Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Psalm 15

Obtaining the holy hill of God (vs. 1-5)—This psalm of David asks one question and answers it. The question is found in verse 1: “LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” It’s a good query. In effect, who is righteous before God? Who is the one who pleases Him? Who will live with Him forever? Obviously, the answer given is not a total one, but it does give us some virtues to ponder. And we can find these things as easily in the New Testament as in the Old for they are rooted in the eternal holiness of God.

So, what is the answer? He who walks uprightly, works righteousness, and he who “speaks truth in his heart” (v. 2). Keep in mind the poetic nature of this material, so there will some similarity of thought, but still enough difference for comparative purposes. The one who walks uprightly is righteous, and part of that righteousness is to speak the truth. Notice the source of that truth speaking—the heart. The rest of the qualities mentioned in the psalm are also part of “righteousness,” so in one sense, verse 2 simply establishes the principle. The righteous speak the truth (v. 2), do not slander, loves his neighbor (“love worketh no ill to his neighbor,” Romans 13:10), “nor does he take up a reproach against his friend” (v. 3). The last statement indicates the spread of false rumors; the righteous is not a gossip. Further, the righteous despises evil doers, but “honors those who fear the Lord” (v. 4). “Hate evil, love good,” reads Amos 5:15. “You who love the LORD, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10). Indeed, anyone who does love the Lord will hate evil, and anyone who loves evil obviously doesn’t love the Lord. Godly people will love what He loves and despise what He despises. Honesty is the next thought regarding the righteous man. He will keep his word even if it brings hurt and damage to himself (v. 4). His honesty is further illustrated by his not cheating others, or taking a bribe himself (v. 5). “He who does these things shall never be moved” (v. 5). So closes the psalm.

Let’s sum up. There are four basic “virtues” here: walking uprightly, proper use of the tongue, not harming others, and honesty. There is more to true religion than this, but if we do these things, we will certainly be a long way on the road to the Lord’s “holy hill.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Psalm 14

The fool—“has said in his heart, ‘There is no God” (v. 1). Atheism leads to people to be “corrupt” and to do “abominable works.” But the skeptic is not the only one. David seems to move from the specific to the general: “There is none who does good” (v. 1). “They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt, there is none who does good, no, not one” (v. 3). Paul quotes this verse in Romans 3:10 to indicate that all of us have fallen short of the glory of God and in need of salvation through Jesus Christ. Yet, while men deny Him, “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (v. 2). That verse makes me a little sad. There are so many down here on earth denying that God even exists, while the Lord is in heaven, watching, hoping. He’s there, and the one who denies Him is a “fool.” Verse 4 asks a great question: “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?” Not necessarily, but ignorance will lead to disobedience and ultimate destruction. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). “Therefore my people have gone into captivity because they have no knowledge” (Isaiah 5:13). The “workers of iniquity” in Psalm 14:4 oppress God’s people and do not call upon Him. But the Lord is with the righteous (v. 5), and eventually those who oppose Him will be “in great fear;” David writes as if it is already so, and perhaps it is: Clarke thinks he is referring to the Canaanite nations who were in fear of the Israelites. Perhaps so. But the allusion seems to be the rich and powerful oppressing the poor. Verse 6 reads “you (the workers of iniquity) shame the counsel of the poor”—this is just another indication of the lack of concern that many have for the needy. “But the Lord is his refuge" (v. 6). We can always turn to Him, no matter what may afflict us. The psalm ends on relatively happy note: when God restores His people, let them be glad and rejoice (v. 7). The verse speaks of “the captivity of His people,” but this surely cannot mean Assyria or Babylon, not if this is a psalm of David, as the heading indicates. “Captivity” may simply be a poetic reference to the wicked’s attempts to tyrannize God’s people—something they always try to do. And at which they will ultimately fail.

