BOOK 2: PSALM 68 OF 72 – Gifts to the kingdoms of the earth

The rebellious now rise up and offend the Anointed One on a daily basis.  There is, in the present age, amongst the ‘civilised’, no more fear of the Lord.

Psalm 68 opens by telling us that this lack of fear was present even in the days of David.  That is why, in the face of God’s rising, that the enemies shall be scattered and shall flee; just as darkness is driven away in face of light, so is wax in the face of fire, and the wicked will perish.

But this is not a Lord of terror; the God we love is the Father of the fatherless and protector of widows (v5).  In the land of the desert, the prisoners will be led into a life of prosperity; whereas the rebellious who have scattered and fled will dwell in a parched land.  A land without water; without fruit; without life.  Is that not how the rebellious live in this age?  In the pretense and cover of life, when the substance of life – the Holy Spirit – is absent from them?

So the God of Israel, the One who appeared to them at Sinai, is the God who provides a prosperous abode.  He is the One who rains down in abundance; He is the one who restores our languishing inheritance.  Just like the women who announced the good news of Christ on the day that He rose again, the women who announce the news of the Lord’s word are a great host (v11).  Christ’s resurrection is the sign of the fleeing of the kings of this world.  These rulers, kings, principalities flee because Christ’s work could no longer be undone.

Vv12-14 are hard to comprehend, and commentators express the same sentiment.  Spurgeon has this to say about the scattering of kings being placed alongside the snow falling on Zalmon (v14):

Zalmon, properly Tsalmon, Nwmlu a woody hill near Shechem (Jud 9:48). Whether it is this that’s referred to in Ps 69:14, is disputed. Some interpreters take Nwmlu here in its etymological meaning of darkness, Mlu; thus Luther renders the clause “so wird es helle wo es dunkel ist, “thus it be bright where it is dark, and understands it with a Messianic reference. Ewald adopts much the same rendering. The majority, however, retain the name as a proper name, but exhibit great variety in their explanation of the passage. Hengstenberg thinks that the phrase, “it snows on Tsalmon, “is equivalent to “there is brightness where there was darkness, “the hill, originally dark with wood, is now white with snow. De Dieu supposes a comparison: Tsalmon is white with the bones of the slaughtered kings, as if with snow. Some suppose that there is here a mere note of time: it was winter, the snow was on Tsalmon (Herder); and this Hupfeld adopts, with the explanation that the statement is made derisively, with reference to those who tarried at home, deterred by the winter’s snow. He considers the passage (Ps 68:12-14) as a fragment of an ancient song, celebrating some of the early conquests of Israel in Canaan, and deriding those, who, from indolence or fear, shrank from the enterprise. He translates thus:

“The kings of the armies, flee, flee,
And the housewife shares the spoil!
Will ye lie among the shippens?
Pigeons feathers decked with silver,
And their wings with yellow gold!
As the Almighty scattered kings therein,
It was snowing on Tsalmon.”
—William Lindsay Alexander, in “A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature.” 1866.

Despite the apparent fruit and favour on the mountain of Bashan, the Lord chose another mount for his abode.  Sinai is now in the sanctuary — not Bashan.  Christ is the Lord who ascended on high, leading a host of captives in His train, and receiving gifts among men.  Look at Ephesians 4:8, which is different from Psalm 68:18 — instead of ‘receiving gifts amongst men’, Paul wrote that He gave gives to men.  Spurgeon explains the following:

Some think it refers to God’s goings forth on behalf of his people Israel, leading them forth to victory, taking their enemies captive, and enriching them with the spoils. Suppose it be so, we are warranted to consider it as mainly referring to Christ, for so the apostle has applied it. Eph 4:8. The apostle not only applies it to Christ, but proves it applicable. Thus he reasons (Ps 68:9-10), “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended,” etc. The captivity which he led captive was our spiritual enemies who had led us captive—Satan, death; and, having obtained the victory, he proceeds to divide the spoils. Gifts to men—as David made presents. And hence comes our ordinances, ministers, etc. There was a glorious fulfilment immediately after his ascension, in a rich profusion of gifts and graces to his church, like David’s presents. Here it is received; in Ephesians, gave. He received that he might give; received the spoil that he might distribute it.

