Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 25

Psalm 25 (English Standard Version)

Teach Me Your Paths
Of David.

1To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. 2O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
3Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
5Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
6Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

11For your name’s sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.

12Who is the man who fears the LORD?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
13His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
15My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.

19Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.

Yesterday, we looked at Psalm 24, as it asked the question:
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
The question is similar to the question we saw in Psalm 15:
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
The answers given in both psalms are also similar:
Psalm 15:2: He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart.

Psalm 24:4: He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false . . .
The problem for us is that no sinful human being can live up to God’s holy demands. None of us has a walk that is totally blameless. None of us always speaks truth in his or her heart. None of us has completely clean hands or a perfectly pure heart. There is no human being, except for Jesus Christ, who has never lifted up his soul to an idol. As the apostle teaches us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

The arrangement of the Psalms makes the same point that 1 John 1:8 makes. Psalm 14 gives us pause when we look at the requirements for living in fellowship with the Lord that we find in Psalm 15. For in Psalm 14 we are told:
The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all turned aside;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
The arrangement of Psalm 14 right next to Psalm 15 teaches us the truth of 1 John 1:8, that if we think we are without sin, we deceive ourselves. But the arrangement of Psalm 24 right next to Psalm 25 teaches us the same important lesson. We might tend to think that somehow we can ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place by the sheer force of our will and our own righteousness. But Psalm 25 should disabuse us of this notion. Notice the emphasis on our need of forgiveness in Psalm 25:
7Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

11For your name’s sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.

18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
How then can we ascend the hill of the Lord? How can we live in his holy place? How can we live in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit, if our sin disqualifies us?

The answer is faith in the Son of God, whom the Father sent for our salvation. He ascended the hill of the Lord. He entered the holy place through his resurrection and ascension, which was proof that the Father is pleased with his Son’s work of sin-bearing on the cross! By faith in Jesus Christ, we are crucified and risen with Christ, so that we too may live in God’s holy presence. As Jesus said, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

Psalm 25 begins and ends with faith or trust, because it is faith in the Lord that enables us to live in the Father’s presence. We cannot climb up into God’s presence by our works. Such a thought is an insult to Jesus Christ, who died and rose so that through faith in Him we could live with Him in fellowship and with His Father by the Spirit.

All of this should give us a profound love for what Christ has done on our behalf. He has qualified us, people who were disqualified because of our sin and uncleanness. He has forgiven us our many sins. He covers the original sin that remains in us, which is the source of our sin as believers, with his blood and righteousness. Let us walk today and all the days He gives us in the light of his marvelous grace on our behalf. Praise the Father who sent his Son in love; praise the Son who died and rose so that we might die and rise with him---qualified by grace to live in his presence; praise the Spirit who enables us to see and believe this marvelous salvation!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 24

Psalm 24 (English Standard Version)

The King of Glory
A Psalm of David.

1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
5He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
9Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!

I will admit it. I listen to Rush Limbaugh, and I like him. Ok, now for the disclaimers. I don’t agree with him at every point, but on a whole host of issues I think he is right. Do I think he lacks a bit of compassion sometimes for the poor and disadvantaged? Yes, but so do many professing Christians I know!

What does that have to do with Psalm 24? Well, as I listened to Rush and ate my lunch today, he played clips of the president from the White House touting his new cap and trade bill. This bill is based on the belief that global warming is a real threat to our planet, and takes concrete steps to help ensure that we save the planet.

Here is my problem with human beings saving the planet: it turns Christian salvation upside down. In the Bible’s way of looking at things it is human beings who need saving. In the Bible’s way of looking at things, the Lord is the Savior, not us. So I wonder about a philosophy that sees human beings as the saviors of the earth!

I also wonder also about a philosophy that believes the earth needs saving. Do we really have reason to believe that the earth needs to be saved by us? Or is this simply an alternative “story” to the Christian “story” of salvation from sin in its guilt and power?

