Monthly I mail out a one page Bible Study to encourage people in our congregations to be reading God’s Word. You can access my notes right here.
October 1, 2009
Psalm 1: 1-2
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the wicked
Nor stands in the way of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of scoffers,
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on his law he meditates day and night.
These poetic lines describe the life of those who follow God as a life of blessing and delight. We may well ask ourselves from time to time: “Are we receiving grace and peace from God? Do we feel his love and have we expressed his hope?” We then ask, “Are we delighting in our God? Are we enjoying him, never tiring of hearing his voice and thinking his thoughts?”
The Psalmist succinctly outlines for us the location of such blessing and delight. He first tells us where we ought not to be. He describes a decent into an abyss of separation from God and all divine gifts. The metaphor of walking describes for us a life direction complete with beliefs, values, goals, and mission. If we chart the trajectories of our lives according to the wisdom of the wicked, then we will wander further and further from God and his blessings.
The metaphor is expanded from walking to include standing, which describes our identification with those who are actively breaking God’s law. The path commended to us by the wicked is indeed the path of sinners. The Psalmist does not instruct us to refrain from interaction with sinners, but rather he prohibits our identifying with them as if “sinner” is the all-defining condition and action of our lives. It is true that we are all sinners, but so much more could be said of those who follow God.
A third expansion of the metaphor adds to walking and standing, our sitting. Were we to travel in the direction of worldly wisdom, begin to identify ourselves as sinners against God, the result would be our association with those who scorn God and openly disbelief his promises, denying his powerful acts of redemption and love, his very existence.
In sharp contrast to this downward spiral, there is an opposite and better lifestyle – one of delight. The sinner scurries about busy with evil but the follower of God basks in divine presence, delighted. (more soon…)
October 15, 2009
Psalm 1: 2-3
But his delight is in the law of the Lord
And on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
Planted by streams of water
That yields fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The abiding location of any follower of God is described as delight. Thus it cannot be a delight derived from circumstance. Interestingly, the delight is rooted in the covenant law. “Lord,” is the title for God describing his covenantal relationship to us. The Lord outlines and governs the covenant by his law. While it is true that the law condemns us, proving us to be unable to meet its perfect demands, it is also true that the law describes for us the covenantal relationship we enjoy with God. One beautiful way to read the law of God is to look for its description of this gracious arrangement – God dwelling in the midst of his people.
Using the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, the Psalmist says that our delight moves us to want more and more of the law of the Lord. We not only read snippets of it, but also around the clock we are thinking of it, consumed by its delightful meaning and transforming properties.
We now receive a second image (metaphorical language) describing the one who delights in the law of the Lord. This follower of God is well positioned, able to thrive as God created him/her to be. A tree needs water and so we need nourishment. Our “water” is the law of the Lord or better understood, our living in covenant with God. Such nourishment results in fruitfulness, not a seasonal harvest, but an evergreen bounty (hence the name of Evergreen Presbyterian Church.) Is it true to experience that we will prosper in everything we do as long as we live in covenant with God? The psalmists together develop this question through out the Psalter, asking it of God time and time again. While the structure of the covenant is “black & white,” blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience, the experience of those who live in the covenant is influenced by a few other sources in this sin cursed world. (more soon…)
Nov. 2, 2009
Psalm 1: 3-4
He is like a tree
Planted by streams of water
That yields fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Not so the wicked
They are like the chaff that the wind blows away.
While the structure of the covenant is “black & white,” blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience, the experience of those who live in the covenant is influenced by a few other sources in this sin cursed world. The fulfillment of the covenant blessings is an unfolding redemptive work of God, rolling back the curse toward the complete restoration on the Final Day of Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead. The “already but not yet tension” of Scripture and life informs everlasting reality of the covenant God has made with his people. But this tension does not last. In the end it gives way completely and in our lives it can give way to amazing experiences of God’s joy, love, purity, and strength. Just as a tree grows one ring a year, so we can grow in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit. Just as a good, wet year can produce a thicker growth ring, so we can enjoy greater growth as we are grounded in God’s word.
