Monthly Archives: October 2015

Psalm 47 & 48

These Psalms could be an extension of 46. God is king over his city and his people, and Jesus is again referred to in this verse in 47:

God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
    the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.

How can God ascend unless he first descended. Jesus seems to reference this exact verse in John 3 speaking to Nicodemus:

12“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.

This idea of the nations and the kings of the earth belonging to God seems counterintuitive. It surely doesn’t appear to be the case as we look through history or now. Nations and kings revel in their own power, not that they belong to God. But this is clearly eschatological. The last two verses in 47 gives that away:

God reigns over the nations;
    God is seated on his holy throne.
The nobles of the nations assemble
    as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
    he is greatly exalted.

As in previous Psalms, the writer goes back to God’s universal covenant given to Abram; all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. Thus there will come a time when this will happen. In one sense it is happening now because he gives all men life and breath and everything else. God in his sovereign providential power allows whatever and whoever rules at this time, but there will come a time when “the nobles” will actually be his! That is purchased by the blood of Christ.

Psalm 48 takes us back from the nations to God’s city, where he dwells. Got makes this city secure “forever” because he dwells in her. This is kind of a strange phrase if you think about it. How can God, an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent spiritual being “dwell” somewhere. Living in a place is a spatial concept, and God permeates all space; he invented it! So there has to be an idea of his favor here. As Charles Hodge so beautifully put it in his Systematic Theology, the favor of God is the life of the soul. You only have two options with the holy God of Scripture: wrath or love, enmity or peace (not to ignore the truth of common grace to his creation).

We have a hint of what this means for God’s city, Zion, which is where his people dwell. In verse 10 it says that his “right hand is filled with righteousness.” The reference to the right hand in scripture refers to power, and we could say the Psalmist here is inferring that God has the power to give us his righteousness. We know this is true in the light of Christ’s life of perfect obedience, death on a cross, and resurrection. God dwells with us and in us only because he pulled it off, justly forgiving our sins so he would not be tainted by our sin, and imputed Christ’s righteousness to us. There is no other way outside of the gospel this could have been done because we are hopeless sinners. I love the last few verses that prefigure the gospel to me:

12 Walk about Zion, go around her,
    count her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts,
    view her citadels,
that you may tell of them
    to the next generation.

14 For this God is our God for ever and ever;
    he will be our guide even to the end.

What a great metaphor: walk about, count, consider, view, all imply impregnable strength and power, and that we should not only immerse ourselves in contemplating it all, but pass it on to generations to come. I also like when he says “this” God, because it isn’t just any God, but the God who is unequivocally for us. He is our God. Only in the fullness of time were we able to see what a radical concept this is, God himself laying down his own life for miserable sinners like us. Not a little profound when you think about it.

Psalm 46

Memorized this one back in the day, and there is no doubt why. It is a Psalm of victory. Back then I think I saw victory differently, but even then I knew that God alone was my hope. Now that this hope is theologically grounded and not based on my own experience, it is that much more profound. The writer uses hyperbole to emphasize the extent of God’s power to save and protect us:

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

What could be more frightening and traumatic than the earth literally falling apart. Yet even in the most horrific circumstances imaginable, God is there for us. How can this be? Again we read the OT in light of the fulfillment of it in the NT. The next verses point to what resulted when Jesus accomplished his mission and ascended into heaven:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.

What is this river, and where does the Most High dwell? He dwells within us! His people, his church. This river is the Holy Spirit, and he dwells in his temple, the people Christ purchased by his death on a tree, to pay the price for sin, to satisfy God’s wrath against us, and raise us spiritually from the dead. No wonder we can be glad. It is inconceivable that the living God lives inside us, but that’s what we’re told over and over again in the NT. Then the writer in just a few words gives us one of the great juxtapositions in all of scripture:

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The power of God’s word makes the pretense of the nations a joke. Just his word can transform all that seems stable and solid to us into so much molten lava. The author further says that the Lord makes mincemeat of the armies of the earth. We don’t have to be intimidated by the apparent power they wield because our God is in total, absolute control. And how do we come to fully understand that? How do we come to thoroughly experience the power of our God?