Psalm 13

Sorrow and joy—There is no information regarding the background circumstances of this psalm, but David is in distress again, and apparently because of some enemy that is troubling him (v. 2). As always, the Lord is close and functioning in David’s life; or at least, he attributes all to God. When things aren’t well with him, then the question is “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (v. 1). He wanted/needed God’s help, but the Lord was slow to answer; we’ve all been there. In this case, his enemy was “exalted” over him (v. 2). David asks God to “consider and hear me” (v. 3); he was possibly near death—“lest I sleep the sleep of death” (v. 3), and “lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed against him’” (v. 4). Did the Lord answer David? These is no specific information in the psalm that He did, but verses 5-6 seem to imply that He came to David’s rescue. Notice again David’s relationship with God: “I have trusted in your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation” (v. 5). When troubled, God had forsaken him; when saved, it was the Lord who had done it. To David, God is active and deeply involved in his life. Thus, he “will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me” (v. 6). From God forgetting him to dealing bountifully with him—it’s a perfect description of the life of everyone who is trying to serve the Lord. And it makes the psalms very practical to us, because we realize that even the great people of Bible dealt with the day to day trials that we do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Psalm 12

Man’s tongue vs. God’s (vs. 1-8)—David is writing an editorial for the year 2010: “Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases! For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men” (v. 1). That does indeed seem to be happening today, and it was David’s complaint about his own times as well. The tongue comes under special consideration in this psalm. The wicked “speak idly everyone with his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak” (v. 2). Empty words and hypocrisy are common verbal vices. David calls for the Lord to stop “flattering lips and the tongue that speaks proud things” (v. 3), and especially those who believe their words will elevate them above others (v. 4). This elevation involves power over the poor and needy, for whom the Lord will arise and protect (v. 5). In contrast to the deceitful words of man, “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (v. 6). The number “seven” is not to be taken literally, but indicates a totality, a completeness, a thoroughness—God’s word is absolutely wholesome and uncontaminated. Does verse 7—“You shall keep them, O LORD, you shall preserve them from this generation forever”—refer to His words or His people? Given verse 6, I lean toward the former view, but given verse 8, the latter seems indicated. Either idea is true. And the baseness of the wicked ends the psalm: “The wicked prowl on every side, when vileness is exalted among the sons of men” (v. 8). Note that men will “exalt” that which is vile. The prominent place that sin occupies in our society today—and in David’s—is wholly the result of men rejecting the pure words of the Lord.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Psalm 11

“If the foundations are destroyed” (vs. 1-3)—“In the LORD I put my trust; How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain’?” (v. 1). David appears to be under some duress again, and is being advised to run. But he trusts the Lord and isn’t going to do it. He doesn’t deny that the wicked are abroad, effective, and ready to attack (v. 2). And if these people destroy what society is built upon, the “foundations” of truth, equity, and righteousness, then “what can the righteous do?” (v. 3). Indeed, one of the great lessons of history is that every society and culture is established upon certain principles, whatever they might be. For example, the United States was established upon Judeo-Christian concepts; that foundation is being eroded significantly today and the wise can see the fruits of it—a country teetering on the brink of disaster. If the foundation of any building it destroyed, what will happen to it? The whole thing will collapse. So, “what can the righteous do?” They can do what David did.

“The Lord is in His holy temple” (vs. 4-7)—The righteous can remember the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. He is in His temple, He is on His throne (v. 4). Much of what happened to David—and to all of God’s people—is frequently a test from Jehovah: “The Lord tests the righteous” (v. 5). How will we measure up when things get a little tight? “The Lord is righteous. He loves righteousness, His countenance beholds the upright” (v. 7). “But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain coals; Fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup” (vs. 5-6). It isn’t always easy, during the trial, to remain faithful. But always remember the rewards, that God is indeed on the side of the righteous, and the wicked will eventually be brought down. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Psalm 10

