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Psalm 37:13

"but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming". All from ESV. My emphasis.

Whose day?

Zephaniah 1:14

"The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast".

The "day" here belongs to the LORD.

Ezekiel 21:25

"And you, O profane wicked one, prince of Israel , whose day has come, the time of your final punishment".

Here the day belongs to a wicked one.

Jeremiah 46:10

"That day is the day of the LORD GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance".

The day here belongs to the LORD.

Psalm 37:13 NIV

"for he knows their day is coming".

A day of judgement, but is it theirs or the LORD'S?

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This is a Psalm I have long loved, and I thought I was familiar with it, until this intriguing question was posed! The verse in question could, indeed, refer equally to the day of the Lord, or the day of the wicked.

The context shows that the theme is resting in the Lord, waiting patiently for God's vindication, with contrasts continually being made between those with such faith, and "evildoers; the workers of iniquity." Verse 13, however, is clearly confined to the wicked (verse 12) and continues to speak about the wicked in verse 14. But whose 'day' is coming?

It is true that there are many 'days' in the Bible; particular days of salvation:

"In a day of salvation have I helped thee" Isaiah 49:8 K.J.V.

God helped people on many occasions, and each time they could refer to that as "a day of salvation" for them. But there is also the on-going Day of Salvation that will not end until the Day of Judgment starts. Paul quoted Isaiah regarding that on-going day of salvation:

"For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." 2 Corinthians 6:2 quoting Isaiah 49:8 K.J.V.

In Psalm 37 it is true that a day of judgment is coming for the wicked, yet their actions seem to belie any belief that they will be judged adversely by God for their wickedness. If they really believed God would judge them for their wickedness, surely they would take steps to repent, and to obtain God's forgiveness before it was too late? The wicked would never laugh at the thought of their day of death / judgment from God was coming. Their conscience would pitch them into terror to think about their day coming.

That is why it seems reasonable to consider that when verse 13 speaks of "his" day, it is God's terrible day of judging the wicked. While the wicked are heedless of that prospect, the Lord is fully aware of his coming judgment, and he knows exactly when it will happen. If the wicked in the days of the psalmist died before that day of wrath from God (and they all did), that would make no difference to the wicked having to face that awful day of judgment. The psalmist had supreme confidence in God rendering justice and judging rightly, so that all the wicked would be dealt with by God. Therefore, he writes, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thy heart's desires - irrespective of anything the wicked do and seem to be getting off with. They will get off with nothing, for the Day of the Lord is coming when the righteous and the unrighteous will be resurrected, to stand before the judgment throne of God (Revelation 20:11-15).

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The most natural way in which to interpret this text is to see both the "at him" and "his day" as having the same antecedent, i.e. representing the person the Lord is considering in the text.

However, Hebrew is always highly context-dependent, and it is not infrequent that a Hebrew expression may have a dual meaning, or multiple layers of meaning. According to my Hebrew professors, they believe this is intentional on the part of the Hebrew authors, or the God-given inspiration behind it. This allows the text to be interpreted in a manner most needed or appreciated by a given individual in the particular circumstance he or she may find himself or herself.

That said, it is possible that the text addresses either God's day or the man's day, and while contextually it would be inconsistent for the "he sees" to be the action of the man, instead of God, even this is theoretically possible.

The most natural interpretation, however, would be this:

The Lord shall laugh at him [the man]: for he [the Lord] sees that his [the man's] day is coming.

It may be worth noting that in Hebrew the masculine third-person pronoun may also serve in the place of the neutral "it"--though in this particular verse, the context clearly addresses a person, and not a thing. However, Hebrew does not distinguish between God and man via pronouns: there is no special pronoun that would set God apart from common man.

Another point of interest relative to the Hebrew text here: the word "day" is singular. This, then, refers to a specific time, because the word "yowm" (H3117) is often used in plural form to indicate a time or an age, such as when addressing "all the days that Adam lived" (Genesis 5:5, KJV). So whether it refers to the Lord's day or to the man's day, in either case it narrows this to a specific day or time.

Conclusion

While ambiguity technically exists, the most natural conclusion, based on the contextual clues of the verse itself, is that the "him" and the "his" of the verse apply to the man, whose "day"--left unspecified as to whether this might refer to his judgment, his death, etc.--is coming.

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