Monday, July 17, 2017

The Blessing of True Worship --- Proverbs 15:8

Proverbs 15:8 
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.

The parallel between "sacrifice" and "prayer" is worth pondering.  Worship at the sanctuary or temple in the Old Testament was costly.  One came to worship with a sacrificial animal as a sacrifice to the Lord.  When David was offered oxen for sacrifices free of charge in 2 Samuel 24:24, his response was, "I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing."  The literal expense of sacrifice pointed metaphorically to the costly offering of ourselves.

Prayer, on the other hand, recognizes our inability to offer the Lord anything.  Prayer recognizes that all blessings flow from him.  Prayer recognizes our poverty and dependence before him.  Prayer recognizes that our Father is the Giver, and we are merely the recipients of his bounty. The Heidelberg Catechism says that the reason Christians need to pray is "Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.  And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them" (Q&A 116).

So, while sacrifice points to the costly offering of ourselves to the Lord, prayer points to our poverty and the petitionary nature of prayer, as well as our thanks upon receiving his blessings.

In our worship, we are to offer to our Lord both prayers and sacrifice.  Romans 12:1 beautifully summarizes both aspects of our worship:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

Our salvation comes to us as a sheer gift of God's grace and mercy.  In order to receive this salvation, we call upon the Lord in repentance and faith, asking for his mercy.  The Lord promises his forgiveness and mercy to all who will confess their sins and turn to him to live in a new way:

            Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
                 but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).

The order of Romans 12:1 is vital.  First, is the gift of grace, mercy, and salvation.  Then, comes the offering of ourselves as a living sacrifice.  The usual order of Christian worship services throughout Christian history have followed this pattern.[1]  Early in the service we confess our sins and our need of the Lord, and gradually we move to the offering of ourselves which takes place after the sermon and supper.  In our services, there ought to be a theology of the cross, which is characterized by the humility of petition, confession, and thanksgiving; not a theology of glory, which sings of our own piety, congratulating ourselves that we are not like other sinners (cf. the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 8:9-14).  No, we enter into the Lord's presence as humble supplicants and needy children, who are prone to wander.  We come asking the Lord Jesus to instruct us and pour out his Spirit on us, so that we might once again offer our bodies to him as a living sacrifice.

The wicked in our proverb neither pray nor offer themselves as living sacrifices.  The wicked in today's proverb do not intend to leave their idols.  Nor do they seek the Lord's mercy through repentance.  Because the wicked are unwilling to seek the Lord's salvation or offer themselves to the Father, going through the motions of a worship service will do them no good.  Nor will their large offerings to the church or to the poor change their status before the Lord.  The lack of true prayer and sacrifice means that the wicked remain wicked, and an abomination to the Lord. Their empty worship, devoid of heart, becomes just a further provocation of the Lord. 

When we come to church, our desire should be to meet with our Lord Jesus Christ, who promises that he will be present in the midst of those who gather in his name.  We come to meet with him.  We come to hear him speak to us in the written Word and the preached Word.  We respond to his Word to us with petitions, prayers, and thanks that is sometimes accompanied by music.  We also come to receive his life and assurance through the Spirit as he speaks and gives his life to us through the visible signs of his broken body and shed blood.  And, then, in response to his grace, mercy, and salvation, we offer ourselves to him as a spiritual sacrifice.  When we worship this way, we have the assurance that we are "acceptable" in his sight, and what a blessing that is!


[1] The pattern is described as a covenant renewal service, one example of which can be found in Joshua 24.  For a book that thoroughly discusses the covenant renewal service, see Jeffrey J Meyers, The Lord's Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Proverbs 15:2 --- Making Much of Christ

Proverbs 15:2
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

During the last week of our Lord's life, John records that some Greeks came to see Jesus.  "Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus'" (John 12:20-21).  It seems to me the words of these Greeks are important to keep in mind for all those who seek to speak on behalf of the King.  What people need to hear and see are not our opinions.  What people need to hear and see is not human wisdom.  No, what people need to hear and see is the glory of Jesus Christ, especially in his saving work, which was accomplished on the cross.

The desire of the Greeks to see Jesus is relayed to Jesus, and notice our Lord's response.  "Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  And Jesus answered them, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit'" (John 12:22-24).  A bit later Jesus says, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32).

