Psalm 146-150

Each of these songs begins and ends with the phrase, “Praise the Lord.” Similar themes run throughout, except for 150, which is sheer exhortation for everything to praise him. One is God as Creator, which we read throughout the Psalms. God’s power and faithfulness, his creativity and wisdom, are all displayed in the heavens and the earth. Last time I read through the Bible, this focus as God as Creator in the OT sort of surprised me, although I don’t know why it would. In the ancient world the primary temptation was idolatry, following false Gods. In a way it’s the same today, in that these things simply take different forms. But the temptation vis-a-vis God as Creator, is materialism, to get seduced into thinking that the cosmos is a closed system of material cause and effect. We neuter God and make him a mere bystander. In Biblical terms, we become fools when we live like practical atheists. Sure we “believe” in God, but live as if “No, God” is our motto. We’ll call the shots, thank you very much.

The contrast here, and in the rest of the Psalms, could not be more different. We, God’s people, praise him continuously for his work as Creator. His creating wasn’t a one time thing; God spoke, it was, now he sits back and watches it all like a reality TV show. No, God is continually creating. He is the animating principal of all life. Every conception of every living thing, comes from his hand. Every seed that drops in the earth, sprouts because of his power. Every breath we take, he grants us. Every good thing, comes from his hand. And because of this, we can trust these wonderful verses in 147:

10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of a man;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love.

We can trust our God because as 149 says, we are his people, he is our Maker, and God takes delight in us. This is often hard to accept because we are so aware of our sin, but as the Psalmist says:

he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.

And as the following verses indicate, this victory is eternal, it is forever, for we will judge the nations with the “praise of God” in our mouths, “and a double-edged sword” in our hands. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, God’s word is a double-edged sword. In the last verse, it says “This is the glory of all his saints.” So, we who he has chosen, who have been purchased and redeemed by Christ’s blood, will rule forever with him. I have no idea what this means, but I suspect God makes no insignificant plans. Grand and magnificent, glorious and awe-inspiring events await us. Let us keep our gaze there, where our true value lies, and not on this passing, futile, entropy existence here, and like the Psalmists say, continually Praise the Lord!

Psalm 145

This and the final Psalms are all focused on praising God. There is so much to praise him for as long as we allow his revelation do the guiding. I think those who don’t view the world exclusively through his revelation, in creation, the Bible and in Christ, have no reason to praise him because all they have is their own benighted, self-centered perspective on things. Satan’s temptation in Eden was that we might be like God, determining good and evil; we want to be the determiners. Those who refuse to praise God, whose hearts are cold to his benefits, only know the fallenness of the world with no answers. They walk in darkness and wonder why they are always running into things.

David starts this Psalm with the only perspective open to a praiser of God, an eternal one. He will exalt, extol and praise God “forever and ever,” stating this twice in the first two verses. And this is not hyperbole. He means it literally. He, David, will praise God for eternity, as will all God’s people. I think the message of verse three is central to the people who would spend their lives praising God:

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.

Simple enough, and seemingly axiomatic for the Christian, but one of Satan’s great weapons against us is to question the character of God. His very first interaction with man was to imply that God is a liar, and that God’s intentions for us are not Good. After recounting what God has actually done in history, his “awesome works” and “great deeds,” he again extols God’s character:

They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

Even amid our problems and the struggles of life in a fallen world, even as the second law of thermodynamics ravages our bodies and the bodies of our loved ones and friends, God’s abundant goodness is everywhere displayed to us. I take this to mean our material, emotional and psychological blessings. Think of our five senses and how much enjoyment we get from them alone. Our relationships and the satisfaction they bring. Our accomplishments, and the things we set our heart to do which bring a certain level of fulfillment. God’s blessings, all of them. And verse 9 speaks of God’s common grace as he bestows his blessings on all his creation:

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.

I think it is important to remember this in light of the fall, and God holding back sin. Evil is everywhere, but it is not ubiquitous. All the good that happens in sinners’ lives, to and for them, is from the hand of God. But David distinguishes between those who do not know him, and his “saints” who “tell of the glory” of his “kingdom” and his “might.” Clearly, this refers to God’s salvific efforts on behalf of his people, his elect. Why?

12 so that all men may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

God’s rule and the reestablishment of it on earth (For God so loved the world), is the ultimate purpose of the gospel: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) Then David moves back to common grace, for God “satisfies the desires of every living thing.” But then moves back to the special relationship God has with “all those who call on him in truth.” As we now know, that is, all those who call on him in Jesus name, who is The Truth. Ultimately, God will, must, call down judgment on the wicked, whom “he will destroy.” But we, his people, will “speak in praise of the Lord.”