That Paul applies this verse to Christ shows that he considered Jesus divine; however, the verb ‘receive’ (in Hebrew, laqakh) can have the idea of ‘receive in order to give’, or ‘to fetch’ (e.g. Genesis 18:4-5, where it is ‘bring’).  The purpose of this psalm is to focus on the conqueror who acquired the spoils from the defeated, the division of spoils for those who had been persecuted.  This fits the context, where v12 describes the women who divide the spoils upon the scattering of the kings.

David continues by describing the Lord as One who daily bears us up; He who delivers us from death; He who strikes the heads of His enemies; He who will redeem them from the world of Bashan, from the judgment of sea.  This image of redemption is juxtaposed with the image of the divine procession; the image of worship, praise, music, order, harmony.  Why does David then only speak of Benjamin, Judah, Zebulun and Naphtali?  Spurgeon has the following observations:

The tribe was small, having been greatly reduced in numbers, but it had the honour of including Zion within its territory. “And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders.” Little Benjamin had been Jacob’s darling, and now the tribe is made to march first in the procession, and to dwell nearest to the holy place. The princes of Judah and their council. Judah was a large and powerful tribe, not with one governor, like Benjamin, but with many princes “and their company, “for so the margin has it. “From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel, “and the tribe was a quarry of stones wherewith to build up the nations: some such truth is hinted at in the Hebrew. The princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali. Israel was there, as well as Judah; there was no schism among the people. The north sent a representative contingent as well as the south, and so the long procession set forth the hearty loyalty of all the tribes to their Lord and King. O happy day, when all believers shall be one around the ark of the Lord; striving for nothing but the glory of the God of grace. The prophet now puts into the mouth of the assembly a song, foretelling the future conquests of Jehovah.

There is indeed, no schism amongst the people, because both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are united — this procession is one of national unity.  One ought to also notice that Jesus’ ministry started with the land of Zebulun and Naphtali (Matthew 4:13, citing Isaiah 9:1-2), because those tribes are also the first in the Northern kingdom to have been taken into captivity by the Assyrians; so Jesus starts his redemption work there.  As with Benjamin and Judah, the least of the tribes and the tribe from which Jesus came, so also the tribes due to be thrown into captivity first are prophetically the tribes partaking in the procession.

Vv28-31 then describe the salvation of the Gentiles.  Because of God’s temple at Jerusalem, foreign kings shall bear gifts to Him; nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God.  That has always been the Lord’s plan – to ensure the salvation not merely of one nation, but to have that nation become and agent of his salvation to all.  That is what the psalmist had sung about in Psalm 67 – and Psalm 68 describes the realisation of that prophecy.  Vv32-35 thus end the Psalm on a high note of an image of new creation — but this realisation can take place now on earth, as it has been achieved in heaven.  Not only is the restoration of Israel as one kingdom prophesied; so also the kingdoms of the earth sing praises to the Lord.  The prince of the sky (Ephesians 2:2) is replaced by the king of the heavens and ancient heavens.  Awesome is He who rules from the heavenly sanctuary, He who gives power and strength to his people (c.f. v.18).

 

 

BOOK 2: PSALM 68 OF 72 – Gifts to the kingdoms of the earth

BOOK 2: PSALM 67 OF 72 – Salvation for all

This psalm is a natural progression from Psalms 65-66 — from the praises of creation, to the praises of the Israelites, to the praises of the nations.  Isn’t that how the allegiance of God is portrayed in the Scriptures?  Despite creation being cursed by Adam’s hands, it still praises Him; it still keeps to the seasons; it still bears fruit as it should, withers as it should, and is re-born as it should, still portraying the gospel truth of Jesus’ incarnate work.  Then Israel sees the light, the 12 tribes brought out of slavery and into the promised land miracle after miracle, through water and guided by cloud and fire; a baptism of one nation.  Yet, Israel is to be a light to the other nations, so that other nations too will praise His name.  Psalm 67 is thus a result of Psalms 65 and 66.