Our verse today is about commending knowledge, so that people will be attracted to it, and leave their folly.  This word "commends" means to make knowledge seem good, beautiful and glorious, so that people are drawn to it.  This a large part of what Proverbs is trying to do.  It wants people to embrace wisdom, so that they leave their foolishness.  To put it in the language of the preface (chapters 1-9), Solomon's goal is to exalt Woman Wisdom, who stands for the Lord and his worship, so that all will embrace her, leaving Woman Folly behind, who stands for idolatry and sin. 

It is a short jump from Woman Wisdom, to our Lord and our marriage to him.  Jesus is, as Colossians 1:24-2:3 teaches, the mystery, which was hidden in the Old Testament, but is now revealed to us who live after his coming.  In this mystery, Christ, "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).  Therefore, just as Solomon desired to commend, exalt, adorn, beautify, and make pleasant "knowledge" with words, so now Christ Jesus' servants try to exalt him and lift him up with words, so that people will turn from their idols and turn to Christ.

As you can see, I believe this proverb is directed, first and foremost, to Christian ministers and workers.  Ministers need to learn how to use words for the purpose of exalting Christ and lifting him up.  The first thing ministers of the new covenant must learn is that their goal is to exalt Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

Good preaching and teaching points us to Christ, and especially to his cross.  John the Baptist is a great example for us.  In John 1:29, we read of John: "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'"  The very next day, John's message was the same as he exalted Jesus and pointed to Christ's saving work: "The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God!'" (John 1:35-36).  But on this day, John's preaching drew men to Jesus, for we read, "The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus" (John 1:37).

Probably the main reason John the Baptist could exalt Christ in his preaching was that he himself saw Christ's glory.  In Matthew 3:11, notice the exalted view he has of his Lord:  "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  When ministers try to exalt Christ, it's not like they are trying to lift him to a place that is not already his!  No, our Lord has been exalted to the highest place and he rules over heaven and earth.  That is the reality of life in heaven and life on earth.  But we do not see it because our eyes are beclouded with unbelief and sin, and it is only faith that can see unseen realities. 

John the Baptist saw Christ's glory, and so later he could say of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).  Not all of us will be great preachers or evangelists, who lift up Christ our King with beautiful and gracious words.  But it definitely won't happen if we do not see our Lord's glory.  It definitely won't happen if we do not see his infinite worth as our Redeemer who saved us, by dying in our place.  It definitely won't happen if we do not see him as high and lifted up by his death, resurrection and ascension to the Father's right hand. 

Good and beautiful words come from "wise" hearts who make much of Jesus, and little of themselves, and this evaluation of both Christ and ourselves is not a fiction, but the reality that faith sees.  Lord Jesus, you must increase, but I must decrease, for your glory and my blessing.  Amen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 14:33

Proverbs 14:33 
Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding,
    but makes itself known in the midst of fools.[1]

This is a tricky proverb to interpret.  The second line has given commentators fits, because it says that wisdom is revealed or made known in the midst of fools, which is difficult to understand.  For Proverbs tells us again and again that fools do not possess the wisdom offered in Proverbs, for it requires the fear of the Lord, something fools are without.

But the problem begins to clear if we see that the wisdom in view in this proverb is personified wisdom.  Personified wisdom appears throughout the prologue (chapters 1-9) as Woman Wisdom.  And, what does Woman Wisdom do?  She calls out to everyone to come to her and receive her message.  But what is the response to Woman Wisdom?  Do all flock to her?  Do all heed her call?  No, actually the majority prefer a marriage to Woman Folly.  Most prefer to be married to their idols, rather than to be married to the Lord.  The sad history of the Lord's own people proves that not all of Israel was Israel, and in most of its history only a remnant of the nation ever faithfully followed the Lord.

So, then, line one is teaching us about "the man of understanding" who has received Wisdom, and line two is telling us that Wisdom has been revealed or made known to fools, but for the most part, Wisdom's call has been rejected. 

When we remember that Lady Wisdom foreshadowed Christ, the proverb takes on added meaning for us as new covenant believers.  We are married to our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have received and welcomed him into our hearts.  But just as most rejected Wisdom's call, so most rejected Jesus when he came into the world:  "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him" (John 1:11).  Nevertheless, some did receive God's Son, for the next verse says, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12).