10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

There is no need to fret, worry or be nervous, or wallow in fear. The contrast could not be more powerful. The nations in all their striving, and the earth itself is nothing before him. This prediction has yet to come fully true, but it will. As Paul says in Philippians 2, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. This exaltation, this fulfillment of God’s promised redemption, is the fulfillment of the covenant he swore to Abram in Genesis 15. It is in that promise that we gain ultimate perspective on the true nature of things; we will not be duped by human power or achievement as if they were anything. We can truly know if we will just be still, that God is God, and everything else as my dad use to say, is bullshit.

Psalm 44 & 45

These two Psalms fit together perfectly. The theme is God’s redemptive history for his people, both past, present and future. in 44 the author recounts God’s saving hand for their fathers, and that it was he alone that did the saving, and not their own strength. Then he moves to the present, and recounts that God gives them similar victories. Then for some unknown reason to the author, God appears to have forgotten his people because they  have been scattered among the nations. In commentaries there is some disagreement as to when this might have been written, if it was during the times of the monarchy or the exile, but that isn’t important. Whatever Israel is going through, they need saving. The final verse says it, and I believe Psalm 45 is the answer:

26 Rise up; come to our help!
    Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!

Then redemption comes to Israel through a king described in this Psalm, referring to this king as a man, verse 2, and as God, verse 6. This divine King also relates to God who sets him above his companions, thus revealing yet again in scripture the existence of the Trinity. The writer of Hebrews 1 says that these verses do indeed refer to Jesus:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
    The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
    you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

As I’ve seen with other verses in the Psalms and elsewhere, how does a Jew interpret such verses. This king is clearly called God here, and this kingly God has God above him. As revealed in Christ, we now know that the Father is greater than the Son, and that the Son submits to the Father. And the final couple verses speak to the scope of this God-King’s reign:

16 In place of your fathers shall be your sons;
    you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations;
    therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.

As the Lord says to Abram when he calls him out of Ur: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” confirming what is said here about the universality of God’s covenant promise. And notice the “I will cause.” There is only one being with enough power and knowledge to pull this off: Almighty God, the God who is the author and perfecter of our faith. He will make us princes, and princesses, in all the earth!

And I was just noticing earlier in the Psalm the references to the bride of this king, and how we are told in the NT that the Church is Christ’s bride. Here the bride is gloriously clothed and brought to the king, just as we are gloriously clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and brought by the Holy Spirit to the feet of our king. It’s almost as if God had this thing planned all along! And then decided to give us clues along the way that would make perfect sense in light of its fulfillment. Only in that light do such Psalms make perfect sense. 

 

Psalm 42 & 43

These two actually seem to be one Psalm. Many Hebrew manuscripts have them as one, and the theme for both is the same, so I’ll treat it as one. The writing is beautiful. The writer seems to be saying that even though he yearns for God, he’s having a very hard time finding him. Unfulfilled longing is a theme of life in a fallen world even for God’s people. He states this:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

He follows this immediately with intense frustration:

My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

So not only does it appear to him that God hasn’t shown up, but others recognize this and taunt him for it. I love how the Bible never glosses over the remoteness of God to sinful human beings in a fallen world; it never presents a simplistic picture of our relationship to a holy, transcendent God. Next he tries to remember the good times worshiping God with God’s people, and he can’t understand why his soul is so downcast. Yet he will not give up hope, and God’s praises will again be on his lips. Verse 7 is a famously eloquent verse that beautifully captures the struggle:

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

If you’ve ever been to the beach and swam in the waves you know how hopeless a feeling it can be sometimes as the power of tons of water roils you around. Life can be like that, and as he uses the word roar it can be so deafening that everything else is impossible to hear. It appears that God has forgotten him, and his foes continue to taunt him.