A description of the wicked (vs. 1-11)—Life has it vicissitudes, its constant variations. Once again, David wants to know why the Lord isn’t acting in the face of palpable wickedness: “Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide in times of trouble?” (v. 1). We have a very good description of the mindset of the ungodly. He persecutes the poor (v. 2), boasts of his intended foul deeds, “blesses the greedy and renounces the LORD” (v. 3). He is full of proud, and “does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts” (v. 4). He grieves others, ignores the judgments of God, and sneers at his enemies (v. 5). He believes himself invincible (v. 6). “His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression; Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity” (v. 7). He skulks, murders, and plots against those weaker than him (vs. 8-10). And all the while, he believes that God pays no attention to what he is doing: “He has said in his heart, ‘God has forgotten; He hides His face; He will never see’” (v. 11). The wicked do not see God’s patience (II Peter 3:9). They believe that because God does not immediately punish sin, that He either doesn’t care, doesn’t see, or doesn’t exist. Ecclesiastes 8:11 expresses this mentality perfectly: “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

David calls for God’s justice (vs. 12-18)—The king wants God to act: “Arise, O LORD! O God, lift up Your hand! Do not forget the humble” (v. 12). The wicked continue to “renounce God,” and say to themselves “You [God] will not require an account” (v. 13). But the Lord sees—not on the evil of the ungodly, but “trouble and grief;” “You are the helper of the fatherless” (v. 14). David desires justice: “Break the arm of the wicked and the evil man; seek out his wickedness until You find none” (v. 15). And, because “the Lord is King forever and ever” (v. 16), He will come to the aid of the righteous: “LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more” (vs. 17-18). At some point, we can be assured that justice will be done, though the patience of the righteous is sometimes stretched. Again, remember David’s questions in verse 1: “Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide in times of trouble?” We simply must wait on Jehovah, as hard as that can be on occasion.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Psalm 9

Praise to the Lord (vs. 1-2)—Most of the early psalms have a recurring theme of praise to Jehovah for salvation from enemies; the repetition is not bad, of course, because we need these themes enforced in our minds consistently. David establishes in the very first statement what we ought to be doing all the time: “I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart.” Whole-hearted devotion to God is what He deserves and is our due.

There are basically three reasons given, in this psalm, why David offers this adulation of the Lord.

Justice (vs. 3-5)—“You have maintained my right and my cause” (v. 4). “You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked; You have blotted out their name forever and ever” (v. 5). Jehovah is a loving God, but He is also a just God, and unrepented of sin will be punished. David is thankful that the Lord has vindicated him.

Judgment (vs. 6-8)—Justice leads to judgment. Some of that is noted in the verses above, but stated openly in verses 7-8: “He has prepared His throne for judgment. He shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness.”

Refuge (vs. 9-12)—Thus, just as He punishes the wicked, the Lord will protect His people: “The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You” (vs. 9-10). “He does not forget the cry of the humble” (v. 12). Note that He is a refuge for us; we can trust Him; He will never forsake us; and He will always hear us when we cry to Him. Very comforting words, indeed. Thus, “Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people” (v. 11).

A plea for mercy (vs. 13-20)—There seems to be a little change of tone in these last few verses, as if David is in some distress; the confidence of verses 1-12 is not as overpowering. If the Lord will have mercy upon him (v. 13), then David will be able to speak of His praise and salvation (v. 14). The judgment of God is once again mentioned in verse 16, because “the nations have sunk down in the pit which they made; in the net which they hid, their own foot is caught” (v. 15). This is a theme we’ve seen before; we often dig the sinful pit into which we ourselves fall. The end result of those who “forget God” is manifest: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (v. 17). The Lord remembers those of His righteous who have been oppressed (v. 18).