Psalm 24, at least, doesn’t seem to view the earth as unstable and in need of saving. The reason the earth is not unstable is because it belongs to the Lord:

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein

Not only does the earth belong to the Lord by right of creation, but it is stable because he has given it a firm foundation:

for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

I grant the fact that the verse above is not teaching geology, but rather theology. But the theology teaches us to trust that the Lord is King, and he has given us a stable earth for our habitation. Could it be that the reason people are so worried about the stability of the earth with regard to its temperature and climate is that they have no faith in the Lord? And, since human beings must believe in something, they come up with alternative stories to the true story of God’s salvation of human beings from the guilt and pollution of sin?

The myth of global warming is one of man’s alternative stories. It is very flattering, because in it we are the heroes! We are the saviors, not those who need saving. In chart form the two stories look like this:

Who is the Savior?

Global Warming: Human Beings
God's Story: Jesus Christ

Who/what needs saving?

Global Warming: The earth/planet
God's Story: Human beings

What is the problem?

Global Warming: The instability of the planet arising from pollution
God's Story: Human guilt and inner pollution arising from sin

What is the solution?

Global Warming: Laws and activism by human beings
God's Story: The gospel and faith in Jesus Christ, God's Son

Who gets the glory when the problem is solved?

Global Warming: Man
God's Story: The triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit

Am I saying that human beings should not be good stewards of the earth? Absolutely not. But I am saying we should be careful when philosophies like global warming are built on the unbelief of the bedrock truths of God’s Word such as the Lord’s creation, providence, and salvation:

  • In terms of creation, the Lord is creator, and there is no such thing as “mother nature.” The stability of the earth as a place habitable for man has been established and promised in God’s Word (for example, in God’s covenant with Noah in Gen. 8-9).

  • In terms of providence, the Lord is the One who upholds the world by his power. Human beings have no power to cause the sun to rise or set; no power to keep the oceans in their place; no power to prevent earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, and a host of other earth related events. It is hubris to think otherwise.

  • In terms of salvation, God’s story is the true story. We are the ones that need saving. It is a humbling truth to acknowledge our guilt and inward pollution before a holy God. It is much more flattering to our pride to think of ourselves as saviors. But if we will humble ourselves and place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, who went to the cross for the cleansing of our guilt, and sent his Spirit to overcome our corruption, we will experience a true release and a joy in our lives. That joy comes from a cleansed conscience (conscience is God's testimony to us that one day we must answer to him) and peace with the God, whose story in sending his beloved Son into the world to save the world is the true story of the human race.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 23

Psalm 23 (English Standard Version)

The LORD Is My Shepherd
A Psalm of David.

1The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 23 is a psalm of confidence. In a psalm of confidence, the prevailing mood is trust.

How can I be confident that the Lord is my Shepherd? The answer is faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus says:

John 10:9: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Once I belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, what can I expect from him?
  1. Spiritual rest: “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
  2. Spiritual and regular renewal: “He restores my soul.”
  3. A life that brings him honor: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
  4. Spiritual Protection: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
  5. His close presence: “You are with me.”
  6. Guidance (and protection): “Your rod (a protective instrument) and staff (a guiding instrument), they comfort me.”
  7. The Lord’s goodwill and favor throughout life, despite my deserving just the opposite: Verses 5-6.

Is the Lord enough for my soul? What is enough for my souls? What will satisfy me?

In verse 1, David says that the Lord is enough for him: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The New Living Translation puts this positively and translates verse 1: The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.”

Is the Lord enough for you---for me? If the Lord Jesus Christ is not enough to satisfy us, then he lied to us repeatedly, for he says:

John 4:14: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 6:33-35: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”

John 7:37b-38: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

In all of these verses Jesus uses the imagery of hunger and thirst to symbolize human need. He promises that he is able to meet the deepest of human needs.

An Objection to Christ's Sufficiency

Human beings were created to live in the presence of God. Sometimes I hear people in their unbelief dismiss Jesus and Scripture as simplistic and unable to meet the deepest human need. Usually such people are coming from the standpoint of psychology and believe that modern psychology understands the human soul in a deeper way than Scripture.

