BOOK 3: PSALM 78 OF 89 – Judah over Joseph

It would be easy to look at Psalm 78 as merely one where Asaph seeks to re-tell the stories of old, of God’s wonderful and amazing works, to remind us of the powerful and sovereign Lord in whom we place our trust.

Yet, that is not the sole, let alone primary, purpose of the Psalm.

Consider the story of Rahab in Joshua 2: she knew that the Lord has given the Israelites the land of Canaan, that the fear of the Israelites had fallen upon them, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before them.  They heard of his wonderful works; of how He parted the Red Sea; of how the two kings of the Amorites were destroyed.

That is the purpose of the Psalm – to tell of the world around, and the coming generations of the Israelites, that His works and love will be everlasting.  V 4 – we are told not to hide them from our children, but tell it to the coming generation, the glorious deeds of the LORD.

Is this not our duty, that the Lord’s word, work, and miracles in our lives are shared not only with our peers but with the next generation?  What will help them endure?  The “law”?  The Scriptures?  No — those alone will not be enough.  What will help them endure is the glorious deeds of God.

The irony is that the present generation of Christians look to the stories of old – and only that.  By that, I mean only the stories of Scripture – of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Familiarity with those stories, however, should not corner oneself into only looking to those stories as the source of our strength and hope.  That is because we are called to share the Lord’s works in our lives now as well.  Note that the law is a result of His works, the law in itself is not the Lord’s glory.  Vv. 5-6 say as much: the next generation might know the law, so that they will not forget the works of God.

How can one remember the Lord simply by following the law?  Instead, the law highlights our sins — if not for the law, we would not even be aware of our sins! (see Romans 7)  Rather, the law points us towards His works, not our works.  By keeping these commandments, we are constantly reminded that we are sinful creatures in need of His grace, that we are entirely incapable of redeeming ourselves (see Hebrews 10:1-18).  By failing to keep the law (v.8) as the previous generations did, Asaph is highlighting that these people consider themselves above it i.e. they consider they could walk their lives without remembering or pinning their hopes on the Lord’s works and grace.

Then come the various sections of this Psalm which recount: (i) the Ephraimites who refused to walk according to His law, forgot His works and wonders, despite having witnessed the miracles during the times of Moses (vv 9-66).  There, the sequence is as follows: the Lord would perform a wondrous deed, and the Ephraimites would sin still more against Him, would keep testing Him in their heart, demanding more and more, despite the Lord continually feeding their desires.  This cycle continues throughout the chapter until the climax at v 67.  He rejected the tent of Joseph.

What does this mean?

Spurgeon says this about vv 67-68:

God had honoured Ephraim, for to that tribe belonged Joshua the great conqueror, and Gideon the great judge, and within its borders was Shiloh the place of the ark and the sanctuary; but now the Lord would change all this and set up other rulers. He would no longer leave matters to the leadership of Ephraim, since that tribe had been tried and found wanting. And chose not the tribe of Ephraim. Sin had been found in them, folly and instability, and therefore they were set aside as unfit to lead.

To give the nation another trial this tribe was elected to supremacy. This was according to Jacob’s dying prophecy. Our Lord sprang out of Judah, and he it is whom his brethren shall praise. The Mount Zion which he loved. The tabernacle and ark were removed to Zion during the reign of David; no honour was left to the wayward Ephraimites. Hard by this mountain the Father of the Faithful had offered up his only son, and there in future days the great gatherings of his chosen seed would be, and therefore Zion is said to be lovely unto God.

There are serious implications here.  Genesis 48:20 recounts how Jacob had deliberately blessed Ephraim (the younger) over Manasseh (the firstborn).  This had displeased Joseph, and Jacob deliberately pressed ahead with this form of blessing (Genesis 48:17-19).  The reason that Jacob gave, was that Ephraim “shall be greater than he [i.e. Manasseh] and his offspring shall become a multitude [also translated as “fullness”] of nations.”  Given this significant blessing over Ephraim, this begs the question, why then did the scepter/ruler’s staff never depart from Judah, as prophesied later on in Genesis 49:10?

It would seem to be the case that Ephraim was destined to be a significant physical representation of Israel.  Ezekiel 37:16 and Hosea 5:3 typically refers to Ephraim as the ten tribes comprising Israel’s Northern Kingdom, and not merely the single tribe named after Joseph’s son.  However, the Northern Kingdom (also known as  “Israel”) was taken into captivity by the Assyrians (Jeremiah 7).  Whereas, the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was conquered by the Babylonians later.

Eventually, Ephraim was prophesied to be laid waste on the day of reckoning: see Hosea 5:9, 11.  Ephraim was, along with Dan, not even mentioned as part of the redeemed tribes of Israel in Revelation 7:4-8 (instead, Joseph is mentioned, as well as Manasseh).

