Saturday, May 29, 2010

Psalm 34

Magnifying the Lord (vs. 1-22)—This psalm is an acrostic, which means each verse starts with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in sequence. There is a place or two where the sequence is not perfect, but for the most part it is consecutive. There are a few psalms like this. Such is done for ease of memorization; since most people had very little education in the ancient world, and thus couldn’t read, poetry was frequently used to help remember the material presented. A full one-third of the Old Testament is written in poetic form. The acrostical nature of this psalm makes it a little difficult to outline; David jumps from subject to subject, so I’ll just give a running summary of what he says.

The title of the psalm, “A psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed” is problematic. As I’ve pointed out before, these “titles” were added by later editors, so we aren’t sure they are accurate. But they could be.

David starts the psalm with a praise and magnification of Jehovah (vs. 1-3). Verse 4 states the immediate reason: “I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” Others also “looked to Him…and were not ashamed” (v. 5), and this included “the poor man” (v. 6). Fearing (reverencing) the Lord is mentioned in verses 7 and 9; He will protect us if we do (v. 7), and provide for us (v. 9). Even the “young lions” don’t have that assurance (v. 10). The Lord is “good,” and we are blessed if we trust in Him (v. 8). David then provides some lessons for “you children.” This probably not literally “children,” but those of a contrite, teachable spirit. If a man wants to live a long life (v. 12), he should use his tongue righteousness—not speak evil or deceitfully (v. 13), “depart from evil and do good,” and “seek peace and pursue it” (v. 14). These things won’t guarantee a long life, of course, but they are certainly good principles that will largely prevent us from being in situations that are dangerous. Remember the poetic nature of the language; the principles, though true, are general and not specific. The Lord watches over His people (v. 15), hears them and delivers them (v. 17), and “is near those who have a broken heart”—broken by sin (v. 18). The contrite, humble spirit is something else He looks at (v. 18), but he is opposed to those who do evil (v. 16). “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (v. 19); He allows us to be tried and tested, but He will deliver us—righteousness is the key here. Verse 20 has a Messianic fulfillment—“He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken. Its immediate application is a general supplement to verse 19, but again, has a long range fulfillment in what happened to Jesus. John makes the reference in John 19:36: “For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, "Not one of His bones shall be broken.” Evil is the downfall of the wicked, and condemnation follows “those who hate the righteous.” But contrary, “The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned” (v. 22). It’s a lovely psalm with some very comforting, encouraging thoughts.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Psalm 33

Praise is beautiful (vs. 1-3)—The idea of praise runs through these first three verses. We have some synonymous parallelism here—the same idea being repeated over and over. Note: rejoice, praise (v. 1), praise, make melody (v. 2), sing, play skillfully (v. 3). They all express a concurrent theme. Instruments are mentioned (harp, instrument of ten strings), which some point to for authorization for the use of mechanical instruments in Christian worship today. But David lived under the old law, not the new. We don’t burn animal sacrifices today, as they did under the Law of Moses. It is even questionable whether David was right in introducing instruments into the worship of the old law. Study Amos 6:5 for more information (I have a lengthy discussion of this on my Minor Prophets blog).

Why this praise? The power of the word of God (vs. 4-12)—Verse 4 starts with the word “for” which indicates purpose. Why should give the Lord such magnificent praise? “For the word of the LORD is right, and all His work is done in truth. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (vs. 4-5). Several good reasons listed there, all based upon the authority and correctness of Jehovah’s word. He made all things by His word (not evolution, v. 6), and He sustains all the same way (v. 7; cf. Heb. 1:3). Fear Him and respect Him (v. 8), again based on the awesome power of His word: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (v. 9). It is an amazing thought to realize that, simply by speaking, God can create an entire universe. Actually, He could do it with a simple thought, but He chose to do it by speaking it into existence. Man’s word comes to nothing (v. 10)—it is very unwise to put our faith in humans, who might tell us one thing, but let us down the next moment—but the Lord’s counsel (word) stands forever (v. 11). Thus, “blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (v. 12). How tragic it is that such can no longer be said of the United States of America.

The sovereignty of God (vs. 13-19)—Jehovah’s dwelling place is in heaven, and He sees all of us from that august location (v. 13). Each of us are made differently, and the Lord “considers” all our works (v. 15). The word “considers” has the primary root of “discern,” or “understand.” He knows what we are thinking. Rebellion against God is fruitless; even the mightiest army is a vain thing before Him (vs. 16-17). The Lord looks for those “who fear Him,” and “who hope in His mercy” (v. 18), and He will “deliver their soul from death,” and “keep them alive in famine” (v. 19). The sovereign God knows His people and protects them.