In sharp contrast to this covenant growth, the Psalmist writes the tersest line of the poem: “Not so the wicked!” The followers of God are succulent evergreen but the wicked are described as a dry and brittle by-product blowing in the wind. (Chaff is the dry husks and dust from the stalks of grain beaten at harvest to render the kernels. In the ancient and present emerging world, where this process is still completed by hand, the winnower throws the grain from the basket into the breeze several feet above his head. The chaff blows away and the kernels land safely into the basket.) The chaff becomes dust mixing into the humus. (In Oregon we would do everything in our power to compost it.) This metaphor describes the vanity of the wicked life rather than a helpful cycle of life. The wicked should not think, “At least I became fertilizer for a future crop,” but instead, “Alas, I have been discarded.” (more soon…)
Nov. 17, 2009
Psalm 1: 5-6
Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.
The Psalmist returns to his use of the word, “stand,” describing one’s identity. The one who “stands in the way of sinners,” (1) has identified with the group who refuses to live in the covenant of God and so, at the Final Judgment, this one will not be identified with the Advocate who wins a sentence of “not guilty” unto freedom from punishment. The Psalmist repeats the all-defining term “sinners” (1) to say that those who are sinners and nothing more will not be associated with the group who are found to be justified in the final judgment. They have no membership, right and privilege in the congregation of the covenant. This Hebrew couplet follows the “A what’s more B” form. The first line communicates that such a sinner lacks covenant identity. The second line says, “Even more so, or therefore, that sinner will not enjoy a place in the communion of saints.
In the final couplet, the Psalmist uses familiar covenant language, “Lord knows.” The Lord, is the divine party of the covenant and the verb “knows,” connected to the Lord of the covenant means what we describe in English as love. (from Genesis – “Adam knew his wife and she conceived a son.”) This covenant love is intimate and productive. Through this covenant love, the seed of promise is preserved, comes to fruition and produces a harvest unto righteousness and eternal life. It carries safely and fruitfully all those who are united to God in his covenant.
In sharp contrast to this preserving, growth producing love of God for his followers, the wicked, those who care not to be identified and associated with God and his covenant, perish. By using the word, “perish,” the Psalmist does not mean to say that the wicked will cease to exist, but that their lives are unfruitful and thus will not amount to any enduring opposition to God and his covenant. The wicked’s way, that is, their worldview, lifestyle and mission will not triumph over the way of God. They will lose their war against the Lord of the covenant and they will suffer the consequences.
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
David boldly commands God to answer his prayer. In the first line of this psalm he supplies us the reason for his strong language. It is more than a desperate cry for help. He understands that God alone is the source, owner and controller of his righteousness. In these last days, we have more specific reason to pray as David did in his day. We have the words of Jesus to his disciples: …whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24) and, Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16). In 2010 we should grow in prayer, making more requests of God, confident that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.
David acknowledges that in the past God has helped him in his times of trouble. He does not pray to a God who has been silent or delinquent in hearing and acting on his behalf. Our confidence in prayer is further strengthened as we pause to reflect upon God’s answers to our prayers in the past. As we are walking, relaxing, and meditating in prayer, let us reflect upon a God who is not silent or distant from us. Christ Jesus is our mediator before the throne of grace and his Spirit intercedes for us.
In the third line, David appeals to the grace of God, making it all the more clear that he, in his own right and work, cannot demand anything from God. We find in David a mature and rich balance. His unworthiness, completely reliant upon God’s undeserved favor in no way silences his prayers but promotes further cries for God to hear and to answer him. He knows that our gracious God has come near, bending his ear low to the ground to hear our cries for help. Once again we know to a more detailed level how low God has stooped to draw near to us: He has sent his son, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5).
Psalm 4: 4
Be angry, and do not sin;
Ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.
David, who wrote this Hebrew couplet also wrote in Psalm 37, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” My personal experience is that I do better to obey Psalm 37 than to find a way to express my anger short of sinning. There must be a rare righteous indignation, but I have yet to experience it. The “A” line of a Hebrew couplet is often related to the “B” couplet in this fashion: “A what’s more, B.” The “B” line helps us to understand what David means in writing, “Be angry, and do not sin.” In the context of the “B” line, it means that the best way to be angry yet refrain from sinning is to keep your anger private. Uh Oh! Is David describing the destructive suppressed anger our counselors warn against? No, he is not recommending suppressed anger but noting that anger is rash. Were we to think first, we might find another response other than anger. We have been taught to think before we speak and now we are learning how to pause before we send an email. David would have us sleep on a troubling matter before any outburst.