The discerning person, "the man of understanding," in line one of today's proverb, is the person who has welcomed and received Jesus into his or her heart.  The idea of this word "rests" in line one is that Wisdom "feels free to abide and remain.  Wisdom is at home . . . . and makes its influence felt there."[2]  Waltke says the word rests"means to be settled peacefully in a particular place, with overtones of finality, and/or victory, salvation."[3]  It is a heart that is conquered and ruled.[4] 

Surely, then, we must ask the question, Is Christ welcome in our hearts?  Has he conquered our hearts?  Is he ruling our lives?  Waltke contrasts lines one and two when he writes, "To come to rest and to rule in someone's heart [line one] are quite different from simply to 'make oneself manifest' to a group of people [line two].[5] 

Which group describes you?  Many who go to church are still described by line two.  Christ has been revealed to you.  Week after week Jesus reveals himself to you in Word and sacrament.  But has he conquered your heart?  Is he ruling your heart?  Are you resting and abiding in him by faith continually?

These are not easy questions to answer, even for genuine believers.  For believers fall short of God's glory.  We want to abide in him continually, but we have times when sin flares up in our lives.  That besetting sin besets us again.  We want to be ruled by Christ's Word, but we somehow stray from it.  We love the Word, but yet we get away from it.  "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love."[6]

Two things will help us.  First, don't give up.  Christians, you and I, are real sinners, not fake ones.  This is why we keep sinning.  But don't give up.  Keep repenting when you fall.  We live by the cross.  Keep pleading for a greater measure of the Spirit.  If you leave the Word, return to it, and learn to live in it.  Meditate on it.  Don't give up, but keep pursuing a closer walk with Christ.  Mourn over your sin, but remember: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Our struggle with sin ought to teach us humility, so that we give up boasting.

Second, be zealous to bless others.  Be zealous to do good.  Set your heart to follow Christ each evening before you enter your bed, and set your heart to follow Him each morning before you leave your bed.  But also ask the Lord to lead you in the good works he has prepared for you in advance.  And, maybe some of those good works will be what our proverb implies, that the man of understanding will imitate his Lord in calling people to come to Christ.  Maybe some of those good works will be to people whom the Lord has prepared their hearts to hear a word about Christ.  For if our good works are prepared in advance by our Father, why should we not believe that some foolish hearts have also been prepared by him in advance!  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).



[1] I have followed the ESV's alternative translation of line two, which removes the word even.
[2] Kitchen, Proverbs, 321.
[3] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 611.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] From the hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Hymn

A hymn--suggested tune: DUNDEE

v. 1
In love our Lord came to the world,
to save a fallen race.
He came to bring His poor the news,
of God's amazing grace.

v. 2
So to this earth and lower still,
in mercy Jesus went.
The pains of hell our Lord endured,
to pay our awful debt.

v. 3
Our Lord came not to save the good,
for there are none of them.
For all have sinned against the Lord,
and all men stand condemned.

v. 4
The folks who bring the gospel news,
are sinners just like you.
But they are cleansed by Jesus' blood,
through faith He'll cleanse you too.

v. 5
Repent, believe and come to Christ,
and stay near Jesus' side.
And in His Word and at His feet,
His strength will be supplied.

v. 6
The mission of our Lord goes on,
until He comes again.
And some will go and some support,
and all give all they can.

v. 7
Take up your cross and follow Christ,
and die with Him each day.
For glorious is Christ our Lord,
the truth, the life, the way.

v. 8
How great the glory of our Lord,
who rules in heav'n and earth.
We give our lives an offering,
incomparable His worth.

v. 9
Be with us, Lord, Your presence near,
and hear our prayers and cries.
By faith we walk, but long to see,
Your glory with our eyes.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Proverbs 14:21 --- Loving the World and Christ's Family

Proverbs 14:21
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

There are two contrasts in our proverb.  "Whoever despises his neighbor" is contrasted with "he who is generous to the poor."  "Is a sinner" is contrasted with "blessed is."

If the two great commandments are first to love God with all our heart, and second, to love our neighbor as ourselves, then we cannot despise our neighbor.  The word "despises" in Hebrew "means treating with contempt, discarding one as worthless."[1]   Kitchen adds that the verb includes belittling or ridiculing our neighbor.[2]

Our Lord teaches us who our neighbor is in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Before we get to the parable, we need to see what leads up to it:
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10)

This lawyer asks Jesus a question that contains a contradiction.  One does not "do" anything to receive an inheritance.  An inheritance is a gift.  Jesus answered the question of the expert in the Old Testament with a question.  This expert answered Jesus' question correctly.  If one keeps God's Law perfectly, then one will have eternal life.  But, of course, no one has ever kept God's instruction perfectly, except Jesus.  This led the man to ask a second question, which leads to the parable of the good Samaritan:

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The lawyer wants to justify himself, to get God's approval, by doing good.  But in order to do this, he must make the Law doable!  This means he must narrow the scope of the word neighbor.  So he asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus' answer flows from the parable.  Essentially our neighbor is whoever comes across our path in need.  Neighbor, therefore is a broad term.  We don't get to pick and choose our neighbors.