Psalm 67, however, starts with the same words as the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

The Aaronic blessing was one given by Aaron and his descendants, the Levites, to the Israelites.  It is a blessing for the nation of Israel.  If Israel is not blessed first, how can it be a blessing to the other nations?  That is the logic of Psalm 67.  God be gracious to us and bless us … that thy way may be known on the earth!  As Spurgeon states:

It begins at the beginning with a cry for mercy. Forgiveness of sin is always the first link in the chain of mercies experienced by us. Mercy is a foundation attribute in our salvation. The best saints and the worst sinners may unite in this petition. It is addressed to the God of mercy, by those who feel their need of mercy, and it implies the death of all legal hopes or claims of merit. Next, the church begs for a blessing; bless us—a very comprehensive and far reaching prayer. When we bless God we do but little, for our blessings are but words, but when God blesses he enriches us indeed, for his blessings are gifts and deeds. But his blessing alone is not all his people crave, they desire a personal consciousness of his favour, and pray for a smile from his face. These three petitions include all that we need here or hereafter. This verse may be regarded as the prayer of Israel, and spiritually of the Christian church. The largest charity is shown in this Psalm, but it begins at home. The whole church, each church, and each little company, may rightly pray, bless us.

Indeed, if we know not of God’s graces and blessings, how can His way be known on the earth?  Who would sing of His praises, or proclaim His name, if His salvation is conditional upon mankind’s efforts?  Why would such religion be worth expanding, why would such philosophy be ‘good news’?

The Israelites, indeed, are to proclaim that God’s salvation be known among all nations (v3).  God’s salvation is not reserved for creation, for Israel, but for the peoples, all the peoples, the nations — a common refrain throughout vv3-5.  The question is not whether God blesses us; also not whether God is good; and not whether He gives good gifts to His children.  The question for the ages, rather, is whether we are willing to be blessed by Him, to hide in His goodness, and to fear Him?

BOOK 2: PSALM 67 OF 72 – Salvation for all

BOOK 2: PSALM 66 OF 72 – The Eternal Burnt Offering

Psalm 66 continues naturally on from Psalm 65.  Where Psalm 65 ends with the pastures of the wilderness overflowing, the hills girding themselves with joy, the meadows clothing themselves with flocks, the valleys shouting and singing together with joy — Psalm 66 opens with all the earth shouting for joy to God, singing the glory of His name, giving to Him glorious praise, saying to God how awesome His deeds are, declaring the greatness of His power, worshipping, praising His name.

As I have observed with Psalm 65, such adoration is rare amongst those bearing God’s image; and yet, the material earth does not even hesitate to praise Him.  This sheds light on Jesus’ curse of the fig tree (c.f. Matthew 21; Mark 11), as it is not only a parable of the fruitless Israel, but also that all creation ought literally praise His name.

But of course, just as Psalm 65 ends with creation praising His name, Psalm 66’s opening is meant to serve as a platform to the central focus of the Psalm – that by observing the praise of creation, we are to also observe His awesome deeds toward the children of man.  Here, the psalmist recounts the story of the exodus from Egypt, a theme that recurs throughout this second book of the Psalms.  The rebellious exalt themselves just as in the times of the tower of Babylon, but He has never stopped being the Watcher for us (vv5-7).

So the opening verses of creation’s praise immediately applies to the Israelites at vv8-12, they who have been tested through thick and thin, through fire and water, through crushing burdens.  Are these not the same trials that creation goes through, in its seasonal changes, that creation must die to give birth to new life?  That creation undergoes torrents, storms, fiery abuse but also emerges as a strengthened and hardened beauty, like that of a refined diamond shining in the night?

