Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The steps of a good man

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” – Psalm 37:23 [bold emphasis mine, rlv]

Question. Who is “he” and who is “his” in the second line of Psalm 37:23? What is the antecedent (or antecedents) of these pronouns?[i]

The question seems to be whether “he” and “his” refers to the Lord to the “good man.” Grammatically the pronouns seem ambiguous, so that “he” and “his” could be either the man or the Lord. Perhaps it is thus written so that we might know that the good way ordered by the Lord is pleasing both to the Lord who orders it and to the man who walks in it. It might be understood of God’s satisfaction in the good man’s life (directed by God according to God’s way), or it might be understood of the good man’s acceptance of and enjoyment in God’s path for him. Certainly there is ultimate truth in this fact.

Nevertheless, I think the primary meaning is this: The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and the Lord delighteth in the Lord’s way that the man is walking (i.e. the way the Lord has ordered and the man is walking). This interpretation reaches back to the closest noun as the antecedent of the pronouns,[ii] and fits well with the context and other scriptures that speak similar truths (e.g. Psalm 18:19; Proverbs 16:9).

The context of verses 22 through 24 shows first a contrast of persons in verse 22 – those “such as be blessed of him and they that be cursed of him.” The 23rd verse adds “good” in italics to clarify which of the two are spoken of, which matches the one spoken of in verse 24. Two things stand out about this type of person: (1.) His steps are ordered or established by God; and (2.) He is upheld by the hand of God.

Matthew Henry affords us the following thoughts on the verse:
“Observe, God orders the steps of a good man; not only his way in general, by his written word, but his particular steps, by the whispers of conscience, saying, This is the way, walk in it. He does not always show him his way at a distance, but leads him step by step, as children are led, and so keeps him in a continual dependence upon his guidance; and this, (1.) Because he delights in his way, and is well pleased with the paths of righteousness wherein he walks. The Lord knows the way of the righteous (Ps. 1:6), knows it with favour, and therefore directs it. (2.) That he may delight in his way. Because God orders his way according to his own will, therefore he delights in it; for, as he loves his own image upon us, so he is well pleased with what we do under his guidance.”
Perhaps it is best not to pick over the verse like a wake of buzzards picking over a dead possum. Albert Barnes rightfully recognizes that “The general idea is that he is the object of the divine favor, and is under the care of God.” Charles Spurgeon speaks with passionate insight, favoring us the following perspective: “He delighteth in his way. As parents are pleased with the tottering footsteps of their babes. All that concerns a saint is interesting to his heavenly Father.” (Cf. Matthew 10:29-31)

[i] Antecedent in grammar is “a word, phrase, or clause, usually a substantive, that is replaced by a pronoun or other substitute later, or occasionally earlier, in the same or in another, usually subsequent, sentence.”
[ii] Our English sentence structure seems to favor this. “A colon instead of a semicolon may be used between independent clauses when the second sentence explains, illustrates, paraphrases, or expands on the first sentence.” The Lord is mentioned, followed by a colon (:), explaining detail specific to the immediately preceding “Lord”. Most often the antecedent of the pronoun will be the closest noun, but there are plenty of exceptions in English. This is just my interpretation of the rules related to this sentence. Take it for what it is or is not worth!

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