In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus expounds the commandment, “Do not commit murder.” He says that anyone who is angry with his brother breaks this commandment. If my brother offends me, or let’s say, merely gets under my skin, then I should sleep on it and take some private time to think about why he bothers me so much. The few times that I have done so, I have discovered that I am more the problem than my brother. For me, painfully, this is not hypothetical but all too recent experience.
Paul quotes David to the church at Ephesus, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (4:8) I know that the devil is not omnipresent and so he must do his evil where he detects a foothold, and so, when I am angry, I am a devil magnate. He can smell and hear anger and he sends his minions to the sinful hot spot to wreak havoc. Certainly in the end God fights fire with fire.
James writes, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (1:20) In the end, I am afraid that all of my anger has been my sub-conscious attempt to usurp God’s rightful place as the Sovereign of justice. One dark afternoon God poured out his wrath upon his Son, punishing him for my anger and the entirety of my sins. In my anger, I would never think of doing such an act for the good of the world, including those that have scorned me.
Psalm 4: 5
Offer right sacrifices;
Put your trust in the Lord.
The ceremonial law put forth in Leviticus prescribes right sacrifices. In Chapter One the priests are instructed in the details of offering burnt sacrifices and in Chapter Two, the details of grain offerings. Chapter Three details peace offerings while Chapter Four details sin offerings. David lived in the era of the prophet Samuel who rebuked the first King of Israel for failing to offer right sacrifices. Samuel told Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” For Samuel and the second king of Israel, David, obedience certainly included offering right sacrifices but it referred to more than following the details of the Levitical law in offering sacrifices. In his psalms David commends the offering of Levitical sacrifices to the Lord. But he also speaks of the heart condition that must be present with any outward expression of the covenant God has established with us.
In Psalm 51, David reflecting upon his actual sin, expresses a true repentance. He writes: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit/ A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” For David it made little sense to obey the detailed instructions for a sin offering while maintaining a proud, stony heart. Likewise, it did not seem right to David to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving yet fail to wholly trust the Lord. For David, these two lines of (4:5) are inseparable. The first is the outward, ceremonial expression of the second. Many a 21st century Christian fails to see the significance of the first line. Its redemptive historical significance is lost on many and its present informing of corporate worship has been replaced with wider applications. David is not only saying in (5) that the second line brings meaning to the first but he is also saying the first can give expression to the second.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:1 “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” While this is instructive to how we live all seven days of any week, applied to all aspects and fields of life so that it can be said, “All life is worship,” it can also be applied to our weekly corporate worship. After all, corporate worship is the high point of any week and is certainly part of our lives, all of which is our spiritual worship of God. As we gather we are corporately presenting ourselves to God. The author of Hebrews writes: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” The “continually” informs us that all of life is worship but this most certainly includes that one hour of worship as we gather in the name of Jesus to acknowledge his name as the many who have been hidden in the one.
Psalm 4: 6-8
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
Than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
For you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
Many of us have enjoyed the benefits of association with successful and generous people, who share with us their bounties. David personally shared in this human desire to benefit from others and to share in their celebrations of plenty. David describes this shared experience to introduce the ultimate source of joy, God’s favor. Not only is God the source of all good gifts (as the apostle James writes: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…”) but also he is the ultimate source of our joy. Even more so, he alone is our greatest joy.
Perhaps you are familiar with the blessing of Moses, we often offer as our benediction on Sundays: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” This is the blessing ringing in David’s ears as he writes Psalm 4. Moses had seen with his own eyes the trailing glorious light of God on the mountain. As he descended to the people, his face shone with the glorious light of God. For Moses and all followers of the one, true God, the light emanating from God, the sheer display of his glory, has been inseparably associated with both God’s awesome power and his amazing grace, his favor toward us. The desire of every Christian is that God would turn toward us favorably. God’s face toward us, his light shining directly upon us is his favor of us. God turning his back to us would indicate his condemnation of us. (This is what Jesus experienced on the cross as he took the words of David and cried, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!” The world darkened as the Father turned his back to his Son who “had become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.”)