Psalm 140-144

More Psalms of David, and they all have the same theme. He is in trouble, he cries out for God to smite the wicked and rescue him, and God does. There is a contrast throughout between the evildoers and the righteous, between those who pursue the Lord, and those who spurn and mock him. David has quite the Manichean view of reality. In one way that’s true. There are loads of perfectly decent people who are not the bloodthirsty blasphemers of God who confront David, but who nonetheless do not belong in the company of the righteous. What is it that distinguishes the people of God who call on his name, and those who are every bit decent and moral but do not?

David gives us hints throughout these Psalms. The difference is that the former see their need for God, as he puts it in 40:12, the poor and the needy, while the latter are in effect self-sufficient. So from his pen we see his orientation is completely on God:

  • Rescue me
  • Keep me from
  • Protect me
  • You are my God
  • Hear my cry for mercy
  • You are my strong deliverer
  • Who shields my head
  • I call to you
  • Hear my voice
  • Set a guard over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips
  • Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil
  • My eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord
  • Keep me from the snares set for me
  • I cry aloud to the Lord
  • I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy
  • I pour out my complaint before him, before him I tell my trouble
  • It is you who know my way
  • You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living
  • Listen to my cry
  • Set me free from my prison that I may praise your name
  • Hear my prayer
  • Listen to my cry for mercy
  • Come to my relief
  • Do not bring your servant into judgment
  • I meditate on all your works
  • I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land
  • Answer me quickly, O Lord
  • Do not hide your face from me
  • Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love
  • I have put my trust in you
  • Show me the way I should go
  • To you I life up my soul
  • Rescue me from my enemies
  • I hide myself in you
  • Teach me to do your will
  • You are my God
  • May your good spirit lead me on level ground
  • For your name’s sake preserve my life
  • Bring me out of trouble
  • Silence my enemies
  • Destroy all my foes
  • Praise be to the Lord, my Rock
  • He trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle
  • He is my loving God, my fortress
  • My stronghold and my deliverer
  • My shield in whom I take refuge
  • Reach down and deliver and rescue me
  • I will sing a new song to you
  • Deliver me and rescue me

At the end of all this he declares that “blessed are the people whose God is the Lord,” which is the last verse in 144. The verses just prior to that describe the blessings they can expect, basically a familial and material flourishing that is without a doubt a type of the eternal blessings God’s people can expect. There is also an absolute security we will enjoy:

There will be no breaching of walls,
    no going into captivity,
    no cry of distress in our streets.

The key to getting this, to really experiencing God’s blessing is to realize that it is fundamentally eternal, so we can only experience glimpses of it here, and it is gained only by a relentless focus on our need for him. In one sense as you read through this list of David’s requests, you think David, why is it all about you? Lots of me’s and I’s and my’s there.

One thing it tells is is that a certain kind of self-centeredness is a good thing. We are not Hindus or Buddhists. God made us selves who have value and needs and desires, which are good in and of themselves. And God cares for us profoundly. As Jesus said:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

To pay attention to our selves is not to be selfish. Jesus himself is said to have said, it is more blessed to give than to receive, which is an appeal to our own self-interest. But the self will be the most healthy self, the self with the proper perspective on its own desires, needs and wants, when it it focused obsessively on God, the source of its very life. In a fallen world in a fallen body that is not easy, but Peter tells us:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Those promises, and the working out of our salvation, are ground in the gospel, the good news that he is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Psalm 139

Psalm 139, another of David, is very well known because it is so humbling for we who know just how sinful we are. David’s God, and ours, is no Deist God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our Lord Jesus Christ, is radically and intimately, no, atomically, sub-cellularly involved in our lives. Mediate on this for a while:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

That is discomforting. I’m not exactly thrilled with myself, what little I know of myself, the riddle inside a conundrum wrapped neatly in a paradox that I am. But He knows me. David says this knowledge is really too much for him to fathom. It makes him want to get away from God’s Spirit, but where can he go. Even if he tries to hide in the darkness or the other side of the sea, God is right there, perfectly exposing light and unsettling omnipresence. But God chose to make me knowing what I would become. I, we all are, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And in verse 16 we read:

 all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

And according to David, his thoughts about me are innumerable, as copious as the sand on the seashore. There is some confusion about the interpretation of these verses, whether it is just God’s thoughts themselves, or thoughts about David, but in the context the latter makes more sense. So as hard as it can be to believe at times, we are the objects of God’s infinite affection. God so loved the world, right? He surveyed all that He had made, and declared it “very good,” right? The fall and sin haven’t utterly defaced his most astonishing creation, us.