The truth is that the Lord understands what we need most of all: his grace and his presence. In Jesus Christ we have both. In Jesus, “the house of the Lord” has come down to us, and we may dwell in Him all the days of our lives. In that house---in Him, just as in the temple, there is a basin for the cleansing of his priests. In Christ we have the continual cleansing of our sins and his
near presence. Is it any wonder then that his priestly people are filled with joy because of his presence and grace, as we serve and minister to him in his temple of the earth.[1]

[1] The earth, in Scripture, is sometimes viewed as a temple, so that we serve the Lord on the earth as his priests in order to bring him glory wherever we go. The temple imagery can be applied in many different ways. Christ, himself, tabernacled among us as God’s temple, and as believers we are in Christ, i.e., in union with him. Hebrews speaks of a temple in heaven, where already we dwell by faith. The church is a temple. The bodies of believers are temples of God. Sometimes the earth is pictured as a temple, and the man-made temple in the Old Testament was a microcosm of the earth and heavens.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 21

Psalm 21 (English Standard Version)

The King Rejoices in the LORD’s Strength
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices,
and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
2You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.

3For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
4He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
length of days forever and ever.
5His glory is great through your salvation;
splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
6For you make him most blessed forever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
7For the king trusts in the LORD,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

8Your hand will find out all your enemies;
your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9You will make them as a blazing oven
when you appear.The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,
and fire will consume them.
10You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
and their offspring from among the children of man.
11Though they plan evil against you,
though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12For you will put them to flight;
you will aim at their faces with your bows.

13Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.

Here is how George Horne, a godly minister in the 1700s summarized Psalm 21:

“This is one of the proper Psalms which the church has appointed to be used on Ascension-day. [In the psalm] the church celebrates the victory of her Redeemer, and the glory consequent thereupon (1-6). She prophesies the stability of his kingdom (7), and the destruction of the enemies concluding with a prayer for his final triumph and exaltation (8-12).”
Horne and many churches rightly take this psalm ultimately to be about Christ and his ascension. With that in mind I want to focus just on verse 7:
7For the king trusts in the LORD,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
Jesus, in his human nature trusted in the Lord. Specifically, he trusted in the “steadfast love” or gracious favor of his Father. He lived his life always conscious of his Father’s love for him.

His faith in the Father’s gracious love was certainly tested. Think of him in the wilderness without food for forty days. What kind of Father does not feed his children?! It did not look as though his Father loved him. Think of him on the cross, when our sin was laid on him. It did not look as though his Father loved him. But the steadfast love of the Father for Christ never changed. In fact, this very psalm is Christ’s thanksgiving to the Father for saving him from death through his resurrection and ascension.

How do we, as Christ’s people, take hold of the Father’s grace, mercy, and peace? How do we take hold of his steadfast love? We take hold of it the same way our elder brother took hold of it by faith---faith in the Father’s gracious love to us for Christ’s sake.

There are a couple of situations where we can especially doubt the Father’s grace and good will toward us. The first is in times of trial and sickness. When we are suffering from the ravages of cancer or are recovering from a stroke or in the hospital for a major surgery, it does not appear that God is for us with his steadfast love. But faith looks beyond the circumstances of our trials and perceives the Father’s favorable countenance. By faith in Christ we know that our God is for us and not against us.

The other situation that causes us to doubt the Father’s love is our sin. When we consider how many times we have denied Christ through our sin, we can begin to doubt that God could still love us. When we consider how small our love for Christ is---how relatively infrequently our actions are motivated only by a desire to please our heavenly Father, we are tempted to doubt God’s steadfast love for us. When we consider how little zeal we have for lost souls all around us, who are perishing and headed for hell, we wonder if the Father can forgive us.

In these temptations, let’s imitate Christ in his faith in the Father. As a man, Jesus lived always trusting in his Father.

There is a struggle in the spiritual life with faith. I wonder sometimes if those who don’t know this struggle are merely presumptuous with a false assumption that, of course, God loves them because after all what’s not to love! But when we know ourselves as sinners in the light of God’s holiness, we know it is no small thing to continue to believe that God is favorable to us on account of Christ!