Yet, David needs help, or perhaps sees injustice that needs to be corrected: “Arise, O LORD, do not let man prevail” (v. 19). Man, ultimately, will not prevail, of course, but it does seem to us humans that, at times, the Lord’s cause is taking a beating. David pleads for God to act: “Let the nations be judged in Your sight” (v. 19). Yes, we would all like to see that, but God works in His own time and in His own way. The final verse imparts a thought that the world would be wise to learn before it is too late: “Put them in fear, O LORD, that the nations may know themselves to be but men” (v. 20). About 300 years later when Israel was being threatened by Assyria, they made an alliance with Egypt. The Lord told them that such an action was vain. Why? Because “the Egyptians are men, and not God” (Isaiah 31:3). When the Lord comes in judgment upon a nation, all the horses, chariots, swords, shields—or bombs and bullets—won’t do one bit of good.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Psalm 8

The majesty of the Lord (vs. 1-9)—The excellent, awesomeness, and majesty of God are the key themes of this psalm: “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens” (v. 1). From the very beginning of our existence as humans, we show forth the praise of the Almighty (v. 2). David is awed by this God: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (vs. 3-4). Man is truly a small, very small, and seemingly insignificant part of this virtually endless universe. The earth is a tiny, obscure planet, revolving around a mid-sized sun, in an out-of-the-way location in a galaxy of no mean dimension, indeed, one of billions of such galaxies in the universe. And here’s man—so frail, so weak, with such a short life span. There exists a God with the wisdom to create such an intricate and expansive universe, yet Who is mindful of a lowly creature like man. It is indeed an awesome thought.

This weak, feeble, sinful being has been made, by God, “a little lower than the angels,” has been “crowned…with glory and honor,” and been given “dominion over the works of thy hands” (vs. 5-6), including “all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the fields, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea” (vs. 6-7). What has man done to deserve this “glory and honor”? Why is God so mindful of us? What have we done besides rebel against Him? With David, we must repeat, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is they name in all the earth!” (v. 9).

Two final thoughts about this psalm. The writer of Hebrews, in chapter 2 of his book, applies this psalm to Jesus. Some believe that Psalm 8 is thus totally Messianic, but I’m not of that persuasion. The dominion God gave to man is a type of the dominion that He gave to Christ. We have that which we rule over, and so does He. And both He and we obtained that honor though being made “a little lower than the angels.”

This psalm also helps us to reflect upon God and His nature. We need to take the time to consider Who—and What—our God is. His infinite wisdom and knowledge, His inexplicable purposes, His love which flows simply from the basis of who He is; and then compare Him to us humans with our limitations, ignorance, and selfishness. Making the effort to meditate on the contrast between God and man should help us to appreciate more just how “excellent” He indeed is.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Psalm 7

David prays for deliverance from his enemies (vs. 1-)—Once again, David’s prayer ascends to heaven for deliverance from some unknown enemy (vs. 1-2). While David almost certainly had human enemies in mind, Satan is the ultimate foe and that is probably how we should interpret such for our lives. Most of us have never had a king or another nation’s army after us, so David’s situation is somewhat unique. Our great adversary is the devil (I Peter 5:8), and he is every bit as fearsome, if not more so, than any human foe David ever encountered. David is willing to accept justice; if he had harmed someone else, “if there is iniquity in my hands, if I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me…let the enemy pursue and overtake me…” (vs. 3-5). He is willing to accept due punishment. But the implication is, he believes he has been righteous and his enemies at fault. “Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, And according to my integrity within me” (v. 8). “Let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the just” (v. 9). This life won’t be easy, and we can expect trials and tribulations—tests from the Lord: “For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” (v. 9). How else will He know if He can trust and depend upon us? And how often do we fail to pass the test? We must be ever vigilant, and be strong, for we never know when an occasion might arise when we are given the opportunity to exalt and glorify God. Some of these occasions won’t be easy; thus, gaining patience and strength through the Lord’s “tests” is essential.