But, unlike creation, our praise is not a simple song or an expression of verbal delight.  Our praise comes with an additional requirement – that of a burnt offering (vv13-15), because we as arbiters of God’s creation have fallen; where the First Man fell, the Second Man rose again; the burnt offering is thus not a mere act of repentance, but an act of praise and celebration.  We can praise Him because we are not shackled by our sin; we can delight in Him because we are not burdened with unrighteousness; we can sing songs to Him because we look to the true eternal burnt offering found in the Lamb who saves us from our sins (c.f. John 1:29).

That’s why the psalmist doesn’t mere sing about what God has done for Israel during the grand exodus.  That’s why the psalmist doesn’t just stop at the burnt offering.  That’s why the psalmist moves on to v16 — “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for my soul“.  What has He done?  He has utterly renewed it, transformed it, by the power of the Holy Spirit!  Here is a man who has aligned himself to God’s image, to Christ, so that he too (like creation) praises without abandon!  A man of such praise cannot cherish iniquity in his heart, because iniquity is far from his desires — his desire is pure and he only wants Jesus alone!

Brothers and sisters, let us too spend time in Selah and ponder how we approach His throne without reproach; how we approach His throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).  Our confidence lies not in ourselves – no, such rebellion, even an inkling of it, would mean that the Lord would not even listen to our cries.  The Lord, however, is not to be impressed by he who worships the loudest; He looks favourably on he who recognises that he has the weakest and most pitiful voice – the one who is poor in spirit – and he is the one who shall be exalted by the eternal burnt offering.

 

BOOK 2: PSALM 66 OF 72 – The Eternal Burnt Offering

BOOK 2: PSALM 65 OF 72 – Creation and the image of God

Psalm 65 is a marked departure from the other psalms.  Where David normally describes the type of adversities he faces, here he spends little time on such iniquities.  Only one verse is dedicated to this (v3), after which the remainder of the chapter describes how the awesome creation responds to His love.

He is described as “the trust of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea” (v5); the One who is able to “establish the mountains by His strength” (v6); He who could “still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples” (v7); the Lord who makes “the dawn and the sunset shout for joy“(v8); He who “visit[s] the earth, and cause[s] it to overflow“, preparing their grain, for thus He prepares the earth (v9); He waters its furrows abundantly, settles its ridges, softens it with showers, blesses its growth, crowning the year with His bounty, his paths dripping with fatness.  It goes on a crescendo pace, from the opening verses of man’s qualms to the climax of God’s creation, His meadows and valleys, shouting for joy (v13).

This chapter is almost a reflection of how we react to our circumstances.  How often we magnify the iniquities, the sins, that are committed against us; how often we are sucked into the pace of disobedient, of the unrighteous, and that we – too – learn to use our tongue manipulatively, politically, cunningly.  However, God’s creation knows of no such schemes – it was created for one purpose alone, and that is to be the object of God’s love and to respond in kind.

In face of God’s awesome creation which surrounds us, the creation which sings to the heavenly Father, our disobedience and lack of worship is all the more pronounced.  How often do we break out in song?  How often do God’s revelations completely break us in, that we are instantly humbled and strongly desire to dwell in His house and holy temple?  Yet, we are the ones made in God’s image, not the meadows or valleys.  It must pain the Lord to see His own image so slow to react to His love.

Fear not, though, brothers and sisters.  David’s remedy to his qualms is not to continue dwelling in one’s miry issues; David invites the reader, the worshipper, to look at the other worshippers whose focus is on the Lord alone.  Let us learn from creation – let us, too, shout for joy, for we are clothed far better than the flowers of the field and arrayed more beautiful than Solomon at his financial peak.

