. 1), so laud now lays the way for lament—the kind of lament that is heard. Petition has led to praise and now praise prefaces petition.

From praise for past deliverances David will turn to petition for his present distress. The experience of previous deliverance prepped David to plea with praise on his lips. Deliverance in this life isn’t prep for a life of ease. It is prep to meet the next trial with grace. The result: praise doesn’t simply follow petition answered, it is mingled with petition given.

In Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy we find said boy, Shasta, exhausted from completing one good and hard work quickly be given another. At this, we’re told Shasta’s heart grew faint and he was in turmoil at the cruelty of such a demand. The narrator explains, “He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.” Here, David, no longer a boy, receives such a trial with greater dignity. Where did David learn such grace? Through the grace of trials. The cycle of petition and praise led to their blurring of lines and the mingling of one with the other. This is a cycle that will persist in this life as we say, “Praise be! Jesus has come!” and “Come Lord Jesus!” This cycle will persist until that ultimate lament gives birth to eternal laud.

Speaking for Silence (Psalm 39)

1 I said, “I will guard my ways, 
     that I may not sin with my tongue; 
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, 
     so long as the wicked are in my presence.” 
2 I was mute and silent
     I held my peace to no avail, 
     and my distress grew worse. 
3    My heart became hot within me. 
As I mused, the fire burned; 
     then I spoke with my tongue:

—Psalm 39:1–3

In the 39th Psalm we see David both silent and speaking under the Lord’s discipline. That is clear. The question is, when is he sinning? The easy answer is to say that David was saintly when he was silence and sinful when he was speaking. But remember that David’s son would later say, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). Mere silence can be mistaken for sanctification, but it is not always so. A silent mouth doesn’t always indicate a quiet soul. It was while David was silent that his heart burned and it was while he spoke that he came to a place of renewed silence (vv. 7–9).

When was David sinful? I think it was both while he was silent and while he was speaking. When was David saintly? I believe it was both while he was silent and while he was speaking. Before you write off David’s words following verse 3 as complaint consider two things:

First, David doesn’t blaspheme God in the presence of the wicked. He lifts up this cry in the presence of God. David isn’t silent, but he is still guarding his lips and thus at least partially keeping his vow.

Second, these words that David spoke were given to Jeduthun, a chief leader in Israel’s worship (2 Chronicles 25:1). This psalm isn’t a historical record. It is a song. It is not just poetic expression. It is a song given by Israel’s king to a priest who is a choirmaster of Israel.

So what are we to make of these words? I believe it is clear that as David speaks, he still guards his words. What you have here is a lament for when your soul wants to complain. Here is a lament that walks right up to the edge of complaint and then stops. The complaint is understood, but it is a lament that is spoken. The complaint is suppressed. The lament is expressed.

Oh what a grace is here for us saints. When our hearts burn and sin is present within, here is grace. Grace for us to have something to sing and to pray that will guard our hearts from further sin. Here is a lament for our lips to guard us from complaint when it is in our heart. Here is a prayer to keep you from grumbling. Here is cry to keep you from blaspheming.

Sin and Sickness. Yep, In the Same Sentence. (Psalm 38)

There is no soundness in my flesh 
      because of your indignation; 
there is no health in my bones 
      because of my sin. 
For my iniquities have gone over my head; 
      like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

—Psalm 38:3–4

In Evangelical, prosperity gospel-eschewing churches one may speak of sickness and offer comfort and one may speak of sin and aim at conviction, but should sin and sickness be mentioned together, we squirm. Fear of being misunderstood cripples us in communicating what we should. And what we should confess is this: all sickness, indeed all sickness, sorrow, and suffering are rooted in sin. They are the fruit of sin. Now, that does not say everything, but this much must be said.

Not all sorrows are due to a particular sin your life, but all your sorrows are rooted in sin. We can even say they are rooted in a particular sin—Adam’s. As sin multiplied, so did our misery. Look around. What you see is not just sin proliferated, but the woes of sin multiplied. True, many of your sins result in no personal sickness, at least as far as we can observe. But this fact allows us to draw this sobering conclusion: there is not a soul among us suffering even a billionth of what our own sins deserve. On this earth men do taste of judgment, but even in the worst judgment in this life, there is still a degree of mercy. Thomas Brooks warns, “He that hath deserved a hanging hath no reason to charge the judge with cruelty if he escape with a whipping; and we that have deserved a damning have no reason to charge God for being too severe, if we escape with a fatherly lashing.”