David discovers that God is not only his source of greatest joy but also the source of complete peace. The peace of God allows David to “lie down,” alluding to God protecting him from dangers lurking in the night. God also provides David peace from his internal conflicts, not only his fear of lurking dangers around him, but the controlling of his mind against fear, turmoil/worry, and unresolved issues eating at his gut. And so, David is able to not only lie down, but also to “sleep.” God alone is the source of this peace.
Psalm 6: 1-3
O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
Nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord – how long?
Psalm 6 gives hope to all of us Christians who are not consistently happy let alone free of sleep-robbing torments. This Psalm is a prayer of David, yet he gives it to the tabernacle choirmaster with the instructions to set it to a particular tune accompanied by string instruments. There must be an appropriate place in our public worship for sad songs of hope, ones with lyrics and tunes that remind us that God hears our prayers and cares for us in the midst of our troubled nights of the soul. My favorite worship songs are hymns of praise and thanksgiving and Psalms of joy and royal triumph. But were I to enter the house of God despairing alongside troubled sisters and brothers, whose trials are severe and seemingly prolonged, a sole diet of praise and joy might make us think that church denies our predicaments and disapproves of our sorrow. True worship includes congregational responses that are candidly experiential.
David views himself rightly to be a child of the covenant even though he is suffering and so, he begs for the loving rebuke and discipline of the Covenant God.
The author of Hebrews tells us what David knew in his day: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 6:6). The author of Hebrews undoubtedly learned of this loving God who disciplines his children from reading the Psalms: “Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble” (Psalm 94:12-13) and “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime,” (Psalm 30:5). The doctrine of these beautiful verses produces more hope than the unbiblical sentiments of the one who says, “If you are troubled in body and soul then God has withdrawn his love from you. And so, if you desire God’s love, you had better get your act together and be happy.”
David prays for God’s grace and healing. He is experiencing physical malady for his “bones are troubled.” Even more so, his “soul is greatly troubled.” Spiritual torment is all the more critical than physical pain. In either case, we can endure it if we know the length of it. Open-ended suffering is difficult to endure. David asks the question so many of us have asked: “How long?” With David, let us ask this question as an expression of our trust in God who knows the timing and the purpose of our suffering.
Psalm 6: 4-5
Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
Save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
In Sheol who will give you praise?
David in his physical suffering is bold in his prayers. Some might say that he is desperate for relief and this certainly is true, but he is also bold. The source of his boldness is the One to whom he prays. David begs the Lord to repent! We usually think of repentance as our turning away from sin as this is the usual context and use of the word. David asks the Lord to turn towards him to save his life from his present and prolonged suffering. As we discovered in (1-3) David’s soul as well as his body was troubled. David not only prays for God’s deliverance of his body from sickness and injury but he also asks God for spiritual deliverance.
The source of David’s boldness in prayer is his knowledge of God. He knows who God is and what God has done. He addresses God as “O Lord,” and so we discover that David knew God as the present ruler of this world, the controller of his life. In David’s mind, God dwells in the midst of his people. All power and authority belong to David’s God and so he is addressed as “Lord.”
David not only appeals to the Lord for deliverance because God is able to save him, but he also appeals to the Lord because he has entered into a covenant with his people including David. When David writes, “steadfast love,” he is using the Hebrew word, “hesed,” which means “covenant love.” This term “hesed” is inseparably connected to the covenant God has arranged with his people and it is the reason for God’s arrangement as well as the blessed result of the covenant. “Hesed” describes God’s favor shown to all of us united to him. David prays boldly because he enjoys the intimate relationship with God only provided through the covenant God has established: “I will be your God and you will be my people…I will dwell in the midst of my people… I will love you with an everlasting love…”
David is so bold in his prayers to reason with God. David believes himself to be in critical condition and so he argues with God: “If you don’t save me, then as a dead person, I’m no good to you and to your covenant.” David is not presenting a doctrine of annihilation, which claims that human beings cease to exist at death. He presents nothing as precise as the apostle Paul who assures us that at death our souls immediately pass into God’s heavenly presence while our bodies rest in their graves.