Wait, rejoice, trust, hope (vs. 20-22)—Four great qualities of the godly are enumerated in these last verses. We wait on the Lord, who is “our help and our shield” (v. 20). Since we trust Him—He never fails us—our hearts “rejoice in Him” (v. 21), and He will be merciful to us, just as we have hoped that He will (v. 22). The centerpiece of this psalm is verses 6-9—the power and trustworthiness of the word of God. We can trust, hope, and rejoice in Him—and we should—because His word is secure.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Psalm 32

Forgiveness (vs. 1-2)—The first two verses of this psalm provide a lovely panorama of God’s forgiveness: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” The man whose sins are forgiven is indeed “blessed,” and more so than anyone else. There is no greater blessing from God than forgiveness; it is our only hope of eternal salvation. It’s interesting that David closes this section with a statement about purity of heart. Although he doesn’t indicate here that such a heart is a condition of forgiveness, we learn elsewhere that it most surely is (Matt. 5:8).

Confession (vs. 3-5)—In order for our sins to be forgiven, we must have the humility to confess them. In verses 3 and 4, David describes in eloquent language the agony and distress he felt in sin, until “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (v. 5). As we would expect, this is in accord with New Testament teaching as well: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Confession indicates a contriteness of spirit that acknowledges that we have offended God by our iniquities and that only He can cure us. Dependence upon God is a prerequisite to being accepted by Him. He holds the key to eternal life in His hand, and if we want that ultimate of all blessings, we’ll have to ask Him—on His terms—and realize we are utterly unworthy of salvation.

Forgiveness a motivation for prayer (vs. 6-7)—Prayer also acknowledges our need for and dependence upon God, and because He pardons, “everyone who is godly shall pray to you,” and even in the most distressing times, we will be protected (v. 6). Verse 7, in Hebrew poetry, is called “palilogical parallelism”. I’m sure you were dying to know that. But this form of poetry is one in which one or more words at the beginning of the first line are repeated as an echo, or canon of music, in succeeding lines. In this case, “You” is found repeated in an acknowledgement of the protection Jehovah provides His people.

God speaks and a final word from David (vs. 8-11)—At the end of this psalm, we hear from the Lord. He will teach and lead us (v. 8) IF we aren’t stubborn like a mule (v. 9). The wicked will have many sorrows, but mercy “shall surround” the one who trusts the Lord. Because of this, God’s people—“you righteous” (v. 10) and “all you upright in heart” (v. 11)—should be glad, rejoice, and shout for joy. What greater promises could we have than God’s promise of His forgiveness and His direction in life? But we must confess our sins with a pure heart and trust Him, two things many human beings simply refuse to do. And thus they miss out on the most precious blessings of life.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Psalm 31

A prayer of trust (vs. 1-8)—We see the same themes repeated frequently in these psalms, but then, most of our spiritual songs revolve around the same themes—trust, adoration, and praise of God. David expresses his thoughts beautifully. He speaks in verse one of his trust in Jehovah, and his desire for deliverance “in Your righteousness.” He makes several noteworthy requests in this section: for God to hear Him and be his refuge (v. 2); guidance and direction “for Your name’s sake” (v. 3); escape from his enemies through the Lord’s strength (v. 4). His expression of total commitment, “Into thy hand I commend my spirit” was borrowed by Jesus on the cross. In verses 6-8, David tells of his hatred of idolatry and idol worshippers, his trust in the Lord (v. 6), his rejoicing at God’s mercy (v. 7) and His protection from enemies (v. 8). So, again, themes we have seen before, but themes that we, like David, need every day of our lives.

A prayer for mercy and deliverance (vs. 9-13)—The tone of the song changes here, and David pleads for mercy “for I am in trouble” (v. 9). What “trouble” he was in is not stated, but there was grief, sighing, and failing strength “because of my iniquity” (v. 10). We should all grieve over our sins and ask for mercy. His enemies were a problem, but so were his neighbors, and all his “acquaintances” (v. 11). Keep in mind this is Hebrew poetry—parallelism—so some of these statements must be understood in that vein. He is being slandered, and his life is being plotted against (v. 13). Again, how actual this was is problematic; but it expresses feelings and needs that all of us have at times.

Trusting God to save Him (vs. 14-18)—Through all his distresses, David knows that only the Lord can pull him through (v. 14). He places his “times” in the Lord’s hand and requests deliverance “from those who persecute me” (v. 15). Salvation was “for Your mercies’ sake,” not David’s. In other words, David wanted God’s mercy to be demonstrated and exalted more than the saving of his own skin. What a wonderful attitude. David asks for God’s punishment upon his oppressors: “Let the wicked be ashamed; let them be silent in the grave. Let the lying lips be put to silence” (vs. 17-18). Again, to David, only the Lord could do this.