That is why David, shortly after describing the iniquities against him, describes “how blessed is the one whom thou dost choose, and bring near to thee, to dwell in thy courts” (v4).  Whilst we are blessed, it is in the Blessed Man whom we find refuge.  It is because Jesus is the One blessed, that we become blessed.  It is in Immanuel, God-with-us, that the earth overflows with the option to be completely righteous in the Father’s eyes.  As Spurgeon comments:

Christ, whom God chose, and of whom he said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, ” is, indeed, “over all, God blessed for ever; “but in him his elect are blessed too. For his sake, not for our own, are we chosen; in him, not in ourselves, are we received by God, being accepted in the Beloved; and, therefore, in him are we blessed: he is our blessing. With that High Priest who has ascended into the holy place and entered within the vail, we enter into the house of God; we learn to dwell therein; we are filled with its spiritual joys; we partake of its holy mysteries and sacraments of grace and love. From “A Plain Commentary on the Book of Psalms.” 1859.

That is why the original sin is so grievous; no created being can hurt the Lord like we have. No action of a created being could have pierced Jesus for our transgressions.  The enemy attacked God’s image, not just any creation; we are distinctly different, and distinctly like Christ from birth.  And it is in Adam’s fall that Christ falls; but where Adam remained in the dust, Christ rose again and ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father.  Much time is spent in Genesis to describe the wonders of creation; yet, it is in the pinnacle of the creation of man, the creation of God’s own image, that the Lord opted to be vulnerable, to be pierced, for our sins.

BOOK 2: PSALM 65 OF 72 – Creation and the image of God

BOOK 2: PSALM 64 OF 72 – God’s Word against ours

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.  This phrase ironically contains ‘words’ supported by no truth.  On the contrary, one heals from broken bones; but hurtful words are embedded deep within our spirit, our psyche, our personality, and one may never heal from them.

The psalm starts with “hear my voice, O God, in my complaint“.  David lifts his words, his voice, up to the Lord.  He is petitioning, for protection.  He is the son after God’s own heart who is requesting refuge.  God, the Father, like any father, would be heart-broken to see his own child being attacked by His own creation.  The persecution amongst brothers has begun since the days of Cain and Abel, and every generation repeats itself.  The wicked, instead of speaking words of love, grace and compassion, “whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows… they talk of laying snares secretly“.  These words spring out of a fountain of injustice, of evil, “for the inward mind and heart of a man are deep“.

God retaliates with his own arrows – how?  “They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them“.  Their own lies, their own schemes, snares, swords, arrows, fall back on them.  Those unreasonably accused; the righteous labelled incorrectly as the unrighteous; the liars – even sometimes Christians – carrying on the will of the enemy and not of the Father — are all going to be brought from darkness to light in God’s vengeance.

How often are we, too, accused not only by the enemies outside the church, but particularly those within?  That we are the object of ridicule, of false accusations, of lies and deception, of grand-scheming manipulation, all of which had appeared under the pretence of holiness and edification at the outset?  Yet, God pulls up the weeds; He destroys the leaven; He sees the seed that is sown amongst thorns; He unveils the sheep’s clothing; He sees all.  We can only petition to Him for that protection, for that wisdom and discernment, to avoid the attack from the ambush.  It is not our job to play the role of manipulator, of schemer, to ‘get back at them’.  God is the only one able to do so – and to do it beautifully that enacts true justice that would allow all mankind to fear, that they would tell what God has brought about, and ponder what He has done.

The gospel is therefore as much truth as it is a revealer of liars; in the face of light, darkness must flee.

BOOK 2: PSALM 64 OF 72 – God’s Word against ours

BOOK 2: PSALM 63 OF 72 – My soul will be satisfied

There is something profound and powerful when one empties oneself in seeking God’s face.  In prayer and fasting, we are deprived of our legitimate pleasures, to seek the exceeding pleasure of God’s presence.  Yet, David here is deprived of his legitimate pleasures but not of his own volition.  The latter stanza of this chapter describes how there are those who seek to destroy his life, and that liars are spouting deceptions against him.

There is little, however, regarding David’s predicament or dire circumstances.  Instead, David spends much of this psalm singing about how his soul thirsts for Him; how his flesh faints for Him; how His steadfast love is better than life; how his soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and [his] mouth will praise [Him] with joyful lips.  This is a desperation, a meditation, a longing, that lasts through day and night.