Therefore, on the one hand, the LORD had always intended for Ephraim to thrive and become a major part of Israel as a nation.  However, the Promised Seed of Genesis 3:!5 is to come through the tribe of Judah (v.68), from which David, and Jesus the Son of David would descend.  It is by the hand of David’s upright heart that he was able to shepherd Jacob, the Lord’s people.

Yet, to look only to David would lose sight of the purpose of this Psalm.  If this Psalm points to the LORD’s everlasting plans, then this “David” is but a symbol of the everlasting king who can shepherd the spiritual Jacob, the global spiritual Israelites containing both Jews and Gentiles alike — those who worship the true David, Jesus Christ.  In the same way, whilst “Judah” is preferred over “Ephraim”, that is merely from a soteriological perspective.  For the Gentiles are, like the Ephraimites, in need of a Saviour.  They are all the Lord’s sheep who need to be guided into new creation.

 

BOOK 3: PSALM 78 OF 89 – Judah over Joseph

BOOK 3: PSALM 77 OF 89 – You sustain me even when my spirit faints

Psalm 77 is a raw psalm of Asaph.  This is meditation and self-reflection at their pinnacle.  The chapter is divided into three Selah portions: versus 1 to 3 is Asaph describing his cry, his day of trouble, his soul and spirit which refuses to be comforted, which faints.  Instead of drawing comfort from God, instead of seeking God’s face in his desperation, Asaph is simply too weary.

How many of us have gone through similar sentiments?  The tired parent?  The overworked employee?  The financial pressures of life?  The imminent fear of not being able to provide for one’s family?  The list can go on, and on.  Even in the midst of our cry to God, our inner spirit has difficulty yearning for Him.  This demonstrates that, to the very core, we cannot even have strength to believe, to have faith, let alone to even attempt to follow His laws and commands.  At the heart of our being, we are weak, we are frail, we are prone to fear and prone to weariness.  And so, Asaph decides to start this chapter on that note: the note of utter surrender to and defeat by his circumstances.

However, versus 4 to 9 starts the second portion of the Psalm.  In our surrender to our circumstances, in our submission to apparent defeat, the Lord’s faithfulness means that it is He, not I, who will keep my eyelids open; even though we, such weak creatures, would even question whether his “steadfast love forever” is, in fact, not “forever”.  Rather, we question the eternal provision of His grace and love, simply because we are not experiencing it here and now.  In our frailty, where we experience none of God’s present love, we question whether He has withheld it altogether from us.  V9 summarises this: Has God forgotten to be gracious?  Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

The irony is that our rhetorical questions regarding His presence in our lives (or lack thereof) is wrought with doubt and uncertainty, such questions are typically matched by rhetorical questions raised by God which actually reveals insight, truth and conviction.  Where Asaph asks whether God has ceased his love for us, God would in turn ask us (like He did with Adam), “Where are you” (Genesis 3:9)?  The Lord of course knew where Adam was; but the question highlighted to Adam that he is lost to his own sin and pride, and that he has lost his bearings in life.

This then leads to the final portion of the Psalm.  V11 starts – “I will remember the deeds of the LORD”.  Indeed, if we cannot experience God’s love now, if we are too weary to even speak to Him let alone to wait and hear His voice, we must therefore point to the “wonders of old” (v11).  It is those wonders which do not fail to demonstrate that God has never forsaken us.  On the contrary, He has been closely and intimately involved with our lives.

Look at how God’s arm had redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph (v15); look at how He led his people like a flock by the hands of Moses and Aaron (v20).  Look at how nature is itself even afraid of God, the deep waters, the crash of thunder, the lightnings, the trembling and shaking earth; we may fail to see His footprints (v.19), but He is there.  In sin, the world is like the earth when it was without form and void (Jeremiah 4:23); but He brings life out of that darkness, as He had created the world ex nihilo (although, more accurately, made the earth in and through Christ; c.f. Colossians 1:15).  Yet, he who remains in sin will be like Babylon, engulfed by the tumultuous waves, a land in which no one dwells, with no protection: Jeremiah 51:41-44.

As Spurgeon comments:

As if conscious of its Maker’s presence, the sea was ready to flee from before his face. The conception is highly poetical, the psalmist has the scene before his mind’s eye, and describes it gloriously. The water saw its God, but man refuses to discern him; it was afraid, but proud sinners are rebellious and fear not the Lord. The depths also were troubled. To their heart the floods were made afraid. Quiet caves of the sea, far down in the abyss, were moved with fear; and the lowest channels were left bare, as the water rushed away from its place, in terror of the God of Israel.

Let us therefore come to Him even in the midst of our weariness, for His yoke is easy and his burden is light: Matthew 11:28-30.  That is the solution to Asaph’s sorrows.  Jesus is with us, not to increase our burden, but to give us rest.  That is what creation was made for; just as man was made on the sixth day, it is immediately on the following day that Sabbath was enjoyed by God and man alike.