A vindication of God (vs. 10-13)—David continues to demonstrate his faith in a righteous God. The Lord will save the “upright in heart” (v. 10). He is a “just judge,” Who “is angry with the wicked every day” (v. 11). If man does not repent, he will meet a God of war, Who “sharpen[s] His sword” and takes His bow and “makes it ready” (v. 12). “He also prepares for Himself instruments of death” (v. 13). Not surprisingly, David, a man of war, uses military allusions here to exhibit God’s mighty power against the wicked. The idea is that the Lord will protect the righteous and punish the wicked. It’s a simple theme, but one David believed whole-heartedly.

The wicked dig their own pit (vs. 14-16)—Regarding the ungodly, “he made a pit and dug it out, and has fallen into the ditch which he made” (v. 15). In Galatians 6:7, Paul puts it this way: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Sin has a way of backfiring on us; we suffer the consequences of our own actions and decisions, and that is the way it ought to be. “His trouble shall return upon his own head” (v. 16). Sin has consequences which must be. If only men would learn from it and turn to God.

A final word of praise to God (v. 17)—David ends the psalm on a note of joy: “I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.” If a man as busy as David could find time to do this, why can’t we?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Psalm 6

David pleads with God (vs. 1-7)—Whatever the circumstances behind this psalm, David believed the Lord was angry with him: “O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure” (v. 1). The king pleads weakness, which does describe the human condition, but is no excuse for sin (v. 2); since he also mentions in verse 2 that his “bones are troubled,” it’s possible that he was ill. This could be further supported by verse 5: “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” But in verse 7, he refers to his enemies, so this could simply be another case of David being sore pressed by some regional army; or, we mustn’t forget, that David wasn’t king until he was 30. His troubles with Saul were also very vexing to him, and that could be the situation behind this poem.

Regardless, he asks the question most all of us have asked at one time or another: “But You, O LORD--how long?” (v. 3). Relief from trial rarely comes immediately, but David’s attitude is correct when he says “Oh, save me for Your mercies' sake!” (v. 4). “Don’t do it for me, do it that You might be glorified.” His sorrow is really pitiful: “I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears” (v. 6). But the poetical language is certainly eloquent and dramatic.

The Lord answers David (vs. 8-10)—“The LORD has heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer” (v. 9). What a wonderful thing it is when Jehovah, in His time and “for [His] mercies’ sake” answers our prayers. With the Lord on his side, David could say, “Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity; for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.” (v. 8). David is confident now that he will be able to meet and defeat whoever, or whatever, confronts him because God stands with him. Indeed, now it will be his enemies who will be tormented: “Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly” (v. 10).

Nobody, even the most righteous, escapes trials and sorrows in this life. Though David doesn’t mention any particular sin he has committed, He believes the Lord is angry with him, and why else would God be? Sin has consequences, and they must be faced up to. But David appeals for mercy and understanding, (v. 2), and believes the Lord will hear him. And, indeed, the Lord answers him and David regains his spiritual confidence. Turn to God, not away from Him, when this life’s burdens become overwhelming.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Psalm 5

“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning” (vs. 1-3)—In this psalm, David bounces back and forth between God’s response to the righteous and His response to the wicked—or at least the response David wants Him to give. David begins with a request that God hear his prayer and a statement of faith that He will: “Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation” (v. 1); “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD” (v. 3), and David would not be lax in making his prayers: “in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” (v. 3). As we have already seen and will see constantly, David was a devoted man of prayer. I often wonder how constant and dedicated we are in our prayer lives. We need patience (Luke 18:1-5), but we also need to ask, and that may be the biggest problem: “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3). Let’s be more consistent and pure in our prayer lives.

“For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness” (vs. 4-6)—David lists a few things—and people—the Lord disapproves of: boasters (or, “foolish,” KJV, v. 5), liars, bloodthirsty, and deceitful men (v. 6). “You hate all workers of iniquity” (v. 5). God doesn’t “hate” anyone, of course, but their actions certainly repulse Him.

