Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Psalm 38

The burden of sin (vs. 1-22)—This whole psalm appears to be a mourning over sin. David believes that the Lord is very angry with him (vs. 1-2). That’s an interesting thought. How does David know God is angry with him? Did the Lord tell him by revelation? Probably not. David simply believed that “because of my sin” (v. 3), and his current circumstances, the Lord was punishing him. David speaks several times of physical infirmities--“there is no soundness in my flesh” (v. 3), “my wounds are foul and festering” (v. 5), “my loins are full of inflammation, and there is no soundness in my flesh” (v. 7). This could be poetic and not literal, but the repeated mentioning of physical maladies leads me to believe that David is truly plagued at the moment with some illness. And he attributes that to the Lord chastising him because of sin. His sin had overpowered him: “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (v. 4). Indeed, all who try to live godly know that feeling, but, of course, such is no excuse for sin. He pleads his case before Jehovah (v. 9); there is no one else to help. His own heart and strength fail him (v. 10), his loved ones, friends, and relatives “stand aloof” and “afar off” (v. 11). And his enemies plot his destruction (v. 12). But there was nothing David could do about it. He was as helpless as a deaf and dumb man (vs. 13-14). However, he believes the Lord will hear him (v. 15) and deliver him (v. 16). David has just about reached his limit, or believes he has (v. 17). His attitude towards his sin is the correct one: “For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin” (v. 18). Oh, that more people would have such a spirit! But he opposed by strong foes, and numerous ones (v. 19). They are against him “because I follow what is good” (v. 20), though apparently he hadn’t done so in the present circumstance. He makes one last plea to Jehovah: “Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (vs. 21-22). It’s enlightening that there is no resolution here. Unlike many earlier psalms where David makes his petition and then glorifies the Lord because of a positive answer, this song is left indefinite. As of the final writing, God had not answered David. And indeed, that is frequently how we feel. Contrary to our desires, the Lord delays His answer and our soul is in anguish. We must wait on Him and accept the consequences of our actions.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Psalm 37

"The meek shall inherit the earth” (vs. 1-40)—This isn’t an easy psalm to outline; there doesn’t seem to be any organization that I can see. There are a couple of themes that run constantly throughout it, however. “The meek (or some such) shall inherit the earth” is one of them (vs. 9, 11, 22. 29, 34). The other theme is a constant contrast between the righteous and the wicked. There are some special poetic devices used in a place or two which shall be duly noted.

David starts the psalm by encouraging us not to worry about “evildoers” (v. 1). “They shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb.”  Rather—and here we have the palilogical poetical device— “trust…dwell…delight…commit…trust…rest…do not fret…cease…” (vs. 3-8). All of these things have attendant blessings attached. Once again, “evildoers shall be cut off” (v. 9), but “those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth” (v. 9). This “inherit the earth” concept needs a little exploring.

In Matthew 5:5, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The last part is borrowed from the 37th Psalm (and a couple other locations) and is a proverbial, poetic statement for reception of the highest blessings. The “land” promise was very important to the Jews, of course, so any reference to it would be a comfort to them. But, keep in mind, we are dealing with poetry here. The Jehovah’s Witnesses like to apply Matthew 5:5 as literal—the “meek” will live forever here on earth, taking the poetic statement and trying to turn it into reality. There are several problems with that. First of all, who are they going to inherit the earth from? Somebody has to die before there can be an inheritance. Who dies so that the “meek” can inherit the earth from them? Plus, Psalm 25:13 says of the man who fears the Lord, “his descendants shall inherit the earth.” Who gets the earth, the meek (righteous, he who fears the Lord), or their descendants? The error here by the JW’s is grievous. NEVER take poetic language and build a doctrine on it. It’s poetry, it’s emotive, it’s flowery, it’s not prose and not intended to be taken with exact literalness. Many, many people, and not just the JW’s, are guilty of that interpretive faux pas.

Back to Psalm 37. The futility of the wicked is noted in verses 12-15. He “plots against the just,” but “the Lord laughs at him” (vs. 12-13). I don’t think I want Jehovah laughing at me, at least not in this sort of context. The efforts of the wicked will eventually turn back upon them (vs. 14-15). It is much better to have only a little, and be righteous, than to be rich and evil (v. 16), for “the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous” (v. 17). The Lord knows His people “and their inheritance shall be forever” (v. 18). That’s the true “inheritance” we are looking for—the eternal one. The righteous will be taken care of in times of peril, but not the wicked (vs. 19-20); “into smoke they shall vanish away” (v. 20). The Lord leads the “good man” (v. 23) and “delights in his way.” The righteous may stumble from time to time, but the Lord will “uphold him” (v. 24), and always take care of him: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (v. 25). The righteous are merciful, and do good (vs. 26-27), and because of that righteousness (“justice”), the Lord never forsakes “His saints; they are preserved forever” (v. 28). Not so the wicked (v. 28). His descendants “shall be cut off.” The idea of “descendants” is an important one as well. A man who had none was considered incomplete or cursed by God. A huge family was a necessity in an agricultural, and warrior, society. Thus, “children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), and a barren woman was shamed, as was a man whose descendants were “cut off.” There were few blights worse than that. Then we have some characteristics of the righteous. He speaks wisdom, and keeps the “law of his God in his heart,” thus “none of his steps shall slide” (vs. 30-31). Indeed, keeping God’s word in our hearts is the only way to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11). The wicked are ever pursuing the righteous (v. 32), but the Lord knows that (v. 33) and will protect His saints. Thus, “wait on the Lord and keep His way” (v. 34). The wicked may appear strong for a season (v. 35), “yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; indeed, I sought him, but he could not be found” (v. 36). Total obliteration for the evil ones. Keep your eyes on the blameless man; “the end of that man is peace” (v. 37). Or as the NKJV says, “the future of that man is peace.” In contrast, “the future of the wicked shall be cut off” (v. 38). Our salvation is “from the Lord,” and He is our “strength in the time of trouble” (v. 39). He will help the righteous, deliver them from the wicked, and save them (v. 40). Why? “Because they trust in Him.” This is one of my favorite psalm. It is very comforting and speaks forthrightly of God’s care for His people and hatred of wickedness.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Psalm 36