But the gospel of God’s grace is offered to us throughout out lives. In our baptism, that promise of grace and forgiveness invites us continually to repent and believe that God is for us and not against us. He is our Father who loves us, and not our judge who condemns us. Because of Christ, our crucified and ascended Savior, the Father views us as forgiven and justified and as a dear child whom He loves.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 22

Psalm 22 (English Standard Version)

Why Have You Forsaken Me?
To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
3Yet you are holy,

enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6But I am a worm and not a man,

scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 "He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
9Yet you are he who took me from the womb;

you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
12Many bulls encompass me;

strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16For dogs encompass me;

a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
19But you, O LORD, do not be far off!

O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
21Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
25From you comes my praise in the great congregation;

my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
29All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;

before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

Psalm 22 has two distinct parts. In verses 1-21 the psalmist is suffering great pain as he is abandoned by both God and man. But in verses 22-31 we have an abrupt transition as David praises the Lord in the midst of the church (congregation) for answering his prayer.

The New Testament sees verses 1-21 as finding their ultimate fulfillment in the suffering and cross of Christ. Below is a look at how Matthew sees the fulfillment of Psalm 22 in Christ’s passion (this chart comes from the ESV Study Bible):

The Use of Psalm 22 in Matthew 27

Ps. 22:18:
They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
Matt. 27:35:
And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.

Ps. 22:7:
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.
Matt. 27:39:
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads.

Ps. 22:8:
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Matt. 27:43:
He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, “I am the Son of God.”

Ps. 22:1:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
Matt. 27:46:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The New Testament sees verses 22-32 as finding fulfillment in Christ’s resurrection (see Hebrews 2:12). In these verses the victorious and resurrected Christ calls on his brothers and sisters to praise the Lord.

Search the Scriptures asks an interesting question about the second half of the psalm. It says, “List those things that are stated that will be the reaction of people to the deliverance of the sufferer, and see how far this is true of your own reaction to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

I want to answer this question by looking at verses 25-26 and 30-31.

25From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!

Verse 25 speaks of Christ and his vindication by the Father. In verse 26 we see these responses to Jesus, who died and rose for our blessing:

  1. Believers love Jesus enough to suffer for his sake. When we cast our lot in with Christ we side with him in a spiritual battle. This kind of battle includes hostility.
  2. Believers find soul satisfaction in Christ. He is the bread of life to them.
  3. Believers are committed to Christ. They seek Christ and his righteousness. They offer themselves to the Father in response to his mercy in Christ.
  4. Believers praise the Lord in response to the crucified and resurrected Christ.
  5. Believers live because Christ died and intercedes for them.

30Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to
a people yet unborn, that he has done it.

The last reaction of believers I want to mention is this: Christ’s people evangelize. In verse 30, the coming generation is told of Christ. In verse 31 the message of the gospel is given.

Evangelism is an area where we excuse our disobedience to the great commission in many ways. We use the excuse that we don’t have the gift of evangelism. We use the excuse that we are timid, shy, and introverted. We use the excuse that we don’t know what to say. But in the end, all of these excuses are simply coverings we use to hide our disobedience.

At the very least, Psalm 22 says that Christ’s people will evangelize their own family members---our own children! Undoubtedly there is a fear factor in evangelism, but surely with our own children we have absolutely no excuse if we are disobedient to Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations (Mat. 28:18-20).

What is the content of the gospel? Well, it is certainly not our own righteousness! It is Christ’s righteousness that we proclaim. It is not our works, but Christ’s work we speak of, “for he has done it.”

The biggest obstacle to salvation is human pride. How many people think they are right with God because of their character or works. The gospel of God humbles us completely because it tells us that we are too sinful to save ourselves. Like little infants who depend entirely on their fathers and mothers for washing, food, and dress, so we are totally dependent on Christ’s blood and righteousness to make us right with God. As August Toplady wrote:

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace,
Black, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.”

We have a glorious message for the world. It is the answer to the world’s sin in both its guilt and power. Let us not be ashamed of the One who suffered, died, and rose to make us right with God. May our hearts stand in awe of what the Father has done for us in Christ:

All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 20

Psalm 20 (English Standard Version)

Trust in the Name of the LORD Our God
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble!
the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from
3May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!