The parable, though, has another dimension, which was seen by early church fathers like Origen, Ambrose, and Augustine.  They believed that the Good Samaritan was a symbol for Jesus.  I agree.  Jesus came in great compassion from the heavenly Jerusalem to the low point of Jericho.  Jericho is located near the aptly named Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth.  Jesus was the ultimate neighbor to the human race, coming from heaven to earth to offer himself as the supremely costly sacrifice, which alone can heal us of the fatal wound of sin.

Therefore, as Christ's disciples, we must love the inhabitants of the world.  We must go into the world and make disciples of all nations.  We proclaim the only answer to the fatal wound of sin.  We must love, not despise, the world by bringing our unbelieving neighbors the gospel.

But we must also love in an even greater way "the poor," who have come to Christ from out of the world.  For such believers are in the family of Jesus, and we are all brothers.  How we treat these brothers, Jesus teaches, is how we treat him.  Great blessing and beatitude comes to those who treat his family members well, for Jesus is united to them.  Thus, our Lord will say on the last day:

"'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" (Matthew 25:34-40)


[1] Ross, Proverbs, 988.
[2] Kitchen, Proverbs, 314.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The "Poor" in the Psalms

Excursus:  The "Poor" in the Psalms and Its Relation to Proverbs

I tend to view the poor in the Proverbs in a similar way to how the poor are viewed in the book of Psalms.  This is relevant for Proverbs, because Solomon is the chief composer of Proverbs just as his father David is the chief author of the Psalms.  Since it is hard to imagine that Solomon, who appears to have been familiar with the wisdom writings of the nations around him (1 Kings 4:29-31), would have been unfamiliar with his own father's psalms.  Thus, it seems hard to imagine that Solomon was not influenced by the Psalms.  It seems reasonable to expect, then, a similar view of the poor and their identification in both the Psalms and Proverbs. 

In this excursus (see also the excursus on Jesus' Use of the Word Poor), I will take a brief look at the 25 times the word poor is used in Psalms.  I will argue that with one exception, and possibly two, which certainly do not disprove the rule, the poor in the Psalms are a synonym for the Lord's people, and especially describes their inward disposition.  This dovetails nicely with our Lord's spiritual definition of "the poor in spirit" and his use of the word poor, to whom belongs the kingdom of heaven as taught in his first beatitude (Matthew 5:3). 

I will go through the occurrences in order.  The first is found in 9:18 and the last is found in 132:15.  The first twelve occurrences of the word poor occur in book one of the Psalms (1-41), and establish the pattern of the word's usage.  Five occurrences occur in book two Psalms (42-72) with three occurring in Psalm 72, a psalm of Solomon, which is particularly important in establishing a link with Proverbs.  There are three occurrences of the word in book three (73-89), and five times poor appears in book five (107-150).

            Psalm 9:17-18
                        17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
                all the nations that forget God.
                        18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
                and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

This chiastic construction parallels "Sheol" and "perish forever" in the outer frame, contrasting the wicked and the poor.  The inner frame is connected with the idea of forgetting.  Unlike the wicked/nations who forget God, the needy/poor are not forgotten by God.  The wicked forget God with the disastrous result that they will perish forever.  But the needy, who it is implied remember Him, will not perish forever.

            Psalm 10:2, 8-9
            In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
               let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

            His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
                        9     he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
            he lurks that he may seize the poor;
                he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

In this psalm the wicked are pursuing and persecuting the poor and helpless.  But the truth that the poor are not just the poor in general, is shown in verse 14.  Here we see that the poor, who have been identified with the helpless in verses 8 and 9, have a commitment to the Lord.  For verse 14 says, "to you the helpless commits himself."

            Psalm 12:5
            “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
                I will now arise,” says the Lord;
                “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”

Here the poor are those who long for the safety and refuge the Lord gives.  The Lord guards them from a wicked generation, which is described in the psalm.  The poor are classified with the "godly" and "faithful" of verse one, which consists of a small remnant.