There are times when we are in a proverbial wilderness, be that caused by a spiritual, financial and/or material drought.  Yet, in our temporary fast, whether that be of our own accord, or of God’s design, will we be able to find contentment, and satisfaction in Him as with fat and rich food?  The very things we long for, we toil for, we sweat for, we climb over others for, we compete for, we lie for, we kill for — to say the least — we can find freely in our loving Father?

If that is the case, then that is gospel truth indeed.  We do not need to continue to toil and suffer in labour, as if our work goes unappreciated and fruitless.  In God’s economy and design, His steadfast love is better than life.  In our spirit, we connect with His Spirit, and it is our soul who clings to Him.  In this clinging, our flesh follows suit.

Be blessed, brothers and sisters!  For God’s love is accessible to all; we need only make ourselves humble for Him, desperate enough for Him, so that more of his love can fill us; so that more of His Spirit will dwell in us; so that more of His will takes place through us.  Let us all swear by the one King, who shall rejoice in God, and let all who swear by the name of that King exult over the mouths of liars and deception.

BOOK 2: PSALM 63 OF 72 – My soul will be satisfied

BOOK 2: PSALM 62 OF 72 – I shall not be greatly shaken

What shakes us to the core?  Our financial woes?  Death of loved ones?  An attack to one’s ego, reputation, credibility?  When we’ve been wronged, defamed, unjustly and baselessly accused?  When a man is attacked like a leaning wall, a tottering fence, when he is thrusted from his high position, when he is mired in others’ falsehood, when he is covered in apparent blessings but underlined by actual curses?

In those circumstances, our first reaction is to defend oneself.  The self-protection mechanisms we have built over the years naturally flare up.  Even when we declare to ourselves, that “I shall not be greatly shaken“, even we know deep within that is but a false gospel.

David here sings with the same desperation as with the previous psalms.  He knows that his spirit waits in silence for God alone, since from Him comes my [David’s] salvation.  He alone is my [David’s] rock and my [David’s] salvation, my [David’s] fortress; I [he] shall not be greatly shaken.

David sings, knowing his reader and listener as one who is easily shaken.  How can we not, if we do not find our refuge in God alone?  When we do not see Him alone as our rock, salvation, fortress?  Without Him as our firm foundation, we have every reason to be shaken like a house built on lies and sand.  Yet, David speaks also to those who think they shall not be greatly shaken.  In the balances, those of high estate are a delusion, they are together lighter than a breath, lesser than those of low estate.  One is not to set vain hopes on robbery or increased riches.

That’s why David can confidently end this psalm by singing that power belongs to God, and that to the Lord belongs steadfast love.  He will render to a man according to his work.

Thus, when a man builds up treasures on earth; when he sets his heart on his extortion, robbery, increased riches; then the Lord will visit that man according to his work.  Yet, when a man seeks His kingdom and righteousness first (Matthew 6:33), when God alone and none other is Whom our spirit awaits in meditation and silence, that our soul is quietened and at peace in His presence — then we are recompensed by His lovely presence, by dwelling in His tents and tabernacle.

Brothers and sisters – why then are we surprised when we are troubled?  When we are anxious?  That itself is a diagnosis that we are weak creatures who have begun to set out hearts on God as well as the riches of this world.  If we want peace – let us turn to Him alone.  If we want heavenly reward – let us rely on Him alone.  If we want to live a long fruitful life – let us look at Him alone.  Only then can we truly declare, that we will not be shaken; because Christ’s work is sealed, and His foundation is one that will remain firm forever.  In the face of all things that will fade away, it is thoroughly refreshing to our very heart, mind, soul, sinews, bones and flesh to hear that the gift of salvation is unshakeable.  Let us break down our walls of pride, ego, reputation, self-entitlement, worldly identity and put on Christ’s righteousness!

BOOK 2: PSALM 62 OF 72 – I shall not be greatly shaken