Then David goes into his most harsh and vindictive mode, asking God to “slay the wicked.” He uses some very strong language:

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?

This seems to come out of nowhere. David has “nothing but hatred” for God’s enemies. Maybe if we look at this in the broader redemptive-historical context it will make more sense. We tend to default in our reading of the Bible in purely person terms, so of course this Psalm is about David and his relationship with God, and thus is an example for ours. But while it is that, it is much, much more.

It is no coincidence that the first five words of God’s revelation to man are, “In the beginning God created.” It is a foundational theme throughout the OT. At the apex of God’s creation is man, male and female he created them, and in this Psalm we see how intimately God is involved with his creation of man. It isn’t just David speaking of himself in this Psalm, but God speaking of us all. We tend to think of God’s creating as a sort of magic, he says abracadabra, waves his wand, and boom, there’s a man! To completely trivialize it, God is a “hands on” creator, infinitely attentive to his handiwork, even to the knitting us together in our mother’s wounds. What a fascinating image that brings to mind. We are all, we 21st Century Westerners, functional Deists, and practical, philosophical naturalists. God made the clock, wound it up, and now it just runs itself by “natural” laws. But our God is infinite and omni in every sense, and thus presently at every moment animating his entire creation. As Paul says, “he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else,” and speaking of Christ as creator, he says that “in him all things hold together.” Every conception is in this sense every bit as miraculous as Christ’s conception. Without the Holy Spirit’s active involvement there would be literally no life!

So David’s animus here for God’s enemies are for those who are defacing God’s creation; he calls them “bloodthirsty.” And David, as do all God’s people know how utterly horrific is the creation’s fall into sin. We yearn for justice, for God our creator to be vindicated. And as we think about this, and our own frustration for the utter mess we inhabit in this fallen world, it is important to know that David’s hope was in the promise; he knew the Pentateuch, knew of God’s promises to Adam and Eve, to Noah, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, knew of God’s promises to Moses and Joshua, and to him! Now contrast to our hope, in the fulfillment! Seen by eyewitnesses, defined for us in the New Testament. So when David prays what he prays in the last two verses, he believes God can somehow pull this off. We on the other hand know that he already has:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

And what is “the way everlasting”? Christ! If the whole of the OT is about Christ, as Jesus said, then these verses and this Psalm is about Christ. Most of us are inclined to read this as God unearthing whatever is offensive in me, and helping me to not be offensive, i.e. to him. But when he convicts us of our sin, when he finds the offensive ways in me, David’s prayer is that he would lead us to Christ, the way everlasting (in Jesus we have eternal life–see John 5), to the cross, not away from it. The Psalm is his realization that escape isn’t an option. It is into his arms that sinners must flee, for in Christ, as Paul puts it, there is “the righteousness of God” that is given to us “through faith in Jesus Christ.” It’s all there in Romans 3. We read the Bible first and foremost as a moral guide, and thus we completely miss what it’s actually about! The gospel! So sinners can have a relationship with a holy God.

Christian ethics flow out of this. But for most of us, unfortunately, and implied in way too much Christian teaching, is that ethics come first, that being moral is the sin qua none of Christianity, and that the goal of our Bible reading is to become more so. And subconsciously we think the more we don’t do, and the more we do do, we’ll be more acceptable to God. As Paul says, if we can gain a righteousness from the law, Jesus died for nothing. No, the goal of our meditations on Scripture is to know the one true God who is just and the justifier of sinners, the God who died for us that he might give us his righteousness that we might be accepted before him. The temple curtain was torn in two when Jesus said, “It is finished,” that we sinners might enter to commune with God the Father clothed in his perfection.

Psalm 135-138

The first three of these Psalms, 135-137 seem to also come from the time of the Babylonian captivity like the songs of ascent. They retell Israel’s history, as is common throughout the Psalms. They always seemed to try to find hope for their future based on what God had done and promised in their past. Even when it looked most hopeless, when it seemed God had completely abandoned them. Think about the time of Jesus birth. The nation had not heard anything from God for over 400 years, yet the Scripture was faithfully read and believed. God would not abandon Israel forever.

Psalm 136 has the phrase, “His love endures forever,” repeated 26 times, once after each line recounting some event from Israel’s past. What has continually stood out to me is how they affirm here and throughout the OT God as creator. That is the foundation of all other things he can accomplish, obviously, but how often do our churches affirm God as maker of heaven and earth? In 135 they are reminded that the gods of the nations are but “silver and gold.” The contrast that the god’s of the nations are idols of literally nothing and God is the creator of the universe is a constant theme upon which Israel places it’s hope. From there God chooses and works to prosper and defend Israel against its enemies. The challenge for them was the word forever. Somehow they had to know whatever it was, it was beyond this veil of tears.