David's reverent, submissive attitude (vs. 7-8)—In contrast, David says, “I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple” (v. 7). Notice the “multitude” of the mercy of God; even a godly man like David recognized his need for a vast amount of grace. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons David was a godly man. And his attitude in worship was correct, too: “in thy fear…” There was no flippancy or casualness in David. He was awed in the presence of Almighty God, and I wish we had a double-dose of his spirit today. And he knew also where guidance and protection came from:  "Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness...Make Your way straight before my face" (v. 8).

“Destroy thou them, O God” (vs. 9-10)—Those who love righteousness will hate iniquity, and that describes David. The lives and words of his enemies were revolting to him (v. 9). His solution, “Destroy thou them, O God,” (v. 10, KJV) was a bit strong, but keep in mind this is poetic; the NKJV softens it to “Pronounce them guilty, O God,” and the ASV is closer to that: “Hold them guilty.” Regardless, David’s next statement is perhaps a little more explanatory: “let them fall by their own counsels.” The problem was not what they had done to David, but “they have rebelled against You” (v. 10). David is not above the occasional desire for personal retribution, because he was human, and keep in mind that these psalms, though inspired of God, are written from a human perspective. But ultimately, the king’s concern was how man responded to his God, and if they refused to honor Him, they were worthy of condemnation and punishment.

The final contrast (vs. 11-12)—“But let all those rejoice who put their trust in you” (v. 11). There was a reason for that: “because You defend them,” and “You, O Lord, will bless the righteous; with favor You will surround him as with a shield” (v. 12). There is much reason for “those…who love Your name” to “be joyful in You,” and “ever shout for joy” (v. 11). Do we ever really stop and think of the wonderful blessings God showers upon us? Part of our problem is that many of God’s blessings are not visible—“defending” us, “surrounding us as with a shield.” We tend to think of “blessings” as material things, and those certainly are “blessings.” But much of what God does for us cannot be seen with the naked eye, and we must be careful that we are grateful for these matters as well. David was aware of them, and he makes us aware of them, too.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Psalm 4

“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness” (vs. 1-8)—David knows that the only one who can relieve him—or anybody else, for that matter—is the Lord of righteousness in His mercy (v. 1). The king cannot understand why men continue to “love worthlessness and seek falsehood” (v. 2). The Lord honors the godly and will hear him when He calls (v. 3). The KJV and ASV render the first phrase in verse 4 “Stand in awe, and sin not.” The NKJV has “Be angry, and do not sin.” That’s the reading of the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the “Septuagint”), and Paul follows that reading in Ephesians 4:26. Either way, avoid sin and meditate “on your bed and be still” (v. 4). Every godly person needs time for inward reflection; we must work to have a deep, personal, reflective relationship with God. And once the personal communing is over, “offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord” (v. 5). Too many of the Jews put their faith in actual animal sacrifice, whether they made the offering with a pure heart or not. God has never accepted anything less than sincere, pure worship.

Some mock and ask “Who will show us any good?”, apparently believing the Lord Jehovah can’t, or won’t, do it. But David knows where blessings come from—“you have put gladness in my heart more than in the season that their grain and wine increased” (v. 7). And the king also knows sustains him: “I will both lie down in peace and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (v. 8). Again, David does not put his trust in himself or in others; it’s only Jehovah Who is his protector and provider. There are not many absolute kings down through history who have this kind of faith in God.  There is a nice contrast in this psalm between those who “love worthlessness and seek falsehood” and the one who, upon proper meditation, offers the “sacrifices of righteousness” and puts his trust in the Lord.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Psalm 3

“There is no help for him in God” (v. 1-2)—There is a heading to this psalm in some versions: “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.” This is not part of the original text; some later editor added it. It may be true, but just be aware that when you see such a heading, it isn’t part of what the original author wrote. We can be pretty sure about the human authors, though. Psalm 3 is attributed to David and that is almost certainly correct.