The Lord’s goodness (vs. 19-22)—Verse 19 is one of my favorite in all the Psalms: “Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!” “Great” is God’s “goodness” to those who fear Him and trust Him. David knew that part of that goodness was the Lord’s protection (v. 20), plus his “marvelous kindness” (v. 21). Indeed, God’s goodness towards us is “marvelous.” When David thought that perhaps the Lord had turned from him (and this thought was “in my haste”; he didn’t wait on the Lord as he should have, v. 22), “nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You.” We must not be hasty in our judgments of God’s actions, and realize that He does hear our pleas.

Words of encouragement (vs. 23-24)—If David’s own example is not sufficient, then we have his final words of exhortation. Love the Lord, for He preserves His people and “fully repays the proud person” (v. 23). Have courage—there will be many times in this life when we will need it—and remember that “He shall strengthen your heart,” if we will hope in Him (v. 24). He may not always respond according to our schedule, but He does hear and He will bless us as He sees our need. Trust in the Lord.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Psalm 30

Extolling the Lord (vs. 1-3)—The heading of this psalms says it is a song at the dedication of the house of David. It isn’t exactly known where this information came from; it isn’t in the text of the psalm itself. David extols the Lord for having lifted him up (against his enemies, v. 1), healing him (spiritually?, v. 2), and saving him from death (v. 3). Whether that was literal or not, we don’t know; this is poetry, remember. But it also doesn’t sound like a dedication of a house, either. Keep in mind that the headings at the beginning of each psalm were added later and are not part of the song itself.

Thanksgiving for God’s mercy (vs. 4-7a)—God’s people should sing praises and give thanks to Him, of course (v. 4), and for numerous reasons. David mentions the brevity of His anger, and the enduring favor He bestows upon us (v. 5). There will be sorrows in this life, but they, too, will soon pass—“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (v. 5). Prosperity and steadfastness are also gifts of Jehovah (vs. 6-7). Thus, our thanksgiving should be at every “remembrance of His holy name” (v. 4).

A prayer for deliverance (vs. 7b-12)—The last statement in verse 7, “You hid Your face, and I was troubled,” obviously belongs with the rest of the psalm. How David knew that the Lord had “hid [His] face” is unknown; the king obviously attributes some trouble in life to God turning away from him. Perhaps a sin that David knew he had committed, or a test from Jehovah. In this case, verse 9 seems to indicate pressure from some enemy. Regardless, David made his supplication to God, and argued, in verse 9, that he couldn’t very well praise God if he were dead: “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your truth?” So, he pleads for mercy—always acknowledging that it is only by God’s mercy that he is delivered. I again marvel at the humility of an absolute monarch. The tone changes in verses 11 and 12 where David has obviously obtained the relief he seeks. His “mourning” had been turned into “dancing,” and his “sackcloth” (a sign of grief) was now “gladness” (v. 11). And the end result of that was that “my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent,” and that he might “give thanks to You forever” (v. 12). Hopefully, we won’t wait for something good to happen to us before we offer God the praise of thanksgiving that we owe Him.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Psalm 29

“Give unto the Lord” (vs. 1-2)—These first two verses are aimed at “you mighty ones.” The Hebrew is “sons of the strong ones,” or even “sons of rams.” One ancient manuscript translates it “ye hosts of angels, sons of God.” So David could be talking to angels, but more than likely “mighty ones” of the earth. Power tends to make one proud and David is trying to humble those who might have a tendency towards that vice. In effect, “there is One greater than you; acknowledge it.” Ascribe to Him the glory and excellence that He is due, and worship Him “in the beauty of holiness” (v. 2). Indeed, to the Lord, holiness is beautiful. All of us should make it our aim to be as holy as possible when we approach the throne of the Holy God of heaven and earth.

The power of “the voice of the Lord” (vs. 3-9)—Over the next several verses, David describes the power that is in God’s word. It is “over the waters” and His “glory thunders” (v. 3), an apt description of the authority, force, and might of God’s word. That “voice” (word) is powerful, full of majesty (v. 4), can break cedars (vs. 5-6); He can make them “skip like a calf”, i.e., they are nothing in power compared to Him. His voice can divide a fire (v. 7, try to do that), shake a wilderness (v, 8), cause a deer to give birth and strip a forest (v. 9), and, as a result, everyone should glorify Him (v. 9). We know from other Scriptures just how powerful the Word of God is, including His having made the universe with it (Psalm 33:6, 9), and provided us salvation through it (Romans 1:16). Jesus is the “Word” of God (John 1:1), i.e., the mind of God expressed in human form. What a marvelous thought that is. In Jesus, we see God’s mind. David rightly lauds the word of the Lord.