Yet there is a critical lesson in these Psalms that every Christian should embrace: he doesn’t keep his struggle to himself. Others appear to notice, but most importantly he pours his heart out to God, even though God appears remote and deaf to his cries. God in his holy word is not afraid to reveals his people’s doubts and fears and struggles. They are part and parcel to a complicated relationship between infinite everythingness, and us. His final words end the Psalm on a perfect note:

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Despite appearances, feelings, disappointments, others’ failures and my own, we must always affirm that our hope is in him alone who saves me. I will yet praise him because he is my Savior; it isn’t all about me! Thank God.

Psalm 40 & 41

With these two Psalms we come to the end of Book I. These are more hopeful than the previous two, and could easily be seen to flow from them. The first few verses of 40 show that David has his hope back:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

This could almost be seen as a prophecy of the gospel. God does the saving; he lifts, he sets, he puts. How could David go from the lament of the last couple verses of the previous Psalm, to the joy found here unless God did it. For sure David cries out and waits, but it is God who changes David’s orientation from despair to hope. There are even a couple of verses that could be considered Messianic depending on how they are translated. David confirms what exactly this salvation entails:

I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
    I do not seal my lips, Lord,
    as you know.
10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
    I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
    from the great assembly.

David proclaims God’s saving acts, his righteousness, his faithfulness, his love. He realized the more he gets his eyes off of himself and onto the Lord, he will be blessed. He declares that those who do this will be compelled to praise and exalt the Lord. When our works, or the lack thereof, are not the focus, we can rejoice in him.

And David’s orientation as we see it in 41 is eternal, a consistent theme throughout his Psalms. He says that the Lord will set him in his presence forever, and that God’s praise is “from everlasting to everlasting.” An eternal perspective is required for those who would understand the relative importance of all things temporal. They are important, but not ultimate. Only God himself and our relationship to him has ultimate value. David knew that and never tired of proclaiming it. As should we.

Psalm 38 & 39

In these two Psalms David feels the heavy weight of sin and mortality. The theme of both could be anguish because David pours his out. He says in 38 that he is “utterly crushed” and that his guilt overwhelms him. He speaks at the beginning of God’s wrath, and thus understands that there are real consequences to our sin before a holy God. But he is not without hope because even as this holy God’s wrath is against us in our sin, this same God is also our Savior as he says in the last verse. This must have been confusing to David because how could the same God be our judge and savior? Only in Christ could a perfectly holy God be just and the justifier of many. The gospel of the Triune God would be David’s answer.

He continues the theme in 39 as he is again compelled to confess his sin. He puts it in the context of our all too obvious mortality:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man’s life is but a breath.

“Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro;
      he bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth,
    not knowing who will get it.

To think that we are but a breath is humbling, and critical to a proper perspective of life. In effect we are ghosts, an illusion of permanence that every person in some way buys into.

What is the answer?

But now, Lord, what do I look for?
    My hope is in you.

Yet the struggle continues even as he confesses where his ultimate hope lies. He feels the weight of his sin and God’s judgment, and ends the Psalm on a melancholy note:

12 “Hear my prayer, Lord,
    listen to my cry for help;
    do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
    a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
13 Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
    before I depart and am no more.”

This is another example of why David was a man after God’s own heart, and Saul wasn’t. He knew the seriousness of sin, that its fundamental nature is alienation from God. By nature, Paul says, we are objects of God’s wrath. Elsewhere Paul says this alienation was because we were literally God’s enemies. The Greek word for enemies implies hostility and hatred. What was Adam and Eve’s response to their sin? They tried to hide from God. So our human inclination is to run away from God because we see him as our enemy, and by nature we hate him because of his judgment against our sin.

Most people instinctively justify their sin, try to explain it away, rationalize it, deny that it even is sin and go so far as to call what is evil good. Not David. Unlike most people, he could not bring himself to run away from God, so in his misery he asks God to flee from him! If God even paid attention to him, this holy God, he would be destroyed. There is only one solution to this dilemma, and it is the gospel, something David could not fathom, although he knew this holy God would somehow turnout to be his Savior too. In this gospel God’s wrath is satisfied in Christ, and what is fundamental to the transforming power of the gospel is that God orientation toward us is fundamentally changed, not that we are changed toward God. Paul says in Romans 5:

[S]ince we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

And that:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And in Romans 8 he puts it all together; what David had been longing for has been fulfilled:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set youfree from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

This peace David yearned for, the answer to the crushing weight of sin, is found objectively in the cross; there can be no doubt now of God’s intention toward us now. His love transforming us because as John says, we love because he first loved us. It is not my performance that is the basis of this relationship, but his act in history for me. Yep, he did not make salvation possible for all, but made it actual for his own people. Praise be to God!

