Monthly Archives: December 2015

Psalm 101-103

Back to a couple Psalms of David, 101 and 103, which are very different. The one in between is “A Prayer of an afflicted man. When he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.” You could almost see 101 leading to the lament in 102 because what David wants is simply impossible from our perspective, and 103 the victory of God.

In 100 David could almost be called judgmental. He said early on that he will be careful to lead a blameless life, but he led anything but a blameless life. He says he will walk in his house “with a blameless heart.” Really? He will set before his eyes “no vile thing.” He talks about allowing the faithful and blameless to minister to him. The false and the deceivers will not be able to stand in his presence. He ends with this:

Every morning I will put to silence
    all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
    from the city of the Lord.

Maybe he had just gotten sick and tired of human sin and wanted to put an end to it. Good luck with that. Maybe it’s just a Psalm of aspiration, like I wish I could get rid of all evil, but we know that will never happen on this earth. Maybe it speaks eschatologically, that one day the city of the Lord will be free from all those who do evil.

Psalm 103 by contrast is full of praise for God, which is rooted in God’s mercy and grace. David understands that the essence of life is lived in light of our creator, who happens to be a perfectly holy all powerful being. As such, our sin is ever an issue. It can’t be wiped away, swept under the rug, treated as if it is not the serious and deadly business it is. I’ve quoted Paul from Romans 6:23 over and over again as I’ve made my way through the OT: “The wages of sin is death.” The second part of that verse giving us the remedy is prefigured by David here.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

These verses can only be fulfilled in Christ. As Paul says in Romans 5:8:

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

God’s love for us in Him, and his forgiveness of our sins in Him, is literally unable to be measured. Wow! There is no time when west becomes east, nor east west; our sin before him is nonexistent! Literally. Talk about Jesus in the Old Testament. When well meaning Christians say God loves everyone, that simply isn’t true. He may love them as creatures made in his image, but there is a huge, indeed infinite quantitative and qualitative difference between the love God has for his people in Christ, and the love for the rest of mankind. In fact, in verse 13 David uses the image of a father’s compassion for his children to compare God’s compassion for us, pointing to the Lord’s prayer. God goes from judge to Abba, Father in Christ for his people. He also contrasts our finitude with those who are loved by the Lord:

14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

He has compassion on man because he is dust, but those he loves he is with forever. Notice how David says those who keep his covenant, and obey him. The Pelagian or Arminian would see this as conditional; if we obey, he will love us. That is upside down from the truth. It is God’s love for us (we love him because he first loved us, as John says) in Christ that transforms us from his enemy to his child. Therefore we want to keep his covenant and obey him, even though we don’t do it very well. But it is a complete transformation in orientation. God’s love accomplishes; it is efficacious. God’s love doesn’t try.

And finally David tells us God has the authority and power to pull all this off:

19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

All pretty much says it . . . all. And David ends the psalm surveying this great work of God exhorting everything in heaven and on earth and in our souls to praise him. Praise the Lord!

 

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Psalm 96-100

These are all Psalm of praise, interspersed with God’s judgment. But the latter is not of the wicked in vindication as in so many others, but almost of ruling. Like the following verses:

96:10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.

13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

97:8 Zion hears and rejoices
    and the villages of Judah are glad
    because of your judgments, Lord.
For you, Lord, are the Most High over all the earth;
    you are exalted far above all gods.

All of creation rejoices:

98:9 let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.

99:2 Great is the Lord in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.

The contrast is made throughout that the Lord is God, the creator and ruler of all things, and the idols of the nations are nothing. God is holy and mighty and all the nations are to acknowledge that. There is exhortation in these Psalms rather than the desire for vindication, a plea to worship he alone who is worthy. And in 100 we see this very Reformed verse:

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

An alternative reading for the second sentence is, “It is he who made us, and not we ourselves.” Either way, God’s people become his by his doing. As it says in 98:

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.

Saving is God’s doing, not ours. We know from the NT that that is simply impossible. We are dead in our sins, under God’s wrath, utterly lost, his enemies, unless he transforms our hearts. When he does, we believe. Our response to all of this, letting God be God, is from 100:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Let the gratitude flow like a rushing river, like a great surge of the oceans, not able to be bound because he is worthy.

Psalm 94 & 95

Familiar themes continue in these two Psalms. The Psalmist calls for revenge and vindication against the wicked and evildoers; they boast and seem to get away with it. They think the Lord is blind to their evil, but he who created them is indeed not blind. Like many other Psalms, 94 appeals to God as creator:

Does he who fashioned the ear not hear?
    Does he who formed the eye not see?