138 is another Psalm of David, and it fits nicely in with the theme of the previous three. It is at once a Psalm of confidence in God’s future vindication, and prayer that this confidence will not be in vain. At the heart of our faith is the realization and embrace of God’s honor above all:

I bow down toward your holy temple
    and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
    for you have exalted above all things
    your name and your word.

At hear heart of the nature of sin is the desire to be God, to determine for ourselves meaning, truth, right and wrong. Those who follow him must let him interpret reality according to his revelation to us, and must yearn for him to be glorified above all because, as obvious as it is, he is above all. We are then only acknowledging the state of things as they actually are. We can only know him when we take our rightful place:

6 Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
    but the proud he knows from afar.

Human pride is a strange thing because we really have so little reason to be so. Not only are we wretched sinners who don’t even live up to our own standards, let alone the perfect standards of God, but we are finite and contingent in every way. We have an infinite number of reasons to let God be God, and rejoice in it.

Psalm 128-134

These are the rest of the songs of ascents. Psalm 130 is a prophetic Psalm that shows what Israel is ultimately all about, redemption from sin.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
    therefore you are feared.

The writer knows somehow in some way the Lord will not keep a record of sins. But then how can he remain just, for sin must be punished. The Covenant of Works is all throughout the OT. There is law, but here we see gospel, as we see in the final two verses:

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

The payment for sin will come from God himself. In hindsight it is easy to see that this could only be done by Christ, by God himself becoming man, and paying the penalty, taking our guilt upon himself. Thus he himself does the redeeming. For the followers of Jesus, however, this was inconceivable.

There are other Messianic references in these Psalms as well. In 132:

10 For the sake of your servant David,
    do not reject your anointed one.

11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
    a sure oath he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
    I will place on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
    and the statutes I teach them,
then their sons will sit
    on your throne for ever and ever.”

Ah, but none of the sons can keep God’s covenant, except one. Jesus was that descendant. And as you read on, God says Zion is dwelling place, and here we have a direct prophecy of the incarnation:

14 “This is my resting place for ever and ever;
    here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.

So one of David’s descendants will sit on his throne, thus he will be a man, and God says he himself will “sit enthroned.” It’s difficult to get much more clear than that. It will the the God-man. And his sons, his children, i.e. us, will rule with him forever. And the final two verse make it even more abundantly clear:

17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
    and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
    but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown.”

Christ, God in flesh, came the first time in mercy to redeem his people, he will come again and be vindicated in his justice. As Paul tells is in Philippians 2, because of his obedience to death on a cross:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Amen!

Psalm 120-127

These, and several that follow are called “Song of ascents” (120-134). This from Wikipedia:

Many scholars believe the title indicates that these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16) or by the Levite singers as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at theTemple in Jerusalem. One study suggests that they were composed for a celebration after Nehemiah’s rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls in 445BC. Another proposes that they were composed for the dedication of Solomon’s temple and were first sung during the night of the fifteenth of Tishri 959 Most scholars, however, consider that they may originally have been individual poems which were later collected together and given the title linking them to pilgrimage after the Babylonian captivity.

They were well suited for being sung by their poetic form and the sentiments they express. “They are characterized by brevity, by a key-word, by epanaphora [i.e., repetition], and by their epigrammatic style…. More than half of them are cheerful, and all of them hopeful.” As a collection, they contain a number of repeated formulaic phrases, as well as an emphasis on Zion.

There are gems throughout. In these eight the theme of looking to the Lord runs throughout, that Israel’s hope is in him alone, that he will protect and bless them, even those who pray for God’s city. Psalm 127 is a classic:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.

Over the years I’ve thought this house building by the Lord applied to many things I’ve done, most of which haven’t worked, but something different comes to mind today. I think of John 14:2

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

But instead of focusing on this eternal house being prepared for me, my focus is on this world as if it were eternal. It is better to simply trust in God, do what we must, and enjoy his peace.

Isn’t it interesting in our day that children are the only blessings that Christians determine they only want to many of. We say, God, I don’t want anymore rewards from you. Evangelicals have bought hook, line and sinker, the secular vision for the family. “The pill” is probably as prevalent among conservative Christians as their secular fellow citizens. There is something wrong with our moral base that this is the case. Certainly, that base isn’t informed by Scripture, where new life is always a gift. And isn’t it interesting that one of the benefits of having children is that of defending the family’s honor. Other versions use this translation:

They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

Life is hard, and we know it can be even harder with children in a lot of ways, but in God’s economy, the blessings far outweigh the challenges. Amen.

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