Do not fret

Last Sunday’s message focused on Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” In the process, it was noted that Jesus is quoting from Psalms 37:11 11 But the meek shall inherit the land…”  (NIV) The word translated “meek” in Psalm 37:11 is the word, anawim, the word for the poor and the powerless in the land. Elsewhere in the Psalms, it is translated as “afflicted,” “oppressed,” “poor,” and “humble.” Before “meekness” is an attitude, it is simply a description of a position in life, a role in society.  It’s a description of the way we see ourselves and whom we identify with.

Psalm 37 begins, “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong…” Psalms 37:1 (NIV) Then, the psalmist gives us a vivid picture of what it means to live faithfully in the midst of evil.  Evil and wickedness are portrayed as characteristic of those who have power taking advantage of the anawim, those who are weak and meek.

One of the reasons we have so much trouble being “meek” is because in most ways, we are not.  We have a good deal of power. We see ourselves as middle-class Americans, the ones who are entitled to power in North American society. While we are not the rich elite, we would often like to “move up in the world” and identify ourselves more with those above us on the economic ladder. But we don’t want to identify with the folks in the urban slum, with those on welfare, or with those who lack adequate food or housing. We certainly have a hard time identifying with the majority in other countries trying to eke out a living on a small plot of land.

Yet, it is only as we identify with the humble, the poor, the oppressed, the anawim, that we begin to understand what meekness is. Indeed, meekness is demonstrated most fully in our reaction to the evil that we begin to feel coming from the powers above us on the economic ladder. More specifically, it is shown in our reaction to those people and policies of power who threaten our livelihood, our means of earning a living, our ability to sustain life itself for our families. In times of crisis, more of us begin to feel what it means to be the anawim, to be like those folks that we tend to look down on as poor and lazy and bad. We are part of a people who feel oppressed by the forces around and above us.

It is at the point of a full and abundant life that we feel threatened. When that threat emerges within us, how do we respond? How is it possible to react in a Godly manner to those who threaten us to the point of our very lives?

Here is where the psalmist helps us. He tells us that it is the poor and oppressed, the humble and meek who are the ones who will truly inherit the land that sustains life.  Verse 11 is not the only place where the phrase “inherit the land (earth)” occurs in Psalm 37. Here is a list. Notice who it is that inherits the land:

Verse 9: …those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land
Verse 11: …the meek will inherit the land
Verse 22: … those the LORD blesses will inherit the land
Verse 29: The righteous will inherit the land

Of course, the point is that it is not like that right now. Even the decent job that we’ve landed, even the little business we’ve started, even the little nest egg we’ve saved for is threatened by the powers ranging from big business and big government to tiny coronaviruses.

In the face of it all, it is tempting to lash out, to rant, to want to harm those we think are responsible, to take out our feelings of helplessness even on those we most love. But in the first 8 verses of  Psalm 37 are the words of encouragement:

1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
3 Trust in the LORD and do good;…
4 Take delight in the LORD
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him…

7 Be still before the LORD
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;

And finally, once again, at the end of v. 8: do not fret…

But why are we not to fret? The answer is “it leads only to evil”…to the very evil that is causing our situation. It’s literally the same word, “evil” in v. 8 and “those who are evil” in verses 1 and 9.

To fret is literally to glow or grow warm, to blaze up in anger and self-righteousness. Following verse 8, from verse 9 to the end of the chapter, the psalmist assures us that if we indeed accept our situation as anawim, the weak, the poor, the meek, and the powerless, only then can we participate in the righteousness of God which overcomes the powers of evil who threaten our lives. The admonitions resume briefly in verse 34:

34 Hope in the LORD
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land…

The psalm ends with these words of hope, the hope of the anawim, the meek ones who trust in God instead of fretting or seizing power into their own hands:

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,

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