This connection makes us uneasy for how it can make us uneasy. Every time we get sick we might question whether or not our sickness is due to sin. As I see it, there are only two ways to know this information.

  1. The sin itself makes you sick. This can be more immediate, like a hangover due to drunkenness. Or it can be more removed from the sin, as with a history of drunkenness leading to cirrhosis of the liver. 
  2. Revelation.

As I already spoke of eschewing prosperity gospel heresies, I’ll take it you can understand why I’m not going to run with number 2. Even so, sickness can act like a smelling salt to rouse us to perceive sin that we have been ignoring. This is not to say that perception implies causality. You shouldn’t worry about sickness as though it were a puzzle to solve. You should repent of any clear sin. Done.

All this has been a set up for us evaluate yet another kind of sickness that is related to sin. In regard to the 38th psalm, some believe David is sick due to his sin—that the sickness is punishment for sin. I don’t buy that. I do believe David is ill. But David feels sick, not due to some virus as punishment, but due to conviction. God’s hand is so heavy on his soul, his body bows. The arrows of conviction so pierce that his bones ache. Child of God, have you never experienced conviction of sin so sharply, that you lose you appetite? Have you never felt like vomiting because of your sin? Such is the sin-sickness of David’s soul.

In our therapeutic age this kind of soul-sickness is too often chalked up to brokenness in the body or the mind. Sin has indeed broken the body and the mind. There is common grace to be had in medicine. But there is a kind of soul misery that we try to mask. Common grace is no substitute for special grace. Special grace will not heal your cold. Common grace cannot heal your soul. Sometimes man should feel miserable. There is a misery every soul outside of Christ should know. Many a man’s greatest problem is that he has not yet been made miserable enough to truly deal with his misery. We want to get over deep sorrows as quickly as possible to enjoy superficial joys. Try anything else, and whatever cure you may think you find, only makes you worse. And the worst cure is the one that makes you feel best, while your sin remains.

There is only one remedy for the sin-sick soul. You must cry out to the Great Physician; the very one who as a surgeon is causing your pain. If you are His child, those are not His arrows, they are His scalpel. He hurts to heal. He makes the scalpel feel like an arrow that you might fear God and cease ignoring your Father. God has told you how you must position yourself for Him to heal and until you bow on your knees in repentance, He will persist in causing pain of soul, precisely because He is good and He refuses to allow you to destroy yourself.

ABCs of Theodicy (Psalm 37)

1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; 
      be not envious of wrongdoers! 
2 For they will soon fade like the grass 
      and wither like the green herb. 

3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; 
      dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 
4 Delight yourself in the LORD, 
      and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The 37th Psalm is:

  1. An acrostic: with only a few exceptions, each double verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
  2. A wisdom psalm: one scholar said that this psalm is so steeped in the wisdom tradition that it could be included in the book of Proverbs. Whereas we typically think of psalms as addressing God, this one addresses man.
  3. A theodicy: that is to say it speaks concerning the perceived problem of evil, specifically, the prosperity of the wicked.

Therefore, the 37th psalm gives us the ABC’s of wisdom concerning the problem of evil. It is a memorable catechism justifying the Judge’s justice. Which brings me to this conclusion: when the saints wrestle with the problem of evil, it is not simply that their intellect needs instruction, but that their whole souls that need to be addressed. The theodicy of this psalm, the answer to the prosperity of the wicked, isn’t so much truth that solves the riddle, but revelation that fosters faith in God. You are not told why the wicked prosper now. You are told that it will not always be so.

In Ephesians 5:19–21 Paul commands,

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Here is a psalm for us to admonish and encourage one another to live wisely unto the Lord. Fret not. Trust God. The righteous will inherit the land. The wicked will be cut off. We don’t simply need these truths taught to our minds. We need them sung to our souls by wizened saints who can testify that they have “not seen the righteous forsaken” (37:25).

In the face of the prosperity of the wicked, David’s first counsel is obedience. Fret not. Trust God. Our confusion is no excuse for disobedience or unbelief. And then, to propel that obedience, precious promises are held out. The answer to our soul’s struggle with the problem of evil, as offered here, isn’t truth that unlocks the past so much as truth that unfolds the future. The righteous will inherit the land. The wicked will be cut off.

Fret not. Trust God.