He is simply arguing that as long as a human body rots in the grave, its tongue will not have the ability to praise God. While we have breath, let us praise God!
from the Pastor’s Studymeditative notes from the Psalms prepared by Nathan E. Lewis and posted at www.nathanlewis.org January 27, 2011
I am weary with my moaning;
Every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
It grows weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
For the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
The Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
They shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
I think first of mourning as a response to our sufferings under the common curse. In Psalm 6 David experiences prolonged grief expressed in weeping in response to his pressing enemies. Fear seems to me to be the response to the threat of enemies. Eyes wide open in the middle of the night for fear that the enemy might attach at any time is what I would expect rather than eyes welling up with tears night after night. Why does David weep unto exhaustion? His enemies are, as he describes in (8), “workers of evil.” As David says elsewhere, his enemies are God’s enemies, namely those who are bent on doing evil in this world. They are not David’s enemies merely because they wish to do him harm. They pursue evil unto the destruction of what God has made very good. Here’s a soul-searching question: Do I ever weep over the evil in my community or does it simply anger me?
These particular enemies of David are living alongside of him, cohabitating in the covenant community yet seeking to defy the commandments of God. David commands them to “depart!” It grieves David that these neighbors would remain in a community they wish to destroy. Here’s a soul-searching question: Do I seek the peace and purity of the church? Of my community? Of my family? Jeremiah following David also struck this balance of weeping for his city but also speaking God’s command “Depart!” Ultimately, Jesus struck the same balance and order – weeping prolonged then curt delivering of the command.
David is convinced that the Lord has heard his “ weeping…plea…prayer.” Emphatically David announces that in due time, as God’s answer to his prayer unfolds, his enemies shall be exposed and held accountable. As we receive by faith the completed work of Jesus Christ, who died “once for all,” to atone for our sins, we live with the confidence that in due time, as God’s redemption unfolds, all creation shall be restored. Evil will be completely purged and righteousness shall reign forever.
from the Pastor’s Studymeditative notes from the Psalms prepared by Nathan E. Lewis and posted at www.nathanlewis.org March 2, 2011
Psalm 7: 1-2
1O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
Save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
2Lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
Rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.
David writes this personal lament concerning an unknown member of the tribe of Benjamin who had slandered David. Some of us were raised to be tough, chanting, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Yet we all have felt the pain of verbal abuse and our civil courts are often filled with suits including slander. David’s reaction to this slander, which is not recorded in the biblical narrative is instructive to us as we seek a godly response to sin against us.
First of all, David begins by centering his life in God. Who am I? Who defines me? –the person who slanders me or does my relationship to God define me? David believes that his relationship to God defines him: God is his Lord and he is safe in this relationship. As your pastor, I hope and pray that you will start here as David does. God is like a strong and mighty tower into which we can run to find safety. Secondly, David prays for divine deliverance. In this instance David is not asking God to save him from death or hell, but from slander. What if others believe the slander? David desires to be known as the friend of God, the follower of the Lord. For any of us, God is the One who can best arrange this identity of us. We can try to build our own reputation through faith and obedience but as members of the covenant we believe that our faith and obedience are gifts from God.
Thirdly, correctly identifies the faculty of his person that has been violated by the slander. His body is unscathed and most likely his reputation will also survive this attack. But he is personally wounded in his “soul.” He sees the wound of this slander to be a spiritual trial. He views this to be a personal problem between God and himself. The slander has “gotten under his skin and pierced his soul.” He needs God to minister to his soul, to convince him that he belongs to God and that he is defined by God’s words and not the words of Cush the Benjamite. If we pray to God in the midst of our soul wrenching pain, God will remind us of his love for us and how highly he esteems us as his precious children.