Psalm 37

This long Psalm of David is a contrast throughout between the wicked and the righteous. David seems to almost have a Manichean view of the world, a bifurcation of the human race into two, and only two types of people. The wicked as David sees it are not kind people. The wicked do wrong, they “plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them.” They “draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.” They are the “Lord’s enemies,” and “borrow and do not repay,” and are cursed by God. They “lie in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives.” And in spite of all this David has seen “a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil.”

Is this just hyperbole to drive the contrast for those who do find their hope in the Lord? Because he says several times that despite appearances, the wicked will perish in a moment, “vanish–vanish like smoke.” Mortality is ruthless. Nobody makes it out of here alive. Death is the great leveler. No matter how things appear to us at the moment, they will not always be so, obviously. Yet we have to be reminded over and over again that this is not it! That our citizenship is in heaven. David knows this because he uses the word forever a lot, and not only in this Psalm.

Yet all the “wicked” are not so wicked. Most of the godless are decent, hard working responsible, relatively moral people, and without Christ their fate is the same. As David says, “all sinners will be destroyed.” That is, those whose salvation is not from the Lord” as it says in the next verse of the “righteous.” As the whole history of redemption unfolds we know that only a righteousness from God will suffice to let us enter his presence, and Jesus tells us that he is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him. And Peter says in Acts 4:21 that:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

So David’s contrast is apropos, even if all the wicked are not so wicked on the outside.

A couple other things stand out about this Psalm. Near the beginning I read something back early in my college years that was the beginning of a theological turning point for me, although I would not have seen that until several years later. Having been “born-again” into a fundamentalist form of Christianity, I had a hard time sorting out a proper anthropology, as well as the difference between holiness and legalism. Having recently read George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture, I can see where this strain of pietistic, anti-intellectual Christianity came from.

One of the things that came from the “Higher Life” movement and “victorious” Christian living movement was the implication that the “self” was somehow invalid. I don’t know if I would have been able to put it into words, but if “I” wanted it, then it was sinful. The “I” must be emptied, and I must be filled with Jesus. This was very confusing for me as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was trying to figure out God’s will for my life, and obviously, my will and God’s had to be diametrically opposed, right? Anything that I wanted was automatically suspect. Then I come across these verses from David:

4 Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

You mean the desires of my heart even matter? I thought, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Of course as I’ve come to understand the more miles I get through in life, that of course he doesn’t give us everything we desire, but our desires matter, and matter very much to him, just as any earthly father cares about the desires of his children. And as we grow in our faith and mature in life, delighting ourselves in him and committing all we do to him, trusting in his essential goodness and love toward us, our solely selfish desires abate, and our hearts desire what is of true, eternal value, or in the Greek terms, the true, the good, and the beautiful. We learn contentment like Paul because our fulfillment is in Him, not in any circumstance or other person, not any possession, or accomplishment. We can take pride in any or all of this, but we never put our hope in anything or anyone but Christ alone.

A couple other verses stand out and that I memorized back in the day:

23 The Lord delights in the way of the man
    whose steps he has made firm;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

and

31 The law of his God is in his heart;
    his feet do not slip.

Well, I stumble quite a bit, and I think every Christian does because we’re sinners. We can’t read anything like this outside of the context of the gospel because we in fact all slip and fall, and God makes our steps firm only in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Our relationship with him is in fact established by him, so in that even when we stumble we will not completely fall. It is impossible because as Jesus said in John 6:

39“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise them up on the last day. 40“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

As long as I stay focused on the gospel I will always be on solid ground, and the entire Bible is the story of the gospel!