Psalm 37 has become a favorite of mine over the past couple of weeks. I have read this passage again and again, trying to brand the words into my brain. It is an ode to the triumph of good against evil, a song which says, in my words, “Don’t become angry, stressed out, jealous, or fearful of those who work evil and talk against God. Ultimately, evildoers will come to nothing, but the lives of the righteous will never fail.”
What I love about this chapter are the imperative verbs, staccato as pistol shots, found in verses one through nine. For those of you whose long-ago English classes are foggy, imperative verbs give a command, such as “Pass the butter,” or “Drink your milk.” But the imperative verbs in Psalm 37 deal in no such trivialities as butter or milk. They are tense and motivational. At their sharp report, shifting bodies and impatient hooves must spring forward, brawny muscles ripple beneath sleek, sweaty hide.
Psalm 37:1-9 King James 1611 Version (imperative verbs in bold)
Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgement as the noonday.
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.
I am a word freak. This means I look up words. When I looked up the original Hebrew of these verbs in my Strong’s Concordance, their literal meanings surprised me. Six of the verbs: fret, trust, delight, commit, rest, and wait, are labeled as primitive roots and hold connotations very different than the English words used to translate them.
I will call them the Primitives. Below, I give the Hebrew word for each of these primitives, along with its pronunciation and literal meaning. I give Englishized versions of the Hebrew words, since my keyboard does not have the correct symbols to write Hebrew properly.
Fret not: The Hebrew word for fret is charah, pronounced kaw-raw’. This word, which I had thought referred to worry, literally means “to glow” or “to grow warm.” It is used in the sense of becoming hot with jealousy or anger.
Trust: The Hebrew is batach, pronounced baw-takh’. It means “hurry to for refuge.”
Delight: I thought delight had to do chiefly with joy. Turns out in this case, it is really anag, pronounced aw-nag’ and literally means “to be soft or pliable.” It carries the idea of effeminate or luxurious.
Commit: In Hebrew it is galal, pronounced gaw-lal’. Its meaning is “to roll.” To roll? Seriously? I had a hard time figuring this one out until I saw the companion word “wallow” and pictured a pig wallowing deep in the mud. He’s in there for the long term, with no plans for a quick getaway.
Rest: The word is damam, pronounced daw-mam’. It is not quite the gentle, water-lulling word I had pictured, but means “to be dumb.” By implication, it means to stop, to become speechless with astonishment.
Wait: Harmless word, kinda long and boring, right? Or not. In Hebrew, this word is chuwl, pronounced khool, meaning “to twist or whirl.” In essence, it means to dance or to writhe in pain or fear, especially in the pain of childbirth. It implies waiting in sorrow, bringing forth, bearing long, being wounded.
In view of these astonishing primitives, I have written my own version of Psalm 37:1-9. I call it the Lucinda Miller 2014 Version, (liberally paraphrased):
Do not burn with anger at all the wrongs in this world, and do not allow yourself to be jealous of the people who do these wrongs and seem to get by with them. In summer, when you see long field rows of alfalfa fall behind the mower, when you see its green baked into a rusty tan and watch it shrivel in the sun, when the rain comes and you watch the alfalfa disintegrate to prickly wisps of straw–this is what will happen to those who do wrong. Like the alfalfa, they will soon be cut down and wither away.
Flee to the Eternal one for refuge, and do what is good. If you do this, you will live in the land, and truly all your needs will be met.
Snuggle into the heart of this one Who Is without Boundaries, feel the softness of his love, luxuriate in his promises like a woman reclining against pillows while being served breakfast in bed. If you do this, He will give you the desires of your heart.
Roll your plans, your dreams, and your way of life into the greater plan of the Self-Existent one. Wallow deep into his commandments, and never live a life or dream a dream which is outside of what he can approve. Flee to him when you run into trouble. Doing this will enable him to bring your small life and plan, rolled into his greater life and plan, to perfect fulfillment. He will make your righteousness to glow like the sun that rises over the hills, all pink and green and golden, and he will cause your justice to shine as brightly as the noonday sun, illuminating the world around you.
Stop. Stare in awe, open-mouthed and speechless, at Yehovah. He is powerful. Be still and let him work. Wait on him, wounded in heart, writhing and twisting as a woman in childbirth, sorrowful, for there is much that is wrong in the world and much that is wrong in yourself. You cannot prevent the agony, but these contractions are part of the birth. Only wait. You will yet see the birth, and forget the agony in your joy.
Do not burn with jealousy at those who disobey the laws of God and are prosperous. Quit being angry. Walk away from your rage. Do not let anger and jealousy cause you to do wrong. That would be pointless, for wrongdoers will soon be cut off, but those who wait on the Eternal one will inherit the earth.