BOOK 3: PSALM 77 OF 89 – You sustain me even when my spirit faints

BOOK 3: PSALM 76 OF 89 – HUMBLE YOURSELF OR BE HUMBLED

This Psalm is written to be accompanied with stringed instruments, and specifically described as a ‘song’.  In other parts of Scripture, stringed instruments are often used in the context of revival, of worship in new creation: Isaiah 38:20; Habakkuk 3:19.

In particular, there is something unique about this Psalm, different from those preceding it.  Whilst the previous Psalms speak of the persecuted seeking refuge, and the destruction of the wicked, this Psalm shares a different message altogether.

At vv 1-3, Asaph powerfully commences the Psalm by referring to the known God whose name is great in Israel, having established an abode and dwelling place in Salem and Zion.

It is interesting that Asaph refers to God’s dwelling place as Salem, since such reference is rarely used in Scripture and only in two other books: see Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7.  Interestingly, it is King Melchizedek, one of the most mysterious figures of the Old Testament, who hails from Salem.  Otherwise it is a region without history in the Bible.

The meaning of the name for this mysterious region is “peace“.  Which is why it is telling that the capital of the promised land Israel, is Jerusalem, strictly meaning the city of peace.

Then there is the more commonly used new creation name of the promised land – Zion, frequently referred to as the city of David.

This sets the context of the Psalm.  Asaph is deliberately referring to a time when God’s victory is secured.  It is not going to be established in Salem, his dwelling place is not going to be in Zion, but it has been and is in Salem and in Zion.  It is the city of Jesus, the man who came to deliver the message of eternal peace and a renewed creation for the men and women of God to dwell in.

It is also in that place (v.3 refers to the action taking place ‘there‘ i.e. in Salem/Zion) that He broke the flashing arrows, shield, sword and weapons of war.  In new creation, the vocabulary of war is utterly removed.  The lion and lamb shall lie together: Isaiah 11:6.

As Spurgeon says:

“Without leaving his tranquil abode, he sent forth his word and snapped the arrows of his enemies before they could shoot them. The idea is sublime, and marks the ease, completeness, and rapidity of the divine action. The shield, and the sword, and the battle. Every weapon, offensive and defensive, the Lord dashed in pieces; death bearing bolts and life preserving armour were alike of no avail when the Breaker sent forth his word of power. In the spiritual conflicts of this and every age, the like will be seen; no weapon that is formed against the church shall prosper, and every tongue that rises against her in judgment, she shall condemn. Selah. It is meet that we should dwell on so soul stirring a theme, and give the Lord our grateful adoration,—hence a pause is inserted.”

The subsequent verses develop this theme further.  God’s glory and majesty (v4) is compared with the men of war who are stouthearted and rely on their hands and strength (v5).  One rebuke and the storms lay still (Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24); so also one rebuke the powerful rider and horse shall lay stunned (v6).

The warriors of this Psalm are almost described as synonymous as those who do not fear God.  V.7 makes that assumption – i.e. that God is to be feared, and yet there there those who try to stand before Him when they should be kneeling in humility.

If one rebuke can stun nature, what about when He utters judgment?  Asaph describes the earth as fearing and standing still.  Can we imagine what that looks like?  When we are riddled with natural disasters, hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, to name the least; the image of ‘Mother Nature’ humbling herself before God in judgment is but another way of telling us — if even powerful forces know when to take heed to God’s judgment, how much more ought we be humble?  For only the humble of the earth shall be saved (v.9).  If creation waits eagerly for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19-24), then ought we not humble ourselves and eagerly await for peace and revelation of those who are saved, to come after the Last Day?

Then comes the interesting verse – surely the wrath of man shall praise you.  Why would man’s sinful wrath turn into praise?  Only by God’s hand: Genesis 50:20; only He can turn a curse into a blessing, a weapon into worship.  Spurgeon says:

It shall not only be overcome but rendered subservient to thy glory. Man with his breath of threatening is but blowing the trumpet of the Lord’s eternal fame. Furious winds often drive vessels the more swiftly into port. The devil blows the fire and melts the iron, and then the Lord fashions it for his own purposes. Let men and devils rage as they may, they cannot do otherwise than subserve the divine purposes. The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. Malice is tethered and cannot break its bounds. The fire which cannot be utilised shall be damped. Some read it “thou shalt gird, “as if the Lord girded on the wrath of man as a sword to be used for his own designs, and certainly men of the world are often a sword in the hand of God, to scourge others. The verse clearly teaches that even the most rampant evil is under the control of the Lord, and will in the end be overruled for his praise.

In the present age, we have simply forgotten about ‘fearing’ God.  The non-Christians are nauseous at the idea of a God who judges and destroys; the Christians are quick to clarify that we believe in a God who loves unconditionally.  Neither are correct.  God loves conditionally – the one condition being Jesus’ work on the cross, the ultimate act of self-humility.

