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David's Commentaries

Psalm 37:1 ‘Fret not thyself because of evil-doers.’

This Week’s Focus Passage: Psalm 37:1

‘Fret not thyself because of evil-doers.’

    The American Standard Version-1901, (ASV-1901), is one of the many English versions of the Holy Bible, of which we are aware, that contains the word, ‘fret’ and it contains it in seven places; and three of those seven are found in our Psalm. Here as a negative action verb, Fret not. In Leviticus 13:53, as a noun; we may see this in the passage which has reference to priests testing for leprosy:

And the priest shall look, after that the plague is washed; and, behold, if the plague have not changed its color, and the plague be not spread, it is unclean; thou shalt burn it in the fire: it is a fret, whether the bareness be within or without.

The Hebrew word here translated ‘fret,’ is a noun that represents ‘a deep-pitted fret of leprosy.’ We are reminded of the attack of Satan, permitted by Jehovah, upon the body of Job. It is written, that Satan ‘smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.’ John Gill tells us that ‘many are the conjectures of learned men about this disease of Job’s, some taking it to be the leprosy.’ If that be so, it is most likely that it was the ‘fretting leprosy’ of which we read elsewhere in Leviticus; in verses 13:41, 42;     and, 14:44. 

    If it be a ‘deep-pitted fret of leprosy,’ in an emotional, or psychological sense, as we believe it is here in our psalm, and like unto Hannah’s fretting through the provocations of her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, because she had children, while Hannah had no children; so that we find, in 1 Samuel 1:6; 

And her rival provoked her sore, to make her fret, because Jehovah had shut up her womb;

so that Wilson would say, of this fretting, that it was ‘used of a commotion that is attended with noise; of the inward commotion of the mind attended with moans or complaints.’ That is precisely what we read of Hannah; ‘she wept and did not eat.’

    This is the fret of which David speaks here in Psalm 37:1, and he makes use of it twice again, in verse seven, Fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way. And in verse eight, Fret not thyself, it tendeth only to evil-doing. These are each examples of the proverbial concept found in this psalm, a speaking to the reader, rather than a speaking unto Jehovah, as David has done, almost exclusively, in the majority of his psalms; whether in praising or praying. In point of fact, the son of David, the author of most of the Proverbs, of the book which follows the Psalms, and in 24:19, has written, nearly verbatim, these very words;

Fret not thyself because of evil-doers; Neither be thou envious at the wicked. This suggests, itself, the alleged proverbial nature of our psalm.

    David, in our Psalm 37, is presenting in this manner, these many proverbs for our elucidation, for instruction, for wisdom to, hopefully, be received. Writing a devotional commentary on Proverbs, one writer has given an assessment of the book. “Among all the books of the Bible, Proverbs is most aptly styled ‘wisdom literature,” being intensely practical in nature. Its precepts obeyed bring success into the life of any person regardless of his creed, denomination, or doctrinal persuasion. Yet, its timeless truths are not to be understood as standing apart from, or in any way independent of the great Central Figure of all the scriptures, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s glory is reflected in its counsel, His person is revealed in its similitudes, metaphors, and examples, and His everlasting gospel is held forth in the calls, pleadings, and invitations of Wisdom personified, even He Who is made unto His people “wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

    With these considerations kept in our thoughts, let us reflect upon the things taught ‘proverbially’ in our Psalm; specifically, in this very first verse. David would have us to take this instruction very seriously, for our own good, and that of others. We are wisely directed, ‘Fret not.’ Just what is it to fret? This word does not readily come upon our tongues; it is rather old-fashioned, so that neither do we often hear it uttered. Synonyms can help us to better understand the usage of a word. Some of the synonyms for fret, are the following; agonize, brood, chafe, fume, fuss, grieve. This last word, grieve, was used by Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, when he would question her ‘fretting’ over being childless. He asked, why is thy heart grieved? This suggests powerfully the reality that, when we fret, it is not commonly only unto ourselves; we are, frankly, visible complainers; murmurers. Some of the synonyms that are spoken of above, have been employed by translators in our English version of the Scriptures. They include, in place of, to make her fret, ‘to make her miserable, to make her angry, to upset her; and one particular favorite, to irritate her. Whenever a professed child of God is demonstrably miserable, angry, upset, or irritated; they are bringing negativity toward the gospel, and the One who is the Gospel itself, our Lord Christ.

    Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious against them that work unrighteousness. The remedy is powerfully and clearly implied in the exhortations which follow this challenge, when David directs us to proper behavior; Trust in Jehovah, and do good; Delight thyself also in Jehovah, and he will give thee the desires of thy heart, Commit thy way unto Jehovah, Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for him; verses 3-7. God the Holy Spirit, in His work of inspiration in the Word of God, has graciously provided the believing reader of the Scriptures with a grand parallel upon this teaching. It is found in Psalm 73, of which Asaph has written of his folly. He exposes his struggles with faith, when he complains to the Father; Surely God is good to Israel, Even to such as are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; My steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the arrogant, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death; But their strength is firm. We see here that Asaph fretting and grieving has brought him, not only to doubt his faith, but to doubt his God. And not only to doubt his God, but remove his trust in the Word of God. He has been disabled from having true understanding of the plight of the wicked. He imagines that they are prosperous,  and perhaps they are in material things. He extends this error when he asserts that they are not in trouble as other men, like Asaph himself. He argues further, Neither ,are they plagued like other men. His understanding of truth has turned upside-down. When he insists that there are no pangs in their death he continues to deceive himself as he fails to trust the Word of the living God. Perhaps he witnessed some unbeliever as that person met death with no apparent fear. We recall that, several years ago, it was reported by a nephew of the British actor, David Niven, that his uncle gave him a ‘thumbs up’ as a final gesture. Be not deceived, Paul has written (1 Cor. 6:9-10), neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 

    We find ourselves, or others, at the passing of some person, that ‘now they know the truth.’ We can’t say, with certainty, that Asaph now knows the truth, but we do suspect that he does. And if so, he likely has become familiar with the account of ‘the rich man and Lazarus.’ You will recall the words of the rich man who ‘was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day;’ who, when he died, lifted up his eyes, being in torment.’ He may well have given his five brethren, a grand ‘thumbs up,’ which now avails him nothing. Asaph has been led to provide the remedy for fretting, or murmuring, against God and His ways, when we read the following, after his painful, and incorrect assessments of the wicked and, concluding that, It was too painful for me. But don’t miss out on ‘the rest of the story,’ for he immediately relates, Until I went into the sanctuary of God, and considered their latter end. Now I can rather inquire, Whom have I in heaven but thee, And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. Whenever we may find ourselves fretting, or been tempted to fret, remember the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16. J.C. Ryle has left us the following remark about this rich man; and we may say, David Niven. 

    “The fathers, and all commentators have justly dwelt here on the awful contrast between the state of the rich man before death and after death, and the complete change between his condition and that of Lazarus in another world.” And do not forget Asaph, in Psalm 73. Praise God for His mercy through Jesus Christ.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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