Whatever the circumstance, David was feeling distress: “LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me” (v. 1). His enemies thought they had him, and that God wouldn’t help him. “'There is no help for him in God'" (v. 3). But David believed differently.

“He heard me from His holy hill” (vs. 3-4)—One of the great lessons from the Psalms is how personal and involved the writers believe that God is in their lives. David had faith that the Lord would protect him (v. 3). And when he prayed, “He heard me from His holy hill” (v. 4). David believed the Lord would deliver him from the troubles he mentioned in the first two verses. Did God, by inspiration, tell David what He would do? No, David escaped from the troubling circumstances, and attributed it to God because he simply believed the Lord cared about him and was actively involved in his life. The Lord was “there.” Of course, He didn’t always do what the king wanted any more than He always does what we want. But to David, Jehovah was intimately working and engaged in his life, and the king rarely forgot it and gave the Lord credit for it. This is not a matter of David being inspired by the Holy Spirit; it is a matter of him having faith in God. Otherwise, the Psalms would be useless to us. We would be so much more at peace if we had that same kind of faith.

“Arise, O Lord” (vs. 5-8)—Interestingly, it appears that David had yet to be liberated from whatever ailed him. Verse 7 reads, “Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God,” as if deliverance was yet future. Yet, David’s faith was so great that he knew Jehovah had heard his prayer (v. 4). And he was so confident in that that he could say “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (vs. 5-6). And indeed, even if, as verse 7 seems to say, David had not yet be rescued from his troubling circumstance, he spoke as if he already had: “For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly” (v. 7). David knew that if/when he was rescued, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” Why? Because “Your blessing in upon Your people” (v. 8), not upon the ungodly.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Psalm 2

Why do the heathen rage? (vs. 1-3)—This is a Messianic psalm; let me get that fact out immediately. We are dealing with the Lord Jesus here and how people react to Him and His divine message. The first three verses of Psalm 2 present a perfect picture of the way humans--the “heathen” (KJV, or “nations,” ASV, NKJV)--act “against Jehovah and against His anointed” (v. 2). They “rage” against righteousness, they “imagine (or plot) a vain thing” (v. 1). They simply do not want to be bound by the strictures of the word of God: “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (v. 3). All one has to do is look at our own country today and see the viciousness of the ungodly towards Christianity and you will have a perfect example of what the Psalmist is talking about in these three verses.

God holds them in derision (vs. 4-9) Verse 4 is a bit haunting: “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.” He’s not amused. It is a contemptuous, derisive laugh. “The Lord shall hold them in derision.” His wrath is imminent and will be exercised through “My King on my holy hill of Zion” (v. 6)—the “King” being Christ. Verse 7 reads, “I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” This passage is quoted in both Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5 and applied to Jesus. He will have all authority (v. 8; cf. Matthew 28:18), and “shalt break them with a rod of iron” (v. 9). He could come—and did for some—as the Lamb of God. But He is also “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) and His rule as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (I Tim. 6:15) will ultimately not be pleasant for those who reject Him. Because it is His word by which they—and all of us—will be judged (John 12:48).

Be wise, O kings (vs. 10-12)—The advice given in these last three verses is directed at leaders—“kings” and “judges” (v. 10—remember the parallelism of Hebrew poetry). The idea, of course, is that, more often than not, the people will follow their leaders. “O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err” (Isaiah 3:12). So, in Psalm 2:11, He instructs these leaders to “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Honor the Son, “Lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little” (v. 12). It doesn’t take much “wrath” from the Lord to destroy the wicked. The “Son” obviously is Christ. The last statement in the psalm is one for which the righteous can only pray: “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him” (v. 12). What kind of country would we have, how much better off would we be, if our President and Congressmen—yea, all people—truly “put their trust in Him.”