David’s response continues beyond these first two couplets but we must wait until next month…or you can read the whole of Psalm 7 in your personal Bible reading, meditating upon it for your personal good, to the encouragement and refreshment of your soul.
from the Pastor’s Studymeditative notes from the Psalms prepared by Nathan E. Lewis and posted at www.nathanlewis.org
April 6, 2011
Psalm 7: 3-5
O Lord my God, if I have done this,
If there is wrong in my hands,
If I have repaid my friend with evil
Or plundered my enemy without cause,
Let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
And let him trample my life to the ground
And lay my glory in the dust.
David is writing a personal lament in the face of a member of the tribe of Benjamin slandering him. In the first two verses (see last month’s devotion), David responds to this slander by describing his personal identity in relationship to God. Secondly, he prays for divine deliverance and thirdly, he identifies his soul as the personal faculty wounded by the slander. To add insult to injury, David’s slanderer is a member of Benjamin, the tribe of Saul the first king of Israel whom God replaced with David of the tribe of Judah. This personal slander could have been tied to a larger problem of one tribe feeling replaced. Most of our personal problems are in some related to larger problems in our community and world.
In (3-5) David offers his fourth response to the slander that has wounded his soul. Surprisingly, he considers whether or not he is the cause deserving the slander, having committed evil prior to this person slandering him. The most common human response is to blame someone else. How long does it take for you to consider your culpability? In private prayer, David is willing to entertain the idea that he might have wronged this member of the tribe of Benjamin, moving him to slander. This is a spiritually mature response. Our first parents started the “blame game.” When God confronted them concerning their sin, Adam blamed Eve and she blamed the serpent. Who do you blame for your present wounds, problems, and failures? Have you ever thought: “What have I done to create this problem?”
In the first line above, David entertains his full responsibility: “O Lord my God, if I have done this…” In the second line he entertains his personal control as a cause: “If there is wrong in my hands…” In the third line he entertains his reaction to this slanderer as fueling a vicious, escalating cycle of hurting each other: “If I have repaid my enemy with evil.” In the fourth line he entertains his sin against this enemy not as retaliation but simply as sinful aggression: “Or plundered my enemy without cause.” (It is one thing for us to admit that we have sinned against someone who has sinned against us; it is quite another thing to confess that we have sinned against someone who has yet to do anything evil against us, moving that person then to retaliate against us. All of this is the experience of the Second Grade playground beyond which we would like to think we have matured.)
David finally entertains the possibility that he actually deserved the slander. Call it victimization or spiritual humility. The amazing irony is that the Son of David, infinitely perfect, has born the sins of David and the slanderer, even us!
from the Pastor’s Studymeditative notes from the Psalms prepared by Nathan E. Lewis and posted at www.nathanlewis.org April 6, 2011
Psalm 7: 6-7
Arise, O Lord, in your anger
Lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
Awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.
Let the assembly of the people be gathered about you;
Over it return on high.
In (3-5) as he suffers the slander from the lips of a member of Benjamin, David introspectively considers his own sins inviting the slander. Now in (6-7) having removed himself from the list of those who have the just right to punish such slander, he appeals to God, the Lord, who alone has the just right to punish sin. Are you bothered by David praying, “…O Lord, in your anger”? In his infinite justice and holiness God has the right to express anger against sin. The apostle John writes, “God is love,” and our understanding of this God must be enlarged to include an infinitely just Divinity who is angry against sin. The human race’s sin destroys love. This Benjamite’s slander of David has destroyed love. God’s anger against sin restores love. God, who is love, does not wink at our sin.
David paints for us the picture in his mind of God rising to his throne in heaven where he sits as Judge over all the world. He writes, “Lift yourself up…return on high.” These words conjure in our minds a picture of God entering his throne room to hold court. In this context, “the fury of my enemies” includes slander, the sins of the lips, a most destructive force against love, peace and reconciliation. “Awake for me,” is David’s appeal to God the Judge to hear his case and rule in favor of him and to deliver the sentence and penalty his enemies deserve. He reminds God of his appointment of judgment and in doing so, David, who would occupy the throne of Israel, with divine right to judge his nation, acknowledges that God alone is the final court of appeal.
