Jehovah's Witnesses and Psalm 37
My purpose in this series is to help equip Christians interpret the Bible correctly. This will not be a class in hermeneutics (science and art of interpretation) but just some general guidelines that have helped me when I talk about the Bible.
The two Jehovah's Witnesses at my door read from their Bible, the New World Translation, Psalm 37:29 (NWT): “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” I told them I was familiar with Psalm 37 and it spoke of two classes of people on the earth; the righteous and the wicked. I said your organization adds a 3rd class of people called the 144,000. I asked if the Bible says there are two classes of people, where do the 144,000 belong? Are they wicked or are they righteous? And if they are righteous, Psalm 37:29 says they will reside on earth forever and not in heaven (they believe only the 144,000 will be in heaven). The men didn’t answer and immediately changed the subject. This is a typical tactic of Jehovah Witnesses.
First we need to understand the context of Psalm 37. Jehovah's Witnesses love to take passages out of context and share with unsuspecting people. As I told them the entire Psalm deals with these two classes of people; the righteous and the wicked. The writer David seems to be showing the superiority of doing right, as opposed to evil; he also exalts the superiority of delighting in God. David says in verse 3 to trust in God and do good deeds; sounds like excellent advice to me. As for the wicked, David writes in verse 28, they will perish.
Now we get to Psalm 37:29 (NASB) and it says, “The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.” The New World Translation says the righteous will inherit the earth and the New American Standard Bible says the righteous will inherit the land. The Hebrew word in question is “erets” and can be translated as either earth or land (it is translated land twice as much as earth). Is it earth or land and why is that important?
I will not debate which it is, I’ll leave that for Hebrew scholars; I do not think it matters. In my reading I believe this verse harkens back to the promises of God given to Abraham as part of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3). In that promise God said through Abraham He would build a nation (consisting of a people, land, and government), He would provide protection, and bless them and they would be a blessing to the nations.
Today followers of Jesus Christ are spiritual offspring of Abraham and as such, experience the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. I believe Psalm 37 is projecting forward the blessing of this covenant and focusing on the promise of a land. My understanding is this land is spoken about in Revelations where it is called a “new heaven and new earth.” All followers of Jesus Christ will physically live for eternity on the new earth fulfilling what David wrote in Psalm 37 “The righteous will inherit the land (earth) and dwell in it forever.”
All of this will occur after we die and spend time in heaven, waiting for the day spoken of in Revelations where our individual spirit will be reunited with our resurrected body. This will be a glorious day for the righteous or the true followers of Jesus Christ. Revelations and the Psalms teach the righteous will inherit the land; all part of the Abrahamic Covenant.
This is not how the Jehovah's Witnesses interpret Psalm 37:29. In part 3 I will deal with the issue of a 3rd group, what Jehovah's Witnesses call the 144,000. Their organization tries to make a case the 144,000 are ones destined for heaven. I will show this interpretation is false.