Outside of that love, he does judge and destroy.  Inside that love, we are freed from our shackles and we are freed from the wars of this world.  Outside of that love, we are required to be warriors, equipping ourselves with the shield, the sword and weapons of this world in order to survive.  Inside of that love, we rid ourselves of those tools as we are equipped instead with the spiritual armour to fight spiritual battles (Ephesians 6) and advance His kingdom of peace, telling the story of Salem.  Outside of that love, we label ourselves as princes, princesses, kings and queens of our own kingdoms, and we give gifts to ourselves; inside of that love, we are labelled by Him as His co-heirs of the eternal kingdom and we freely give gifts to others – and bring gifts to Him (v.12).

Where exactly do we stand before Him?  Are we humbling ourselves, kneeling before the king, and through that we are exalted into a realm of peace today and inherit his kingdom (Matthew 5:5)?  Or are we clinging onto our sword, by which we shall be rebuked into servility or submission; or otherwise live a life that only leads to death (Matthew 26:52)?

 

 

 

BOOK 3: PSALM 76 OF 89 – HUMBLE YOURSELF OR BE HUMBLED

Book 3: Psalm 75 of 89 – The Scales of Justice

If there is one image that represents Psalm 75, is the image of the scale.  The scales of justice which tip could tip either way.  The pagan culture teaches us that ‘Lady Justice’ is often depicted with a set of scales typically suspended from her left hand, upon which she measures the strengths of a case’s support and opposition.  Such depiction dates back to ancient Egypt, where Anubis was frequently depicted with a set of scales on which he weighed a deceased’s heart against the Feather of Truth.

The distinction between the scales of the world and of God is clearly stated at vv2 and 6.  Firstly, for not from the east or from the west, and not from the wilderness, comes lifting up; but it is God who executed judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.  In other words, there is no ‘justice’ that is meted out at random, or that the ‘fate’ of the world wills it, or that one meets a particular ‘destiny’ of a passionless and distant God; the living God is directly involved with our lives, consciously putting down and exalting men.  All the while the boastful and the wicked are exalting themselves (vv.4-5), God is the one who lifts up the horns of the righteous (v.10) as the Lord cuts off the horns of the wicked.

Secondly, such judgment with equity is handed out at the set time that the Lord appoints.  We are often questioning whether the Lord exists, whether He would be handing down judgment on the wicked, whether He even cares.  This Psalm of Asaph reminds us that not only is He present, but that He deliberately withholds judgment until the right time.

Indeed, the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  If we were the ones determining when justice should be handed out, I do wonder whether the Lord’s merciful character would shine through us.  I wonder if we would be patient with our brothers and sisters?  Would we, perhaps, even wish that they should perish?  That is why the scales of justice are not weighed on our own perceptions and judgments, but on his divine timing and discernment.

Even in the days of Moses did the Israelites require constant reminder that vengeance is the Lord’s (see Numbers 31:3; Deuteronomy 32; Joshua 22:23; 1 Samuel 20:16; 2 Samuel 22:48; Psalm 94:1, 149:7; Isaiah 34:8, 35:4, 59:17, 61:2, 63:1-4, Jeremiah 51; Nahum 1:2; Hebrews 10:30).  Not only that – the Lord has a specific day of vengeance appointed.  Because on that day, the Lord will display all the equity and justice that should have been meted out the moment creation was brought into chaos by Satan.  The moment man fell to temptation, His creation was no longer ‘good’.  The gift of salvation and new creation is a work of complete restoration to right the wrongs since the beginning of the world.

The Day of Judgment; the Day of the Lord’s Vengeance, will be terrible and fearful.  V8 foreshadows it.  The cup with foaming wine, the cup of wrath.  As Spurgeon describes it:

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup. The punishment of the wicked is prepared, God himself holds it in readiness; he has collected and concocted woes most dread, and in the chalice of his wrath he holds it. They scoffed his feast of love; they shall be dragged to his table of justice, and made to drink their due deserts. And the wine is red. The retribution is terrible, it is blood for blood, foaming vengeance for foaming malice. The very colour of divine wrath is terrible; what must the taste be? It is full of mixture. Spices of anger, justice, and incensed mercy are there. Their misdeeds, their blasphemies, their persecutions have strengthened the liquor as with potent drugs;

“Mingled, strong, and mantling high;
Behold the wrath divine.”

Ten thousand woes are burning in the depths of that fiery cup, which to the brim is filled with indignation. And he poureth out of the same. The full cup must be quaffed, the wicked cannot refuse the terrible draught, for God himself pours it out for them and into them. Vain are their cries and entreaties. They could once defy him, but that hour is over, and the time to requite them if fully come. But the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.Even to the bitter end must wrath proceed. They must drink on and on for ever, even to the bottom where lie the lees of deep damnation; these they must suck up, and still must they drain the cup. Oh the anguish and the heart break of the day of wrath! Mark well, it is for all the wicked; all hell for all the ungodly; the dregs for the dregs; bitters for the bitter; wrath for the heirs of wrath. Righteousness is conspicuous, but over all terror spreads a tenfold night, cheerless, without a star. Oh happy they who drink the cup of godly sorrow, and the cup of salvation: these, though now despised, will then be envied by the very men who trod them under foot.”