Psalm 1

"Blessed is the man" (vs. 1-3)--The term “blessed” (v. 1) doesn’t indicate “happy,” as is sometimes thought. That would make some “beatitudes” sound ridiculous: “Blessed are they that mourn” (Matt. 5:4) is somewhat contradictory. The idea behind “blessed” is “well off in God’s sight.” Here is the one who has put himself into a position to be “blessed” by God. The Lord doesn’t really care if we are happy or not, as long as we are obedient. I’m being a little unpolished in that statement, but truly our emotions are not the most important thing in our relationship with God.

Anyway, in Psalm 1:1 the “blessed” man is the one who avoids the contagion of sin and sinners, and finds his delight in righteousness and the word of God. Notice the progression of sin in verse 1: “walks…stands…sits.” It becomes easier and easier to sin the more we find ourselves in the company of those who practice it. No, we are well off if we “delight” and “meditate” on God’s law (v. 2). That doesn’t mean we sit and read our Bibles 24 hours a day; but it does mean that we think about it, consider how it should apply in our lives, and find great…happiness?…in studying and applying it. Again, being obedient to God may not always bring the “happiness” our fleshly nature craves, but there is a peace of mind in knowing we have done as God wills. And the Lord sees and rewards: “he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (v. 3). A lovely figure.

"The ungodly are not so” (vs. 4)--They “are like the chaff which the wind driveth away” (v. 4). A useless, vapid life. What good is chaff—the husk of corn or wheat which has been separated from the grain—especially after the wind has scattered it? What a picture of emptiness and futility!

Separating the righteous and the wicked (vs. 5-6)--Jehovah will simply not let the wicked abide with the just (v. 5). "For the Lord knows”—approves, directs—“the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish”—will come to naught and result in eternal perdition (v. 6). A simple Psalm that establishes the theme of the book, yea, in one sense, of the entire Bible.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Introduction to the Book of Psalms

This is the longest book in the Bible, of course, with 150 “psalms,” not “chapters.” A psalm is a song and no doubt, most of them were put to music About half of them are attributed to David. They are written in poetic form, of course, which means we must be careful not to be overly literal in our reading of them. Hebrew poetry, called “parallelism,” had meter, but no rhyme, and was allowed “poetic license” as is ours. So while obviously the grand principle of the stanzas are true, caution must be exercised that we don’t try to build doctrinal truths on what is intended to be symbolic, lyrical language. This has been done by some, and usually with egregiously erroneous results following.

This is probably my favorite book in the Bible. It might have been the Lord’s, too, because He quotes more from the Psalms that He does any other Old Testament writing. The book is an interesting exercise in divine inspiration; the most intimate spiritual and emotional feelings of the writer are expressed towards God, and yet, in just such a manner as the Holy Spirit wanted conveyed. The older one gets, the harder it is not to be touched by some of the feelings and emotions the authors articulate.

I wish our people would spend more time reading and meditating on the Psalms. By and large, we are not a very devotional people. The book of Psalms would go a long way towards curing that.

A word on “parallelism,” the substance of Hebrew poetry. As noted, “parallelism” has meter (in the original), but no rhyme. It’s basic feature is to state a general truth, and then to repeat it in different words, or to say its opposite. For example,

“Why do the heathen rage,
And the people imagine a vain thing?” (Psalm 2:1)

Basically, the same idea repeated in different words. Another example, the opposite stated in this instance:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

Hebrew poetry does get a little more complicated than that, but that’s generally sufficient for the average reader. Much of the Old Testament was written in poetical form, simply because most of the people were illiterate and had the books read to them. And poetry is easier to remember and memorize than prose.

Incidentally, the Psalms, in the King James Version of the Bible, is one of the most beautiful and masterful pieces of literature ever penned. The modern translations simply cannot match the KJV for majesty and splendor. I won’t always be quoting from the KJV in my synopses of each psalm, but when I don’t, I’ll probably have lost something magical and inspiring.

I hope our trip through these 150 songs will motivate the reader to want to spend more time meditating on “the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1:2). It is the best way to guard us from sin (Psalm 119:11).