            Psalm 14:6
            You would shame the plans of the poor,
              but the Lord is his refuge.

Again, the poor is not just anyone who is poor, but rather those have the Lord as their refuge.

            Psalm 34:6
            This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
                and saved him out of all his troubles.

David is the writer of this psalm.  Even though he is the king of Israel, and the richest man in the land, yet he describes himself as poor.  Since David is the small "c" christ, which means anointed one, he prefigures Christ Jesus, the true King.  In David's words we hear Christ speaking.  Starting in verse 8, David/Christ begins to teach "his children."  It is significant that verse 20 is true of Jesus, as the Righteous One, for on the cross not one of his bones was broken.

            Psalm 35:10
            “O Lord, who is like you,
            delivering the poor
                from him who is too strong for him,
                the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

After describing his suffering in verses 1-8 by the hands of those who "without cause" hated him, David/Christ joyfully describes his deliverance.  Thus, once again, the King, who by definition is fabulously wealthy, is described as poor in spirit!  So too, then, must be his people.

            Psalm 37:14
            The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
                to bring down the poor and needy,
                to slay those whose way is upright;

The poor and needy are parallel with the upright.  Thus, the poor here cannot be the literal poor.  The poor and needy are synonymous with the upright, thus, the parallelism points to the inward disposition of the upright, which is to be poor in spirit.

            Psalm 40:17
            As for me, I am poor and needy,
                but the Lord takes thought for me.
            You are my help and my deliverer;
                do not delay, O my God!

Hebrews 10:5-7 places Psalm 40:6-8 into the mouth of Jesus.  Since there is no change of speaker in this psalm, the entire Psalm must be regarded as the words of our Lord.  Therefore, for the third time, Jesus, through David, describes himself as poor!

            Psalm 41:1-2
            Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
                In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
            the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
              he is called blessed in the land;
               you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.

In verses 1-3, David teaches that the Lord considers the poor and delivers them from trouble and sickness (verse 3).  He describes this trouble in words that remind us of Jesus' death and resurrection:

            They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him;
                he will not rise again from where he lies.”
                        9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
                who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
                        10 But you, O Lord, be gracious to me,
               and raise me up, that I may repay them!

Putting this all together, then, we see that the poor, who suffer but are delivered by the Lord, are imitating and participating in the sufferings and deliverance of the Christ to whom David points.

            Psalm 49:2
            Hear this, all peoples!
                Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
                        2 both low and high,
                rich and poor together!

This is the only time I can find a literal rather than a metaphorical use of the word poor in the Psalms, with one possible exception.  Here it is used together with the rich as a merism.  A merism brings together two contrasting words to refer to the whole.  Both low and high and rich and poor are merisms to emphasize that all the inhabitants of the world are addressed in Psalm 49.  This fits the emphasis of book two of the Psalms (42-72), which announces that the Davidic king is established and the world would be wise to bow before the Lord and his anointed king.

Interestingly, though, Psalm 49 contains a polemic against wealth, which is seen as a rival to God (v. 6, 13, 16-20).  In the psalm, it is not the literal poor who are saved indiscriminately, but those with understanding (v. 20), and are partakers in God's costly ransom (v. 8, 15).

            Psalm 70:5
            But I am poor and needy;
                hasten to me, O God!
            You are my help and my deliverer;
             O Lord, do not delay!

Here is another instance where David/Christ describes himself as poor and needy.  The whole earth belongs to the Lord, according to Psalm 24:1, and yet our Lord describes himself as poor!  2 Corinthians 8:9 describes the grace that has come to us in Christ:  "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).  True wealth is found in Christ Jesus through faith and love.  But that wealth is given to the poor in spirit.  Our Lord's inward disposition as the most blessed man is described in the first beatitude:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).
            Psalm 72:2, 4, 12
            May he judge your people with righteousness,
                and your poor with justice!
            May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
                give deliverance to the children of the needy,
                and crush the oppressor!
            12 For he delivers the needy when he calls,
                the poor and him who has no helper.

First, notice that in verse two, "your people" is parallel to "your poor."  The "your' refers to God in line one.  The royal son, the Davidic king, is to judge or rule the Lord's people, to defend their cause in verse four, and to deliver them in verse 12.  In verse 17, God's royal son, whose name is to endure forever, is the one in whom God's people, the poor, are blessed.  Thus, we have Solomon, using the words poor and needy in a most significant way.  For he describes the poor as the people who belong to God and his royal son, who foreshadowed Christ.  To read the poor in Psalm 72 as the literal poor is just plain poor reading.