The Lord exalted (vs. 10-11)—Even the great flood, the most calamitous event this earth has even known, obeyed Him. He is King forever (v. 10), and He can—“will”—give strength and peace to His people (v. 11). If His word and abilities are so great as to do all that David has listed in the earlier portions of this song, then He can certainly provide us with the blessings we need to sustain us in this life. Oh, for a greater faith and trust in Him!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Psalm 28

A prayer against the wicked (vs. 1-5)—Some enemy is troubling David again, so in verses 1 and 2, he requests the ear of the Lord. “To you will I cry…Hear the voice of my supplication.” There are times, for all of us, when we feel like God doesn’t hear our prayers, but He always does. He may not, and often won’t, answer them immediately, but He does hear. David knew that if the Lord did not come to his aid, he would “become like those who go down to the pit” (v. 1). The wicked “speak peace to their neighbors, but evil is in their heart” (v. 3). David knew that the Lord would eventually “take [them] away” (v. 3); he just didn’t want God to take him with them! David wants Jehovah to go after the wicked: “Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavors; give them according to the work of their hands; render to them what they deserve” (v. 4). They paid no attention to the Lord or His works, “nor the operation of His hands” (v. 5). Thus, “He shall destroy them” (v. 5). How many warnings—directly and implied—are there in Scripture to the wicked that they should turn from their evil ways before it is too late!

The Lord hears (vs. 6-9)—David received a positive answer to his prayer: “Blessed be the LORD, because He has heard the voice of my supplications!” (v. 6). David attributes this answer to prayer to his trust in Jehovah; thus the king would rejoice and praise the Lord in song (v. 7). The Lord is the “strength” and “saving refuge of His anointed” (v. 8). And as a final plea, David asks, in behalf of His people, that the Lord “save…bless…shepherd…and bear them up forever” (v. 9). Salvation, blessings, guidance and protection, and strength in trials—a good brief catalogue of the needs and desires of every saint of God.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Psalm 27

Whom shall I fear? (vs. 1-3)—To David, the Lord is his light, salvation, and strength. And because of that, he has nothing to fear (v. 1). As David’s light, the Lord provides guidance and direction in his life. As his salvation, the Lord is his deliverer, and as his strength, David is able to make it through hard times. Even if “an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear” (v. 3)—the Lord is on the king’s side, and that’s all he needed.

The beauty of worship (vs. 4-6)—Since he realized that it was the Lord Who guided and protected him, David’s heart was full of desire to worship Him: “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple” (v. 4). “In the time of trouble,” the Lord would hide David, “in His pavilion, in the secret place of His tabernacle” (v. 5), again emphasizing the Lord as his protector—His pavilion, His tabernacle. The next thought, “He shall set me high upon a rock,” seems contradictory, but remember this is poetry. The “rock” suggests immobility, and “high upon” it means no one can reach him. All of this the king attributes to Jehovah. As a result, “I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle” (v. 6). The reasons for worshipping God are many, of course, not least of which is what He has done for us.

The Lord our help (vs. 7-14)—Understanding all of the above is an incentive for prayer, which occupies most of the rest of the psalm. David asks for the Lord’s ear, and His mercy (v. 7). Jehovah makes requests of us—“seek My face”—a request David was happy to fulfill with his “heart” (v. 8), not just his lips. Our seeking after Jehovah must be with the whole heart, or we will not find Him (Jer. 29:13). Even though David knows it is the Lord Who is his helper, He still asks Him to be so; the Lord knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:32), and we know much of what He can do for us (light, strength, salvation, helper, etc.). But still, He is God, we are His servants, and it is in all ways right and proper that we should humble ourselves and acknowledge our need and dependence upon Him. And especially when faced with “enemies,” as David mentions earlier in this psalm. Verse 10 is lovely: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me.” Even if our nearest and dearest turn away from us, the Lord never will. And indeed, even if we turn our back on Him, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). No matter how far we have drifted from Him, or for how long, He will always accept us back. Rather than depending upon human wisdom, David asks “teach me Your way, O Lord,” (v. 11), especially when “enemies,” “adversaries,” and “false witnesses have risen against me” (vs. 11-12). “Unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD,” David would have lost heart. Hope is the anchor of the soul, and when all seems lost, we can remember that the Lord is always there. So David’s final exhortation is to “wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart” (v. 14). Patience builds character, and the more of that we have, the better able we will be to meet future trials and burdens. The Lord will work, for our good, in His own time. Thus, “wait, I say, on the LORD!” David’s deliverance is a perfect example of what will happen if we do so.