Our Lord Jesus drank from the cup.  The Day of Wrath and Vengeance will pass over us as He has satiated the Father’s wrath.  True justice has, on a cosmic and spiritual level, been achieved when we committed ourselves to become children of God through the Christ.  The question that remains is not if justice will be given to us.  No – that has already happened in Moriah.  Rather, the question is when God reveals to the world the true state of things; that the humble will be exalted, and the self-righteous shall be put in their place.  In God’s economy, that has already happened.  It is just a matter of when that would be revealed.

Book 3: Psalm 75 of 89 – The Scales of Justice

BOOK 3: PSALM 74 OF 89 – THE DEFENDER OF THE FAITH

74 O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,
which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!
Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt.
Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
    the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!

Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place;
they set up their own signs for signs.
They were like those who swing axes
in a forest of trees.[b]
And all its carved wood
they broke down with hatchets and hammers.
They set your sanctuary on fire;
they profaned the dwelling place of your name,
bringing it down to the ground.
They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.

We do not see our signs;
there is no longer any prophet,
    and there is none among us who knows how long.
10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the fold of your garment[c] and destroy them!

 

+++

 

12 Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13 You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters[d] on the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15 You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
16 Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
17 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.

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.

22 Arise, O God, defend your cause;
remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
23 Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!

 

Psalm 74, like many of the psalms, begin with the despair of the psalmist.  This is a cry of a holy man against the world.  He is distraught by how God’s sanctuary is profaned; he is troubled by the fact that God’s signs are replaced with worldly signs; that God’s prophet is replaced by a worldly seer.  If we think that the Maskil of Asaph (simply meaning an instructive psalm by Asaph) sounds like it is a product of its time, stop and consider this: we are in a world which treats not God’s sanctuary with the same level of respect as the Temple or tabernacle had received.

As Spurgeon says:

“Alas, poor Israel! No Urim and Thummim blazed on the High Priest’s bosom, and no Shechaniah shone from between the cherubim. The smoke of sacrifice and cloud of incense no more arose from the holy hill; solemn feasts were suspended, and even circumcision, the covenant sign, was forbidden by the tyrant. We, too, as believers, know what it is to lose our evidences and grope in darkness; and too often do our churches also miss the tokens of the Redeemer’s presence, and their lamps remain untrimmed. Sad complaint of a people under a cloud! There is no more any prophet. Prophecy was suspended. No inspiring psalm or consoling promise fell from bard or seer. It is ill with the people of God when the voice of the preacher of the gospel fails, and a famine of the word of life falls on the people. God sent ministers are as needful to the saints as their daily bread, and it is a great sorrow when a congregation is destitute of a faithful pastor. It is to be feared, that with all the ministers now existing, there is yet a dearth of men whose hearts and tongues are touched with the celestial fire. Neither is there any among us that knoweth how long. If someone could foretell an end, the evil might be borne with a degree of patience, but when none can see a termination, or foretell an escape, the misery has a hopeless appearance, and is overwhelming. Blessed be God, he has not left his church in these days to be so deplorably destitute of cheering words; let us pray that he never may. Contempt of the word is very common, and may well provoke the Lord to withdraw it from us; may his long suffering endure the strain, and his mercy afford us still the word of life.”

The enemy strikes at the heart of our faith, because the enemy knows that the sanctuary is our place of refuge, our place of worship.  It is not different today: the debates that take place within the church, even amongst believers, demonstrate that the enemy’s plans are still very much in operation.  We profane his House when we do not even preach His Word faithfully; we fall to the evil one’s temptations when we cater to the desires and concerns of man, rather than faithfully bear witness to God’s plans this day.  On a daily basis, the church is being torn down – brick by brick; not physically, but spiritually.  Every day, our beliefs are being eroded by the worldly agenda; and Jesus becomes that much more distant and less real to us.  “Thus sayeth the LORD” is slowly, but surely, being replaced by “Thus sayeth the man” – the man whom the world respects, the philosopher who frequently denounces His Lordship, the teacher whose musings distract us from the truth, the scientist who forces on us evidence which purportedly support the theories which, apparently, contradict His Word.

 

However, at all times, Asaph does not lose sight of God’s absolute sovereignty.  The enemy creates this chaos only because God has allowed it.  The chapter opens not with a ‘woe-to-me’ expression in response to the enemy’s acts; rather, the chapter opens with O God, why do you cast us off forever?  Why do You, with a capital Y – indeed, it is the LORD who is doing the casting off, rather than the evil one.  Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep, against the congregation whom He has purchased of old (v2)?

Asaph recognizes that both blessing, and judgment, comes from the same God.  He is no Marcionist; he believes that God’s capacity, ability, and discernment in judging is tied to his act of loving; there is no schizophrenia, or dichotomy, between the God of the Old or New Testaments.  Jesus is as much the sacrificial lamb, as He is the one who returns to judge the world (see John 5:22-30, 9:39; 2 Corinthians 5:10;  Revelation 19:11).