How obvious it is that we are contingent beings, yet “the wicked” think don’t even care if he even exists. To God, man’s thoughts, declares the writer, are futile. Man’s thoughts without God are empty and pointless, they are ineffective, unproductive, vain and useless. All synonyms for futile. They key to the Psalm, as it is to the whole of the OT is this:

14 For the Lord will not reject his people;
    he will never forsake his inheritance.

The contrast with the wicked, those who reject God, is always with God’s people, his inheritance. For some reason, most Christians think that when we get to the New Testament, and the New Covenant, election into God’s people is now done by vote. Man’s all sovereign choice determines whether he gets in. Then like magic he becomes one of God’s own. Funny how that was never the way it was done prior to Christ. So God completely changes his M.O. I don’t think so. God’s elect have always been God’s elect; he does the choosing, we do the responding. And those he doesn’t choose, the wicked, they will be punished for their sin and rejection of him, as the writer says, they will be destroyed.

Psalm 95 sings praise to God, the creator God who made everything. This theme is impressively consistent throughout the OT, and why Satan inspired Charles Dawrin to create an alternative creation myth. If God isn’t required, then we can do whatever we want. Like when the parents leave for the weekend, it’s time to party! And again this Psalm refers to we being God’s people, this time of his pasture, and the flock under his care. But the Psalm ends on a discordant note, referencing back to Israel’s rejection of God before they entered the promised land. Thus we take seriously the exhortation of the Psalmist: if we hear his voice, do not harden our hearts. In fact we can’t because he lives in us! He has transformed our hearts from stone to flesh. We have gone from enemies to adopted children. Our whole orientation to existence is changed because God’s whole orientation to us has changed, from judge and wrath, to daddy and favor. This could not be said for the people of Israel; they could only look forward to what we experience every day, God’s love in Christ.

Psalm 92 & 93

These are Psalms of unalloyed praise and declarations of victory. They essentially affirm God’s character, that he is a God worthy of our trust, and that forever. In 92, after declaring victory over his wicked foes, the Psalmist paints a picture of a life lived in dependence on God:

12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

The challenge with these verses is to identify who and what “the righteous” are. Does it mean those who do everything right, who never sin, the most moral among us? Unfortunately for the human race, if that were the case, not a single person would qualify, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” To add insult to injury, something else is readily apparent to us all: “the wages of sin is death.” So what are we to do with verses like these that declare an impossibility? We know that with God all things are possible, and secondly what is declared over and over throughout the Psalms and elsewhere in the OT: God himself is our salvation.

We cannot know what the author meant when he penned the word “righteous,” but  in post-resurrection, New Testament hindsight we can know what it actually means. Christ is our righteousness. We are given, as Paul says, a righteousness that comes by faith. It is imputed to us as if we ourselves were as righteous as Christ. Problem solved! Because we are planted in the house of the Lord, we can flourish, we need not let life wear us down. I love the image of “fresh and green.” These are eternal characteristics. Yes we waste away, and our bodies rot and die, be we do not! And the final verse is the key to it all: we trust him, period. God’s goodness and love are unimpeachable, regardless of how things may look at any one moment from our finite, limited perspective. Why? Because our perspective is eternal, and Jesus rose from the dead to guarantee it.

Psalm 91

I memorized this Psalm back in the day, and one can see why. It’s a comfort Psalm. God will protect us from all harm is it’s basic theme. Yet it cannot possibly mean that because in this life, as Moses told us in the previous Psalm that our short miserable lives are full of “trouble and sorrow.” So there is obviously much more going on here than my own comfort and security, or the believer’s in general.

The author changes person throughout. It’s a bit confusing, starting with He, then going to I, then you for most of the Psalm, then back to he. The context for God’s protection is found in him:

 1  He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

It all comes down to trust. While the author speaks of shelter and shadow, we know these are not physical things. The metaphors continue with being covered with his feathers, and finding refuge under his wings. His faithfulness is a shield and rampart. Since they are clearly not physical realities, what is the author talking about?

It is with the eyes of faith that we see into eternity, and it is only into eternity where this protection receives its ultimate realization, This is not to say that God’s protection isn’t realized in our mortal lives. In fact it is, every day! If you think of evil as a flood, God’s mercy and grace is a great wall holding the waters back. Except this wall is permeated throughout all of reality; it surrounds us as a shelter and a shield. If here were to pull back his hand we should be destroyed instantly, and by all the horrors mentioned in the Psalm.

But verse eight gives away the game as to it ultimate meaning:

You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

The author’s intent may not be the eternal and final judgment, but I believe that is God’s. The following verses could very well have reference to Christ. Satan himself used them to tempt Christ when he told him to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple. And in biblical irony the very next verse predicts Satan’s demise:

13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

As we are told in Genesis 3, Eve’s offspring would one day “crush” the serpents head. The final verses then move from you to he. It is declared by the Lord that, “he loves me.” Thus will the Lord answer when he calls, honor and deliver him, be with him in trouble, and he will be satisfied with long life. This is obviously not true with Jesus’ earthly life, where he died at 33. But it is infinitely true post resurrection because God’s promise that he would “show him my salvation” was confirmed in a most spectacular way. Death itself could not hold God’s anointed, his own son. A victory that one day all God’s people will participate in.