David calls the entire nation to gather in the throne room of God as witnesses of God’s highest court. He calls God to preside “over it,” that is the assembly of witnesses, as the Judge. In 1644 Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex was published. Lex Rex means, “The law is king.” Rutherford argued that no earthly king was above the law. All earthly judges must administer the law of the land. Rutherford also presented one Judge, inseparably connected to the royal law, as the final court of appeals. This Judge is God, the author and executor of his abiding law to which we must all submit. Charles Spurgeon in his Treasury of David suggests that Cush the Benjamite, may have slandered David in the court of King Saul, also a Benjamite, accusing David of conspiracy against royal authority. As a court musician, David chose to respond by writing a song, Psalm 7. In it, David shows himself to be submissive to divine authority, appealing to God as Judge. The narratives of Samuel show David to be careful to honor King Saul refusing to speak ill of him or to take his life as Saul attempted to kill him. For us, David shows us how to respond to slander and how to be submissive to authority, making our appeals to God. The promised Son of David would do even more. He would remain silent in the presence of his slanderers, giving his life to pay for our slanderous nature, ever resting his case before the bench of his heavenly Father.
Psalm 7: 8-11
The Lord judges the peoples;
Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me,
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
and may you establish the righteous— you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God! My shield is with God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.
Everyone has an innate sense of right and wrong (albeit skewed by a seared or perverted conscience). And so, we also long for justice in this world. When we hear of genocide we desire justice. When the US Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden the world rejoiced in justice administered. Our father in the faith, David teaches us the proper response to divine justice. He acknowledges that the Lord God judges the peoples of this world and his first response is, once again, to look inward, to think of himself first. We might wish God to judge the wicked around us first before we look at ourselves as target of divine justice. Can you imagine praying to God, “Judge me, O Lord…”? Most likely I would pray, “Let me escape your judgment, O Lord.”
What does David mean when he asks God to judge him according to his righteousness and integrity? Does David think his personal record to be perfect, free of sin? Certainly not! But he did view himself to be a member of God’s covenant community. God had given his law and his followers lived according to that law. When they broke that law, they would offer the appropriate sacrifices from a repentant spirit, receiving atonement for their sins and endeavoring to live obediently. David was a member of the covenant community who understood that the only righteous party of the covenant, was God himself. He knew that God treats members of the covenant differently than he treats those outside the covenant.
When Jesus declared a “new covenant” in his blood, his disciples preached an entrance into that covenant through faith in the divine party of the covenant. This was true of Abraham, Moses, and David in the Old Covenant. They first believed that God as the “righteousness” of the covenant, replacing their sinfulness with his righteousness so completely that they could call it “my righteousness.” Then, secondly, flowing from this faith, they sought to obey the covenant law. The same is true for all of us in the “new covenant.”
After he considers himself as a target of God’s judgment, David begs God to put an end to the evil in the world around him. He believes that God can destroy evil by establishing the righteous. Indeed the more the church establishes good and supportive enterprises in this world – more communities of faith, schools, hospitals, orphanages and peacekeeping missions, God’s righteousness is established. We are instruments; God establishes us. He alone knows our minds and hearts, our motives in doing good. David’s “shield is with God” the Righteous One. He is united to God and so he identifies wholly with God.
God saves the upright in heart, that is, he saves those united to him by faith; he saves those who identify wholly with him. Thus God is both Savior and the Righteous One. He is infinitely just and merciful. David returns to his observation of God’s anger. God “feels indignation every day.” Human wickedness is so pervasive and regular that not a day goes by that God does not feel anger. We are living in God’s “Day of Patience,” a long period of time designed for the church to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. While God daily feels indignation, he chooses to suspend his justice daily, storing up wrath for the Final Day when he will judge the nations. In this day of God’s patience, put your faith in Jesus and join David in his prayers.
Psalm 7: 12-13
If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
He has bent and readied his bow;
He has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
Making his arrows fiery shafts.
Repentance & Divine Wrath
David paints a foreboding picture of God prepared to destroy anyone who refuses to repent. Indeed this is an offensive description of God to anyone who believes that any individual ought not to be controlled, let alone forced to do anything by a higher power. Even more offensive is what we would call “threat” or “manipulation.” How dare David or God suggest that, “if” we do not do something, “then” God will punish us! Whatever happened to the description of God as “love”?
