What are they thinking? – Psalm 36

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)

Psalm 36 

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.

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.

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









The Lord is MY Shepherd!

The Lord is MY Shepherd!

As a young boy David tended his father’s sheep. (1 Sam 16:11) In the night watches he learned many valuable lessons for both life and his walk with the Lord. His encounters with the lion and bear prepared him for Goliath. Being anointed King by Samuel only to be sent back to the fields, taught him to trust God’s word even when his circumstances didn’t seem to line up with it.

The skills David learned shepherding his father’s flocks proved invaluable when the time came for him to lead God’s people. Many years later David uses his deep understanding rooted in his experiences in the valleys and in the shadows of death which surrounded him, to illustrate how God cares for His children in Psalm 23.

Psalm 23 has brought comfort to both believers and the lost as they read it and are able to personalize it.

I began writing to simply explore Psalm 23 and get a better understanding of it. But, as I wrote my thought processes began to morph and I have deleted much more than I’ve written. My thoughts meandered and I left the academic and gradually arrived at a destination that was not on my itinerary, a very personal place of rest which was God’s plan before I even began this journey.

I was reminded of my personal night watches and lessons learned and many still forming. Encounters, not with lions and bears, but with people. Encounters which have prepared me for different legs of my life journey, were brought into focus with understanding. An anointing received, yet to be realized. And I am learning to trust God even when I don’t understand.

This post is the first of a three-part series on Psalm 23.

Let the reading begin!


The Lord is MY Shepherd (vvs 1-2)


The LORD is MY shepherd, I shall not want. (vs. 1)

The Sovereign God, the covenant keeping God, the God of Israel is also a personal God who promises to take care of His people.

Jesus is the Great Shepherd who cares for the sheep. (Heb 13:20-21Jn 10:14) He even knows them by name! The picture here is that of a shepherd and his flock. As we follow Him, He takes care of us.

In fact, as one of His sheep I will want for nothing! I will not want for 

  Rest and refreshment (Ps 23:2)

• Restoration and righteousness (Ps 23:3)

• Protection (Ps 23:4)

• Provision (Ps 23:5)

• A place to call home (Ps 23:6)

Because I am in covenant with God, I never have to worry when I follow the Great Shepherd; He WILL protect me and provide for me!

Because the Lord was David’s Shepherd, his needs were met. When the Lord is MY Shepherd, I have whatever I need; and if I don’t have everything I desire, I can rest knowing it is either not beneficial for me, or the time is not right for me to have it.

MY Shepherd is THE GREAT Shepherd!

I need to remember that.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. (vs. 2)

It seems that sheep are stubborn. They don’t have enough sense to know when to lie down to rest, so there are times that the shepherd makes them lie down in the lush green pastures where the sheep don’t have to move from place to place to be satisfied. Sheep have been known to stay in one place and eat until they eat down to the dirt. So, a good shepherd moves them to green pastures where they don’t have to search for food to eat and they can rest.

I am a lot like those stubborn sheep! I don’t know when to rest and often I go from here to there looking to be satisfied. There is always something else that needs to be done, ministry opportunities which need to be taken, relationships needing to be nourished and the list goes on and on! I stay in those fields of opportunity grazing until before I realize I have become parched and dry!

As God’s child I can find spiritual food in the green pastures of God’s Word. It is milk for babies, pasture for sheep, never barren, never eaten bare, never parched, but always a green pasture. (Heb 5:12-14)

Personally, I am in the Word on a daily basis – reading it, writing it, speaking it – yet at times I forget to feed on it.

It is at those times that God makes me to lie down in the green pasture of His word – feasting on its abundance, drinking in its healing and wisdom, gaining new strength.

Since I am so blessed with the green pastures of His Word, I need to be careful not to miss what God has for me there. I need to be intentional and not simply “run through” the fields of His Word but lay down in them and take up residence – rest in them.

It is there that I become quiet and content in my heart and mind, no matter what is raging around me. I can rest in Him.

I need to remember that.

He leads me beside quiet waters. (vs 2)

I have read that sheep are afraid of moving water. The least bit of movement and they will not approach the water; however, sheep will drink from still waters. A good shepherd leads his sheep beside the still waters. They are guided and led well. Not downstream, upstream or anywhere the waters are not still.

When life is swirling around me and I am pulled into its drama I become frenzied, fighting to overcome the rip tide that is pulling me away from my goal! In those times I long for a quieter place, a more peaceful pool where I can breathe without gasping for air, rest and not struggle to get to my destination. Only the Great Shepherd leads me to those waters – all I need to do is follow His leading.

I need to remember that.

As I said earlier this is part 1 of a 3-part series. You don’t want to miss the rest of the story!

Something to think about

Throughout the years the twenty third psalm has comforted people from all walks of life, in the most difficult circumstances. And why shouldn’t it? David writes from the heart about the lessons he learned during his night watches shepherding his father’s sheep.

David proclaims, “The Lord is MY Shepherd!” with an emphasis on “MY.” Alone in the fields all those nights gave him plenty of personal time with God. It was there that David grew in his understanding of who God is and his relationship with Him.

So much of our confusion and pain comes as a result of not knowing God — who He really is, how He works in our lives. Unfortunately, too often we spend more time reading books written by men and women about things in the Bible, listening to podcasts of great preachers and teachers rather than spending time alone with the Lord, reading His Word for ourselves. In a sense, we are eating “already been chewed food”, devoid of the nourishment which is essential for spiritual growth and a godly lifestyle, rather than feasting at His table.

The only way to truly KNOW God is by reading the Bible, spending time in prayer and obeying what God says.  When you know God more fully, you’ll gain power to stand strong in even the most difficult and unpredictable circumstances.  You’ll find strength for times of trial, comfort for pain, and provision for your soul’s deepest needs. You too will be able to say, “The Lord is MY shepherd!”

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