Psalm 90

Book IV (90-106) starts with the only Psalm from the pen of Moses, and a fascinating Psalm it is. It’s given a title: “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” Not only did Moses belong to God, but we know that he experienced the presence of God in a way that few people in all of the history of redemption did. There could be absolutely no doubt in Moses’ mind that not only does God exist, but that his power and purposes can never be thwarted. Yet in this Psalm we see a conflicted man who bemoans the harshness of life. In other words, even though God’s existence is a fact, we still live in a fallen world where sin and death reign, where the dust of death gathers all around us, where stubborn weeds grow up in the garden of life and threaten to strangle it.

In the Bible, there is no “problem of evil” as such that challenges the existence of God. In the biblical worldview God is an unalterable fact, and from there we try to figure out the mess that is life. God’s existence is never something that has to be proved because he consistently reveals himself, and he can never be mistaken for some otherwise natural phenomenon. There is no tension between the fallen-ness of the world and the existence of God (see Job), but there is plenty of confusion as to what kind of God he is. The Psalms are replete with this confusion, which makes them so relatable to so many.

Moses first establishes who God is, that he is his people’s dwelling, where their existence is lived out, and that he is the creator of all things. Then he establishes who man is, basically dust. How incredibly, powerfully important are these two facts, God is God, and we are not. We live in total, complete dependence on him. Next God’s anger and wrath is revealed against our sin. After commenting on the brevity of life, Moses says even the best of our days “are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” This Moses guy is a Negative Nellie! Yet he ends the Psalm on a note of hope because he trusts in the goodness and character of God. He starts this section with a request:

12 Teach us to number our days aright,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

In refusing to give way to cynicism or despair, Moses wants to understand, wants to see reality as it actually is, the way God created it, and thus gain wisdom. He knows this comes only from the perspective and interpretations we get directly from God; we rely as the proverb says, not on our own understanding, but rather trust God with “all our heart.”

He then appeals to God’s “unfailing love” which alone allows us to “sing for joy and be glad all our days.” You almost get the feeling that Moses is a bit of a schizophrenic, but we all are; how can we not be! Life is hard. But the beauty of the biblical worldview is that it can take into account the poop that is so often life, and yet we can persevere through it with a perspective we take from God himself. All God’s people experience the dialectic, the hope, the despair, the joy, the sorrow, the belief, the doubt. These work on and with one another to build an edifice that cannot be shaken, especially for those of us who live on the other side of the crucifixion and resurrection. We are promised by the Apostle Paul, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Moses and all those who lived before the ultimate fulfillment of the promise didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like we do.

I love the way he ends the Psalm:

16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

God never isolates the faith to individuals outside of the context of the family and the Church, God’s people. God wants and provides for our children to walk in the footsteps of our faith; it is part of the plan, in fact why we baptize infants. The covenant through all of redemptive history moves through the seed of the man and the reproductive organs of the woman, giving life both material and spiritual. And there is nothing more important in all of existence than the favor of God, for as Charles Hodge put it, “the favor of God is the life of the soul.” The OT saints could only hope, but in Christ we know the favor of our God is poured out upon us; we can pray and trust that he has only good intentions toward us, that the work of our hands is indeed important to him, that he loves to lavish blessing on us, and yes, establish the work of our hands. Amen!

Psalm 89

The historical context for this Psalm:

The occasion for this psalm was the conquest of Jerusalem, the capture of king Jehoiachin, his deportation to Babylon along with Daniel and many other able Hebrews, and the enthronement of the puppet king Zedekiah, a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar. A number of able scholars agree on this.

Given this it is interesting to see how the author frames his plea to God. The first 37 verses focus on God’s faithfulness to his covenant, that he will never violate it, or alter what his lips have uttered. He swore by his own holiness, and would not lie to David, that his line will continue forever. But it sure doesn’t look like it now! Many of the faithful must have felt like this Psalmist for hundreds of years prior to Christ:

46 How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
    How long will your wrath burn like fire?

The people of Israel had heard nothing from God for over 400 years; how long, O Lord indeed. Yet his people always went back to one fact, one thing they could truly hang their hope on, God’s covenant. Like Abraham being willing to raise the knife to kill Isaac, they knew God would be faithful to his covenant because he cannot lie. When John the Baptist was born his father said God was raising up a horn of salvation for Israel because he remembered

     his holy covenant,
73     the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

The pertinent question for the Psalmist is about God’s wrath. Zechariah nails it, speaking by the Holy Spirit, in his song of praise to God for the birth of his son. Our enemies are sin and death, and the only way we can serve God without fear is if his wrath is satisfied, his judgment complete, justice done. We serve him now in Christ’s holiness and righteousness, as Paul says in I Corinthians 1, God chose us in Christ, who is for us wisdom from God, that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. No wonder the Psalmist, despite the apparent hopelessness of it all, could end the Psalm with these words:

52 Praise be to the Lord forever!
Amen and Amen.

It’s all about forever! And God has got that covered; we only need look to the cross. Our salvation, now and forever, is rooted in God’s promise, not our performance, and therein lies our “perfect peace,” that peace “which transcends all understanding.”