4May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
5May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!

6Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
the saving might of his right hand.
7Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
8They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.

9O LORD, save the king!
May he answer us when we call.

According to Mark Futato, “The psalm (Psalm 20) reflects a situation and sequence like that described in 2 Chronicles 20:5-19---a prayer before battle . . . . Going to the Temple was required preparation before implementation. Psalm 20 provides a window into these two components of war. . . . Preparing for war (or for any task, for that matter) has two aspects, one organizational and one spiritual.”

As Christians we should have spiritual goals or desires. Such desires might be to know God better, to minister to others, to evangelize, to train children in the ways of the Lord, and other desires like these. Psalm 20 teaches us how to bring these desires to fruition. The steps are these:

1. Desire (v. 4a): The Lord must so work in our hearts that we desire what he desires. A good desire, for example, is to evangelize. Shouldn’t it break our hearts to see people all around us who are headed to hell? We should desire to do what we can to be a part of the salvation of some of those people around us.

2. Plan (v. 4b): Futato writes: “But desire is not enough. Desire must be directed by definite plans.” If our desire is to reach the lost, then we must make plans to reach them.

3. Prayer (v. 1-5 and 9 are prayer): Peter Craigie says, “Before a campaign could commence, there must first be a retreat to the temple.” Futato says of Psalm 20, “The prayer is for protection, help, and strength as David goes to war.” Evangelism involves us in a spiritual war, and so prayer is essential.

4. Attitudes as we work (v. 6-9): As we begin to work toward our plan, whatever that plan may be, we should go with both confidence and humility. Futato writes, “Through the process of preparation we become fully confident in the outcome.” But the confidence is not in ourselves, but in the Lord. Even as we are confident in the Lord and his resources, we fully depend on the Lord in prayer.

What desires has the Lord laid on your heart through his Word? Will you begin to take steps to bring these desires to fruition?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 19

Psalm 19 (English Standard Version)

The Law of the LORD Is Perfect
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above
proclaims his handiwork.
2Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for
the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is
enlightening the eyes;
9the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules
of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold,
even much
fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of
the honeycomb.
11Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have
dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my
rock and my redeemer.

There are three major sections of this psalm. Verses 1-6 deal with what we call general or natural revelation. Natural revelation refers to the revelation of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness that we receive from nature. This natural revelation is sometimes called general because it is open to all people in general.

Verses 7-12 deal with special revelation, which is the revelation about the Lord we receive from his Word. Special revelation exceeds the revelation of God we receive from nature, because in it we learn how we can be in a right relationship with the Lord---how we can be on good terms with him.

One of the ways we see the difference between natural revelation and special revelation in Psalm 19 is in the different name used for the Lord in each section. In verses 1-6, the name used is God. All people can know something about God’s nature from observing the created world. God designed it to reflect his glory, so people can learn about his nature and power. But because of human sinfulness only the Word of God can reveal God by his saving name, which we find in verses 7-12, the LORD. This is God’s covenant name---the name associated with salvation. Only God’s redeemed people can know him in intimacy as LORD.

Article 2 of the Belgic Congession, one of the confessions of the Reformation, beautifully sums up these two ways of knowing God from creation and from his Word:

The Means by Which We Know God

We know him by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.

Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.

Psalm 19 is a beautiful psalm. C. S. Lewis called it “the greatest poem in the Psalter.” I want to make just three brief points about it.

First, there are two possible meanings in verse 3. It could be saying that natural revelation is silent or inaudible. Or, it could be saying that natural revelation speaks to people no matter what language they speak. Based on the context, especially verse 4, the second meaning is correct. Natural revelation goes forth to all people. God’s glory can be seen in the created order. If we don’t see it, the problem is our sinful blindness.