The wicked (vs. 1-4)—These first four verses certainly provide us with a good overall perspective of a wicked person: no fear of God, self-importance, no humility, an evil and deceitful mouth, lack of wisdom, he plots iniquity at night in his bed, and does not hate sin. Not every wicked person will manifest all of these qualities, but you can be sure that he will possess too many of them.

Contrast: the goodness of God (vs. 5-9)—We see some palilogical parallelism in verses 3 and 4 (“he…he…he…he…”), and some more in verses 5 and 6 (“Your…Your…Your…Your…”), a very nice poetic touch. David writes of God’s mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, and judgments, and the figures he uses indicates that all of them are boundless and eternal. Because God’s “lovingkindness” is so “precious,” “the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings” (v. 7). Men are satisfied—“abundantly—with “the fullness of Your house” (v. 8). David is probably not speaking here of God’s religious house. Just as our houses are full of food and provisions, God provides His blessings from His “house” as well. And part of that satisfaction is because in the Lord we have life and light (v. 9). How much more beautiful is the life God provides than that of the wicked!

A prayer for continued blessings (vs. 10-12)—Because that life is so wonderful, David asks for continued lovingkindness and righteousness (v. 10). The king wishes to be protected from pride and the wicked, the places where “the workers of iniquity have fallen…and are not able to rise” (v. 12). Acknowledging our need for God is one of the great evidences of an attempt to serve Him, and the exact opposite of the wicked who, as verse 1 says, has “no fear of God before his eyes.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Psalm 35

Plead my cause, O Lord (vs. 1-10)—Some unknown enemy is again plaguing David and, in military terms, he asks for the Lord’s assistance: “Fight against those who fight against me” (v. 1). Take shield, buckler, and spear to stop those who pursued David (v. 2-3). Be my salvation (v. 3). I mentioned, a few psalms ago, a poetic devise common in Hebrew literature called “palilogical parallelism,” where a certain word or phrase is repeated in order to aid memorization. We see this again in verses 4-8: “Let those be put to shame…let those be turned back…let them be like chaff…let the angel of the Lord…let their way be dark…let the angel of the Lord…let destruction come…let his net…” All of these are curses upon David’s enemies, and again, this structure of the poem facilitate easy remembrance. And the end result is joy and rejoicing and praise to Jehovah (vs. 9-10).

He complains of their ungodly behavior (vs. 11-16)—They were false witnesses who rose against him, and David’s biggest complaint is found in verse 12: “They reward me evil for good.” When they were ill, David mourned for them, humbled himself, fasted, prayed for them (v. 13), and was is great distress (v. 14). “But in my adversity, they rejoiced” (v. 15), and “they gnashed at me with their teeth” (v. 16). These verses tend to make us believe that David is being stabbed in the back by friends or family; some have suggested that Absalom might be meant. We don’t know, but it does appear that someone close to him has betrayed him. That’s not an uncommon thing within a king’s court.

How long, Lord? (vs. 17-28)—And, like all of us, David desires a speedy resolution to his problem. “Lord, how long will You look on?” (v. 17). If Jehovah would rescue him, “I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people” (v. 18). But such liberation has obviously not taken place yet (v. 19). He describes more of their wickedness in verses 20-21, mainly sins of the tongue. Certainly the Lord has seen it (v. 22), and David requests equal justice of God: “Do not keep silence.” Poetically, in verses 22 through 24, he moves from a synonymous parallelism (“do not keep silence…stir up yourself…vindicate me…”) to palilogical parallelism in verses 25-27: “Let them not say…let them not say…let them be ashamed…let them be clothes…let them shout…let them say continually….let the Lord…” Those last three “lets” are for praise of God, so perhaps David has found some relief for his circumstance. The psalm ends with a final word of praise: “And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day long” (v. 28). It’s not impossible that there were no specific historical circumstances behind this psalm; it could be just a song written by David to describe certain conditions he has faced in his life and ends with an exaltation of God.