This theme, and understanding, of sovereignty stretches through to the remainder of the chapter.  Starting from v12, Asaph pleads the creation argument; this God who has the power to allow evil to roam (a mystery which only He can unveil to us), is the same God who has been working salvation in the midst of the earth, from of old (v.12).  He divides (v.13), he crushes (v.14), he splits (v.15), he dries (v.15), he established (v.16), he fixed (v.17) – this is a God whose actions are never-ending.

Do we react to our troubles in the same way?  Do we resort to our own actions to defend our faith, defend our church, use a worldly form of apologetics and philosophy to ‘explain away’ Christianity to those who poke at our beliefs?  Or do we understand that we are dealing in the realm of spiritual warfare, waging a war that only spiritual tools can address (see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)?

Ultimately, we must put our own faith, our sanctification, our livelihood, our very salvation in the hands of God.  We plead the covenant that He made with those whom he purchased (vv.2, 20), the covenant of blood sealed by Christ on the cross; for if He is for us, who can be against us?  In the words of Spurgeon:

“What a mighty plea is redemption. O God, canst thou see the blood mark on thine own sheep, and yet allow grievous wolves to devour them? The church is no new purchase of the Lord; from before the world’s foundation the chosen were regarded as redeemed by the Lamb slain; shall ancient love die out, and the eternal purpose become frustrate? The Lord would have his people remember the paschal Lamb, the bloodstained lintel, and the overthrow of Egypt; and will he forget all this himself? Let us put him in remembrance, let us plead together. Can he desert his blood bought and forsake his redeemed? Can election fail and eternal love cease to glow? Impossible. The woes of Calvary, and the covenant of which they are the seal, are the security of the saints.”

 

If only those who recognize and paint the blood of the lamb on their door are saved, then what will happen to the scoffers who remain so until their dying breath?  Time will tell, but the enemy who has been destroying our sanctuaries will, himself, not experience any sanctuary himself.   There is but only one defender of the faith, He who is sovereign above all, and has the authority to determine where we are born and where we go.

 

BOOK 3: PSALM 74 OF 89 – THE DEFENDER OF THE FAITH

Book 3: Psalm 73 of 89 – In His Sanctuary

Psalm 73

73 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.[a]
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength[b] of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

 

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

These are not words which can be uttered overnight.  That is because the world around us is filled with lies that it can sustain itself outside of God.  After all, to justify its own existence, the world must continually preach the falsehood that it can build a city, a Tower of Babel, that can rival the heights of His throne (v.9).  To do that, it must present itself as beautiful; as desirable; as filled with abundance (vv.4, 7); as free from trouble (v.5); as growing in riches (v.12).

That is what the enemy does.  He tries to lure the world by attractive gems.  He is not so crude that he will just present these temptations in their naked form; he will present them as if they are goals, rewards, that we must work towards.  The religion of the world is that hard work will results in just deserts; and once we obtain them, we wear these achievements proudly, and arrogantly, as a badge of merit.  We exclude God’s intentions for our lives in these worldly pursuits.

Yet, the veil of the enemy’s lies can be torn in half, once we go before God Himself. Once we step into His sanctuary (v.17), and by the Spirit discern their end, we realize that the world has but covered itself in a skin of leaves, like Adam and Eve after the fall.  These achievements, these growing riches, the sleek fat bodies which they possess, are all emblematic of the skin of pathetic leaves to cover their own naked shame.  What is more, is that Godis the one who arranged it so; that these apparent blessings of the world are, in fact, the curse by which they are doomed to hell.  As Spurgeon eloquently put it:

Verse 17. Until I went into the sanctuary of God. His mind entered the eternity where God dwells as in a holy place, he left the things of sense for the things invisible, his heart gazed within the veil, he stood where the thrice holy God stands. Thus he shifted his point of view, and apparent disorder resolved itself into harmony. The motions of the planets appear most discordant from this world which is itself a planet; they appear as “progressive, retrograde, and standing still; “but could we fix our observatory in the sun, which is the centre of the system, we should perceive all the planets moving in perfect circle around the head of the great solar family. Then understood I their end. He had seen too little to be able to judge; a wider view changed his judgment; he saw with his mind’s enlightened eye the future of the wicked, and his soul was in debate no longer as to the happiness of their condition. No envy gnaws now at his heart, but a holy horror both of their impending doom, and of their present guilt, fills his soul. He recoils from being dealt with in the same manner as the proud sinners, whom just now he regarded with admiration.

