What are they thinking? – Psalm 36
This is part 2 of What in the world are they thinking?. To put you in context you may want to go back and read the previous blog, if you haven’t already.
We are living in times that seem to be increasingly evil. Times where right is wrong and wrong is right. As I scan through the news I often ask myself, “What in the world are they thinking?” Recently, as I watched current events unfolding, I found myself asking that question once again. This time God reminded me of Psalm 36, which I had just studied. I had read through the psalm several times but I just wasn’t grasping what it was saying, so I went back and drilled down a bit more. I thought you might need the answer to this question too, so I decided to do a short interactive study together.
You may be asking yourself what I mean by interactive study. This kind of study is a hands-on approach, not simply reading the text, to help students become more engaged with the text, and retain more of what they read. It is a tool to help students strengthen problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which will help you know and understand the author’s purpose for writing. In this short study we will be
- marking words – which slows you down to really see what is there.
- making lists – to lift the text off the page in order to see it more clearly as well as help imbed it in your mind.
- asking questions of the text, Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?
(I suggest you either print this off and work on the copy, or you can mark right in your Bible.)
At the end of the day you will be amazed at how much more you pick up!
Context helps us better understand the circumstance in which something is written. So let’s take a look at what was going on when David wrote this Psalm.
David is no stranger to the schemes of the wicked, often he found himself in the midst of his enemies. I am sure he probably asked God that same question! (What in the world are they thinking?) Overwhelmed by the lifestyle and the wickedness of the ungodly as they plotted their schemes, David knew he had to refocus, and he knew where to find relief. Remembering God’s character and how He had worked in his life in the past, David responded to his circumstances by praying. The Lord answered his prayer with an oracle concerning the sinfulness of the wicked surrounding him.
Let’s get started.
- With that in mind read Psalm 36 without stopping. (We are using the ESV translation)
1 Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.
2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
3 The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
4 He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.
5 Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.
10 Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!
11 Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12 There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise.
Drill down a little deeper
What did you notice on your first read through?
Read verses 1-4. Who is David talking about?
Write wicked in the left hand column just below #1. (This will help you see clearly which group you are reading about)
Mark all references to the wicked, including pronouns, and make a list of all you learn about them. (I use a colored pencil to color the word. It makes it easier to see)
When was the last time you used transgression in a sentence? It is not a word we commonly use. When you see a word when reading your Bible that you are not familiar with you can google it or look it up the old school way using a dictionary. Transgression is “something that is against a command or law. It can be a failure to do your duty. A sin is a transgression against God.”
According to verse 1, what speaks to the heart of the wicked, and how much influence does it have?
Our belief systems determine our behavior. What is the basis for the beliefs and behaviors of the wicked in this verse?
What kind of relationship do they have with God? How does that effect their belief system?
Read back through your list about the wicked. How does what you learn about the wicked help you better understand the answer to the question, “What were they thinking?”
Now read verses 7-12. What group of people is David talking about in these verses?
Write believers in the left hand column just below #7.
Mark all references to the believers, including pronouns. Also mark the wicked in the same way you did in verses 1-4.
Make a list of all you learn about the believers in these verses.
Add any new insights you saw regarding the wicked from this passage, to your list on the wicked.
From what you read in this passage, what do believers base their beliefs and behaviors on?
How is this different from what you learned about the wicked’s belief system? Explain your answer.
Go back and read verses 5-6 again and mark God/Lord and pronouns. (I often use a triangle)
Write God in the left hand column just below #5.
Read verses 7-12 again and mark God, including pronouns.
Make a list of all you learned about God.
In verses 5-6, what are God’s character qualities you see here? How are they described?
How available are these character qualities to believers? Are they limited? Explain your answer.
Steadfast love – The Hebrew word the ESV translates as steadfast love is checed, and is also translated as ‘love’, ‘faithful love’, ‘lovingkindness ‘, ‘gracious love’ or even ‘mercy’ in other translations. The word is hard to define because it a deeper kind of love. It is a unique covenant love that only God can give. That love protects believers from the hostility of the wicked. It is a love, a mercy, a compassion that we can trust in regardless of what our circumstances may be.
A love that never changes, never fails. Always promised, always true.
According to verses 5-9, where can believers find relief from the hostility they are surrounded by?
How will fully understanding that truth help you live by faith and not in fear when you are overwhelmed by the culture you are living in?
David ends the psalm with a prayer in verses 10-12. What is he asking God to do?
In verse 12, what does David see will happen to the evildoers as a result of their wickedness?
Some things to think about
There are two philosophies and lifestyles contrasted in this Psalm, that of unbelievers and believers.
The philosophy of the wicked is based on the absence of their fear of God. Because of this, the wicked continue doing evil with no pangs of conscience, and no sense of impending judgment. The unbeliever soothes his own conscience to hide his sins. His speech is deceptive, divisive and immoral. They plot their evil schemes from the time they get up in the morning, throughout the day, and continue even after they go to bed at night. The wicked have no sense of responsibility to God for their actions, or fear of punishment, because of that they cease to “be wise and to do good.” They are totally self focused.
David’s philosophy of life (and that of believers), is to be based on their fear of God. In contrast with the corruptions of the wicked, an obedient believer’s life is characterized by
- their security in the Lord.
- abundant provisions.
- their lifestyle and understanding of God’s presence.
God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice are inexhaustible resources for believers. Through them God preserves man and beast throughout life, in blessings for believers.
Despite the wickedness surrounding him, David found relief by focusing on God’s attributes, enabling him to not be distracted from what God has called him to do.
In the face of the circumstances that surround us, it is really easy to become overwhelmed by the wickedness. We don’t have to be! We can train ourselves to respond to the evil as David did by
- Responding with prayer.
- Refocusing on who God is and what He does. (In doing, so you will go from a horizontal focus, fixated on your circumstances, to a vertical focus, your eyes fixed on God.)
- Remembering what God has already done.
- Resting in the knowledge that God will do what He said He would do.
In doing so, you will not be distracted from what God has called you to do!
Stand firm! Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go! – Joshua 1:9