Second, don’t miss the value and beauty of God’s Word in verses 7-12. The sun serves as a transition between the first two sections of the poem and leads Peter Craigie to write, “Just as the sun dominates the daytime sky, so too does Torah (the Lord’s instruction through his Word) dominate human life.” The Word of God is to be food for our souls, which revives and brings refreshment to our inmost being. I don’t think it is possible for us to read, study, meditate on, and love God’s Word too much!

Third, the last major section of the psalm deals with our response to God’s Word. Verse 14 is particularly lovely. The word acceptable in verse 14 is a “technical term for qualified offerings to God at the sanctuary.” Do we think of the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart as an acceptable or pleasing offering to the Lord? In response to the grace of God that we find in section two of the psalm, we should offer our thoughts and words to the Lord as a sacrifice of praise. Our Rock and Redeemer, who is revealed in his Word for our salvation, deserves no less.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 18

Psalm 18 (English Standard Version)

The LORD Is My Rock and My Fortress
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:

1I love you, O LORD, my strength. 2The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.

4 The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I cried for help.
From his
temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

7Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
8Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring
fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
10He rode on a cherub and flew;
he came swiftly on
the wings of the wind.
11He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds
dark with water.
12Out of the brightness before him
hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

13The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his
hailstones and coals of fire.
14And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings and
routed them.
15Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your
rebuke, O LORD,
at the blast of
the breath of your nostrils.

16He sent from on high, he took me;
drew me out of many waters.
17He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were
too mighty for me.
18They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the LORD was my support.
19He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he
delighted in me.

46The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation—
47the God who gave me vengeance
subdued peoples under me,
48who delivered me from my enemies;
yes, you
exalted me above those who rose against me;
you rescued me from
the man of violence.

49 For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations,
sing to your name.
50Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his
David and his offspring forever.

Joshua Chamberlain was a great Civil War hero. When the war began he was a professor of theology and rhetoric. But he enlisted and was quickly promoted because of his valor and leadership skills. By the time of Gettysburg, Chamberlain was a colonel and a commander of a regiment. His leadership and battlefield decisions were so impressive at Gettysburg the decisive battle of the war, that he became known as the “hero of Gettysburg” throughout the North.

A year after Gettysburg Chamberlain was commanding troops at Petersburg and received orders to make a desperate assault across a Confederate line. It was a foolish order because the path of the assault led the troops through an open field where the troops were easily mowed down by the Southern defense lines. But Chamberlain bravely led his men in the attack. He was shot down at the head of his troops.

Taken to a field hospital, the surgeons explained that nothing could be done for him and soon he would die. Upon learning this he asked for a paper and wrote this letter to his wife:

“My darling wife,

I am lying mortally wounded the doctors think, but my mind and heart are at peace. Jesus Christ is my all-sufficient savior. I go to him. God bless and keep and comfort you, precious one, you have been a precious wife to me. To know and love you makes life and death beautiful. Cherish the darlings and give my love to all the dear ones. Do not grieve too much for me. We shall all soon meet. Live, for the children. Give my dearest love to father, mother and Sallie and John. Oh how happy to feel yourself forgiven. God bless you evermore precious, precious one.

Ever yours


I thought of Chamberlain as I read Psalm 18 because we see in this psalm the Lord as both a fierce and valiant warrior and a tender and loving Lord. Much of this Psalm celebrates the Lord as the divine warrior, who wins salvation for David and his people. But this battle is won and this salvation is pursued because of the Lord’s great love for his people. Verse 50 shows that love for us is his motivation for accomplishing our salvation:

Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his offspring forever.

Jesus Christ came into this world as God incarnate---God in the flesh. He came to win a great victory over sin, death, and the devil. He won that battle because he was the divine Warrior who triumphed over our enemies through his death and resurrection. But Jesus is also the loving husband of his people. As the tender warrior, he speaks to us of his great love for us in the gospel. In the gospel our divine husband promises us forgiveness and favor from God, because he has earned this favor as our divine Warrior and Savior.

May the Father melt our hearts as we consider what our dear Christ accomplished for us as our Warrior and Husband through his cross. As we read Psalm 18 let us remember that the war he fought was for our sake. He shed his blood because he loved us. In Christ we have a tender God who is for us. May his love cause us to say with David:

“I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge . . . .”

