The meaning of Psalm 37’s command to “Trust, Dwell, Delight, Commit, and Rest”
This is Part 1 (& a high-level summary) in a study on how the first few verses of Psalm 37 give us a five-part prescription to combatting the envy and anxiety that come from comparing ourselves to others, & helping process the question, “why do good things happen to bad people?” For ease of reading we’ve split this very long study into individual parts, beginning with this and then linking to the subsequent sections at the end.
Do you fret often? It feels strange even typing that, so let me rephrase: do you get “worked up” when you see certain people thriving more than you are? Especially if you think they’re not a good person, or they don’t work as hard as you, or they don’t follow God, or…fill in the blank?
The psalms are a fascinating book, written in poetic verse and covering topics ranging from praising God to Messianic prophecies to lamenting personal trials. And because Proverbs tends to get the attention for practical life advice, we often forget that the Psalms have a ton of it as well.
Psalm 37 is a psalm of David, and he begins by telling us, “Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity” (Ps. 37:1). Fret is a weird word to us in the modern world, and because of that I think we tend to miss what David is really trying to tell us here.
The word translated “fret” (charah, H2734) really means to grow warm, blaze up, be angry, or be incensed. You know that sudden rush of heat and adrenaline you get when something happens to make you upset? Your heart starts pounding, you get a kind of hot flash in your head. That’s part of charah.
So in other words, what David is telling us here is not to get super upset or react intensely when we see people who don’t appear to deserve it get rewarded. Throughout the psalm it really harps on these “evildoers” and “workers of iniquity” and how God’s people shouldn’t get fixated on what they do or don’t get in this physical life.
This isn’t just about “evildoers” in the truly evil sense (murderers and such), but the way we think about our neighbors, our coworkers, and more—whoever you look at and think “Why do things go right for them and not for me?” (or “Why don’t they get what they deserve?”).
The F.B. Meyer commentary summarizes this idea, noting that David is “grappling with the problem of the inequality of human life and the apparent failure of God to reward His servants and punish His enemies as they deserve”.
And honestly this idea is just so relatable. It is a core part of human nature to look around and compare our lives to other people, which is a “wide, easy path to both envy and self-righteousness” (see our study on Comparison & Envy: The Key to Unhappiness).
And it leads to anxiety—focusing on other people instead of fixing our eyes on God.
You might also like: A Practical Approach to Worry & Anxiety in the Bible
What does Psalm 37 tell us to do instead?
Right after warning us not to fret about those people (sure, easy to say!), David lays out his recommended approach:
“Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness
Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass…
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:3-7)
When you skim through those verses, they sound really pretty but also a bit…vague. Like, “Cool, David, love the vibe, but what do I DO with this??? On the surface for a modern reader, these platitudes and abstract commands mirror many other passages in Psalms and don’t seem to offer much practical help.
But once we dig into each command a little deeper, we see that these verses actually give us a clear five-part prescription for the diseases of anxiety and envy brought on by comparison, all having to do with how we relate to God: trust, dwell, delight, commit, and rest.