This is not a picture of a loving parent who must harshly discipline his precious child. This is a picture of God, the warrior King, sharpening his sword. He has an arrow strung, his bow taught; he is ready to shoot at anytime. He weapons ready to strike are “deadly.” Arrows ignited are not designed to penetrate the flesh but to set afire to a community consuming edifices and residents together with all their possessions. How are we to respond to such a picture of God?
David suggests that our response should be repentance. Of course, we could choose to respond in defiance or in appeal, crying, “This is not fair and David is certainly out of line for suggesting that a loving God would destroy unrepentant human beings along with their pets and pianos by fire!”
The best response is to “repent,” meaning to abandon one’s sin and self-charted direction, turning 180 degrees to follow God, to pursue his holiness, to submit to his will. The gospel is the good news that our repentance is the path into God’s love. The gospel is also the good news that our repentance is truly a gift from God, just like our faith is a divine gift. The gift of repentance not only leads us into God’s favor but it transforms our lives, liberating us from bondage to sin. Imagine yourself free of pride, estrangement, duplicity, STD’s, racism, mistrust, and bitterness. Repentance is walking the path that leads to freedom and it is also the path of freedom.
It is a treacherous human perversion – any presentation of repentance as resignation to a God who has overstepped his bounds to invade our autonomy. Repentance and freedom go together. Sin and human autonomy go together. Who has switched these partners, whispering in our ears, “Cry foul! God has no right! God is the enemy! Repentance and love do not go together!” Not every voice you hear is the voice of a friend. Repentance is not giving up as much as it is following God into freedom.
Psalm 7: 14-16
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends.
I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.
David supplies us with a colorful description of the wicked person. David, just like the apostle Paul centuries later, generally views wickedness to seed internally at the emotive and conceptual level before bursting forth in behavior. The wicked person “conceives evil” before committing it. Paul thus instructs us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Evil is conceived, pre-meditated, then it flowers into sinful behavior – “pregnant with mischief.” We usually assign a childlike attempt to create trouble to the word, “mischief,” and it may be that David, as well sees the first expressions of wickedness to be juvenile and petty. Indeed most of us know from personal experience the wicked desire to stir up trouble. We observe the frustration and tension caused in others and we sit back and smirk, sickly entertained.
David then says that this wicked pregnancy delivers not a baby but a liar. The destruction of truth through the twisting of it or the opposing of it is as foundational to wickedness as is pride. As any child who has told a string of lies, the subsequent lie covering the preceding lie, can tell us, such dishonesty usually results in a trap of the liar. David describes the liar as one who digs a pit for himself to fall into caught by his own dishonesty.
David’s use of the word “head” followed by “skull” produces a chilling image. The wickedness of lies is deadly. The imagery is not that of losing a limb and surviving, but that of a fatal head wound. David describes the wicked person mostly as a personal deterrent of wickedness in his own mind and behavior (see James 1:14-15).
David concludes Psalm 7 pledging to return thanks and praise to the God of infinite righteousness. For any of us this is a good starting point to living according to the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us – Jesus replacing our wickedness with his righteousness.
Psalm 8: 1-2
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
You have established strength because of your foes,
To still the enemy and the avenger.
David has given us a beautiful song of praise in Psalm 8. He begins by addressing the sovereign Lord, the infinite controller of the universe. In the very next breath, with apposition, he brings this Omnipotent Ruler close to us, for he is “our Lord.” The covenant cut between God and us in the Bible makes it clear that we belong to God and that God belongs to us!
The Lord, is a royal Person in his authority and power. The splendor of the Lord is the very light of divine glory. The beauty of the Lord is unsurpassed in all nature. David means all this in describing the Lord’s name as majestic. Divine name and character are inseparably majestic.
The Lord’s majesty is readily apparent in all the earth, but more precisely David means that there is nothing else in all the earth as majestic as the Lord. The display of God’s glory is a work of God himself: “You have set your glory above the heavens.”
To silence his enemies, God often chooses the least likely representatives. In Psalm 8, he has chosen babies and children! At Evergreen we include babies and children in our worship and fellowship as much as possible, recognizing them to be those who testify to God’s majesty.