Verse 18. The Psalmist’s sorrow had culminated, not in the fact that the ungodly prospered, but that God had arranged it so: had it happened by mere chance, he would have wondered, but could not have complained; but how the arranger of all things could so dispense his temporal favours, was the vexatious question. Here, to meet the case, he sees that the divine hand purposely placed these men in prosperous and eminent circumstances, not with the intent to bless them but the very reverse.Surely thou didst set them in slippery places. Their position was dangerous, and, therefore, God did not set his friends there but his foes alone. He chose, in infinite love, a rougher but safer standing for his own beloved. Thou castedst them down into destruction. The same hand which led them up to their Tarpeian rock, hurled them down from it. They were but elevated by judicial arrangement for the fuller execution of their doom. Eternal punishment will be all the more terrible in contrast with the former prosperity of those who are ripening for it. Taken as a whole, the case of the ungodly is horrible throughout; and their worldly joy instead of diminishing the horror, actually renders the effect the more awful, even as the vivid lightning amid the storm does not brighten but intensify the thick darkness which lowers around. The ascent to the fatal gallows of Haman was an essential ingredient in the terror of the sentence—”hang him thereon.” If the wicked had not been raised so high they could not have fallen so low.

Imagine an empty man, like Asaph, who admits openly that he has stumbled (v2); that he envies the prosperity of the wicked (v3); who feels that he has vainly kept his heart clean and washed his hands in innocence (v13); who is weary (v.16), then even more reason that he would want to fill up his cistern with the riches of the world.

Imagine then, the mind-blowing truth of the situation once Asaph has received the wisdom and insight of the Holy Spirit: that these blessings are designed by God to be a slippery path.  That God has given these people over to their sins; and the result is the apparent blessing; the result is like Haman, preparing his own gallows, as if for Mordecai, but only to find out that the gallows are for himself.  Like the enemy who thought that he is climbing a mountain to heights above God, who is actually struck down as quickly as lightning strikes the earth (Luke 10:18).

And so, the people of this world have committed two evils: they have forsaken God, the fountain of living water; and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:12-13).  With eyes that see and ears that hear (Proverbs 20:12; Isaiah 6:10), as we go before God in His sanctuary, we begin to see with insight and discernment (vv.16-17) the end of the people of the world.  Those who reject and refuse God are set by Himin slippery places (v.18); Godis the one who makes them fall to ruin. In a moment, they are destroyed.

Can we adopt the same response as the psalmist?  Can we say to God, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength/rock of my heart and my portion forever”?  By remaining in God’s sanctuary, by being close to Him, by being in His presence, we see that our true end is to be received by Him to glory (v 24).  But those who are far away from Him shall perish, and God(not the enemy) is the one who puts an end to everyone who is unfaithful to Him (v.27).  The psalmist clarifies that the enemy can do nothing of his own accord; it is only through God’s permission that anything is done (c.f. Job 1:7).

How fitting it is for the third book of the Psalms to open with this chapter.  Indeed, the religion of the world, the works and rewards which people clothe themselves with, are exactly what God is guarding against in the book of Leviticus (i.e. being, in parallel, the third book of Moses in the Pentateuch).  Imagine the Pharisees, working hard to comply with every single law, and adorning their pride in their own abilities, like necklaces around their necks.

God would respond in very much the same way as He does with the people of the world: those who view the law as the means of their salvation are set by Him in slippery places, and they will fall to ruin.  It is those who recognize their own weaknesses, like Asaph, who go before God for wisdom.  It takes a humbled person, an envious person, a person who delights not in his own abilities and treasures, to step into God’s sanctuary, only to be clothed by God with beautiful animal skin instead of the pathetic leaves and scraps of this world.  Just like the Levites who carefully, but confidently, approaches God in the book of Leviticus; so also let us – the priests of the era after the Spirit was given to all – approach the throne of grace with similar confidence:

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

Book 3: Psalm 73 of 89 – In His Sanctuary

BOOK 2: PSALM 72 OF 72 – Blessed be the Righteous King

Throughout book 2 of the Psalms, the psalmists have gone through several trials and tribulations, bringing them through phases of despair; of persecution; of drought; of the pits; meanwhile still praising His Holy Name, still recognising that only He is the author of our salvation, only He is worthy, and He will crush the enemy.

This book ends with David, however, praising someone other than the Father in heaven.  The sub-title for this chapter says “A Psalm of Solomon”.  The assumption is that this is a prophecy regarding David’s immediate son.  However, there are hallmarks of David’s prophecy which seem to be looking beyond Solomon.

David starts with asking God to give the ‘king’ your judgments.  Could a king actually render God’s judgments, when (see v. 18) He alone works wonders and is ‘blessed’?  Yet, throughout this chapter, Solomon repeats:

  • May he (the king) judge Your people with righteousness (v2)
  • May he judge Your afflicted with justice (v2)
  • May he vindicated the afflicted of the people (v4)
  • May he save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor (v4)
  • May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth (v6)
  • May the righteous flourish in his days (v7)
  • May he also rule from sea to sea, and from River to the ends of the earth (v8)
  • Let all kings bow down before him and all nations serve him (v11)
  • He will deliver the needy when he cries for help (v12)
  • He will have compassion on the poor and needy and the lives of the needy He will save (v13)
  • He will rescue their life from oppression and violence
  • So may he live, and may the gold of Sheba be given to him (vv10, 15)

One can see the progression – from one of want to one of declaration.  Solomon wants this king to be the God-Man on earth; nay, he declares that this king will be the God-Man on earth.