            Psalm 74:18-21
18 Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
                and a foolish people reviles your name.
                        19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
                do not forget the life of your poor forever.
20 Have regard for the covenant,
                for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
                        21 Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
                let the poor and needy praise your name.

This psalm is a prayer for the Lord's exiled people.  The "enemy" and a "foolish people," who "reviles" the Lord's name, rule over his people.  The poor in verse 19 are identified with Israel, which is often pictured as a dove.  In verses 20 and 21, it is clear that the poor are members of the covenant.  Once again, the poor in the Psalms refer not to the literal poor, but metaphorically to the Lord's people.

Psalm 86:1
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
                for I am poor and needy.

In this prayer of David, we see David/Christ again describe himself as poor and needy.  This is the basis of his expectation of being heard by the Lord!  Thus, poverty is a description of the inner being of Jesus Christ and his people.  This poverty of spirit, therefore, is the right spirit for man in his humanity.  Verse two immediately follows with the words, "I am godly . . . [and] trust in You."  True riches are found, therefore, in the trust, which unites us to our God.

Psalm 109:16, 22
16 For he did not remember to show kindness,
                but pursued the poor and needy
                and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
22 For I am poor and needy,
                and my heart is stricken within me.

This is a psalm of David.  The early church saw it as about Christ in his sufferings on our behalf.  The last two verses (30-31) point to his resurrection.  The psalm focuses on the opposition to Christ, and especially on the one who would betray Jesus, namely, Judas.  Peter cites the psalm in Acts 1:20 when a successor for Judas is chosen.  Verses 16 and 22 show the close connection between Christ and his people.  Once again, our Lord is seen as the consummately poor man, in verse 22.  To attack Christ's people (16), the poor, is to attack him.  To attack Christ, the poor man, is to attack his people.  Thus, at Paul's conversion, the Lord Jesus says to Saul, who became Paul, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me" (Acts 9:4, 22:7).  Saul was persecuting Christ's people, but Jesus is so intimately linked to his people, that persecution of them is persecution of him.  Because Christ is poor in spirit, so must his people be who are united to him by faith.

Psalm 112:9
He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
                his righteousness endures forever;
                his horn is exalted in honor.

This psalm is about the blessings that come to those who fear the Lord.  And, yet, it is hard not to see Jesus as both the pattern of this fear of the Lord, and the dispenser of spiritual blessings to his people, the poor.  When verse 3 of the psalm says, "Wealth and riches are in his house," it is hard not to see an allusion to Wisdom in Proverbs 3:16 and 9:1.  Psalm 112:9 could be read of Christ, who after his exaltation gives gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8).  Or, it could be read as the good believers do for others, especially, to those in the household of God.  It seems to me, this is the one instance in the Psalms where giving to the literal poor may be in view.  But given the association of the word poor with believers, our rule for charity must follow Galatians 6:10: "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."  The poor in Christ, and especially, the literal poor in Christ's church, have a priority.

Psalm 113:7-8
He raises the poor from the dust
                and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
                        8 to make them sit with princes,
                with the princes of his people.

In the Bible, repentance is associated with sackcloth, dust and ashes.  In this age, as our baptism into Christ's death signifies, daily dying with Christ is our way of life.  God only exalts the humble, who mourn their sin.  Thus, in this life we both mourn our low condition and exult in our high position as those who have been seated in the heavenly realms with Christ (Ephesians 2:6).  Our baptism is the symbol of both our continual mourning and continual joy, for we have both died with Christ and been raised with him.  Law and gospel are our rule in our Lord's church.  To do away with either is dangerous to our spiritual health.

Psalm 132:11, 13-16
11 The Lord swore to David a sure oath
                from which he will not turn back:
            “One of the sons of your body
                I will set on your throne.

13 For the Lord has chosen Zion;
                he has desired it for his dwelling place:
                        14 “This is my resting place forever;
                here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
                        15 I will abundantly bless her provisions;
               I will satisfy her poor with bread.
                        16 Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
               and her saints will shout for joy.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of David set on the throne forever (11).  He has ascended to the heavenly Zion (13-14), and he satisfies his "poor with bread" (15), clothing his people with salvation.  Significantly, this final reference to the poor points to the Lord's Supper and baptism (16).  For in the Supper he gives us the true bread of his body, and in baptism we put on Christ Jesus, "for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).


Share This