P.S. In God’s kind providence, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain survived his wounds and lived to the ripe old age of 94!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Search the Scriptures: Psalm 17

Psalm 17 (English Standard Version)

In the Shadow of Your Wings
A Prayer of David.

1Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry!
Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
2From your presence let my vindication come!
Let your eyes behold the right!

3You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night,
you have tested me, and you will find nothing;
I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.
4With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips
I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5My steps have held fast to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.

6I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me; hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
8Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me in the shadow of your wings,

9from the wicked who do me violence,
my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They close their hearts to pity;

with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11They have now surrounded our steps;
they set their eyes to cast us to the ground.
12He is like a lion eager to tear,
as a young lion lurking in ambush.

13Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him!
Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
14from men by your hand, O LORD,
from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
they are satisfied with children,
and they leave their abundance to their infants.
15As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;

when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Mark Futato, whose excellent commentary on the Psalms has just recently been published, outlines Psalm 17 in a chiastic structure:
A Prayer for vindication (1-2)
B Affirmation of the psalmist’s innocence (3-5)
C Prayer for protection (6-8)
B’ Description of the psalmist’s accusers (9-12)
A’ Prayer for deliverance and blessing (13-15)

I would like to deal with just one issue in this psalm, namely, the affirmation of the psalmist’s innocence.

I used to be troubled by these claims of innocence you find in the psalms. I wondered how David could claim to be innocent, when the truth is that all of us fall short of the glory of God. None of us have loved our neighbors as ourselves or loved the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and strength.

Two things have helped me in reading these affirmations of innocence. First, in these affirmations, the psalmist is not claiming to be perfect and without sin. Instead, the psalmist simply claims he is without blame in the situation of persecution in which he finds himself. His enemies are persecuting him without cause. In the conflict between himself and his accusers, he is in the right.

There are times when believers are falsely accused and mistreated, and with regard to a specific situation they are innocent. In this psalm, and many others, David is claiming this kind of innocence.

Still, however, it makes us uncomfortable to claim this kind of innocence for ourselves. We know how risky it is to claim to be totally in the right in a situation of conflict, so here is where the other way of reading claims of innocence comes in. When we read these claims, we should remember that such claims find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. David was the Lord’s anointed one who was wrongly persecuted by his neighbors. David had a unique position in redemptive history. But Jesus was the Lord’s Christ, the greater than David, who was hated without a cause, despite living a life of complete and perfect innocence before the Father.

Here is how John Eaton points to the perfect innocence of Christ in Psalm 17:
“The psalm shows us one who can lay himself open to the most holy Presence without terror, having a pure conscience and claiming a tender intimacy with the great God. From his beholding of God will follow the salvation of his people. There is a profound analogy here for Christian faith. Uniting themselves to the pure and beloved Son, the fulfillment of the Davidic ideal, his disciples can lay themselves down with confidence in the nearness of God. Into the last night also, the night of death, they go in sure hope to see the face and form of God as their Savior and to be satisfied forever.”
This issue of innocence before God brings us to an important point in our walk with Him: the issue of conscience. In order to walk with the Lord we need to keep a good conscience. In 1 Timothy 1:18-19 we read:
“Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.”
Keeping a good conscience is vital in our walk with our triune God. If we fail to keep a good conscience, we are in danger of crashing and burning in our Christian lives, or to use Paul’s analogy, making a shipwreck of our faith.

There are only two ways to keep a good conscience. One way is simply to do the right thing before the Lord. When we do what is right, our conscience does not condemn us. But the second way to keep a good conscience is to find cleansing for it in the blood of Jesus Christ.

If you are a believer, make sure to keep your conscience clean before the Lord, for it is vital to your walk with him. We cannot live a life of righteousness, joy, and power if we have a guilty conscience. But the good news of the gospel is that there is no reason to have a guilty conscience, for a fountain for cleansing has been opened up for us through Christ’s death and resurrection. If you have transgressed God’s laws, then go to him, believing his promises of forgiveness and mercy, and find the cleansing you need to live free from guilt.

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