Thus the chapter ends with the implication of when this God-Man is on earth.  That his name will endure forever, such that men can bless themselves by him, and all nations call him blessed (v17).  The word ‘bless’  and ‘blessed’ respectively used in vv 15 and 17 are different.  The former in Hebrew is barak, meaning to bless, kneel, salute or greet.  It has been used when blessing God (see Gen 9:26), but also in blessing men (see Numbers 24:9), a word used intensively when God blesses people.  The latter in Hebrew is ashar/asher, i.e. a verb primarily used causatively, to call one blessed, figuratively meaning to follow a straight path in understanding.  

Vv.18-19 interchange immediately to God being the Blessed One, and let His glorious name endure forever.  It is no mistake that Solomon immediately transfers from praising the king whose name shall last forever, and by whose name men would be blessed and that all nations would call him blessed, to God Himself.  Solomon here clearly recognises that this prophetic king is God Himself.  Solomon however does not appear to be describing the throne of David figuratively; he seems to envisage a real, human person, who will bear the attributes of God and that God, through him, would achieve a global salvation, justice and transformation like no other.

Spurgeon says this about the chapter:

We may apply it to Christ; not that he who intercedes for us needs us to intercede for him; but, 1. It is a prayer of the Old Testament church for sending the Messiah, as the church’s King, King on the holy hill of Zion, of whom the King of kings had said, Thou art my Son, Psa 2:6, Psa 2:7. “Hasten his coming to whom all judgment is committed;” and we must thus hasten the second coming of Christ, when he shall judge the world in righteousness.2. It is an expression of the satisfaction which all true believers take in the authority which the Lord Jesus has received from the Father: “Let him have all power both in heaven and earth, and be the Lord our righteousness; let him be the great trustee of divine grace for all that are his; give it to him, that he may give it to us.”

This is a prophecy of the prosperity and perpetuity of the kingdom of Christ under the shadow of the reign of Solomon. It comes in, 1. As a plea to enforce the prayer: “Lord, give him thy judgments and thy righteousness, and then he shall judge thy people with righteousness, and so shall answer the end of his elevation, Psa 72:2. Give him thy grace, and then thy people, committed to his charge, will have the benefit of it.” Because God loved Israel, he made him king over them to do judgment and justice, 2Ch 9:8. We may in faith wrestle with God for that grace which we have reason to think will be of common advantage to his church. 2. As an answer of peace to the prayer. As by the prayer of faith we return answers to God’s promises of mercy, so by the promises of mercy God returns answers to our prayers of faith. That this prophecy must refer to the kingdom of the Messiah is plain, because there are many passages in it which cannot be applied to the reign of Solomon. There was indeed a great deal of righteousness and peace, at first, in the administration of his government; but, before the end of his reign, there were both trouble and unrighteousness. The kingdom here spoken of is to last as long as the sun, but Solomon’s was soon extinct. Therefore even the Jewish expositors understand it of the kingdom of the Messiah.

The Lord Jesus shall reign for ever, and of him only this must be understood, and not at all of Solomon. It is Christ only that shall be feared throughout all generations (Psa 72:5) and as long as the sun and moon endure,Psa 72:7. 1. The honour of the princes is immortal and shall never be sullied (Psa 72:17): His name shall endure for ever, in spite of all the malicious attempts and endeavours of the powers of darkness to eclipse the lustre of it and to cut off the line of it; it shall be preserved; it shall be perpetuated; it shall be propagated. As the names of earthly princes are continued in their posterity, so Christ’s in himself. Filiabitur nomen ejusHis name shall descend to posterity. All nations, while the world stands, shall call him blessed, shall bless God for him, continually speak well of him, and think themselves happy in him. To the end of time, and to eternity, his name shall be celebrated, shall be made use of; every tongue shall confess it and every knee shall bow before it. 2. The happiness of the people if universal too; it is complete and everlasting: Men shall be blessed, truly and for ever blessed, in him. This plainly refers to the promise made unto the fathers that in the Messiah all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Gen 12:3.

We shall see how earnest David is in this prayer, and how much his heart is in it, if we observe, 1. How he shuts up the prayer with a double seal: “Amen and amen; again and again I say, I say it and let all others say the same, so be it. Amen to my prayer; Amen to the prayers of all the saints to this purport – Hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come.” 2. How he ever shuts up his life with this prayer, Psa 72:20. This was the last psalm that ever he penned, though not placed last in this collection; he penned it when he lay on his death-bed, and with this he breathes his last: “Let God be glorified, let the kingdom of the Messiah be set up, and kept up, in the world, and I have enough, I desire no more. With this let the prayers of David the son of Jesse be ended. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.””

Indeed – Amen.  If we breathe our last and the words we leave to this world before new creation is an ounce of David’s last chapter, then God indeed shall have the last word.

 

 

 

BOOK 2: PSALM 72 OF 72 – Blessed be the Righteous King